Wednesday, January 12, 2011

All Systems Go

I’ve been doing a lot of recalibrating lately – i.e., adjusting my settings in response to changes in the variables of my life. For the most part, I live alone. Then over the holidays, in the space of ten days, I went from living alone to living with my entire immediate family, to living with just my husband, to living alone again, to living with my husband in DENVER. Whew. Plus, husband and family require a great deal of care and feeding, while I, by comparison, require very little on my own. Living en famille swallows up my space, my time, my priorities, my thoughts, my attention and my leisure, and believe me -- it requires some recalibration after living alone. I love every minute of it because I want all the face time I can get with my family, but it’s always a challenge.

Relational Recalibration, I call it. It’s maintaining your equilibrium -- your emotional balance point – in every situation so you don’t stumble when your comfort zone is breached. Really, it’s yielding to change. It’s redefining and expanding your comfort zone when other people’s needs bump up against it. It’s not easy for me to do (is it easy for anyone?) but when I manage to achieve it through the buoyancy of God’s grace, I walk in peace for a time. The bigger your comfort zone, the more fun you can have.

Moving from Alabama to Denver requires recalibration, too. Even in the throes of a harsh winter, the South retains a soft and misty gentleness in stark contrast to the piercing bright chill of the Mile High City. So, to recalibrate for the Colorado climate in January, I drink lots of water, pile on the moisturizer, layer, layer, layer, and wear my mother’s mink coat, bless her. Climatic recalibration is a lot simpler than relational recalibration, but equally necessary when you move from climate to climate.

I thought about recalibration once again when my husband had an impromptu flying lesson last weekend following a thrilling flight around Pike’s Peak and over the Royal Gorge in the sleek and sporty Piper Arrow owned by our friend Jim. Jim and his nephew Jason took us up on a rare, perfect winter morning with textbook flying conditions: clear and calm, unseasonably mild, blue skies over the Rockies. Our tour of the mountains was spectacular, and when we landed, Jim asked my husband if he’d like to fly the plane. Of course.

My husband climbed into the pilot’s seat and Jim gave him a quick tutorial on how to operate the foot and hand controls and how to read the gauges. Jim did the take-off and then handed it off to my husband saying, “Your airplane.” In the air, Jim instructed him on “attitude flying” – keeping the dashboard of the plane in line with the horizon. Buffeted by air currents, the pitch of the plane changes; that is, the nose drifts up and down. To stay on altitude, the pilot orients the dashboard so that it lines up with the horizon, and keeps it level as the plane moves forward. There’s a lot more to flying than that, of course, but the concept of maintaining an “attitude” captured my attention. As I listened to Jim’s instructions, I realized that flying a plane requires a hair-trigger sensitivity to change and the ability to make immediate, miniscule adjustments to stay on course, not unlike relational recalibration.

As we flew high over the Colorado landscape, I could tell that my husband was in his element. He’s a natural at handling crafts of any type and size. When he was in the Navy, he steered a huge supply ship, and he once steered our car along the ridge of a median to a safe stop when we went into a harrowing skid on a wet highway. I always feel safe when he’s behind the wheel. I was enjoying the view from 10,000 feet and the fact that my husband was at the helm.

And then a cable broke.

Suddenly, my husband was having trouble maintaining the pitch of the little Piper. “Holy smoke,” Jim barked as he ran his hand between the seats, confirming that a trim cable had indeed snapped, “We’re going back. My airplane.” Jim immediately took control, squared his shoulders, and used his skill and strength to keep the nose of the plane on course. With no way of knowing just how serious the trouble was, all I could do was pray. We were high, high above the ground below. The mood in the plane was calm, but tense. Jim kept the control tower apprised of our position. “Five miles out…two miles out…landing now.” We landed safely after those few long minutes of uncertainty and danger, and we all teased my husband about “breaking the plane.”

Now that my husband has caught the flying bug, I expect that Jim will take him up for another lesson soon. I’m sure I’ll hear more about “attitude flying” and that I’ll continue to extrapolate it to “attitude living” – another name, I think, for “relational recalibration.” It’s all about attitude: keeping your dashboard aligned just so, while things change around you.

It’s like following a guy’s lead when you’re dancing. If you’re really following – ready to shift, pivot, bend – you don’t lose your balance or step on toes. And if you really follow the One who can help you navigate your way through the changes, intrusions, disappointments, and frustrations inherent in living with other people, you’ll move more gracefully in the dance.

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