Life in the Afternoon - Part 4 - Masking


Life in the Afternoon - much more than a story of soaring - and reflections of that on my life by P.K.Odendaal. 23 October 2011.

Part 4 - Masking.

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes - and ships - and sealing-wax ...
Of cabbages - and kings ...
And why the sea is boiling hot ...
And whether pigs have wings."
From the 'Walrus and the Carpenter' By Lewis Carroll

Today I have had a flying start. It is a new day and a new flight and who knows what the flight of my mind might bring. My hangar neighbour, Willie, has offered to hold my wing up, while I start the take off roll, which enables me to have this flying start without the concomitant yaw and balancing act I normally have to do, starting with a wing on the ground, similar to the yaws and unbalance I had, when I started off my life without someone to hold my wing up.
Just after take-off, I feel the wings starting to rise and dip due to different thermals acting on the different wings. I can sense that the thermals will be very strong today, and although this is Sunday, I can already sense that this will not be a Sunday School picnic.
Thermals are generated similar to bubbles forming in a boiling kettle, simply because science does not change from a boiling kettle to a boiling Earth. As the sun warms (boils) the earth, the air in contact with the Earth gets warmer more quickly and then starts to rise. Some pockets of air vie between each other for supremacy, pushing each other away, and others, which have some synergy in terms of pressure and temperature, coalesces to form even larger pockets of bubbles rising even more quickly.
I am a slave to my thoughts .... and perspective
I also know that I will be thinking about many things today, but not whether pigs have wings, as the thought bubbles/boggles in my mind vie for supremacy of my mind. Those which find synergy and coalesce, will rule my thoughts, but I know not what they are and what excitement and perspective they will bring.
All I know, is that I am a slave of my thoughts, although I try to shift those that I do not like - like fear, grief, pain and death - away from me. And that is one of my more serious faults. I think one should entertain those as well, so that one can get to grips with these and other such imposters - they are not what they seem to be. There are many other imposters like these of which triumph and disaster are two important ones.
To quote form Rudyard Kipling's beautiful poem called 'IF'
If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, ...
(shortened) then ...
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!
In the end one should realise that, if we trust in God, everything will work towards our good. But, like security further on in this story, I mask the fear and pain with joy of the present.
Why am I inspired with unbridled thoughts every time I enter this high country? I think about this for a long time, and then it slowly dawns upon me - it is due to  Perspective. Down there in the heat of the day of everyday life, I cannot see the wood for the trees, while I scurry around chasing wind to make ends meet. What those ends are, I am also not so sure of. It is only when I am up here that I can see things in perspective. Up here, as General of my life and of my soul (not Field Marshall - Jesus Christ is that), I can see my ground forces clearly, fighting their way through life. I can see my own idiosyncrasies and that of others, as I peek over their imaginary fences, because up here, there are no real fences.
In fact, from where I sit up here, there is no difference between humans and countries. They all look the same from up here - so how can politicians and humans, like myself, not understand this from down there. I think the answer is that I am not involved in it from up here. To me up here, they are 'merely' humans - nothing less, nothing more.     
Masking and security.
I have replaced the three - now useless - batteries of the glider, and I feel more secure with three new batteries. But, why does having three batteries let me feel more secure than having one? Simply because there is security in numbers - if one runs flat, there are two others that can stand in for it. But, then again, last time, all three batteries ran almost flat simultaneously, after four years of faithful service, having just missed their five year service award. They could each of them have gotten a golden watch for long service if they persisted.
Having three batteries is called security, but what a false security that is - the type we chase down on Earth. How many batteries do I need to have absolute security? The answer is simple - I need an infinite number of them - and this is the point I wish to make. The old Greeks had a finite number of (ill natured) gods - one for war, one for crops, one for love and one for keeps, but in the end, they all ran flat. It is only we, who have an Infinite God who have full security.
We do not realise that we are clinging to false security, being blinded by the comfort of the moment.
