This post is different from the usual topics which focus on the spiritual life. It is a tribute to my brother, John, who fulfilled his life quite recently. It will be read at his Memorial service. In the interests of family privacy, I will refer to his first name only, “John.” He had a career in military flying, including exceedingly dangerous assignments during the Vietnam conflict. His faith and belief in Biblical precepts was paramount to his flying during those years. Upon retirement from the US Air Force, he trained and flew as a commercial pilot, assigned to journeys westward to Asian and other ports. In its own way, this post represents the “fruits of the spirit” – the life that flows from a committed, believing spirit.
The Legacy of “John”
The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
1 O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
3 You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.
7 Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
13 For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.
17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
I come to the end—I am still with you.
A story: John’s career centered on his love of flying. But his legacy centered on his love of people – his dearest wife – his high school sweetheart, their family, and just about anyone he encountered. An example: During his commercial flying years as a pilot, a day came when a 747 was loading and preparing for takeoff. But a young boy was very frightened about this new experience – so much so that he was nearly hysterical. Someone from the cabin crew went into the pilot’s area and related what was happening. John went out to sit next to him and console him. So he started a conversation about –– baseball! As they talked, the plane started down the runway, soared skyward, and all was well. A potentially terrifying new experience transformed into welcoming a new friend who cared deeply for a young soul.
So what is John’s true legacy? – It is found – perhaps in secret, perhaps down deep somewhere in the lives of countless people he encountered in life, and in some bit – some kindness spoken or unspoken – that may have transformed their day, their outlook on a rough patch in life, their appreciation of personal loved ones, their reassurance that there are those who really care – something that each will in some way pass on to others in their life legacy.
To close, a poem that has become a modern day psalm – especially for those who love flying.
John Gillespie Magee, Jr. (1922-1941), Royal Canadian Air Force pilot
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air . . .
Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.