I lost a friend this week. Captain William Dubois, an air force pilot, was killed when his plane crashed in the middle east due to mechanical failure on Monday. Will and I were casual friends, actually. I met him when he was in Seattle on training several years ago, we flirted in a restaurant and had a date together and then kept in touch via phone and email and Facebook while he finished his military training. We both fell in love with other people and stayed in touch, saying "happy birthday" now and again or asking about each others' travels and times abroad, and watching our Facebook feeds for fun and interesting news and photos. You could hear his laugh right through the computer screen in the images put there, and his almost shy sense of gentlemanliness came through in his smile. But now he's gone. He leaves behind his new wife and labrador puppy, and a devastated family that adored him. Will was 30 years old, and he was right at the beginning of something.
"He died doing what he loved, Janet," another pilot friend consoled me when I shared my grief. And that is a small consolation, because I know what it feels like to do something you love and know that it could kill you, and you almost don't care. Pilots all know this feeling, there is nothing like the exhilaration they experience in the work they get to do. Ask any of them what it feels like to fly, and you'll see it flash in their eyes and a twist in the muscles of their face as they try to find the words. They all smile. I know Will died doing what he loved, though that doesn't diminish the void he leaves behind.
Risk and Love
Mourning him has made me think a lot about what I do, and what I might leave behind, and where I am in the chapters of life. It's made me think about risk and love, the dance that we do when we take chances and risk our lives for activities or causes that we are passionate about, putting that up against the knowledge of the people who love us. It's made me ask, "When I die, will it be doing something that I love? Will it be worth it?" And it's made me wonder, "Have I loved actively enough? Will the people I leave behind know that my whole heart was open to them, like Will's wife knew his whole heart belonged to her?"
Careful Isn't the Answer
There is no life without risk. It isn't worth it to live in a way that is protected and careful and void of that exhilaration of punching through the clouds or feeling your heart melt to your shoes when you spot your soulmate. The pain that I feel because Will is gone is because he lived his life the way we all should. Owning the risk, dancing hand in hand with love for his family and commitment to joy and passion and fun and service.
What's Your Story?
Will's story could be any of our stories, but many of us are too scared to do what we really want. We are afraid that we won't be good enough, or that others will think we're crazy, or that someone will reject us, or that we'll fail. Failure and rejection are real possibilities. If Will had let those fears win out he might still be alive, but would not have been flying, arcing toward the sun when it's cloudy on earth, and he wouldn't have known what it feels like to dance in joy with the one he loves. There is richness in those risks.
He is gone and it aches. I want my friend back, and deeply wish he was here with us still. But I wouldn't want these feelings to be any easier, because the fact that I miss him is testament to the kind of life he chose. This week, I ask that you will remember and honor Will by taking a risk, and loving those in your life. Commit yourself to something you care about, something scary, maybe even dangerous, and love passionately all the while. You might fail, and we will mourn with you. But you might just experience greater joy than you've ever known, and wouldn't that be worth it?
A foundation was created to honor Will and help future pilots learn to fly. Visit http://www.pyroswings.com.