As a start, I give you (again) a flying example. When I fly in my powered aircraft, an Aviat Husky twin tandem seat single engine aircraft, I am very happy as long as the engine keeps on running, and that is my security. But let that engine stop, and I give you fear and sheer terror. That fear and terror were always present while I flew, but it was masked by the sound of the engine. And what a thin mask that is.
There are many 'engines' masking our false sense of security on Earth. To which one or more of them are we clinging to?
I have clung to false security - that of my batteries - on the previous flight, which could have landed me between a rock and a hard place, last time, and still I do not even realise how false it was, and what the consequences could have been, had the batteries totally collapsed. Their voltage went down to 11.0V, but still, the items drawing little power, like the radio, radar, final glide computer and GPS, kept on working. What would have happened if they also lost power. I would have been lost, because I did not concentrate on finding out where I was.
Similarly, we lose sight of our purpose and calling on Earth, while we get so busy and involved with the modern cosmetics of technological advance, like cell phones, iPads, social life and emotional baggage - and some even from work.
In fact - when I look downward from here, it is a very long fall. The only thing that prevents me from falling, is the floor of the glider which is a skin of 3mm thick fibre glass - and my life depends on that - what a false security.
Masking myself ... or ... which masks am I wearing .... ?
I am attending the greatest masquerade ever invented - the masquerade of life. I have set up a complex and elaborate mask on my face and my feelings, but the problems is, it only covers my face and my feelings. If people look really well at me they can see parts of me that are not covered by this mask. Conceal as I will, but sometimes my inner self reveals itself in ways I cannot start to comprehend, leaving me astonished at the finesse of my inner self in times of great stress and tribulation. Of course, this is my sub-conscious that is really controlling my life, and to which I am often an innocent bystander.
I quote from Barlasch of the Guard by H.S.Merriman
But as civilization advances men will wax so tender, so careful of the individual, that they will never cut and slash, but move softly, very tolerant, very easy-going, seeking the compromise that brings peace and breeds a small and timid race of men.
Into such lives Fate comes crashing like a woodman with his axe, leaving us to smooth the edges of the gaping wound and smile, and say that we are not hurt; to pare away the knots and broken stumps; and hope that our neighbour, concealing such himself, will have the decency to pretend not to see.
But still, I conceal as much as I can. My generation was not allowed to show any emotion. We had to conceal that as well as we could, and in the end we got really good with that, because Cowboys don't cry. In fact, I am no longer aware of what I conceal and what I reveal. The adage, applied to statistics, is also well applied to mankind : What they reveal are interesting and what they conceal is vital.
It is therefore not unthinkable that now and then I stand at amazement at what I just thought or did, or said - as it was not me that thought or did or said that - it was some other voice within me shouting out to get some air time.
Now and then however, wars come and purify us. I am a pacifist, but it does not take an Einstein to realise this. When your life hangs on a very thin string, it is best to get straight with yourself and your fellow man - and of course with God -  and this is what happens during a war. Our whole society has become so decadent that we do not realise what our real purpose in life is. In case you forgot - it is to serve other humans, not ourselves ... my, my , my ... here I start again with that elusive idea of human rights and humanism which cannot exist in our violent society.
I have not even started to talk about how groups and nations mask themselves, but I leave that to some other philosopher. Plato and Socrates, where are you ???
Who am I ... and where am I.
I am over 7500 feet, and I tune in to Johannesburg ATC.
ASK21 (me) :   Joburg, this is Glider Alfa Sierra Kilo on 7500 feet for 10500 feet.
JHB ATC  :        That station calling Joburg, say again your call sign. (her attention was somewhere else)
It is spoken in a New South African accent. I know there is trouble brewing, having been through this futile cycle a few times before, but I am always ready to add insult to injury. That is one of my other serious faults.
ASK21 (me) :   Joburg, this is Glider Alfa Sierra Kilo.
JHB ATC  :        Alfa Sierra Kilo, have you submitted a flight plan?
