“Flight attendants, prepare for landing.”
The captain’s voice is always calm, a studied calm, a Houston-we-have-a-problem calm. Landing means we must leave this glassy smooth cruising altitude of 30,000 feet and bump our way through the lumpy atmosphere below the clouds.
I heard the captain’s words Saturday on final approach to JFK, returning home from a long vacation abroad. My ears pop as the plane descends. Hydraulics whine as the wing surface expands. The Airbus jolts as it hits the atmospheric equivalent of a pothole. The wings pitch. The tail yaws. Now the babies start crying. They are like canaries descending a shaft, sensing before the rest of us that this will not be easy. This air, swirling with heat, is thicker, uneven, choppier.
Finally the landing gear deploys. The floor seems to be cracking open. Bulky wheels unfold like sails, catching the wind and sending a shudder through the vessel. The overhead compartments creak and jitter.
No one likes this rocky ride, but it is the price of landing. Unless we are going to cruise at 30,000 feet forever, we have to buckle down and ride this thing home.
A wise counselor used to tell me—when I complained of tumult and uncertainty in my life—“there’s turbulence at the boundaries.” You can’t go anywhere, move from one place in life to another without some turbulence. Which is why we all try to “cruise” through life. We know that going to a new and different place will mean agita and unrest, the smooth ride we’ve been enjoying at cruising altitude will end. Of course, after we endure the turbulent journey the ride always evens out and we can cruise for a while—but in a new way, in a different place. Healthy change and growth is always a cycle of cruising, then hitting tumultuous sailing as we pass from one level to the next, then cruising again.
“There’s turbulence at the boundaries.” Jerry’s words were always a gift to me. They reminded me: turbulence is normal. Fear always makes us want to undo whatever we’ve done to cause turbulence. But this only assures stasis—we flee back to cruising altitude and we’re stuck. Once we know the rocky ride is normal and isn’t going to kill us, we can hang on, get over that boundary and into a whole new landscape.
If you’re encountering some turbulence right now, I want to offer you the same wisdom Jerry gave me. It’s normal. Hang on. Don’t turn back. You’ll get there.
Flight attendants, prepare for landing.