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  • Writer's pictureMichael Kennedy

Embracing Fear

“He who is not everyday conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Here's a life lesson I learned as a child and it continues to serve me well today. I’m drawn back to my first time flying a plane at the age of 15. My dad, a pilot himself, believed I was ready to fly solo. We were on Cat Island in the out-island Bahamas. Cutlass Bay has a short dirt runway with a hill at one end and a lagoon at the other making it a dangerous place to practice, but it was my moment and I felt ready.

The Cessna 206 Stationair heaved from the threshold as I applied full throttle, rocks and sand whipping behind me. I climbed over the hill, banking left and saw the airstrip below get smaller and smaller. For the first time in years my father wasn’t sitting next to me. I was alone, attempting my first landing. With the lagoon below and flaps down, I throttled back and approached the runway with confidence. I could see my dad standing about midway down on the side of the unpaved airstrip. But I came in too far down the short runway to land safely.

Things are a little different when dad’s not around.

I quickly raised the flaps and applied full throttle to get over the hill - my dad watching, I’m sure, in total horror - and around again I flew for my second attempt to land. This time I came in too fast, porpoising down the runway. Once again, I was shoving the throttle forward, lifting the flaps back up for speed, but this time I just made it over the hill. Sweat was in my eyes and rolling down my back, my pulse was throbbing in my throat as I went back around for a third landing attempt. Dad and I had no way to communicate back then on this remote Bahamian island and there was no one for me to contact on the radio for help. I was on my own.

Nowhere to turn, but within.

I was a 15-year-old kid, scared for my life, not sure if I’d be able to get this plane on the ground in one piece. Swollen masses of clouds were erupting around me, one layer of darkness piled on top of the other. I evaluated my options: crash on the runway, the ocean or the beach... or land safely.

Time was no longer fluid like the ebb and flow of the ocean tides, but instead, a deep still lifeless pond. I couldn’t even hear the roar of the engine as I stared at the dirt runway which was now haunting every part of me.

Man-up, pick a path, move beyond fear.

Suddenly, and fortunately, an irresistible force of willpower seethed up from within. Instead of fearing the worst, I accepted the notion I had already crashed. Now, I was free to do what I needed to do. And in that moment, I grew up. I was no longer a boy.

Clarity through peril, confidence through fear.

I did all the things my dad taught me to do to land this plane safely. I embraced the fear and dismissed it, and on my third attempt, I finally landed that Cessna 206 Stationair. By facing possible death, accepting it and looking past it, I discovered I could think with more clarity, and summon the confidence necessary to make life-saving decisions.

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