Change the World: It’s easier than you think

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The world is a dangerous place.  Life is unfair.  People are cruel.

We must all unite together, stand up and demand change!  Politics, the global stage, war, business, arts, society, economy, all are rife with cruelty, abuse, and inequity.

These things have existed since the dawn of civilization, and it is time that they STOP!  Join with me and we will make the world the place it is meant to be; safe, secure, prosperous, equal, joyful, and compassionate, once and for all.

In an uncertain world, there is one thing for which we can be virtually certain.

We will not succeed in this.

We can look back upon ten thousand years of human evolution, seeing where we have come from and compare it to where we have come to and know that the world has not changed at all.

It is essentially the same as it has always been.

Despair?  Maybe not.

Let’s reframe.  Let us take the evidence at face value and concede that perhaps the world is not SUPPOSED to change.  This is a high-altitude view, so get your wings on.

PERHAPS, struggle is the nature of the human experience.  Struggle is why we are here.  Struggle is our gift.  The innocent mind will discover the cruelty of the world, rightly conclude that it is wrong, and falsely assume that it is the world that must change.

Maybe, just maybe, in the heart of our hearts, the home of our homes, the self of ourselves, our mission and destiny are only to find our course through this world of marvels and maliciousness, danger and wonder.  What if we are here only to learn for ourselves to make the right choices, turn the correct turns, find our own small, safe, and sacred beauty in this world.

Does that sound too selfish?  Too easy?  Instead of only being satisfied with a changed world, can we be satisfied with just our changed self?  It’s easier to blame the world than to task ourselves.

The truth may be that we do not own the world and that we may have absolutely no right to it.  We may only own and have the right to our individual path THROUGH it.  Within the part of my path that touches yours resides my experience of the world.  I don’t need to change the entire world, I just need to make your’s and my experience of it better.

We all can make ourselves mad with anger and despair by living with the mindset that nothing is right until the whole world changes.  We can split our guilty consciousness with a thousand worthy causes, ten thousand, and ten times that.  We can maim our spirits and throw away all belief in the goodness of life by refusing to accept that the world is the way it should be.

What if the world were not the insurmountable “task” we imagine it to be, but a “garden”; a garden of love and fear that we get to pick our path through.

Instead of insisting that the world change for us, that every wrong should be righted, every problem solved; let’s instead, from this high-height, understand that the context of the world will never change.  Light the path in front of you, and avoid the darkness.

What would the world be like, I wonder, if we all chose ONE CAUSE that resonated deeply for us, aligned with our own personal destiny, and strove for that one achievable goal, being at peace with the rest; knowing that the rest is for others to choose.

I would rather help one person utterly, than a thousand imperceptibly, and let the collateral goodness fall where it may.    

But I guess that’s my path.

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Flying in the Face of Fear

warriorI have had a life-long fascination with flight. When I was six, my most fervent dream was to be able to fly. I had no thought of being a pilot, I wanted to levitate off my bed and sail through the air by force of will alone. I held on to that dream into my teens. I was neither the loudest nor the cutest, being a middle kid in a large family, so I was often invisible. Granted, that was fine with me most of the time, but it did leave a vague sense of being overlooked.

In my mind, spontaneous flight was the obvious solution. My prayers each night for years was to wake up and discover that I could fly, now that would get me some attention! I would nonchalantly float down the stairs one morning to the surprise and astonishment, and dare I say it, admiration of all, not to mention the host of baffled doctors and scientists at the door.

My first actual airplane flight happened when I was about nine. I had a window seat and spent the entire flight with my forehead glued to the window. It was one of those glorious days when the aircraft curved lazily through a towering forest of high cumulous clouds that created spectacular cities of immense sky-castles. I remember thinking that if the plane suddenly fell out of the sky and killed us all; I would be all right with that. I would die happy, and I wouldn’t mind being afraid.

clouds3_fly_590x300When I was in my twenties, I would occasionally be gifted with a flying dream, a dream wherein you find yourself flying through the air not unlike my childhood wish. As a result I began practicing techniques for acquiring a waking dream state, and became pretty good at it for a while. A waking dream state is a state where you are consciously aware that you are dreaming, and you can in some cases control or direct your actions within the dream. It’s a pretty cool experience when you get it.

Once I would become “awake” in my dream, I would walk forward then jump up a little on each step, lengthening my “hang-time” on each bounce. Soon I would be doing moon-landing size leaps, and then finally stay airborne. It takes a great deal of concentration, but I would often be able to stay aloft and fly around at will!   As cool as this was, it was just a dream; it wasn’t really flying. Yet, it was not without its own sort of peril.

Some times I would lose myself in it and fly too high. Looking down from a great height while floating in the air calls to mind falling. This is distracting and can break your concentration, which is the only thing keeping you in the air! Fearful thoughts of, “I could fall”, and “ holly shit, what am I doing!” creep into your consciousness. Suddenly you are Icarus with wings melting and it is really terrifying!

