Gary Horton | In the Storm, Perseverance Lands Success

Gary Horton

Carrie and I returned home from Seattle on Monday night during what turned out to be the Famous Lightning Storm of 2021. While lightning was setting palm trees on fire like Roman candles in the SCV, our pilot was struggling to safely get the 737 down in the eye of the storm. Lightning, thunder, rain, crosswinds – all of it combined to scare the beegeeebies out of our plane full of passengers.   

“We’re redirecting to Ontario for safety,” the crew leader announced. Then the plane got very quiet, and the staff strapped down and all crew focused on the challenge at hand. And zoom, up went the engine speed and we made a steep ascent over what I presume were the mountains to the west of Bob Hope Burbank airport. The sky lit up and winds buffeted the plane and none of it abated until we were over what below looked to me like the San Gabriel Valley. Subsequently, our pilot turned sharply right and left, and soon she descended to an airport that certainly looked entirely new to me.  

It turns out I was just turned around and lost! 

On exiting the jet, from the jetway we looked up and saw the BUR sign on the building. Our intrepid pilot had ditched the standard approach from the west; she cut upward and eastward and took on the weather and our landing approach from a safer and more advantageous angle. Crew were too busy with the hard task at hand to inform us of the change back. Once safely down, the plane erupted in whoops and clapping, full of relief and appreciation. Our captain had put on a demonstration of great and safe piloting. Consider the decades of training required for such expertise, skill and presence of mind… 

A good scare like that is always useful to wake folks up to the good things they’ve got and the dearness and also the fragility of life itself. Kudos to Alaska Airlines and our pilot for keeping us safe while eliminating excess hardships for passengers.  

And wow, what a light show at 20,000 feet inside the lightning filled clouds, and then below, looking up, descending. SCV residents certainly were treated to some most-needed rain and a great sky show. We had window seats to Mother Nature’s immense power. It seemed we could reach out and catch thunderbolts! 

We had traveled to Seattle to stay with our daughter, Katie, along with longtime boyfriend, Justin. Together, they own a home in a nice part of town and Katie has been busy decorating and fixing up the 90-year-old house. (One day, sooner than we will think, all our homes in the SCV will all be 90 and 100 years old. I hope they hold up as well as the old Craftsman style homes, built the old way with real plaster and true 2 x 4’s, packed into tiny lots in North Seattle.)  

Katie, some longtime readers may remember, is our daughter who suffered an extremely serious traumatic brain injury in India six years ago. She was hit by a motorcycle — hard — and all of us spent a month in India nursing her, post cranial surgery, to get her safely back to the U.S. She’d lost some memory, words, certain connections – and to a great extent had to rebuild her mind and body and redirect her life. Which, though incredible personal resiliency, she did. And beyond just recovering, she chose to further develop herself with project management certificate classes at University of Washington, statistics classes at University of Puget Sound, and Toastmasters classes to learn public speaking and presentation. 

Her investments in herself paid off. Perseverance matched to studying and goal setting — and personally holding the line paid off for Katie. And certainly, our pilot’s perseverance and training paid off for everyone in our plane Monday night… 

Today, six years after what could have been a life-destroying accident, Katie serves as a project manager for Sound Transit, the quasi-public company that builds out and manages the light rail system throughout the greater Seattle/Tacoma area. (Yes, you can actually ride the light rail right to the Seahawks stadium and to the SeaTac airport! Oh, if we had that here!) Katie’s is a complex job with lots of organizing and technical writing and the dues she paid by investing herself in further education and life planning paved the way for her success. 

“Keeping your head down and staying on course,” is the surest path to success, her boyfriend Justin likes to say. He’s a Microsoft programmer and, as most know, programmers are super sought-after positions these days. But surely, he wasn’t born a programmer. He paid his own dues in college and working his way up the ranks. 

Together, Justin and Katie have built an admirable life. Nice home, nice jobs, nice situation. None of this was given to them. Both studied and mastered the skills for what got them to their pleasant lives, and no one gave them any breaks in finding their employment. And ditto for our extremely skilled and appreciated lightning storm-beating pilot. 

All, with one caveat: Justin went to a tuition-subsidized state university. We paid Katie’s college tuition. Even when doing all the hard work personally, most of us need a hand up, in education or in opportunity, to make our way up the ladders of life. And we shouldn’t forget this when we consider the least of those among us, too. We all need a hand up, sometime. Knowing how others have helped us, let us be generous to others ourselves… 

And in this, for most of us mortals, it’s focus, hard work and resilience that gets us to where we want to go. It could be landing a loaded jetliner at Burbank. Or building a dream life in Seattle. Whatever our goals, getting there is often no more than knowing where we want to go, grabbing the available resources, and simply grinding it out until every box is checked and we got it all done. 

Perseverance is key to whatever success we seek. This trip, I got to see it in action on the ground at Katie’s home, and at 20,000 feet and descending through our lightning storm of the year. And the payoff, seeing people safe and on the ground and happy, is a truly nice thing to see.  

Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006. The opinions expressed in his column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Signal or its editorial board. 

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