In defense of plain speaking……


Over the weekend, The stories I wrote on Risk Management pulled about 1,900 page reads. Give or take, that is 700-800 different people reading them, some visiting more than once. From this came a handful of letters, and I was somewhat concerned that several of these were critical of the presentation because it spoke of the deaths of a number of people I once knew. This was called ‘morbid ‘  and ‘not about planes.’ I disagree, and I don’t feel that way when I write such things. Let me explain by introducing a friend whom I have great respect for.

With me are Dave and Carmen, good friends to Grace and me, in a photo from SnF ’09. They have an extraordinary marriage. Their lives are an interesting juxtaposition. Dave has flown many of the aviation scenes in James Bond films, yet they choose to live deep in nature in a very rural part of Florida, in a primitive setting, like the novel The Yearling. These are people who really live in harmony with the world. They are deeply faithful, and in their view this includes drinking and dancing and happiness. They are the kind of people who went with Rodger Williams to Providence.

I do not believe in ghosts, aliens, luck nor magic. Yet I will tell you that stand within arms length of Carmen, you can feel that she is a profoundly spiritual person. I am not alone in this, it is also said in her circle of friends. I accept that there are things in the human world that do not have, nor do they need, a detailed explanation. They just are. If you have never been in the presence of such a person, it is understandable, in all my travels and 50 years, I have only met 2 or 3 such people.

The setting of Carmen’s life, and how she was raised could have come straight from a William Faulkner novel.  She grew up with several very close sisters, one of whom died young.  Several years ago she told me that every year, on the day that would have been her sister’s birthday, all of the sisters dress in their finest clothes, hand prepare an elegant picnic, and they spend the afternoon ‘with’ their sister in the cemetery. She said it is about remembrance and of the celebration of the life they had and still have. She speaks of still having her sister ‘with’ her. When I asked her how they came to do this, Carmen simply said that this was how she was raised and who her family is. When she looks you right in the eye and says this, you really understand that it is her family that is normal and healthy, and it is the rest of our society that is hiding and perpetuating its wounds.

My version of remembrance of friends is writing about them. As I said in the story, I rarely think about these people when it is sunny and there are things to do. The thoughts only come back in the quiet hours, they are not with me every day.  Some people are afraid to visit their past, and seek any distraction to avoid it. I have long since made peace with mine, apologizing for my failings. The only somber part of thinking of lost friends now is just purely missing their company. These people taught me a lot, and to not acknowledge that when I can, robs something from their memory. Almost everything that is known in aviation cost someone dearly. If we only choose to speak of ‘nice’ knowledge gained in R&D labs, I think we would have very little to talk about.

People who have only spent a few months around my writing on Corvairs may have found the frank discussion disturbing, but in all fairness, our manuals and 14 years of webpage writing has never been far from this. I am not in the business of telling builders what they want to hear, I am just here to share what they need to know. As a courtesy to readers who would prefer just ‘engine company part numbers and build stuff’, I keep all of the human experience stories marked under the heading of “Philosophy”, and you will not hurt my feelings if you elect not to read them.-ww.

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