Life in the afternoon - Part 2 - I must return

Life in the Afternoon - Part 2 - A story of soaring - and reflections of that on my life.

by P.K.Odendaal. 23 October 2011.

Part 2 - I must return ....
I must return ... how many times have we used that phrase and never got to it,  or did it when we should not have?
I shall return .... the words of the prodigal son will echo in my mind forever.

I will have to return .... how many times have we taken the wrong road or the wrong turn-off?
I am returning .... how many people have started on this road leading from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City like Christian ... and turned back to their own destruction, or how many would have been discoverers, had they not turned back when they were so near their discovery?
I ponder these questions as I prepare to return, as I know I should, and that expeditiously.
I have drifted 50 km away from Witbank towards Hendrina, sitting at 14000 feet and flying at 80km/hr against a direct head wind of 45 km/hr - so I am in a strictly enforced 35 km/hr speed zone, with some traps laying ahead.
It is going to be touch and go whether I will make it home. My final glide computer says that I will have 1000 feet spare altitude, over and above my target of 1000 feet above the airfield elevation, which I have already set on the computer to enable me to circle the airfield, check the wind and the glider landing systems, and land.
The thermals are starting to die out in this late afternoon, as it usually does, and it is only one hour to sunset which I expect at 18h10 according to my on-board computer.
In my quest for enjoying the pureness and excitement of sailing the winds (the apple), I have overstayed my welcome and overplayed my hand. So I take the long road back - or shall I say the long road home - with little hope and little faith.
Out landings are not usually a big problem, but I know I may damage the glider if I land on a rough field, and I know I will need a crew of six people to dissemble it, put in into my trailer and assemble it again in Witbank. It is also getting dark soon and someone might sabotage it in the dark while I go for help.
I push on back to the airfield and my safety buffer to Witbank, as shown on the computer, has decreased from 1000 feet and now stands at minus 300 feet. I will not make it. Now and then I feel a slight tug on the glider due to lift from some isolated thermal, and every time I try to use it, it gives me more sink than lift and wastes my time and altitude, circling it once or twice. I am getting too low and I will have to do an out landing. I am still very high and an outlanding will not be necessary within thirty minutes.
Do I fear? Yes- a little.
Oh fear, oh fear, you are a demanding enemy, but I shall have to conquer you, before I shall smell the sweet scent of success in a fair fight of faith againts my foe.
Oh Fear, if I allow you into this cabin now, you will cloud my brain and in the end, you will sell me as a slave.
Oh Fear, I know you so well, you are a cheat and an imposter.
Deceit, doubt and lies are what you deal in, and which you sell for free - promising death, disaster and destruction, to all who wishes to listen, when all we really want is life and the abundace thereof. Trying to make us deviate or turn away from what we set out to do is your vocation.
What am I doing here - we have asked ourselves this question many times in circumstances like the one I am in now. I am overcoming the fear of death of course - death in the afternoon. Why am I in the air? I am practising, you might say, what it is to be alive.
I am now down to 11000 feet and I have run out of my predetermined safety height as well. I must start to plan my out landing. My heart speaks to my brain and I am an innocent bystander, who will have to suffer the collateral damage, as I stand unarmed in the cross-fire. Any stray bullet may kill this flight.
But I need to have faith. My one part hears the words of Richard Bach repeated in my mind.
I quote these two voices from Death in the afternoon by RB.
"Three hundred feet per minute down, and only nine hundred feet above the ground.
'This is it', I said. 'Get your harness as tight as it will go.'
He did not answer, turning toward a paved parking lot in the sunlight. 'Maybe not'
The game was over, I knew it. We were dead. Set up for the parking lot, which was too short to land in, and he'll scatter the sailplane all over the place.
'You did it this time, buddy, you really did it!' It was all over but the crash.
Blast, I thought, if I was flying, we would have been safe now in the ridge lift at the hill. But he's flying, with all that romantic bravado, and now we're one minute from disaster.
'Well, how about that', he said. 'Lift at last! two fifty, three hundred feet per minute up.'
'Yeah, sometimes you have the most fantastic luck.'
'Think it's luck? Maybe so. Maybe not. Believe in lift, never give up the search for it, and I bet you turn out luckier than the man who gives up at a thousand feet!
