“Eric?” I asked.
“Mr. Nelson.” He corrected.
“I know this can be a little nerve wracking,” he continued.
To be honest, I wasn’t nervous until his giant, Steve-Austin-esque frame dominated the doorway. His handshake might be called that, though it seemed to envelope a portion of my arm as well. He spoke in a gruff baritone, the kind best used for selling men’s shaving products. …Or AR-15’s.
“And this is the main hanger, we currently have six aircraft, those two belong to Mr. Byrd.” He pointed.
I found it encouraging that the director of the school had provided two planes on his own dime. That is the kind of teacher and level of dedication I was searching for.
“Community is big for us. Mechanics almost always work in teams, so we try to correct behaviors as we can. You will be graded on both your integrity and your character here. I don’t want my classes producing jerks out in the field.”
Mr. Nelson continued:
“If something isn’t right, you’ll redo it. I have a class on Monday who will be re-doing their entire safety-wire lab. When you leave here you’ll be ready to go, no question marks over your head.”
We continued the tour, and stopped for a moment in front of an enormous jet engine donated by Southwest Airlines the previous year. The turbofan put an inexplicable smile on my face.
Over the following hour, I saw all of the classrooms, the welding lab, the battery labs, rooms full of piston, turbofan, and turbo prop engines, even a library with maintenance manuals dating back into the 1950’s. Ancient microfilm machines were needed to read some of them, and the school had at least eight of these. What impressed me most were the detailed mock-ups of various systems, condensed onto eight foot boards. One featured a braking system, will all the controls, cylinders, calipers, and piping in one neat package. Another showed a typical airline HVAC system, still another displayed a typical retractable landing gear setup.
The room I enjoyed most was their avionics training lab, where a central computer controlled by the instructor could simulate various instrument and electrical system failures on the fly. Students then have to troubleshoot and repair the issues for a grade. Additional mock-ups were found here too, VOR’s, NDB’s and navigation radio clusters. I also saw a fully featured auto-pilot setup with yaw damper, approach hold, and the basic control surface functions as well. That single room incorporated more resources, teaching aides, and attention to detail for teaching electronics, than the entire Independent Electrical Contractors school I attended the year before. The Aviation Training Center at Georgia Northwestern Technical College was everything I had been looking for in a school.
I shook Mr. Nelson’s colossal hand once again, and thanked him for letting me take a full hour of his time. Then I found the secretary and promptly put my name on the waiting list for attendance. Thankfully, the school has so much demand that the earliest I can begin training is January of 2021. This gives me ample time to align a few more ducks, not the least of which is figuring out how to attend classes over an hour away from my current home.
I’ve been on the fence about going back to school for a while now. Debt free for nearly five years, the idea of taking on tens of thousands of dollars in debt for a degree seems like quite a gamble. With over a hundred listings for A&P mechanics hitting my inbox every week however, this looks like a safe bet. After just two years, I’d be able to overhaul just about any piston or turbine engine, weld, form sheet metal, and have a better command of electronics than I currently do. If airplanes get boring or too demanding, there are hundreds of facets within which to apply these skills. I’d never be without a job.
I’m early enough in this process that I cannot officially apply for my semester, nor even get a FAFSA rolling. So while I am excited to this new chapter of my life, it takes a necessary back-burner for now. My search for decent full-time employment continues.
In the meantime, I have been offering my time to the Roswell Insight Meditation Community; a sangha I have been sitting with for nearly three years. I have been assisting with the beginner’s meditation instruction, which takes place before our main session on Monday nights. I’ve only been doing this for a little over a month, but it has been tremendously rewarding. Interacting with every new person who comes through the door by name, has forced me out of my shell and into a new stage of growth. I have always wanted to teach (something) so this is a welcome venue to refine my communication skills, and share my personal experiences.
Meditation, specifically the vipassana (insight) variety, has been the most useful tool I’ve found for managing the highs and lows of life. While I haven’t shared my history of addiction or depression with the new members, for obvious reasons, I have explained that at the very least it can be used to address incessant thought loops. This resonates well with my fellow over-thinkers.
Recently I met a man who just had a divorce, and came to the sangha as a way to stop sitting at home alone every night. After class I shared my similar past with him, and it was rewarding to aid him in the tiniest way along this new path. So many have aided me along mine.
Becoming more active in the Atlanta Outdoor Club is also on the agenda for this year, and something I hope to discuss with the leadership soon. On that recent meetup, I had a blast helping new backpackers find a little more comfort on the trail. The AOC is a bit more regimented, with literature to adhere to, and several supervised event completions required, before a member can lead their own trips. Additionally, I’d like to finally knock out a wilderness first aid course, due to the remote nature of the trips I’d prefer to host.
I realize that going back to school will impact my ability to put time into both of these organizations, the sangha and the club. So, I am prioritizing them while I still can. There are a half-dozen soft-skills to be mastered through these efforts, which are every bit as valuable as schooling or employment experience. Using volunteer opportunities to rack up hours in leadership roles is a safe, win-win, for the organizations and myself. I’ve begrudged such efforts for years, but I’ve matured a bit over the past six months.
I just want to end this year as a better man than when I started. I turned thirty-four on Tuesday, and for some reason that number carries more weight than the others did. I alternate between feeling a desperate need to get my shit together, and yet having to ward myself from the paralysis of overthinking and negativity at what little I’ve done. I heard once that you should compare yourself only to who you were yesterday (Jordan Peterson) and that seems the only logical choice.
Recently I met someone. In sharing time with her, I discovered that there is in fact a second part to the Rainer Maria Rilke quote I’ve mentioned in previous posts:
“I hold this to be the highest task for a bond between two people: that each protects the solitude of the other.
This is the miracle that happens every time to those who really love: the more they give, the more they possess.”
How many times have I intruded on the solitude of past lovers? How many times I have surrendered my own? This, of all lessons, is the one I wish I could have learned first! The scarcity mindset is precarious enough on its own, but it is absolutely fatal in relationships. What is necessary, as Rilke describes above, is the exact opposite.
So we went from gruff-voiced aircraft mechanics, to love, with a little mention of hiking and meditation along the way. Typical. I’m going to bed now, where I hope to dream up some kind of amazing second date idea…
As always, be kind to yourselves! Keep growing!