BACKGROUND TO BUDDY #4

Note to the reader: the series of articles entitled Background to Buddy were extracted from a Christian nonfiction work that formed the basis for the novel Buddy, which is available from either Amazon or Signalman Publishing. Directions are noted on the page entitled Buddy on this blog site. The purpose of this work was to explain the reasons why I consider the Holy Spirit to be functionally female. Adventure episodes and humor were added for the entertainment of both the reader and the author.

Chapter 3: God – Up Close and Personal

Having established the necessity of the indwelling Holy Spirit as a prerequisite to an attempt to explore any feature of God, I owe it to my readers to set out my own credentials in that regard. In my case this need is particularly important, as my credentials regarding scholarly training are seriously lacking. I possess but a Bachelor of Science Degree, and that in engineering, which is not even remotely connected to theology.

Can I make a legitimate claim regarding the more important asset of the indwelling Holy Spirit? I readily can answer in the affirmative merely by pointing to Scripture, which promises the gift of the Holy Spirit to every believer. But how, then, can I establish my credentials as a bona fide believer in Jesus Christ? After all, the Holy Spirit is such a gracious guest that most of us can exhibit little evidence of an influence.

Given that the reader undoubtedly would be more comfortable with an overt demonstration of the Holy Sprit’s presence in my life, I make the claim that I have an intimate knowledge of the Holy Spirit through actual interaction. I make the further claim that this intimacy also imparted wisdom to me regarding the nature of this indwelling Holy Spirit. I will attempt to back up those claims herein.

It would have been helpful if I could have, by way of a demonstration, a medal for distinction on the battlefield, or of some other form of extraordinary heroism, the source of which I could claim as the Holy Spirit. I, on the other hand, am not a battlefield hero or anything like it, so that won’t work. I served out my enlistment in the Marine Corps during a time of peace, a rare circumstance indeed given the carnage of the twentieth century.

But I did have an experience involving the Holy Spirit, and it taught me a great deal about the Spirit’s interaction with those fortunate persons who happen to be actively indwelt and for whom God has a specific purpose.

At one time in my life before my wife Carolyn came into it, we made our home in a semi-rural enclave within Bellevue, Washington, which, after the lights came back on in Seattle after the wave of layoffs in the late ‘60s, became a large, sophisticated and rapidly growing city. Our house was modest but we were surrounded by huge trees. An accomplished professional couple lived across the lane from where I made my home with my family. The many trees discouraged neighbors from communicating with each other, although I admit that if any of us had tried a little harder we could have overcome this minor obstacle with ease.

The couple across the street were both tenured professors at the University of Washington. I suppose that stood us off somewhat, as I, possessing but a Bachelor of Science degree, had not attained to that level of professional achievement. The husband had other achievements under his belt, one of which was his wartime service in Britain as a pilot of a Lancaster bomber. At any rate, more than a few years passed before I realized that they had a son.

Busily pursuing my own interests, I basically ignored the boy’s existence, although he knew of mine and apparently respected my own career, intermediate-level though it was. To him, I was known as Mr. Perkins the engineer. More years passed before I was given to understand how high were the academic standards that his parents had set before him, and how desperately monstrous he perceived his own failures to be. His terrible depression had little to do with their characters, for they were warm and loving people. It was simply their example of achievement that did him in. He longed to satisfy his deep desire for the adventure he saw in his father’s wartime experiences, but found no outlet in the stifling environment of the big-city school system. By the time he had reached his mid-teens, maintaining a surly distance from his frustrated and disappointed parents and unnoticed by indifferent neighbors, he quietly attempted to take his own life. He bungled that, too.

He eventually reached that point where he knew he could sink no lower, so he made up his mind to pursue that which he knew he would love. He had saved some money, and he spent it on a used hang glider and instructions on how to operate it. In secret, of course.

On the day that I really met this young man he was experiencing the most humiliating and discouraging time he’d ever experienced, worse even than the day he tried to take his life. His parents had discovered his secret pursuit and made him agonizingly aware of their disappointment in what they perceived was a frivolous waste of time. They had decided to ground him and threatened to divest him of the glider.

When I first really met this unfortunate creature he was moving toward me with his head facing the ground, shuffling disconsolately with his hands in his pockets.