Dream or not, your subconscious does not know the difference, and the fear is real! A huge effort of concentration is then required to quell the terror and will your body to sink, sometimes agonizingly slow, back to the safety of the ground.

One time I was riding straddled atop a balloon no bigger than a beer keg high over a beautiful white city when it occurred to me that the balloon could pop, sending me to my death. It took me “hours” of fear and suffering to get that damn balloon down again, and I awoke drenched in sweat. Fear does not need a real circumstance in order to be potent, ask anyone with nightmares.

Years later I found myself between marriages, with no life, but reasonably funded in a bachelor pad in Orlando. One day while contemplating the cul-de-sac that was my life, I thought to myself, “Holly crap! I could learn to fly!” Two miles down the road was Orlando Executive Airport, which had a very nice little FBO and flight school, so I literally got off the couch, drove down and signed up to get my pilot’s license.

They told me I could choose my own instructor and ushered me into an open workspace filled with a dozen young men doing their time as flight instructors, building their hours on their waypoint to a job with a major airline. Stricken with the romance of it all, I decided I wanted an instructor with a personality, a rebel and a free thinker who would make this a fun and adventurous experience. It didn’t take me long to spot him, sitting on the edge of a table, foot up, smirking at his shoe, clearly in the midst of an extracurricular story to the guy beside him working.

After chatting up the guys, I suggested that this fellow would be my instructor. I noticed an exchange of glances between the flyboys, and one of them pulled me aside.

“Are you sure you want to pick him, there are a lot of guys here with more experience teaching.”

“Yeah, I’m good, thanks.” (Jealous? Come on boys there’s only one of me!)

It turns out I got everything I was asking for. My flight instructor, let’s call him Dale, because it is possible you may have once been on a flight he piloted, was an alcoholic and a terrible teacher. I’m not saying that he was ever drunk when we were flying, at least not that I could tell, but he was often hungover while we were out. I never gave up on him though, and true to form, he was a hell of a lot of fun.

A few months later, Dale said, “Izzo, let’s do your first solo flight.” I wasn’t sure if his request involved some secret knowing in the heart of a flight instructor, or if he was just bored; I think it was the latter. The first thought in my head was, “No way! He’s trying to kill you, the bastard is actually trying to kill you!” So I approached a gaggle of jaunty, desk-leaning instructors and asked them how you know you are ready for your first solo. They passed a glance around as if deciding which of them would give the unanimous answer.

“You’re never ready, “ one said with a rueful smile.

I wasn’t ready.

The minimum requirement for a first solo flight is for the pilot to taxi out, take off, do one full circuit of the pattern, and land on the second one. You get a hand held radio to your instructor on the ground and that’s it.

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This is not my plane, but veery much like it.

We flew out to a nearby airstrip where we once practiced dead-stick landings. It was small, remote, and had no tower or traffic to contend with, ostensibly it was chosen because it was easier on the pilot, but I think it was also because you would kill fewer people when you crashed. I have taken a lot of tests in my time, but never one where if you failed you died!

I taxied out to the end of the runway. My legs were rubber, and my fingers were numb. Checklist complete. Staring at the open runway, there were a seemingly infinite number of reasons NOT to do this, and only one to go forward. Embrace your fear, I heard. So I kissed it squarely on the lips, “Fuck it!” Set flaps, power up, takeoff roll, V2 reached (take off speed), rotate (lift the nose) airborne!

“Wait! I changed my mind! I wanna go home! Oooh, shit!”

I focused on my rate of climb and compensated for wind to stay in line with the runway falling away beneath me. I had done this many times, but with no instructor it was completely different. I had never been so frightened, so alone, so beyond aid or assistance, so utterly reliant on myself, so completely in control of my destiny, so awake, so alive…!

“Whoo hoooo!! Ha Haaa!!” Heart soaring, I flew the first circuit perfectly, and then lined up my downwind leg.

Flying has a lot of cliché sayings that are never so true as when you live them. Among them, “Flying is easy, it’s landing that’s hard.” The Downwind Leg is where you are flying parallel to the runway before a turning decent to your Base Leg, and then turn onto Final Approach to land. This is where you begin a series of tasks that must be done accurately and in sequence; radio calls, airspeed, rate of decent, flaps, gear, etc. all while doing the actual flying to put you in position to get your plane on the ground. As I looked out my left window and saw the runway stretched out below me, I forgot everything.

I began to panic. Flaming squirrels were running up and down the inside of my spine, and I could not remember anything about landing an airplane. I have had stage fright before, but my life never depended on it. Another flying cliché popped into my head, “Panic equals death.” Imagine that you are taking your SATs, you have two minutes left and your looking at the last question, one of those ridiculously complex math essay questions, and someone has the barrel of a loaded gun to your temple ready to fire at the bell if you don’t finish it in time. I had to control this panic.

