July 16, 1999, John F. Kennedy, Jr. downed his Piper airplane into the faceless Atlantic Ocean off Martha’s Vineyard. The weather conditions technically allowed him to fly at night despite not having proper instrument training. But, the skies were dark and hazy, and visibility was too poor to see clearly in some places along his route. And it was that lack of instrument training that lead to his death….and the death of those with him as he entered into the graveyard spin.
The confusion that muddled his mind in the hazy darkness was attributed to vertigo…the disoriented, contradictory signals of the inner ear and rational thinking. Because of his lack of training, he chose to trust his own senses and thinking over what the instrument panel told he needed to do to recover his plane.
So what do we take away from this?
Don’t fly without proper instrument training? Obviously. Since most of us will never find ourselves in a cockpit, can we learn something else from this horrible tale? Absolutely.
Just as a pilot can override the directions of the flight instruments when confused, disoriented emotions take over, so we want to override the instrument panel we have for our lives when confusion sets into our minds. That panel is, of course, the bible (Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth). My take on this life manual is HERE.
When we’re flying high, sailing along in clear skies, everything feels perfect. We have no problem trusting the instrument panel because it agrees with what our eyes see and mind thinks is correct. But when we hit foggy and stormy conditions, all of a sudden emotions and reason are at war with each other. We want desperately to override the instruments that have so flawlessly guided us in favor of navigating the clouds and storms with our own senses. For some reason, we think that instrument panel has now somehow become defective, and is guiding us in the wrong direction. When, in fact, it’s our own disorientation that is misleading us. And like vertigo, we tend to want to trust in the very condition that is causing us to lose our balance.
A pilot’s skill in flying using only the instrument panel is in the ability to regain control of the aircraft when it heads off in an unwanted direction. Flight instructors call this skill “recovery from unusual attitudes,” and we can apply this when our lives head in the wrong direction due to unusual attitudes…usually our own.
When life throws us into a graveyard spiral and we’re suffering from vertigo disorientation, the last thing we need to do is assume we’re thinking clearly and can rely on our own senses to right our aircrafts and recover. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be aware of our emotions and gut feelings about things….but, like JFK Jr’s fatal vertigo condition, feelings and emotions tend to want to override what we should do in a life storm. As a pilot’s trust in visual illusions may lead to his death, we can’t completely trust that we’ll make life-saving decisions without the help of the instruments we’ve been given to navigate successfully.
A fully-trained pilot learns to trust the instrument panel and to fight emotional and sensory overload that may be in contradiction when visibility is poor or non-existant.
God’s word is the only instrument panel that keeps us level with the horizon, provides clarity as to the direction needed to right our aircrafts when hitting storms that cloud our vision.
Know and trust in the instrument panel. It can save your life.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.