Flying and the Christmas hustle-bustle-burn-out.
Compassion — The feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering—showing sympathy and concern for others.
Curmudgeon — A cranky, crusty, ill-tempered individual, full of stubborn ideas or opinions who is always angry, unhappy and seldom socializes with others.
Christmas is a festival commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, observed on December 25 as a religious and cultural celebration among billions of people around the world – and it can be maddening. Sadness, self-reflection, loneliness, guilt, headaches, overeating, fatigue and anxiety are common side effects of this, the most wonderful time of the year. The religious, mental and physical stresses of the holiday scramble should invoke an honest assessment of our fitness to fly and our capacity to play well with others. Fortunately, there are remedies for these holiday maladies that may include aviation and flying your airplane.
A Capitalistic and Commercialized Travesty
While preparing for gatherings and searching for presents (the less formal, colloquial term for gifts), we may feel unprepared, frantic and our gift purchases inadequate. Rather than recognizing the time, effort and thoughtfulness needed to negotiate the shopping center free-for-all as a celebration of Christianity and a way of expressing our appreciation of family, friendships and community, we may unwittingly succumb to the contemporary sentence imposed upon Christmas merrymaking and gift-giving as a capitalistic and commercialized travesty against Christianity and our sanity. The preceding extra-long sentence and misperceived travesties against religion notwithstanding, the holidays can generate psychological ramifications that challenge both our social skills and fitness to operate machinery – especially flying machinery. Ironically, once we recognize the challenges, a higher level of involvement in the seasonal activities along with a commitment to selflessness can work Christmas miracles, even if we don’t live on 34th Street or in Bedford Falls.
First: Confronting the Challenges
Sadness. Christmas elicits an open-minded assessment of our persona; a soul-searching “instrument crosscheck” of our financial, physical and spiritual self. And it’s this self-reflection that may cause sadness if throughout the year, while in the pursuit of profit and a piloty-perfect-persona, there were losses and setbacks in life that we handled more like Old Man Potter and Mr. Scrooge than Rudolph, Santa or George Bailey. If so, our Christmas gift-giving can feel like, and appear to others, as an apology for our less than gracious behavior, rather than a bell-jingling reward for a newly winged angel.
Loneliness. Some people find themselves alone at Christmas time. For the first two-thirds of my airline career, I worked all holidays including Christmas and New Year’s. It was common to find myself in a hotel on Christmas Eve, Christmas morning, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day – even on Groundhog Day. If you have ever “lived on the road,” you will understand the surreal reference to the 1993 movie starring Bill Murray. In addition to the above-average hotel noise at these times as others celebrate, waking up on Christmas morning in a hotel room (every year) holds a unique loneliness and feeling of isolation. My solution was to bring gifts for the entire crew for the Christmas morning departure from the hotel. Each of my crew would receive a gift with a personalized To-From tag. The anticipation of their surprise and gratitude helped to make the Eve and morning more like home. I have never figured out how to conquer that Groundhog Day sensation, however.
Grumpiness. Some of us battle the ornery-gene coupled with a Walter Matthau like grumpy-old-men syndrome which causes an intolerance for earbud wearing, selfie-taking millennials, which can lead to road, ramp and radio rage. We Type A overachiever pilots are mission oriented and often suppress (a generous verb) our social skills, manners and grace toward said individuals (and many others so as to not exclude anybody) as we plow unrestrained toward the goal line. Perhaps, like me, last Christmas you vowed to be less plowing and more “nicer-er.” Yes, I know – don’t correct my grammar or I might just Walter Matthau those earbuds right off your head.
Anxiety. For those who have an anxiety disorder (3 million cases per year), Christmas can be almost unbearable. Children often spend their time in the moment, which is why they are happier and have more fun. Learning to live in the moment is a way to enjoy Christmas more easily. Plan on doing more things that you want, rather than things you have to do. It’s okay to say no to things you don’t want to do. Doing more of the thing you want is a great way to lower anxiety and increase your joy.
Overeating. We may feel that Christmas is a license to eat and drink to excess. And though expanding both our eating and spending limits has become part of all holiday (and Super Bowl) celebrations, Christmas overeating and overspending are chastised as an affront against God. From our perspective at the pointy end of an airplane, overeating and overdrinking can increase tiredness, grumpiness, obesity, bloating and if that doesn’t get your attention: excess gas. Nobody wants that in an airplane. I suppose that could be the affront against God that got gluttony on the seven deadly sins list.
Second: A Higher Level of Involvement
While a common prescription for surviving the psychological effects of Christmas may include things like singing carols, gathering with friends and family, decorating the tree and stringing lights around the office, hangar or yard, the best way to deal with the potential exhaustion of the holidays is actually not to withdraw, but to enter the season thoughtfully with purpose and vigor; sounds like a Type A pilot-y plan, right? Be of good cheer, give some real gifts, make some good food, and spend more time than usual with friends and family. There are also a few aviation-related activities that you may investigate throughout the year that can couple your passion for flying with giving, charity and compassion while simultaneously decreasing your coefficient of curmudgeon-ness (yes, more bad grammar). For example:
Wings of Mercy and Angel Flight. For those that cannot afford to fly, or when commercial flights are impractical, both organizations provide free air transportation to qualified children and adults in need of medical treatment and other humanitarian needs to distant medical facilities. Volunteer pilots use their own aircraft (http://wingsofmercy.org/; http://www.angelflight.com/pilots/).
Pilots N Paws. A 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that provides a forum in which volunteers can arrange or schedule rescue flights, overnight foster care or shelter, and all other related activities. Their website is used as a meeting place for volunteers engaged in the rescuing, sheltering and adopting of animals, and by volunteer pilots and airplane owners willing to assist with animal transportation (https://pilotsnpaws.org).
Sky Ball. The Airpower Foundation was founded to be a nationwide 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to supporting active duty, reserve, and National Guard families. Sky Ball has allowed the Airpower Foundation to contribute solely to funding projects that directly support the members and families of all branches of our military, veterans and wounded, ill or injured service members and their families (www.shyballinfo.com).
Veteran Airlift Command. VAC
provides free air transportation to post 9/11 combat wounded and their families for medical and other compassionate purposes through a national network of volunteer aircraft owners and pilots (http://www.veteransairlift.org).
Honor Flight Network. A non-profit organization created to honor America’s veterans for all their sacrifices by transporting our heroes to Washington, D.C. to visit and reflect at their memorials. Priority is given to the senior veterans – World War II survivors, and to those other veterans who may be terminally ill. An Honor Flight is conducted by non-profit organizations dedicated to transporting as many United States military veterans as possible to see the memorials of the respective war they fought, at no cost to the veterans (www.honorflight.org/).
Kris Kringle or Chris Curmudgeon
We are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmastime. – Laura Ingalls Wilder
Time is one of our most precious assets and adding Christmas responsibilities to our schedule can be overtaxing if not approached with humility, compassion and patience. For many, decorating a tree, stringing lights, giving and receiving gifts and spending time in the moment with friends and family makes Christmas the most wonderful time of the year. For many others, the celebration of Christianity is a time for reflection and prayer without many commercialized overtones, a tree or the exchange of presents – and both philosophies receive undue criticism from the other. However we choose to promote peace on earth and good will to man, and whether we are flying to the party or driving, let’s not forget the reason for the season. And to take along the Rolaids. Merry Christmas my friends.