I’ve heard it said that you must “fight your fears”, those people in my situation end up a smoking heap in the asphalt. There’s no fighting that kind of fear! That is not the way to conquer fear. Embrace your fear.

Fear, in all its various forms, stops action. When we encounter fear, our instinct is to run from it, to run to safety. But we are not animals, and we rise above our base instincts. How many of you, I wonder, spend your lives chasing your dreams while running from your fears? You wouldn’t be alone. Have you ever stopped to wonder why those dreams never materialize before you? It’s because they are behind you, on the other side of those fears you are running from, and they are chasing you! Yup, you are actually running from your dreams. Sorry, tough luck my friend, no one said this was easy.

Do you really want to reach your dreams? Turn around. Open your arms, and let that fear wash right though you. Embrace your fear, accept that you are afraid, no fighting, no denial. Forgive yourself for it, befriend your fear, acknowledge that it is a part of you, breathe, and watch as it dissolves before your eyes. Fear cannot exist without your compliance. Your acceptance of it denies it of its power over you.

Scan, call Left Base, airspeed, rate of decent, scan, quarter flaps, scan… me and my pal terror began to land the airplane. Final approach. Fly to the numbers.

Most people think landing a plane is like a bird landing, where they just gently glide to the ground, but airplanes tend to want to stay in the air (thank goodness), so you actually have to point the nose down and fly it to the ground. It’s a little unnerving, at least to me. You aim straight to those great big numbers painted at the very end of the runway.Landing in Hyannis

By now I am showered in sweat. The runway looms toward me with its odd perspective and I am suddenly reminded of an old Star Trek episode, the original series, the one where Captain Kirk is fighting a giant ship-eating space thing that looks like a giant traffic cone, its open end glittering with a planet devouring plasma. Kirk was heading straight into the mouth of it, his only way to destroy it.

“Steady Mr. Sulu…”

If you know the episode, you’ll remember the corny music theme, the one they used whenever something dreaded was approaching. It sounded like this:

Da..nah Da..nah  DA..NAH  Da..nah… Diddley DEEE…!

Desperate to remain focused and away from the panic still lurking in my scull, I invoked Captain Kirk, and began singing the little anthem.

“Da..nah Da..nah  DA..NAH  Da..nah… Diddley DEEE…!”

It helped. I felt just stupid enough to regain control of myself. Full flaps, Vso (landing speed) reached, fly to the numbers.

“Steady Mr. Sulu… steadyyy…”

“Da..nah Da..nah  DA..NAH  Da..nah… Diddley DEEE…!”

Since that day, I sing that little tune in my head every time I line up on final. Thanks Star Trek.

Warrior3Once you are over the runway and within Ground Effect (about as high off the tarmac as your wingspan is long) your plane will encounter a cushion of air that makes it kind of float a bit. The trick of landing well is to flare at just the right moment. Flare is lifting the nose so that your rear landing gear touches first. Flare to soon and your plane stalls and then comes crashing onto your landing gear making a truly awful sound that makes little dollar signs fly out of your head. Flare too late and you land flat or on your nose gear, possibly collapsing it, and ruining your day (year).

Just my luck, as I entered ground effect a cross wind came up. A cross wind will blow your plane off the centerline of the runway or even off it entirely, unless you correct for it by adding rudder and yawing the plane into the wind. This lines up your flight path, but your nose is cocked into the wind, which will make your wheels land sideways-ish, and they don’t like to do that. So, you must straighten out the plane just before you land. While you’re doing that, if you should let your upwind wing tip catch air underneath it, the opposite wing tip may touch the ground, and that’s very, very bad, i.e. cartwheel in a fiery ball of death bad – probably. A mild crosswind landing is a very easy maneuver once you get it, but for a terrified and under rehearsed first solo pilot, it’s a chore.

The panic returned, and at a point in the landing where there was really nothing to do other than do it right. Fear spoke.

“Oh fuck, I’m gonna land sideways, I’m gonna hit a wing tip I know it, I am screwed!! I will die here!”

As fear made its case, I countered out loud with a line corny enough to be worthy of Captain Kirk himself, but it didn’t seem that way to me then.

“Not today, pal, not today!

The landing wasn’t what I would call perfect, nor was it worthy of a cinematic ending, but this is real life. The first two kinda hurt, but the third bounce was okay!   (No, you’re not supposed to bounce.) Dale’s voice crackled in the hand held as I completed my landing roll.

“Congratulations Izzooo, you just completed your first solo!”

“Yeah, sorry about that landing, it wasn’t so good,” I said, as relief and pride swept out the last of the panic.

Dale responded with the best and truest flying cliché of all, “Any landing you walk away from is a good landing.”

