People connect in all different kinds of ways. Sometimes it’s friendship, or curiosity, or respect, or good old fashioned love-at-first-sight. I try to recognize these as they’re occurring, and the common thread, for me, is that the person you’re connecting with is or will have an important impact on your life in one way or another. It’s not easy to lose one of those people.
Being mouthy, either with my keyboard or my actual mouth, always carries the risk of ticking off a certain segment or firing up and encouraging another. You never know how it’s being received by people close to you – it’s either “oh, doesn’t he ever know when to stop?” (answer: probably not) to “go get em!”. Those that know me best know I will speak my mind, often, can do it fairly well, and back down to no one and no thing. Of course, that turns off and away a fair share as well. So be it.
I appreciate people who are genuine, and don’t put up false fronts to impress or get friends. It’s alright to be flawed, but not alright to be fake. So when I pick one of these kind of people out, or vice versa, I’m invested in the relationship and feel the loss when it ends. This week I lost a good friend, flying buddy, and fellow controller Joe Berry to cancer. He was 53 and leaves behind a wife and son, and a whole lot of friends.
Our major connection was the love of flying and airplanes. But that lead to finding out how much alike we were in ways beyond aviation. We learned about how in some ways we felt the weight of the world on our shoulders, which probably lead to the necessary perfectionism we showed when it came to safety while flying. But oddly enough, we each had near or close-to-death situations – his with a previous bout with cancer, mine with an avalanche that nearly did me in – so one would think we’d both share the feeling of invincibility or at least a more casual attitude towards serious things. But that wasn’t the case.
We probably felt we were given a second chance and weren’t going to blow it by being lackadaisical. We were a great team in the cockpit, took every flight as seriously as an airline crew, even though it was usually just the two of us in my airplane. We saw and experienced the gamut from beautiful to surreal, especially on one trip through the Southwest. We relived that and other experiences just days before his passing, thankfully the cancer hadn’t diminished those memories for him. We should all wish to be so aware, lucid, and brave if placed in the circumstances Joe faced. By the time we were done talking, he convinced me he was the lucky one.
I’d once before been blasted for being so blunt with the dying (my grandfather), and I told him that story. But you know what? I got to say goodbye and left nothing unsaid, no regrets. Joe appreciated my sharing of that story and it opened the door for us to talk about life, death, fears, regrets, and memories he’ll take with him. Thankfully, the man had no fear of what was coming and no regrets, other than leaving behind his wife and not seeing the son that he was so proud of grow up. At least he had the chance to let them know that. Again, we should all be so lucky.
This is not an exercise in catharsis. One of the few upsides in being so blunt and outspoken is that there’s very little doubt about how you stand on something, or with someone. I will miss Joe, no doubt, as well as others who are gone that touched or formed my life. In reality, those connections are never severed, although in the short term it may feel that way. They live on as long as those experiences continue to make you who and what you are. In Joe’s case, he made me laugh, think, and witness the love of aviation that I had through his eyes. You can’t fake that.
But I’m not saying anything I didn’t tell him, which is the point. Life’s too short and complicated enough, there’s no need to put up self-imposed limitations like regret or shyness. While sometimes silence is golden, sometimes it’s not.