One Less Set of Lights in the Sky

It’s one of those perfectly clear winter nights. You just have to marvel at the brightness of the stars. And up there, gliding over the smooth, even blackness of the night, are the glittering lights adorning a small plane’s wings.

In my pre-EMT life, I was That Girl that did way too many extracurricular activities. For about a year and a half, I participated in this wonderful aviation program. It sounds like something out of a dream; too good to be true. In exchange for community service hours, you received free aviation school. This included both ground school, and in-flight instructor time, all in an effort to turn kids on to aviation and allow us to earn our private pilot’s license. Because of this, I got to do some pretty incredible things. I flew a plane before I ever drove a car. How many people can say that?

The program was run by a great man named Paul. He was financially well off, from what I understood, and he funded the bulk of the program, allowing myself and several other students the opportunity to learn about a whole career path for free. All he asked for in exchange was that we maintained good grades, and that we gave back to our community. It was his dream to give the gift of aviation to as many people as possible.

He piloted my very first airplane ride. I’ll never forget the butterflies in my stomach as the plane hurtled down the runway, or the smoothness under the wings when we left the ground. His laugh and the excitement in his voice were hard to ignore as he pointed out local landmarks from the air. He was always smiling.

Paul loved flying, and helping people. In addition to starting this program at our high school, he also volunteered for Angel Flight. Always grinning, always laughing. He loved what he did, and worked to spread that joy and curiosity in everyone else.

I did not finish the program with my private pilot’s license. Somewhere along the way, I realized that as cool as aviation was, I had different dreams that were to lead me down a different path. I had to respectfully withdraw from the program. Although, I know a few of my fellow students did go on to earn their private pilot’s license. What’s more, I believe at least one of them is planning on becoming a commercial pilot, or an aviation instructor.

Paul and I occasionally ran into each other from time to time, walking downtown, or waiting in line at the grocery store. We would exchange stories, update each other on our lives, and wish each other well in our brief encounters. Last time I saw him, I was waiting in line at the bank. We started our conversation, but I had to cut it short when I saw a teller open up. I outstretched my hand and waved good bye, as we started to go our separate ways. “See you around,” I said. He told me to take care. It’s funny how quickly things can change.

A few days later, his Cessna would crash shortly after take off. The fire department had said, “there was no chance of saving the person on board.” Just like that, an endearing, compassionate, loving soul departed.

It seemed weird…I’d seen him only a few days earlier, and all was well. I suddenly found myself wishing I’d spent just a little longer talking with him that day at the bank. That maybe I should have let him know just how grateful I was for the opportunity he gave me. But of course, there’s no way I could’ve known then. In EMS, I feel like I see the living, the dying, and the dead. Like there’s a natural progression. It’s just shocking to have someone go from alive to not without being in that stage between. For some reason, I just never imagined such a thing happening to him. How could something he loved so much turn and take him from us? It’s shocking, maybe even cruel; and yet, it’s somewhat poetic.

I look up into that gorgeous, endless dark, and remember the days I spent coursing up there in the clouds. I’ll remember the man who selflessly shared that passion with so many. That clear, starry sky is going to have one less set of light-adorned wings gliding through it.

Rest in peace, friend.