I have always been fascinated with flying so I thought Larry was my ticket to learning how to fly. He flew commuter planes for a commercial airline and one weekend he offered to give me a flying lesson in a small, private plane. Awesome! Right off the bat, however, I was terrible. I couldn't quite grasp using my feet to steer the plane so we looked like we were square dancing down the tarmac. I couldn't make any sense out of the garble on the radio. Math apparently played a big part - and it was my worst subject.
Although I did an okay job flying in midair, Larry landed the plane of course, and I remember thinking it was a pretty rough landing for a professional pilot. In fact, he took off and landed several more times to prove he could and only got worse. A few weeks later he failed his simulated flight test to move up to a bigger plane (forgot all about the landing gear) and I decided maybe we should stick to the ground from then on. Not too long after that I gave up my dream of flying - and the boyfriend.
One of my greatest pleasures at Blue Monarch is teaching Work Ethics right before a group graduates from our program. It is a pretty intense 9-week course that I designed from all my bad experiences employing the population we serve. It has turned into a pretty effective course, and this is where I actually get to see the light bulb come on.
Back when I did jail interviews myself, it always broke my heart that so few seemed to see anything bright in their futures. I would ask, "What are your goals? What would you like to see yourself doing one day?" Invariably each woman would look back at me like I was crazy and say, "I never thought about it."
It took me a while to realize there was no way to focus on a bright future when basic needs like food, shelter, and safety were more critical. Add to that, where are my kids right now, and it's no wonder they looked at me that way.
So at Blue Monarch, by the time our residents take my course, they have worked through some pretty enormous issues such as, why did I begin using drugs in the first place, who do I need to forgive, how can a personal relationship with God bring freedom and not just sobriety? It is not until things like these are behind them that they can even begin to consider a fulfilling job or career.
Right away I try to encourage them to step outside the box and broaden their horizons. I'm often quoted for saying, "The sky's the limit!" I love to get them to imagine doing something they love. Often one will say, "But I'm afraid of failing."
"Well, the only way you can fail is if you don't try. You have not failed if you try."
In the weeks leading up to my most recent Work Ethics class, Lauren said to me several times, "Miss Susan, I'm really concerned. I just don't have any idea what I want to do."
"Well, Lauren, we are going to figure that out," and then I'd walk away praying that we really would.
As I spent some time with Lauren I realized that she was going to need something pretty exciting to keep her out of trouble. She couldn't afford to get bored - that could easily send her back into addiction.
Finally it came to me. Aviation! That was it. I thought the whole world of aviation would be exciting to Lauren and asked her if she had ever considered it.
"Yes, actually I have." So I arranged for a good friend of Blue Monarch's, a pilot who loves to buzz our campus from time to time, to come meet with Lauren. I asked Jim to discuss all kinds of aviation jobs with Lauren - ground workers, mechanics, etc. Everything related to flying.
By the time we had that first meeting, Lauren had already decided she wanted to be a pilot. She was grinning from ear to ear and about to come out of her seat with excitement. This must have impressed Jim because before our meeting was over, he offered to make her dream possible by covering the costs of getting her license, even loaning her his private plane for lessons. That moment immediately fell into my collection of memories that include the men walking on the moon. It was too amazing for words.
A few days later Jim took Lauren and me for a ride in his plane. I took this photo of Lauren with the sky ahead of her, and her face beaming. I couldn't help but laugh. She took me literally. The sky really was the limit for her!
Lauren had a permanent grin on her face for weeks - until reality eventually set in. Her lessons got more and more challenging. She struggled to remember what she had just learned. The math was really hard. Her instructor was retired military and Lauren tends to be quite sensitive, so this was a clunky mix. Arranging her flight schedule as a single mom with lots of responsibilities became stressful. There were many tears and Lauren was ready to give up.
But she didn't. She worked on arranging better childcare to free up her schedule on good days to fly. She found ways to study that helped her remember what she had learned. She got her children to help her practice flash cards. She and her instructor found a better way to communicate and this gave her more confidence. She repeated the radio calls until she knew them backward and forward. She began to dramatically improve.
...Okay, this is ironic. Lauren called just now as she was leaving her flight lesson this morning. She was anxious to tell me that she did so well today, even with all the high winds, her instructor congratulated her and said he could finally see light at the end of the tunnel. She was over the top excited. "Miss Susan, he gave me a fist bump!"
"Thank you so much for sharing that, Lauren! You know I'm living vicariously through you, don't you?" Lauren laughed and said one day she would teach me how to fly. How 'bout that?
We don't know yet how this story will end, but I suspect there will come a day when I will peek into the cockpit to see if Lauren is flying the plane. But I won't be running back to the terminal. I will be happy to take my seat. Then I will probably turn to my neighbor and proudly say, "Don't worry. Our pilot is a woman of great courage. I know that because I was there the day she decided to try."
Lauren's children, Cadence and Jonah, are also very proud of her. Click below to hear what Jonah has to say about his mommy the pilot...