BACKGROUND TO BUDDY #5

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 (continued)

At that time, the skies were increasingly shared with Ultralight aircraft, sporting an engine and propeller to go with the Dacron and aluminum tubing. As their popularity grew, and “incidents” along with it, these craft began to be featured prominently on the evening news. Sharing the common perception about ultralights, I was concerned for my brother Jon who, like a moth to a flame was becoming intrigued with the activity, and I attempted to get him to join me in the purity of gravity flight. He refused, took instruction and acquired an AOPA ultralight license.

For some like my brother, the peril of ultralight flight extended beyond the flight itself. He became fond of chasing cows with his craft, and began to think of himself as a bit of a cowboy. In the midst of one herding activity he heard a loud bang, and turned his head to see Farmer Brown on a quad, pointing the shotgun in his direction. Maybe if he’d just have gone up to the farmer and applied for a herding job, there would have been no anger. As it was, he was forced to head for greener pastures.

My frequent flying companion Harold had one or two mishaps himself, but our shared experiences in that regard just cemented our bond. Once he helped me accomplish a task of such personal importance that I won’t forget it as long as I live. For a couple of years before I had taken up my brother’s challenge to go hang gliding, I had responded to what I considered a Christian call to service in aid to those less fortunate than I. Specifically, I had been volunteering on a weekly basis at a local home for severely handicapped persons. Among these residents was Danny, a young man in his twenties afflicted with cerebral palsy, a terrible disability that so thoroughly restricted his movements that his limbs would fight violently with each other whenever he attempted to move, leaving him entangled and grimacing in frustrated effort. Yet in the face of this he persisted in maintaining a basically cheerful nature, a trait that should put to shame those of us who spend time focusing on our own relatively trivial problems. I know that his attitude has affected me this way, and probably did much to develop my character, such as it is, beyond what it might otherwise be.

As my association with this terribly encumbered individual developed, I began to notice that his intelligence most likely surpassed my own, which just made the fact of his malady even worse: he represented a mind imprisoned in an almost nonfunctional body. Despite the severity of his affliction he showed an interest in adventure, exemplified by an incident that took place during an outing where I pushed his wheelchair around a few residential blocks near the nursing home. Coming upon a slight dip in the sidewalk, I released my hold on the handles of the chair and told him, jokingly, to ‘go for it’. Fighting unwilling muscles, Danny screwed up his face in a grin and lifted an arm in a semblance of a pump, attempting to make a thumbs-up sign.

It was inevitable with that kind of attitude that eventually the thought of taking Danny hang gliding would enter my mind. In time, this notion became a burning desire. Being but a novice to hang flight at the time, I realized that I didn’t have the experience to accomplish this on my own. I approached several pilots who were far younger and had more air time than I did but was turned down flat. I wouldn’t say that they were all afraid to do it, although it could be that it was at least a factor with some; it was more of an affront: they couldn’t comprehend why a severely handicapped person should be on the big hill. Even Harold refused to do the flying, saying that since I was the one who was working with Danny, it was only proper that I should be the one to launch off with him. Realizing that if anyone was going to do the job it would have to be me, for the next several months I worked hard at acquiring the necessary experience. Toward the end of that time, I had Danny weighed at 94 pounds and took to the big hill wearing a backpack into which I inserted a progressively larger number of lead SCUBA weights, intending eventually to reach Danny’s weight in my backpack burden. I had gotten up to about 60 pounds when I really began to worry about overstressing my glider. (Hang flight with two people flying tandem is a common enough occurrence nowadays, but back then it was unknown territory occupied by dragons.) About that time also my flying friends, including Harold, were venturing farther afield with their gliders in search of better lift conditions. Not willing to be left behind on the big hill, I went along with them, essentially putting the project with Danny on semipermanent hold.

One morning a few months later I awoke to a strange peace and the certain knowledge that on that day I would take Danny up to the big hill and we would jump off together. I had no idea how that might be done, but I was sure that it would, despite the fact that I had never flown in a glider with another person, even as a passenger, and had no idea what to expect. As a Christian I understood this knowledge and especially the peace regarding it to be a gift from the Holy Spirit. Every year that passes I am more certain of this fact. And very, very grateful.

The first thing I did after getting dressed was to call Harold, asking him to come with me and help to figure out how we were going to get Danny into the air. Then I went to the nursing home, told the staff what I intended to do, and picked up Danny. We met up with Harold on the big hill, where he was already attempting to figure out how the launch was going to take place. He had a rope slung over his shoulder when Danny and I arrived and was eyeing a big stump. He wrapped the end of the rope around the stump as I came up to him, and walked over to the edge. “I think this is gonna work,” he said as he wrapped the other end around his waist, cinching it tightly. “Go ahead and set up,” he continued as he tested it. He had just enough slack to get him over the edge at a 45 degree angle.

Harold was one strong guy as well as brave and compassionate, being exactly the person I needed for help. As I walked the glider to where I’d run off the edge, Harold cradled Danny in his harness. We hooked him into the keel, along with me, while he continued to hold Danny in his arms. When I signaled my intent to go, he ran with me to the edge and, just as he felt the tug of the rope around his waist, flung him away in front of the glider.

I felt a twist of Danny’s harness on the keel and, having not quite achieved flying speed, we momentarily dove in dubious control. But we had a thousand feet to sort things out, and eventually gained a semblance of normal flight. Danny’s excitement was extreme, his jaw dropping as he attempted to grin, and it gave me a wonderful feeling that this strange thing we were doing was being smiled upon by God. This feeling of euphoria continued after we landed, when Danny gave me a look of pure joy.
[to be continued]

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