Hearing the approach of my car, he raised his head. In doing so, he underwent an amazing transformation. His eyes widened, attempting to assimilate what he saw. When recognition finally overcame disbelief his face broke out into the widest grin I’d ever seen. I could see an inner sun shining outward, completely dispelling his gloom.

What he saw, the thing that caused this abrupt change, was attached to the roof of my vehicle with bungee cords. A few months back my brother and I had been talking about my flying career that had never materialized. He had offered a challenge, which he wouldn’t leave alone. He pushed it further with a prank birthday gift, which was a certificate for hang gliding lessons that I decided to take him up on. The surreal experience furnished an almost nonstop stimulus to my sense of humor, and I was soon hooked. Upon my graduation flight off the big hill, I purchased my first hang glider which was atop the roof of my car on the day I really met Harold.

I was forty-one at the time, Harold still in his teens. Despite the large difference in our ages we became fast and close friends. Our friendship was symbiotic. He was quite gutsy, just about as courageous as my young instructor. He got me into flight situations that I never would have attempted on my own. He persisted without relent until I finally agreed to go night flying with him, each of us jumping off the big hill into the black sky at thirty-second intervals, our only source of visual reference being the occasional car that traveled along the edge of the landing field. Landing was accomplished by guess and feel, guessing when to go from prone to upright and feeling the approach of the ground with dragging foot. On the way down we’d communicate blind to keep out of each others’ way. He livened the air with triumphant catcalls. If he’d known what a bat sounded like, his happiness would have been complete.

I speak as if I’m telling a “just-so” kind of story. That wasn’t the case by any means. Things happened, sometimes very dark things. “Unplanned events” one might say if he was in a euphemistic frame of mind. “Overtaken by events” might be a better term, or even “overturned by events”, to be more accurate. Actually, “squashed” would be the most appropriate word. To the unfortunate creatures involved in such things, they were humiliating or painful, or both. To the onlookers, they were hilarious, providing that the pilot escaped death or serious injury. They were like a playback of the dawn of aviation, complete with all its mishaps and setbacks, most of which were of the kind experienced by the contestants on TV’s Wipeout show. Most involved the unplanned aerial maneuver called the Auger.

An auger is an implement that takes a variety of forms and sizes depending on its intended use. A wood auger acts as a drill but is spiral-shaped with a hollow center to create the hole with a minimum of effort. A ground auger is larger, being used to bore holes in the soil. They have a common feature: the spiral shape of the bit. With regard to flying, mishaps in the air tend to assume this spiral-shaped ‘twirl’ as gravity flings the unfortunate craft groundward. But this isn’t the main reason why the term ‘auger’ is used with respect to aircraft misfortunes. The word ‘auger’ is, instead, descriptive of the forceful manner in which gravity hurls the twisting man-machine system into the ground, thus boring an impressive hole. A more recent version involves the term ‘crater’, evoking the image of an asteroid impacting the earth at a speed many times that of a bullet.

This term ‘auger’ is so colorfully descriptive that it has been borrowed as a general term to describe most hang flight mishaps, regardless of whether or not rotary motion is involved. When an event that elicits this phrase turns out to be not so serious, the typical response is to laugh about the process. It’s just a fact of life: it’s comedic to see normally dignified humans exposed to runaway, out-of-control situations. Remember the movie The Blue Max, with its leader that showed all those ill-conceived flying contraptions that beat themselves to death against the tarmac? When it first came out there wasn’t a dry eye in the audience for the laughter. While it’s a lot more up-front and personal, the laughter over a hang flight mishap usually awaits a fortunate outcome and then is good-natured, carrying absolutely no intimation of mockery or indifference to the unfortunate creature’s suffering; to the contrary, those who laugh are usually recalling their own, related, misfortunes, so they are actually laughing at themselves as well. I speak with the authority of experience: when I laugh about auger events, it is with the humility of hard experience. My own most serious auger left me unable to raise my arms above the horizontal for over eleven weeks, and now that I’m aging, guess where the arthritis chose to reside. Fortunately, jerks like the bloodthirsty and totally insensitive pilot Ray in my novel Rotor1, who enjoys rubbing Paul Henry’s nose in his misfortune, are quite rare.

