RISMEDIA, May 5, 2009-It is an image for the ages; people standing on the wings of a United Airways jet, floating on the Hudson River.
Living in San Diego, it reminded me of military ships coming into port with the entire crew evenly spaced on the edge of the deck, standing at ease with hands clasped behind their backs.
Next time the flight attendant talks about a “water landing,” I’ll pay more attention. As amazing as the photo is, the story behind the image is equally as riveting and is almost too perfect even for Hollywood.
I don’t recall a time in the post WWII era when we have ever needed a hero more. I don’t need to list the challenges we are facing as a nation, but there is certainly some metaphoric similarities between going down in the Hudson and going down the drain. The problem is that no one individual can save our country. We have a lot of problems and we need a lot of Sullys.
Being a hero is mostly about being in the right place at the right time with the right tools and experience. Meet Captain Chesley Burnett “Sully” Sullenberger III, born to fly. Or, better yet, born to crash. There are very few men alive who could have set that powerless plane down on the water like it was a cigarette boat coming into dock. “We’ll be in the Hudson,” he calmly radioed the tower.
Everything that Sully learned in some 40 years of stick and rudder would be needed on this chilly day in mid January, to pull 155 airline passengers and crew back from the edge of certain death. A pilot since the age of 14, he has done virtually everything one can do in connection with flying. He graduated the top flier in his class from The Air Force Academy. He flew fighter jets and has been a commercial pilot since 1980. He owns his own airline safety consulting business. He had been preparing for his moment all his life. No engines? No problem; Sully flies gliders.
If you ever had to pick the right guy to land a falling passenger plane on a river, Sully had the right resume.
Although, it isn’t really like he had much choice. Pure self-preservation demanded it. The engines stopped and gravity took over. Now, you either fly or die. I’m not discounting his heroics, but it was his fundamental knowledge of the forces of lift and drag, and the pinball wizard’s familiarity with the controls and capabilities of an Airbus 320 that enabled him and everyone behind him to survive, not uncommon valor. He didn’t walk into a burning building to save a child; he woke up in a burning building and got everyone out.
Again, this is no question of his heroism, but he didn’t go from obscure airline pilot to hero in an instant; the hero was already galvanized in him, and when he was called upon he was ready.
So, when you think about what really saved all of those lives, what really put a prepared Sully in that sea it was things like passion, discipline, duty, honor, loyalty, work ethic, attitude and selflessness. Moldy old words to some, but not to men like Sully.
And, that’s a long way from the shrill lament of “Me, Me, Me!”
Long before the events on the Hudson, Sully was highly respected both as a pilot and a man. Sully was the best at what he did and a nice guy, to boot.
The wonderful thing about waking up in the morning is that we never know who is going to make history today-maybe even you or me. But, the question is, when we are called upon, will we be ready? Well, the time has come.
During halftime of the NBA all star game, our first African-American President, Barack Obama, spoke to the television audience about the need to do something for others and the attitude we need to get through the challenges we face. For far too long, we have argued that for some to be winners, others must be losers. But, change has come to America and, if we don’t come together as one, there will be only losers. If our plane sinks, we all drown.
At a time when jocks, actors, and musicians are looked up to as role models, it is good to be reminded that many real heroes just go about their business until the light shines briefly on them. They stick by friends, family, neighbors, and community. They give more than they take. And when we need them most, they are there. They represent the best in all of us.
A hero isn’t someone who throws, or dribbles, or kicks; a hero is someone who takes responsibility for those around him. No special skills are required. Heroes come in all shapes and sizes, but what they have in common is consideration for others.
If you are a secret hero waiting for your moment, your time has come. We need leadership at every level. We need to replace politicians with public servants, takers with givers, and talkers with doers. For too long, we have abdicated our responsibilities for everything from child rearing to representative government. And now, we see what we have gotten for our lack of participation.
It’s time to take back control of our own ship. It’s Sully time in America.