I can sense that she did not hear the prefix 'Glider', which is mandatory to say, so that she and other people listening in, know to prepare themselves for right of way issues, if I am in their vicinity. I have right of way over powered aircraft.
How do I start to explain what a glider is and what it does, to anyone who has apparently never even heard the word. In fact - I am still not used, after twenty years, to this miracle of powerless flight and when I try to explain it to other people, they get this faraway look in their eyes that tells me that they have heard similar lies before.
Gliders do not and cannot submit flight plans. Flight plans are for powered aircraft flying from A to B at a specific flight level, on a specific course and flying past specific points in between at specific times. I cannot meet any of these criteria, but it is obvious that she either did not hear me saying 'Glider', or that she does not know what a 'Glider' is, or both. It is like asking me what the plan of my life is - this life which makes such unexpected turns and dips and highs and lows and circles many times over the same emotional landscape.
ASK21 (me) :   Joburg, I do not need to file a flight plan, as I am not going to fly into controlled airspace.
A long silence as she consults her tutor, who is no doubt sitting beside her.
Joburg ATC :    Alfa Sierra Kilo, where are you coming from and where are you going to, and where are you now?
Mmmmm .... I wish I knew. I have been asking myself that question for many decades and have not gotten a good answer yet.
I know that I am a child of this universe, lingering somewhere in one of the outer spirals of a galaxy called the Milky Way. I dare not tell her that.
or - I might be a child of South Africa, one of the countries on planet Earth, a qualification I am not very proud of presently, having seen the country degenerate into a predator state (the last two words are not mine) with all services collapsing at an alarming rate. The last time this happened, was after the Russian Revolution of 1917, a revolution much like our own. In that revolution all intellectuals were killed or put in lifelong prison, and the government passed to Apparatchiks, these days called Comrades. So I dare not tell her that.
or I might be a glider pilot, sitting in my cabin about 300mm behind my instrument panel. Neither can I tell her this - it will be cold war for the rest of the afternoon.
or I might be a glider sitting above an unknown or unpronounceable squatter camp somewhere near Emalahleni, a city I now live in, having moved there, involuntarily, from Witbank. She will also not understand this in the proper context.
What reply shall I make, with the least chance of being shouted at? I do not like being shouted at, although, at times it becomes very necessary, keeping in mind my natural rebellious disposition.
To understand this argument more fully, you might want to read my blog on being lost here :
I am at Nav school and the year is 1964. We are three pupil navigators patrolling a route along the 300 degree radial, a magnetic course corresponding to West, flying westward from Robben Island in the direction of South America. And what did we see ... we saw the sea.
Each of us will take a turn to navigate for one and a half hours - so we should return, to be over Robben Island, in four and a half hours. In fact, it is the object of our exercise to see how far we can go out and still make it back with fuel reserves. In this case it is about 1400 km.
What do we have to guide us? - only the sun.
What else? A navigation map of the sea. This map cannot show me anything that physical that I can see when I look through the aircraft window. It contains imaginary lines of longitude and latitude. It contains isogonals - imaginary lines of magnetic variation. It shows me the direction of the true North Pole - as if that will help me. But these are all conventional sings.
But the Bellman had (almost) the same type of map.
He had brought a large map representing the sea
Without the least vestiges of land:
And the crew were much pleased when they found it to be
A map they could all understand
What's the good of Mercator's North Poles and Equators
Tropics, Zones and Meridian Lines -
so the Bellman would cry; and the crew would reply
"They are merely conventional signs"
Other maps are such shapes, with their islands and capes!
But we've got our brave Captain to thank
(So the crew would protest) "that he's brought us the best -
A perfect and absolute blank
This was charming, no doubt; but they shortly found out
That the Captain they trusted so well
Had only one notion for crossing the ocean,
And that was to tingle his bell.

From : The Hunting of the Snark - Lewis Carroll
However - I cannot navigate if I do not understand and use these conventional signs. They are information on another level - much like my spiritual life is.
