When Community Becomes Nation and Nation Becomes Honor
I took my first lesson at Wings Field outside of Philadelphia. I was 15 years old then — too young to have a drivers license — but totally in love with the feel of an airplane in my hands. I finally did my solo at Santa Monia Airport a year after I graduated from the University of Southern California. Over the next decade, I bought and sold airplanes and went up the ratings and moved several times — from LA to NYC to Westport, CT to Louisville, KY, all while flying.
The point is community. No matter where I lived or what I did, I had my pilot’s license and that meant I had a community. And in no other community — in no other professional setting or social setting or team sport — did I feel more at home, more as if I belonged — than in my community of aviators.
As I wrote my books and interviewed astronauts and firefighters, soldiers and frontline fighter pilots alike, I came to see how true that was for many other communities — the feeling of being at home, at ease with yourself — particularly in those communities by which admittance could only be gained through personal goal setting and accomplishment, like getting your ticket stamped at a firefighting academy, or your shirt tail cut off by your flight instructor.
I also came to realize that goal setting and accomplishment were at the heart of why hearing our national anthem chokes me up or why seeing our first responders or service members in action gets me emotional. It’s partly love of country, yes, but it’s also a deep appreciation for — and knowledge of —the demanding hours others put in to do what they do; of the high goals they set for themselves and the fact that they did it and that they are, well….doing it day on and day out. And when we put all these communities together and we realize what each of us has done, we have a nation of communities – and as a nation, it is an easy matter to support each other. “Honor to the soldier and sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his country’s cause,” said Abraham Lincoln. “Honor, also, to the citizen who cares for his brother in the field and serves; as he best can, the same cause.” Well said, President Lincoln.