The only two things I remember about the summer church camp I attended when I was nine years old are that I learned to gamble and that I accidentally saw my first R-rated movie. The game was five-card draw, the movie was Airplane!, and the choir director apologized to my parents profusely on both counts when he gave me back to them at the end of that week.
For those of you who have not seen it, Airplane! is a disaster film parody whose plot, to the extent that it has one, follows the efforts of Ted, a traumatized veteran fighter pilot, to win back his girlfriend Elaine. Ted boards an airliner to which Elaine has been assigned as a flight attendant, the pilots are incapacitated en route to Chicago, and Ted has to land the plane safely despite inclement weather, PTSD flashbacks, panicking passengers, and bungling air traffic controllers.
Among the characters we meet in Airplane! is a doctor who intends to be helpful but never is. As the film builds to its climax, he repeatedly enters the cockpit and says to Ted and Elaine, “I just want to tell you both good luck. We’re all counting on you.” These statements are not reassuring so much as they are unnerving, especially as the doctor, played by the deadpan Leslie Nielsen, remains obliviously calm through conditions of increasing peril.
I have a dear friend with whom I am too rarely in touch—only on our birthdays most years—but this summer he reached out to me to talk about the current challenges facing schools. He is a systems architect at a life sciences research company, not an educator, but he is also a father, and he was interested in speaking with me from that perspective as well as that of a friend encouraging me through a difficult time. I think we spoke for almost an hour.
I did not expect to hear from him again until my birthday, but then about two weeks ago, out of the blue and at the end of what had proved to be a particularly long day, I received this text message: “I just want to tell you good luck. We’re all counting on you.” I had not laughed so hard, or for so long, in a very long time.
Metaphors for enduring the coronavirus pandemic abound. The next time you are having a particularly long day, I would encourage you to try this one: your world is an airliner in crisis; you are its reluctant pilot; and a safe landing against the odds depends entirely on you. Once you have imagined yourself in that cockpit, as you feel the pressure mounting, try also imagining an absurd Leslie Nielsen walking in from the cabin only to say, most unhelpfully, “Good luck, we’re all counting on you,” and I promise you will feel a little better.
Always reason, always compassion, always courage. My best wishes to you and your families for the weekend ahead.
Head of School
This week’s edition of “How to Prepare for the Election Without Thinking About the Election”: If you are in line and the person behind you has fewer items to buy than you, let them go ahead of you. “We do ourselves the most good doing something for others.” (Horace Mann)
This week’s addition to the “Refrains for Rams” playlist: Let Me Let You Down by The Teskey Brothers. Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding are obvious influences for this Australian band, whose lyrics remind us, especially now, of the essentialness of grace and forgiveness (Apple Music / Spotify).