'That little thermal saved your neck', I said, 'and you leave it, turn your back on it, without so much as a fare-thee-well.'
'Right, no farewell. Does us no good to stay around after we've gone as high as we can go. Clinging to old lift is for non-believers. Happens over and over again. The only real security for a glider is knowing that the sky has other thermals, invisible, waiting. It's just a matter of  learning to find what is already there.'
'Hm', I said. 'It sounded logical enough with four thousand feet in our bank, but the philosophy was no comfort back there when I thought we had bought us a parking lot.'
I was an ardent follower of the search of Richard Bach for Truth and Faith - after I had completed my search successfully, but unfortunately his search ended him in Christain Science - Death in the afternoon - a science that makes me shiver.
However, I agree to a large extent with many of his ideas. Lets hear him talk about the sky, in his 'Letter from a God-fearing man' :
'Alright', he said, 'let's take a minute and define what we are talking about. Instead of saying 'God', for instance , let's say 'sky'. Now the sky isn't God, but for the people who love to fly, the sky can be a symbol of God, and it's not a bad symbol at all, when you think about it.
'When you are an airplane pilot, you're very conscious of the sky. The sky is always up there ... it can't be buried, moved away, chained down, blown up. The sky just is, whether we admit it or not, whether we look at it or not, whether we love it or whether we hate it. It is quiet and big, and there. If you don't understand it, the sky is a very mysterious thing. It's always moving, but it's never gone. It takes no notice of anything unlike itself. The sky has always been and will always be. The sky does not misunderstand, it doesn't have hurt feelings, it doesn't demand that we do anything in any particular way, at any particular time.
God demands nothing as long as we ask nothing. But as soon as we want to learn about Him, we run into demands. The same with the sky. The sky demands nothing of us until we want to learn about it, until we want to fly. And then there are all kinds of demands on us, and laws that we have to obey.
The laws of the sky are aerodymnamics. Follow them, work with them, and you fly. If you don't follow them, no amount of words or high sounding phrases means a thing ... you'll never get off the ground.
Oh, you have to have faith to give it a try, but you get nowhere with faith alone, but you get everywhere with knowing and understanding. If you don't understand the law, then sooner or later you are going to break it, and when you break the laws of aerodynamics, you leave the sky mighty fast.
If you don't repent - and get back into harmony with aerodynamcis before long, you will have to pay some penalties, such as airplane repairs. In flying, you get your freedom only when you obey the laws of the sky. If you don't feel like obeying them, you are chained to the ground for life - and that, for airplane pilots, is hell.
When some pilot spins out of the top of a loop, nobody says it was the will of the sky that it happened. It is nothing mysterious. The guy broke the rules of smooth flight, trying a too high angle of attack for the weight he had on the wings, and down he went. He sinned - you  might say, but we don't consider this a nasty thing, we don't stone him for it. It was just kind of a dumb thing that shows he still has something to learn about the sky.
When  that pilot comes down, he does not shake his fist at the sky ... he's mad at himself for not following the rules. He doesn't ask favours of the sky, or burn incense to it. He goes back up there and corrects his mistake. His forgiveness then, comes only after he corrects his mistakes. His forgiveness is that he is now in harmony with the sky, and his loops are successful and beautiful. - and that - to a pilot - is heaven.
Why has this dilemma come over me? Did I not see that I was moving out of harmony with the sky - the laws of the sky?
The simple answer is cause and effect. I did something that was not allowable under my present circumstances. It was a very small transgression, but the effects may be profound.
Just think about the small transgression of Adam and Eve, and the profound effect it had on the world and on God's Son. Was the apple worth all that suffering? For sure not, but it was the temptation of the moment.
The adage says : Act in haste and repent at leisure. I will have an hour to repent and try to come into harmony with the sky again.
I read these passages often - no, not for gliding - I read it for faith and understanding. If one replaces the word sky by God and lift as the gifts from God, one may learn a lot about faith and trust and PRAYER.
It is time for a prayer.
I start the prayer as good as I can in these circumstances, which is short and maybe not so sweet, but directly to the point, while I fight the sink with all the skills I have available, but to no avail.
