Jimmy made the sharp right turn into the county airport driveway a little too fast, kicking up a cloud of dust and shell none too appreciated by the drivers behind him. He pressed his truck’s accelerator and speeded up anyway, almost fishtailing down the rutted roadway. Once past the first curve, he could see the hangar up ahead.
Sure enough, Mr. Barker was already there with the old Cessna two-seater pulled out onto the tarmac awaiting its chance to soar into the early evening sky. Mr. Barker was on the other side, apparently going through his pre-flight checklist. Jimmy quickly slowed down and stopped about 30 feet from the plane.
“Hey, Mr. Barker!” he called as he trotted over. “I’m sorry I’m late – got held up at football practice!”
Mr. Barker glanced up briefly from his clipboard.
“That’s fine,” he said. “But since you weren’t here when you needed to be, I’ve had to check out the plane. That means I’ll do the flying and you’ll do the listening.”
Jimmy felt his temper begin to flare. “But I’m only a little late; can’t we forget it this time?”
“No, we can’t,” Mr. Barker said firmly, looking directly into Jimmy’s brown eyes. “You’re a good kid; that’s why your Dad is letting you take these lessons. But flying in the sky isn’t the same as flying down a shell road in your truck.” Jimmy winced. “You have to be prepared,” Mr. Barker continued. “This is the way I teach and I’ve got somebody coming after you for a night lesson. Get in on the passenger side.”
Jimmy complied. Mr. Barker was the only person in their tiny beachfront community who could teach him to fly. If his dad and Mr. Barker didn’t know each other well through their church, Jimmy might be at a buddy’s house watching videos instead of being the only high school senior in town about to earn bragging rights as a pilot.
After the two were buckled in, Mr. Barker fired up the airplane’s noisy engine. Once they were up, he figured Mr. Barker might turn the yoke over to him and let him fly.
They headed out toward the ocean where the sun was beginning to throw long orange streamers across the darkening waters. With the clouds above and ocean below, Jimmy found himself squinting against the bright reflection.
“Take it; head starboard,” Mr. Barker said. Jimmy took over, pushing forward on his yoke and leveled the plane off before starting the right turn. The plane began a gentle bank under Jimmy’s control. At one point in the turn, a reflection of sun off the water bounced against the windshield, blinding Jimmy for a few seconds. The initial glare passed, but Jimmy still couldn’t see well. As the plane continued to bank, he could see deepening blue. He instantly thought he had pushed too far forward on the yoke and the plane was heading oceanward. He automatically pulled back to bring the plane up.
“Whoa!” Mr. Barker reached out and pulled back on Jimmy’s arm. “I’ll take it, now.” He pulled the plane’s nose back down a bit and Jimmy realized he had only become disoriented – the plane had been level until he decided he needed to gain altitude.
Mr. Barker apparently noticed Jimmy’s dismay at having made the mistake. He reached forward and tapped the small artificial horizon dial in front of him. “You’ve taken to flying well,” he called out over the engine noise, “because you’ve got a quick mind and a good level of self-confidence. But sometimes confidence in yourself is misplaced. You’ve got to trust the instruments you’ve been given to help guide you.”
Mr. Barker gave the controls back to Jimmy and the rest of the hour passed quickly. Once back on the ground and headed – slowly -- toward home, Jimmy couldn’t forget the disorienting moment he had experienced. He was so sure of the direction he was going. How could he have been so wrong?
Later that evening, when the house was quiet, Jimmy pulled out his Bible and read through some of the Psalms. He could sense the Lord speaking to His heart through the experience he had that evening.
“Lord, this is the real instrument,” he prayed, rubbing his hand over the Bible’s cover. “Sometimes, I do get self-confident. Help me, Lord, to check the things I do against this book; help me to be confident in You.”
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