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The Rev. Martha Sterne The Rev. Martha Sterne

The Rev. Martha Sterne is associate rector of Holy Innocents' Episcopal Church in Atlanta, GA.

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Holy Innocents' Episcopal Church, Atlanta, GA


Pilot or Passenger?

April 21, 2009

I was struck by an interview with Captain Chesley Sullenberger,  pilot of the plane which landed safely in the Hudson River a few months ago.  The interviewer asked “Sully” if he thought about the lives of all the people on the plane.  And he quietly said no, he couldn’t do that and also fly the plane.  He just thought about flying the plane.

There are times when it is imperative to just think about flying the plane, whatever that may be.  There are times when you are in charge and there is a situation that must be addressed quickly and forcefully. God bless Sully for his skill and courage and leadership.

But there are other times in all of our lives when we are just living along, doing the best we can, and really someone else is in charge  or decisions need to be made cooperatively.   We are more passenger than captain in many situations.  And what I want to suggest is that we truly need to be able to move back and forth.  Otherwise we drive ourselves and everybody else crazy.

Sometimes we need to lead.  Sometimes we need to get out of the way.  Sometimes we need to get in there and work it out.  Sometimes we are just along for the ride.  Can you tell the difference?

Recently the woman who was my late mother’s primary caregiver accepted another case,  actually my aunt.  It didn’t work out which makes me very sad because the caregiver and my aunt know and love each other and were eager to be with each other.  The problem occurred when the caregiver, who was in the pilot’s seat for my mother’s daily care as far as my brother and sister and I were concerned, was relegated to ’stewardess” by my aunt’s well-meaning daughter in law.  It was easy for us to give over day to day control of Mother’s schedule and personal care.  We lived 400 -1500 miles away.  The daughter in law, however was in a different situation.  My aunt lives with her son and his wife.  Is it any wonder that the daughter-in-law questioned the caregiver’s decisions, micro-managed the daily schedule, and argued with the caregiver’s assessment of the hours she had worked.  It didn’t work out.

I am sure that these two strong women both have true sides of this sad  story. That’s not the point. It was the failure to define roles and to achieve clarity of expectations which doomed this flight.

This happens so often.  And the added stress is murder on everybody. Knowing when to be pilot and when to be passenger can make life easier and more pleasant all the way around.  It also can be from time to time a matter of life and death.  For more information, see Jesus.  

Peace, Martha Sterne


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