I got a whole lot better at flying after that. After a total of seven month’s of training, I finally got my license.  I eventually bought a plane and leased it back to the FBO, one way to own a plane if you’re not rich, which I’m not. I owned a sweet little low wing four-seater, a Piper Warrior II.

On calm days when it was partly cloudy I would leave my bachelors couch, gas up my plane and go flying. I loved it, hard. Flying alone on these days was best. I would soar through cloud canyons and sky-castles remembered from my very first airline flight. I would fly parabolic arcs, climbing steeply then pushing sharply on the yoke, diving down until loose items floated through the cabin and I was lifted weightless in my seat. I had finally achieved my childhood dream of flying through the air at will, and I was not afraid.

I used to open the tiny forward window and stick my fingers out into the wind, remembering the words of John Gillespie Magee, Jr. “…I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings… … and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds… … put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

A dear friend of mine, now gone, used Warrior4to say that there are only two choices to make in life, Love and Fear. I say that if you want to live an extraordinary life, do something that frightens you every day, and don’t mind being afraid.

Remember too that those who say No are rewarded with safety, and those who say Yes are rewarded with adventures!

Letting Go

September 13th: Dead Sibling Day. Before I jet off to Sedona today to sweat in the canyons and consult with Hopi spirits, I thought I would get this done. Not one of my usual posts, but I am deciding to do it because I may have something to say that is cogent for some out there, about letting go; and because one should at least occasionally walk the talk.

My younger sister, Jacqueline Ann Izzo, died about eleven years ago, and today is her birthday. More so than her death date, this is the day I remember her. I had five siblings, and there are now three left thanks to our ‘family friend’ cancer. My brother Kenny died this year in March. Grieving is simple; it’s automatic; in 6-9 months the brain chemicals leech out through your eyes and you’re done. After that comes the really hard part, letting go.

Letting go is hard because it means accepting a new life without that which they gave you and you depended upon. It takes guts, and it feels like betrayal until you understand what letting go really means.

My sister and I shared the middle spot in a family of six kids, so we were close, and she was very, very important to me. Growing up, Jackie was my best friend, my biggest fan, and the reason I am funny. She was the best audience a big brother could have. I could make milk spray out her nose on cue, even when she knew it was coming. On any given day you could walk into a room and find Jackie lying on the floor in tears over something that gave her a laughing jag days ago that just popped back into her head. She laughed at human folly, especially her own, and she never once laughed at anyone’s pain. Mostly though, she was important to me because she believed in me, without ever needing a reason.

Jackie was the first person who taught me that true courage had nothing to do with how afraid and timid you were about life, a lesson I have always cherished. My chronically reticent sister went into the medical profession, and countless people benefited from a strength she reserved only for others. During the years she battled for life, she showed an easy bravery, and when she had fought enough, she had the courage to let go. She died gracefully and well.

I didn’t have that courage, not with her. It wasn’t that long ago that I finally stopped reaching for my phone every time I thought, “I’ve GOT to tell Jack about this!” My daughter’s first name is Jacqueline, because Jackie asked me before she died; we call her Madi, because I knew it would be a long time before I could say the name. It was hardest watching Madi grow up never knowing what an amazing aunt she had missed, though fortunately she has another.

I sucked at letting go.

This year I did let go of Jackie. I cut the cords and finally stopped being the brother missing a sister, a friend, a fan, and a believer. I was very surprised to find out how much better it was. In a way, I got her back. Not really back, because she’s still dead, but there is a clear new voice in my ear, and she sounds very excited for me.

There are two places that I remember Jackie best on Dead Sibling Day, the two of us sitting under the kitchen table, me drilling her on her multiplication tables so she wouldn’t fail a grade, and summers in Nantucket. I’ve been going again since Madi was born, and Jackie is the reason I go. It has been a mixture of memory, tribute, promise, and chore, which has darkened and become heavy over the years. This year, thanks to some cord cutting, all the colors have come back to that place, and they are different.

And this is what letting go does. It makes a space for those things you lost to come from others willing to grant them to you. It is what I would have wanted for her if I had gone first.

I had said that letting go of someone feels like betrayal. It can seem as though you are being asked to disown everything they meant to you, but in truth it is not letting go of them at all; it’s letting go of the “you” you were when you had them, and making new room for others, …and it’s a bitch.

So the moral of the story is: attachments are bad, my friends. And not having them does not mean you are disconnected. Quite the opposite. Remember that, because it is very easy to forget.

I would like to state categorically, that talking about my sister does not make me sad, oh no, not one bit, not anymore. She is remembered not nearly loudly enough. So if you should hear me talking about her and notice me well up a bit, know that it is not sadness, … it’s Presence.

Happy Birthday Jack! I hope you are still saving me a good spot, and don’t mind too much that I’m taking my sweet time. I love you, always have, always will.