Addiction, NA, Narcotics Anonymous, Recovery, Spiritual Principles, Twelve Steps

Faith and Helicopters

Years ago I lived next door to a pilot named Gary. He was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air National Guard, where he flew Blackhawk Helicopters. That was his weekend job. The rest of the time, Gary flew a medical helicopter for one of the local hospitals.

At the time, we were living in the country, and all the homes in our neighborhood had large back yards. On occasion we would look over to see a helicopter in Gary’s back yard. For a brief time, he even had his own helicopter back there. I used to joke with him that I appreciated him keeping it there, thinking a helipad in the neighborhood would surely increase property values!

One weekend he was storing one of the helicopters from the hospital out on his helipad. They were in the process of changing equipment in another one, and needed the extra space. So he volunteered his back yard as a weekend storage spot.

At the time, my children were still young. They woke me excited to see the helicopter back there. The three of us went outside for a closer look.

Gary spotted us out there and came out to see us. He invited the children to get into the cockpit so they could see what his office was like. They were delighted by the opportunity to sit in a real helicopter. I was pretty excited too!

As we talked, Gary shared about his job as a pilot. He covered various aspects of operating a hospital helicopter, including one that had never occurred to me. It was the dark side of his job. One that weighed heavily on him.

Gary explained that the mortality rate among his passengers was very high. Fewer than twenty percent of patients would survive the trip in his helicopter. It wasn’t for lack of good care. The medical staff was top notch. It also wasn’t for lack of equipment, the inside of his chopper was like a miniature ER.

No, the reason for the high mortality rate was the condition of the patient. Gary and his crew, it turned out, were only called upon in the most dire of circumstances. The worst auto accidents. The most severe heart attacks. The situations in which death was already knocking on the patient’s door.

As he spoke, Gary, a career pilot, a decorated officer in the military, began to break down a little. Tears came to his eyes as he shared about his patients. I asked him how he could do it. How could he carry on? What motivated him to keep going out after patients day-after-day, knowing so many would die?

Gary’s answer was simple. He was motivated by the few who survive. Those were the ones who kept his hope alive. He said that he had learned over the years that neither he nor his crew could accurately predict who would live and who would die. Thus, they all did their very best for each patient. Anyone transported under Gary’s care was treated as though they were one of the odds-beaters.

Today, whenever I see a hospital helicopter, I try to remember to say a little prayer for everyone on board. This morning, just as I sat down on my balcony, I saw one flying by, and my thoughts turned to Gary, and I took a moment to consider those on board. I knew immediately why my Higher Power had given me “Faith” as today’s spiritual principle. I was to write about Gary…

When the newcomer enters the rooms of Narcotics Anonymous, the odds are stacked against them. The percentage of addicts who come in seeking freedom from active addiction versus those who actually find recovery can be depressing. The reality is that Gary’s patients had better odds.

Over time, it would be tempting to become hardened. To avoid the newcomer, and thus avoid the pain of seeing yet another friend lost to this disease. It would be easy to ask, “Why bother? After all, the odds are so unfavorable.”

Yet our meetings are just the opposite. They are designed to welcome the newcomer. Designed to make that person whose life is in critical condition feel at home among friends. Our meetings are full of faith. Faith that treats everyone as though they will become the next NA success story.

It does get hard over time. The pain of losing a loved one to addiction gets old. Investing in a friend, only to watch them go back out can be very discouraging. Yet, when it happens, we must press on. We must stay focused on that next person who comes in. Recovery demands that we give each newcomer a fighting chance.

The message of Narcotics Anonymous is that an addict, any addict, can stop using drugs, lose the desire to use, and find a new way to live. That message reminds me that I cannot assume that one addict seeking recovery has a better or worse chance of success than the rest of us. It doesn’t matter what drugs we’ve used. Or how desperate looking we are. All that matters is that we are in the same room seeking the same thing.

Today, I want to be more like Gary. Instead of losing hope over the many who are lost, I want to find encouragement in the ones whose lives are transformed. I want my faith to be strong, knowing that we do recover.

Have a remarkable day!


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