The story continues to intrigue me. Previously I’ve written about “failed leadership” but today’s anniversary prompts more. It was 8 years ago today that Captain Sullenberger set his US Air Flight down on the Hudson River. I was particularly stunned by the transcript of 3 minutes and 33 seconds, from the call “Birds!” to a wet fuselage in the Hudson, on the focus and concentration, the irreversible decisions, the Hands of God.
Here’s what I am sharing, which I wrote soon after:
I have been very moved this week by the “Miracle on the Hudson” and I feel compelled to share a few thoughts. Actually, I was especially attentive to what was written in the newspaper because I took one look at the pilot’s picture and I know I have flown with him before. His face is quite familiar; I believe I’ve flown with him several times, given all the miles I’ve logged with US Air. And I have often taken off from LaGuardia, over the Bronx, and sometimes toward Rochester, sometimes down river to other points. All feels very familiar. Yet, I didn’t particularly “notice” him at the time as more than the pilot, or even particularly reflect on each trip that this was the human being who would have my life in his hands. But I do have a memory of him standing near the cockpit saying hello and goodbye to passengers. I wonder if it goes through his mind each time, the responsibility he is carrying?
The article opened with the words: “Chesley Sullenberger spent practically his whole life preparing for the five-minute crucible that was US Airways Flight 1549.” And the other startling words in that article were the pilot’s words recounted by the passengers: “Brace for impact.” It was reported that the pilot delivered those words in a “calm, cool, controlled voice.” One passenger said “It was a testament to leadership.” He was doing what needed to be done; he was doing ‘his duty.’
What has most struck me is the metaphor in those words for our spiritual life. We go about our days doing what we are called to do, parents caring for children, workers delivering a fair day’s work, friends being friends, and so much more. We pray, we go to Mass, we go to bible study. And day after day seems not so much different from the prior days, just as flight after flight was perhaps not so much different for Captain “Sully.” But he apparently went about that work with a consciousness, with an introspection, with a receptivity for learning. He didn’t know when or even if all that preparation would be on the line, but he was prepared. And he was called upon to bring all to bear when the engines sputtered and died, when he had to make a split moment decision and choose what would be life or death for himself, his co-pilot and 153 (a very biblical number, taken from the water, with nets almost breaking) other people [155 including the pilots.]. It strikes me that everything we do spiritually, as well as that which doesn’t seem particularly spiritual but can be done with a spiritual consciousness and attention, prepares us for those few minutes of our own crucible, sometime and somewhere.
We don’t know when, but we can learn from others’ crucibles, can’t we? When Christ stepped forward in Gethsemane to say he was the One the soldiers were seeking, when various saints and martyrs faced their moment of call for the Lord (Edmund Campion re-entering hostile England, Thomas More refusing to sign an Oath that would put King before God, Isaac Jogues returning to the Iroquois who had tortured him, and my personal favorite: Eleazar in Maccabees who declined even giving the perception of having abandoned his faith)….all were moments of decision and action. It is perhaps a blessing for most of us that we don’t know when the few minutes of crucible are coming, and for some it may come as the loss of a loved one, an ominous diagnosis, a deathbed torment. Yet Capt. Sully shows us in the temporal realm what being well-prepared means; it seems that spiritually we wouldn’t want to do any less. Each soul depends upon such preparation, and sometimes the souls of others as well.
We know who prowls the world seeking the ruin of souls. Holy Mother Church, and Holy Scripture continually tell us “Brace for Impact.” Is every such encounter with temptation a reason to “Brace for Impact,” to prepare for the crucible, to do spiritual aerobics for our souls? Sometimes we fail as Peter did when he denied the Lord. Often we are given another chance. But some moment, some crucible, may be the final one, the one for which we’ve prepared all our lives, the one for which we have been prepared for the benefit of others. Reflecting on Capt. Sully’s experience, the need is more obvious than ever to “Brace for impact” with the secular world. It is often a brutal impact, but one we can use to prepare for the next impact, for the next crucible. No matter how many kudos Capt. Sully gets (and he deserves them all), none will compare with “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Praise our Good and Generous God who still does miracles, and allows us to learn from them. Amen?”