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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Thoughts after Cabrillo

I was humbled by the way I was welcomed back to Cabrillo this year. There are no other words for this. People treated me like a war hero making a triumphant return. I have been “normal” in appearance for a while now, but most of my Cabrillo friends had not seen me since before the brain surgeries. I’m sure they wondered all the obvious things. Was I going to look or act weird? Talk funny? Be dead weight? I’m sure these things went through everyone’s mind. It’s only natural. But as the festival went on I knew I belonged there, craniopharyngioma or not. I belong at Cabrillo as long as I can nail it the way everyone else there does. We all earn our spots year after year.

As I write this I am flying on an airplane so my mind turns to another person—a pilot—who gets the “hero” treatment.

Captain Sully.

Everyone loves this person. He landed a plane full of passengers on a body of water and everyone survived. The Miracle on the Hudson, they call it, and he was the kind of reluctant storybook hero we all needed when times were darkest. In his interviews following the miracle he looked like a DNA mashup of Chuck Yeager and Fozzy Bear. While he wowed us with statistics about gliding airspeeds and density altitudes we wanted to hug this man and feel the scratch of his mustache against our cheeks to let us know everything was all right. The plane crashing into the Hudson was a metaphor for the recession and Captain Sully was the numbers guru with the heart of gold.

I wonder how I might stack up to Sully. The reason I consider this is I still work. See, he doesn’t fly anymore, yet everywhere he shows up—on Thanksgiving floats, talk shows—people weep when he walks in the room. I have to work to get the same treatment. Every day I battle small issues and overcome them so I can stay at a high level.

Imagine if Sully had to do that.

Imagine a David Letterman stunt. Sully walks in the room. Everyone’s heart melts with fuzzy feelings. Letterman pulls the curtain and tells Sully he wants to see it again. He has an airplane ready for taxi at La Guardia. With a SullyCam we watch him pre-flight, file a flight plan, listen to the ATIS, call for clearance, contact ground control, taxi to the departure runway, radio the control tower, pull the throttle out, roll down the runway, hand off throttle at V1, pull back at Vr, adjust for Vx, retract landing gear, adjust for Vy, switch radio frequencies between tower and departure, level off, trim, kill the engines, adjust for best glide speed, cross fingers and crash into the Hudson.

This is how I feel every day. If I don’t demonstrate my ability to land the plane—every day—I wouldn't be a hero to anyone. I would be just a lucky patient who survived (with very good odds to begin with, don’t forget). I’ll get flak for writing this, but it is such a big part of me it would be disingenuous to omit. The reward for getting past this hurdle in my life is not the celebration of what I did (looking back) but the return to what I was before (looking forward).
This has been the driving force within me since the moment I woke up from my first brain surgery. I had a painful spinal tap, gauze stuffed up my nose, a hole in my skull, oxygen tubes in my mouth, machines beeping every time I moved (see picture below) … and all I thought was how my first goal was to get to where I was five minutes before this freight train hit me. I’ve done that now. It took me two years. Now the next step is mine.

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