Flight (part two)

Life-jacket-floating-in-sea

(See previous post for Part One)

The plane vanished from radar screens about 400 kilometers southwest of Bristol. The last report suggested that everything was proceeding nicely. A particularly strong tailwind had put the flight almost 30 minutes ahead of schedule.

The rescue planes first picked up the escape chutes at 10 PM, the yellow bulks bobbing on 6-foot swells. Whatever happened to US786, it resulted in a controlled water landing. And the escape chutes suggested at least some of the passengers had gotten out before the fuselage went under.

It would be an hour or two, however, before the helicopters could get close enough to see.

* * * * *

Jocelyn was cold. Colder than she thought humanly possible as she clung to the surface of the chute.

Time had ceased to have any meaning for her as she had been awaken from a dead sleep by the crash and had no idea if the sun had just set or was about to rise. The absence of a Moon said she might not know for some time.

All she knew was that her left arm hurt like hell and her right leg didn’t feel at all. Whether from cold or injury seemed moot at this point.

Jocelyn slowly unclenched her left hand, letting the key chain and keys dangle from her palm, the key ring encircling her ring finger.

In the darkness, she could really see the inscription on the plate, but she knew what it said: Best Daddy. A token of remembrance, perhaps, of the man who’d forced her onto the chute as she floundered, drowning after the crash. She’d felt it press painfully into her arm as she scrambled atop the limp plastic. By the time she’d finished spewing water from her lungs, though, the man was gone and her hand fell onto the keychain.

For now, the pendulous weight gave Jocelyn some deep comfort as she felt the keychain rock on her finger as she rocked on the waves.

* * * * *

Captain Teresa Wei strained her eyes, searching the darkness for the yellow blobs she knew were down there. Somewhere.

The roar of the helicopter rotors had ceased long ago to be a distraction for Teresa. Her attention was focused and intense.

“We don’t have much time left,” the pilot called.

“A few more minutes. The current was strong but steady,” she replied. “They have to be somewhere around here.”

Before the last word even dissipated in the rotor wash, Teresa’s second spotter tapped her shoulder.

“Over there!”

Teresa turned just in time to see a glint of yellow roll down the backside of a wave. She took a deep breath and willed one or more people to be attached to the chute. This wouldn’t be like the last fiasco. There was no way she would leave people to die like she had on her last flight.

* * * * *

A flurry of fish roiled the water around the chute as Jocelyn’s vomit dispersed on the current. She wondered if there could be much left in her stomach as she hadn’t eater much more than a canister of Pringles since the airport.

Her tongue could feel her lips as they pruned from the salt. The light was only now cresting above the horizon, so she couldn’t have been out too long, but those lungs full of brine hadn’t helped.

And the only thing she wanted more than a bottle of water was a blanket.

“Oh, to be warm again,” she thought to herself. “Snug in bed or under a throw in front of a fire.”

Jocelyn felt a sudden downdraft, which sent a wracking chill through her, and caught a furtive movement and splash to one side.

Shark!

Something was moving toward her in the water. Something big and dark.

Jocelyn did what she could to move from the edge of the chute, but all that accomplished was to sink the middle, filling it with icy water.

She considered her rubberized platform and quickly surmised whatever was approaching could easily puncture the chute, submitting her to the ocean’s swells and its own appetites.

Her terror pounded in her head, pulsating as the downdraft continued.

* * * * *

Teresa manned the lift herself, hauling the woman achingly toward the hovering helicopter, knowing she’d repeat the process with the rescue diver. Step one, however, was getting the woman stabilized and hydrated.

* * * * *

Jocelyn felt as though she were an angel ascending to heaven, although her real angels were above her and still down in the water.

She was serene, at peace, and oh so tired. But she wasn’t about to release her grip on the guide wire, despite the pain in her left palm where her grip was embedding the keychain into her flesh.

If you looked really closely at her palm—even months later—you could just make out the faintest of words: Best Daddy.

Jocelyn was marked for life.

(Images is property of owner and is used here without permission because I float that way)

Success Stories

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About 10 years ago, I had the opportunity to attend a science writers’ workshop outside Boston. In one of the sessions, the speaker spoke on the risks of anecdotal evidence using the following example:

Dolphins are highly intelligent mammals, but also seem to have an inherent sense of humanity (for lack of a better word) as evidenced by the number of stories where dolphins have saved the lives of stranded sailors and fishermen by pushing them toward shore.

Unfortunately, there is a problem with this conclusion based on this evidence, which I will address later in this post.

 

In learning the craft of my arts—whether business/marketing, science writing or screenwriting—I have relied on various authors to teach me the benefits of specific approaches. And one of the most popular ways to describe these benefits is through the use of success stories.

My most recent read was The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything by Ken Robinson, a quite enjoyable book that ties nicely with my current thinking on my Art. (Nothing like rationalizing your own opinions with support from books you know to agree with you—but that’s another blog post.)

As Malcolm Gladwell so deftly does for business endeavours, Robinson weaves his discussion of the cross-over point between talent and passion with numerous success stories, most of which take the form of:

  • Young person faces adversity when she goes against the norm
  • Struggling to find her way, she is marginalized by the local community and authorities
  • Through personal tenacity and/or the support and guidance of a mentor, she blossoms in her Art
  • She is now worth bajillions of dollars and/or helps gazillions of people/animals

Who is Robinson talking about? Paul McCartney, Arianna Huffington, Richard Branson, and several others less famous.

These stories are inspiring and uplifting. Everybody enjoys an “against all odds” story.

Tell the same anecdote about a farm boy on Tatooine and you have Star Wars. An addled boxer in Philadelphia, you have Rocky. An addled boxer in New York, you have Raging Bull. Another addled boxer in New York, you have Cinderella Man. Anyways…

One thing that bothers me about these stories, however, is that they establish a linear relationship between individuality and success (which I can buy) at a success rate of approximately 100% (where it all falls down).

What about the individuals who followed a parallel process and didn’t become Paul McCartney, Richard Branson or Arianna Huffington? Who bucked the trend, stood up for themselves and were run over by society?

Failure is an option, friends. It shouldn’t be glossed over. You can theoretically do everything right and still not achieve the success you were looking for.

Again, I agree with the theses these (wow, that’s an odd juxtaposition) books describe—that following our individual strengths/talents/passions and relying on inner fortitude rather than simply conforming to society’s will is our best chance at happiness as individuals—but I balk at anything that smacks of guarantees or promotes unrealistic expectations of success.

Where is the balance? Where are the cautionary tales?

I don’t think any of the authors set out to perpetrate a scam. They’re not trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes or sell you snake oil. They’re truly trying to inspire people with feel-good stories, which is commendable. Their audiences, however, are typically so full of hope, so looking for a beacon, that they are apt to see these anecdotes through rouge-hued specs and so mistake proof-of-possibility for proof-of-concept.

It’s a case of reader be aspirational but realistic. Your efforts may not work the first time through, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep trying.

 

And the problem with the dolphin anecdote:

We will almost never hear about the times the dolphins pushed the stranded sea-farers further out to sea rather than to shore, because those people probably drowned. Thus, the anecdotal evidence is skewed in favour of success stories.

(Image is the property of its owner and is used here without permission.)