The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss, but that it is too low and we reach it. –Michelangelo
Sometimes I have to remind myself that I may be settling for less than my full potential. When I’m feeling this way, I spend some time writing down some things that I would love to be able to say I’ve done, but that I really don’t think are within my grasp of doing before I die.
I’ve been doing this since I was in high school. At that time, I was invited to a youth leadership conference at one of my home state’s three major universities. I was 17 years old, and one of the motivational speakers at the conference challenged us to write 100 things that we would like to do before we died. Today such lists have grown in popularity and have been dubbed “bucket lists,” because they are things you’d like to do before you “kick the bucket.” But back in 1990, this was the first time I’d heard of such a thing. I was hooked!
I went home and made my list.
Now, crazy as it may sound, one of the things that I really wanted to do at the age of 17 was fly an airplane. No doubt this was in large part due to having just seen The Navy’s astonishing and very impressive Blue Angels that summer at our local air show. The thundering of the engines, the deafening roar of the jets, the formations and aerobatics were spectacular and made an impression on me. So, it was a no- brainer, of course. And we’d been told to put anything on there, no matter how crazy and ridiculous it sounded. I had no desire, mind you to get a pilot’s license, but I also had no intention of just flying as a passenger either. How will I ever be able to fly an airplane, with nothing more than an expectation? I wondered. I had a pretty good idea that this would be one of those dreams I would probably eventually outgrow before I’d had a chance to do it, but I was willing to see what the world might offer me.
Fast forward a few months when I started dating a long-time friend (who is now my husband, I might add). I was fascinated to learn one day that one of his 4 brothers was a flight instructor at the time, at a nearby university. I can’t even recall anymore how the rest of the story came to be…did my husband tell his brother I wanted to fly a plane? Were we just bored one afternoon and decided to go flying? The details of how we made a decision to fly around for the afternoon escape me now. What I do remember is that we pulled into the small airfield where his brother worked and I thought my (future) husband and sister-in-law and I were all going to be passengers in the little four passenger Cessna, but as we climbed in, his brother said to me, “Did you want to be the pilot today?”
“WHAT??!?!?! How is that even possible?” I asked, dumbfounded (and slightly giddy).
“This is an instructor plane,” he informed me. “We both have all the same instrument controls, so I can override any mistakes you might make,” he said. “Except the brakes. I don’t have brakes, ” he said.
Aren’t those kind of important? I thought, but I didn’t dare ask out loud. Instead, before I could change my mind, blink, or most worrisome of all–wet myself –I was sitting in the pilot’s seat ready for takeoff.
“Clear prop!” I bellowed out the window. To which all three passengers on board with me laughed as there was no one around but maybe a stray cow or two. Still…it was part of protocol on the checklist my brother-in-law had shown me . (There was just no need to say it so LOUD, he informed me later.) Next thing I knew we were taxing down the runway, reading the gauges, pulling back the wheel and in the air!
Whew! We made it! Now what? I wondered. We circled around in the air for a half hour or so, taking in the views of the Mississippi River as it bent its way around the river town of Dubuque, Iowa. As our air time was nearing its end, my brother-in-law radioed the tower for something called a “touch-and-go.” This meant, he informed me, that we would be touching down on the landing strip, accelerating, and taking off again. As we touched down, I pulled back on the wheel, accelerated and before I knew it, we had left the ground again, all under the control my own two hands! In case there was any doubt later in the minds of our two other passengers, my brother-in-law grinned at me and turned back to look at them with his hands in the air to indicate I had just landed and taken off in the airplane– all on my own!
Though we’d landed safely shortly after our “touch-and-go,” I didn’t come down off the proverbial “Cloud 9” for probably another week or two. I could hardly believe that one of the FIRST things I’d been able to cross of my “bucket list” was one of the seemingly most impossible things! This left me both thrilled and somewhat disappointed. On the one hand, if I was able to cross this item off my list–an item that had seemed laughingly impossible–then what other seemingly impossible things might I be able to accomplish in my lifetime? On the other hand, to have something so seemingly impossible come to fruition so easily made me wonder for a moment, did this mean I was going to die soon? And, if so, it was disappointingly obvious that this single event, though thrilling, was hardly enough to leave me satisfied leaving this earth for an early grave.
Then I remembered something the presenter had told us when he challenged us to write the lists. He said to never stop updating them. So after a few days’ time, I wrote a new dream in it’s place: Fly with the Blue Angels.
Of course, when I first wrote down these desires at the age of 17, God and His plans for me was not near as much a part of my daily life as it is now. Still, I can’t help but think now that God was sending me a very powerful message at that time, and His Spirit is reminding me of that message in the memory of it all: anything is possible. Don’t settle.
Now that I’m older, I still have the list. I’ve realized an added benefit to it, too, as the years tick by: the more things I write down, the more I force myself to realize what I really want out of my life instead of what others may want me to do. Plus, I have the added benefit of an ongoing relationship with God now, which of course means that I now know with even greater faith and understanding that “all things are possible.” Mt 19:26
It’s been years since I wrote down that desire to fly with the Blue Angels, and it still sits untouched on my list. Now, as an almost 40-year-old mother of three with no connections to the military it seems all but impossible I’ll ever get that chance. In fact, a few years ago, my husband worked with someone who had been a mechanic on an aircraft carrier for the F/A-18’s, (the same model as the Blue Angels) and told him I had dreams of flying with the Blue Angels one day. My husband then asked him what the “odds” were of me ever being able to fly with the Blue Angels. His co-worker told him my chances were “pretty much impossible.” My husband came home and shared this little insight with me. “You may just want to cross that one off your list,” he said.
While I realize that he’s right–my chances really are almost impossible–the thought of taking that dream off the list makes me feel as though I’d be letting myself down. What it stands for means so much more to me than actually getting the chance to do it. That’s when I realized that I hope to never stop coming up with things for my list because the more I see some of the seemingly impossible goals get reached, the more I stretch myself to go further. I shook my head at my husband and flashed him a grin. “Nope.” I told him, “Not a chance. I’ve done impossible things before. It’s staying on the list.”
And I can’t help but wonder if that’s exactly the kind of “impossible” thinking God was hoping to spark within me all those years ago.