After the flight I thought, on reflection, that the best prayer would have been the one Valjean prayed for Marius at the barricades in Les Miserables.
God on high, hear my prayer
In my need you have always been there ...
He is young, he's afraid
Let him rest, heaven blessed
bring him (me) home, bring him (me) home, bring him (me) home ...
The summers (and thermals) die, one by one
How soon they fly, on and on
And I am old and will be gone ...
You can take, you can give
Let him be, let him (me) live.
If I die, let me die, let him live
bring him (me) home, bring him (me) home, bring him (me) home ...
I can see Witbank dam in front of me, but it is still half an hour away and I am getting too low, but I push on. There are still some clouds left, and I allow myself the freedom to alter my course slightly to get underneath them, and when I do, I get no lift although my sink decreases to almost zero in these areas. I am down to 8000 feet and I will definately not make Witbank airfield.
ASK21 :   Joburg Alfa Sierra Kilo
Joburg :   Alfa Sierra Kilo Go ahead.
ASK21 :   I am below 8 000 feet and I have started my descent into Witbank. (I do it in faith)
Joburg :   Contact Witbank on one two three decimal five, good night.
We are travelling as pilgrims along this long road home, whether it be to the Celestial City or back to my Father's house - but it is a quest that looks long and hard and we think we might not make it. We might have sank too low into sin and shame and waiting for death in the afternoon, but relax, the race is not over until it is over. The answer to my prayer may only come at two hundred feet, and not at one thousand feet, and the stakes may be much higher than they are today.
We might have wished for other options to remain open to us, like having charged batteries to restart the engine, but it is specifically these circumstances we are in, that God chooses and uses to show us His power and Grace - of lifting us up, when all else have failed. When I get into this condition, I always think of the beautiful gospel song we often sing : God has a thousand ways - to answer every prayer!! Did I hear it right - to answer every prayer. I have quite a few options of which I can advise God of, to change my life or my circumstances, but He has a thousand ways to answer every single one!!
Our power may have waned and we may have reached a place of no return or one from where we will not or do not want to start over again - our voltage has become too low. Remember - there is always the SON where we can charge our batteries.
My battery power is now down to 11.0V and there is no way I will be able to start my engine again. It is either gliding into Witbank or landing in a field somewhere, but no other option out of this dilemma, and the one of gliding into Witbank, has now gone for me.
And then ... suddenly ... it happens !!!!
I have lift - from nowhere it appeareds and for no reason. It cannot be - I cannot believe it. I have lift and it is increasing. I am not alive yet, but I have hope and I have faith and faith turns the night into the day.
I quickly turn into the thermal and start to milk it. My variometer coupled to my final glide computer helps me to centre the glider into the centre of the thermal. I am climbing and I have lift!!
I circle in this thermal for twenty minutes and every minute it is getting better and better. I am at 10 000 feet and counting - I have three thousand feet to spare over and above my normal preset safety altitude - I am going to make it - I am alive again !!!!
I have a lot of altitude to spare - much more than I can ever need for the rest of my flight. I take the last shift home as the air has cooled and has become as smooth as silk. This is the best time of day to fly. I tune to Witbank Radio frequency and hear Henry landing safely from his flight. I make my first turn over Witbank Airfield, but much too high - it will take me at least twenty minutes to bleed off that extra altitude.
How many times have I sank too low in life in many respects, and each time God has come and given me lift at the crucial time. Given me life abundantly - more than I need. It just takes a little faith and perseverance and a lot of trust.
Had I been forced to do an out landing, what would have been the problem - I do not think too much. I would have assembled the parts and started another flight on another day - starting all over again - trying harder to make that perfect flight.
The moth will singe her wings, and singed return, her love of light quenching her fear of pain.
I turn onto final approach for runway two two just after sunset and make the landing in grand fashion, with the runway lights and city lights coming on and looking like Wonderland. I am home - I have made it - I have been alive. This was the perfect flight.
Next time - Part 3 - I get a flying start
 

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