It Seems As If Only Yesterday

It is the start of the new term. It is difficult to believe it is the Spring 2018 term. As part of the introduction to my classes, I used a scene from the movie, “The Dead Poets Society.” It was the scene where Robin Williams, playing the part of Professor John Keating, explains the concept of Carpe diem to his students. (If you need to follow the link –

I used Keating’s explanation of Carpe diem to pass on an important message to my students. In the passage, Professor Keating challenges his students to make their lives extraordinary. I paraphrased the statement, telling my students of this academic term to make their learning extraordinary.

I also tried to get the important point across that reading was the key to learning, that holding a book and processing the words from the pages is the most important aspect of learning. It is so very important to ingest the concepts, mull over all the information, take notes, write them down, and use as many of the five senses as possible to process that information to make sure it is retained, to embed the knowledge permanently, and most importantly, to be able to recall and use it later.

Especially in our business of flying airplanes.

One most important aspect of knowledge when it comes to flying is being able to recall the most pertinent information when you need it. I have made the point in the past that aviation is unlike any endeavor to which man has aspired. I have also talked to students about “cramming” and how it doesn’t work well in aviation. It is far easier to study properly in the weeks before an exam in pursuit of a good grade than it is to pull an all-nighter. When you do that, mental performance slips because of the lack of sleep, but most importantly, crammed knowledge is only available for a short time.

In aviation, the “stuff” you need to know needs to stay with you for a lifetime of flying. I have often told the story about how I crammed in my first year of college for Ancient World History 101. Everything I didn’t learn never came back to haunt me later in life. I never felt guilty about the cramming, or the knowledge I did not retain from that freshman course. However, I do recall sitting at FL240 in A-7E Corsair one night about 30 minutes after midnight when all hell broke loose.

I had just finished setting up the computer for the weapons delivery (six live Mk82 general purpose bombs). It was a moment to relax and I leaned back and looked up at the stars. There is nothing better than flying an airplane with a greenhouse canopy at flight levels, away from urban lights and above most of the atmosphere to see the celestial sights. This evening’s sights were spectacular! It was August, the middle of the Perseid meteor showers. I have never seen so many streaking lights in the sky before or since.

The lead A-7 was about a mile off my starboard side; we were in a combat spread and I assumed he was taken in by the awe of the meteor shower also. As I was looking up into the sky, an explosion somewhere deep in the bowels of my ship caused her to lurch tail up and the master caution light started pulsing, and the horns went off in my helmet, and my heart slammed up and settled somewhere just behind my Adam’s apple.

Instantly, I was blinded by that damned master caution light, which had no dimming feature. I immediately punched it off and then my very next thought was, Damn, I wished I had read that manual a little more intensely!

It was one of those flying lessons that involved more than flying. I found myself making promises to God, to myself, to my mother, to old flight instructors, really, to anyone who would listen, that if I got out of this one alive, I would study more in-depth, practice my EPs with the fervor of a reformed alcoholic or smoker, and really take great notes and truly learn what I needed to learn to stay alive in the future.

So, I asked my students to make their learning extraordinary. I talked to them about seizing the day. There is no better time than now to start living because you never know what the future will bring. And here is another ugly truth to the future: it flashes past so fast you will never believe it.

After all, it was only the day before yesterday that I was in high school, and just yesterday when I was sitting in college as a junior, as they are now.


©2018 J. Clark

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