What other navigation instruments do we have to plot our route and position? Some very crude compasses, air speed indicators, an air position indicator, a drift recorder and most of all - a sextant to shoot the sun with - no, not down. GPS navigation was still thirty years away. It is so that at a certain time of day, the sun can only give us a position line along our track/course, so that we know in which direction we are moving, but not at which speed and how far. Much like the Bible - we are quite sure of our direction, but not of our distance from the SON.
We can easily be out by more than 10% of our total distance flown in four and a half hours, which is 140 km. If this error is to the south, we will totally miss Cape Town and South Africa - not even see it. Although it did not, fortunately,  happen to us, there is talk that it happened to someone else one day.
If this happened to us, what would our Bellman, the Captain of our aircraft, have said? Yes, he also rang the bell now and then, so that we pupil navigators could go forward to the pilot's cabin, so that he could s... on and all over us from a dizzy height, because we missed a navigation point. And, apart from that, what a blot would it have been on our name, on the name of our course colleagues, and the name of our families, and on whats-his-name? What is in a name? We fortunately never lost this honour for our name, hypocritical as that may sound. The Bible says that a good name is better than good oil.
This accuracy is much more accurate than the accuracy with which I am navigating my own life, and which cities and continents have I missed in the process?
In those years, I have begun to get acquainted with the family Lost, with their siblings called Almost, Being, Getting and their second cousin called Totally. Yes - in the aircraft - and in my life. I know I am drifting away from God at an error of more than 10% of the route travelled, but life is so exciting in the Air Force - so boisterous and debauching. It will/have cost the SON His life, to bring me back on course. It was the least of my worries at that stage, as I was masked from the reality of life by the pleasure of the moment. There was so much to do and enjoy, like weekend passes and ...
Have I ever been lost in an aeroplane? I do not think so, as the saying goes : A navigator is never lost, he is only at times a little bit uncertain of his position.
That happened to me on a flight during Operation Sibasa. I was 'off' navigation for about a year, due to some unwarranted smokescreen of study leave. I had to fly for the Air Force every week-end for ten years, but then, I think, I met a girlfriend who made an unsubstantiated claim on some of my weekend time - or I really needed to study, I forgot which.
However, this flight started off badly, as I subtracted port drift from the aircraft heading, thereby ensuring that we drifted off course at twice the already erroneous angle. Due to the fact that the Dakota was not made for navigators, we always sat in a secluded seat, where we could not see anything outside, so I could not detect my error. When we went into cloud soon thereafter, I got a little - maybe even a lot - uncertain of our position. Luckily I had two seasoned pilots as Captain and co-pilot, so they detected the fault and corrected it, without my knowledge, being very diplomatic. The Captain, for which I had a lot of respect, and who was a good friend of mine, flew the Food Air Bridge in Biafra at that time, in 1968, and had to dodge artillery, ack-ack and gunfire on final approach into Biafra every night whilst he was trying to land the aircraft without lights to keep the aircraft concealed.
I still ponder the question of ATC and then reply.
ASK21 (me) :   Joburg, I will be flying anywhere in Mpumalanga, at any altitude between 7000 feet and flight level 150 (15 000 feet) for the next few  hours or more ....
What an accurate reply.
I sit back and proud myself on being able to render such an accurate position report. Now she knows exactly where I will be and what I wish to do.
As I further meditate on this, I come to the sobering thought that that was also a very accurate statement about my life in general.
It reminds me of the poem by Lewis Carroll, where he describes the Jub Jub bird (which does not exist) so un/accurately.
Its flavour when cooked is more exquisite far
Than mutton, or oysters, or eggs
Some think it keeps best in an ivory jar,
and some in mahogany kegs
You boil it in sawdust, you salt it with glue
You condense it with locusts and tape
Still keeping one principal object in view
To preserve its symmetrical shape
Next time ... Part 5 - Mapping.

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