I knew the perfect example of the intrepid adventurer, a daring pilot who, through his own cutting-edge techniques and their attendant mishaps, advanced the art of flight. He was a friend. As I had learned from others, he’d dreamed of flying for most of his life, finally striking out on his own at the age of twelve and away from the prying eyes of his mama, with an exceedingly fragile craft constructed of twigs and Saran Wrap. He kept at it despite the obvious ending with its multiple contusions, until he bulked it up enough to support him in flight. When he finally earned enough money at the age of sixteen to get a bona fide glider he went crazy with joy, learning to perform strange and wonderful maneuvers that most of us wouldn’t dream of attempting. He still did these things into his twenties, walking around with a limp and with scrape marks all over his elbows and forearms. We suspect his legs looked the same way. I vividly remember one time on the top of Chelan Butte, where we happened to be witnessing a particularly vicious storm front advancing up the mountain. Its progress was all too evident by the way the trees were being knocked horizontal, the shaking impressive even from our initially great distance away. All of us there had disassembled out gliders and tucked them away in their bags. All except one, and you know who I’m talking about. He made sure it was set up properly and asked me to wire him off. There we stood, him gripping the downtubes and staring irrationally at the advancing front, and me below him with my back to the commotion holding his flying wires. I knew from the size of his eyeballs the precise moment that the front was going to slam into my back, and released my hold on the wires just as he shouted “leggo!”, whereupon he instantly rose a hundred feet up.

I can only describe his subsequent flight pattern using a term acquired in high school physics. There we learned about Brownian Motion, discovering that air is not motionless, but at the molecular level is constantly subjected to collisions and bombardments from neighboring molecules. Each molecule of air, being subjected to this duress, executes a zigzag flight path, traveling from one impact to the next. The intrepid flyer that I wired off Chelan Butte made a perfect macro-level execution of Brownian Motion, zigzagging his way vertically, horizontally, and at all attitudes in-between, downslope to an eventual impact against the side of the mountain. We crammed into a car and hurried down the fire trail until we could get close enough to see whether he survived. We could tell that his craft didn’t make it, because it lacked the symmetry with which it left the shop. But he not only did survive, he was laughing (despite his torn pants and the bleeding gash on his forearm) and exclaiming “What a ride!” over and over again.

He had a gimped-up lip too. He wasn’t born that way. It happened on the flight that killed him. He was night flying alone, that being another of his pioneering adventures, at least in our area. The night was so dark that he didn’t see the high-voltage lines into which he flew. It was the electricity that did him in, entering through his lip and exiting out his foot, the side of which blew out from the force. As he lay there dead as a doornail his kite, which was all tangled up in the wires, began to burn. Eventually the aluminum tubes melted to the point where they could no longer support him, and he fell forty feet to the ground. It was the impact with the ground that got him going again, kick-starting his heart and giving him a massive chest resuscitation.

After his revival he resumed his devotion to hang flight. One point of all this is that despite his numerous accidents we all respected him, and greatly so. I particularly enjoyed recalling some of his exploits in Rotor1. He was a true legend, in the positive sense. The big point of his revival after being fried, though, is that God simply wasn’t through with him on earth. He had only one love that was greater than his love of flight, and that was his love for Jesus. He was the most enthusiastic Christian that I have ever encountered. I think that his open joy as a Christian was strongly connected to his exploits in flight, as I had suggested in the essay “The Curse and the Promise” in my book Family of God2.

It stings my pride to think about it, but as I hinted above, I augered in once. The launch was fine and so was the flight, the ridge lift keeping me up. But while I was in the air the wind picked up considerably, approaching gale force. I continued to fly, but I was beginning to get tired. When I finally came down I misjudged my landing. Thinking it to be in an area of laminar flow I found out that it wasn’t laminar at all. The motion of the air was rotary as in Rotor. I was fifty feet up when I figured that out, but by then it was too late. I rode the wave down to the ground. It was just like a breaker at the beach flinging a body-surfer into the sand. My hands were on the downtubes when my glider hit and swung me headfirst into the keel. I was protected from a head injury by my helmet, but the force that yanked my hands off the downtubes tore the muscle sheath in my left arm, leaving me with an impressive bulge there to this day. It took eleven weeks before I could move my arms up above the horizontal and feel up to flying again. Even so, I’m sure some onlookers had a good laugh over my misfortune, and I’m glad, because the humor in such things, as long as they aren’t terminal events, is part of the uniqueness of the activity and is another item that places it above flight by metal wing.

[to be continued]

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