Math teachers always reminded us, “Be sure to check your work.” I never thought it necessary but usually obeyed just to say so, and was surprised anew each time by my countless careless oversights. Rarely did I bother with a second check – that would only expose even more dumbbooboos… Yes I was not a star in school, but only because I didn’t try. There were so many other things to think about!
I spent whole weeks of teenage class time contemplating one question that still seems, in any context, more worthy than all others: ‘What matters most ?’ (You must admit it carries a lot of freight.) These days, beyond pondering the question, we negotiate it, like traffic. Like traffic it’s nearly everywhere. Ultimately of course there’s no unifying answer, but that does nothing to diminish the question’s pervading relevancy.
When time came to settle on a line of work, nothing mattered more to me than showing folks how to float in the sky. It’s easy and fun, so being lazy as a buzzard I sank right into it. This is also where I finally learned that sometimes you really do have to try. Okay that’s fair, some things are worth it.
Knowing far from enough about too much of everything, I cooked ‘What matters most?’ into all the paltry foods I fed my poor dear students through year after year of learning more and more how to soar and teach. Turns out the answer (r)evolves like all else from one stage to the next. In soaring as in life, for there is no difference, a big part of the answer at every stage is to never abandon your hallowed status of Pupil.
Now well across a fourth decade of learning to correct, critique, cajole and eventually cheer student pilots toward our shared desire, what matters most seems not so much operations done properly or well – those are mostly prescribed and allow scant uncertainty regarding standards. What it shakes out to is two kinds of mistakes: those few we resolve and the unknown legions we don’t. My own flying and instructing have amounted to hardly more than bundles of mistakes like clumps of prickly sand grass ever woven by time into grounded cables of error. Unraveling these, like all God’s work, is a truly endless process. That’s much of why soaring compels such deep fascination. So many ways to do the wrong thing and so few ways not to!
Students signal collaborative success when they correct mistakes on their own before I tire of biting my tongue and plead for relief. I have only one tongue, you know.
So here’s the point. Anytime you’re up there, alone or otherwise, imagine every pilot you admire is with you and try to fly so they won’t need to bite their tongues… After all, if you’d like them to admire you too, that’s part of what matters most.