The Watershed Part 4

A “Symphony of Your Life” blog with Mark Hardcastle

Seth Loading Dad Into Medevac
Up on the watershed
Standing at the fork in the road
You can stand there and agonize
Till your agony’s your heaviest load
Never fly as the crow flies
Get used to a country mile
When you’re learning to face
The path at your pace,
every choice is worth your while

– The Indigo Girls, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers.

In the silence of that moment Fortune presented her challenge in great big letters across the sky: Your neck may be broken. Your right arm is gone.

How are you going to respond?

The next group of riders came along, found me lying there, pulled out their cell phones, called 911, and got an emergency response. So began the rescue that involved getting the ambulance up to me on the trail, me on to the back board, into the ambulance, and then back down the hill to the Moab emergency room where they took x-rays. And we found out that indeed my neck was broken.

Because x-rays can’t tell us everything we need to know about soft tissue, the doctors couldn’t know how badly my spinal cord was damaged. With a broken neck and a paralyzed arm they thought they’d better figure that out. So they decided to evacuate me on a flight-for-life helicopter up to Grand Junction and put me in an MRI machine.

Back on the gurney, out to the helipad, loaded into the chopper and strapped down again. As the helicopter lifted off for the short flight to St. Mary’s hospital the chaos of the rescue melted away and I found myself thinking about the gravity of my situation.

The question that came rushing in – that I couldn’t push away – was ‘how much worse is it gonna get?’ I knew my neck was broken and my right arm was gone. Was I gonna lose my left arm, too? What about my legs? Were they gonna stop working before I even got to Grand Junction? And if you go just a little bit further down that line of thinking you come to a pretty dark place. I won’t say it here – I’ll let you get there on your own. But suffice it to say I knew for the first time on a gut level something I’d known in my head for my entire life:

Tomorrow is not promised.

That’s me on the gurney being loaded into the helicopter in the picture above. That’s my then 18-year-old son standing beside me, saying goodbye before I began my journey.

The image of him standing beside me, doing what needed to be done, being the adult in the situation, was burned onto my psyche during that gentle cruise beyond the LaSalle Mountains, northeast toward the Grand Mesa. I wasn’t finished raising him, his sister and two brothers. But tomorrow was no longer promised.

Why did you do the things you did today? Are those really the things you should have been doing?

Is there something you need to say to somebody close to you that you haven’t said yet? Are there things you need to do with your kids, your grand kids that you haven’t done yet?

The helicopter landed at St. Mary’s. They wheeled me into the MRI machine, did the test, and wheeled me back out again. The neurosurgeon came over to give me the news: “Yeah, Mark, no fooling, your neck is broken – in five places. That’s the bad news. The good news is that there’s no spinal cord damage.”

“No spinal cord damage? But doc my arm is paralyzed?”

“Yeah, Mark, the nerves that control your arm are badly bruised way back up at their roots. But the bruise is outside the spinal column, which means your arm will likely recover.”

Sure enough, it was only a matter of hours before I began to regain function in my right hand.

At that point I was given a great gift from the Universe. Now it’s not what you’re thinking…

Part 5: https://thesymphonyofyourlife.wordpress.com/2016/01/26/the-watershed-part-5/

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Link to Mark’s book, The Symphony of Your Life

http://www.symphonyofyourlife.com

Mark graduated from the USAF Academy in 1982. After nine years as a pilot on active duty, he left the military to join a commercial airline. In addition to flying B-777s around the world, Hardcastle spends time in the Rocky Mountains and serves on the artistic staff of the Colorado Children’s Chorale. He lives in Centennial, Colorado, with his wife and four children. Contact Mark today to schedule a keynote or workshop for your organization!

The Watershed Part 3

A “Symphony of Your Life” blog with Mark Hardcastle

Seth - Moab May 2011 028

Up on the watershed
Standing at the fork in the road
You can stand there and agonize
Till your agony’s your heaviest load
Never fly as the crow flies
Get used to a country mile
When you’re learning to face
The path at your pace,
every choice is worth your while

– The Indigo Girls, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers.

…we have an opportunity in those challenges to create meaning. Now it’s not the challenges themselves that matter. We have no say in what Fortune throws at us. The opportunity is in how we respond.  So how are you responding today when Fortune challenges you with difficult times?

Challenges. Are. Inevitable. It’s how we respond that matters.

Ok, Mark. How inevitable are these challenges?

Well let’s look back in history and see if we can find a pattern or two. How far back? Well, how about 2500 years? Would that provide enough perspective?

In about 400 BC Buddha imagined the Four Noble Truths. Truth number 1: Life is suffering. Fifty years before that on the other side of the world, Plato was reminding his followers to “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Still in the Mediterranean half a millennium later Epictetus was teaching that “it is what it is.”

Hmm. Can we just skip over the Dark Ages and come right to the 20th century? In 1946 we received Viktor Frankl’s wisdom. He posited that life is not so much a quest for pleasure or power as a search for meaning. Then in 1978 M. Scott Peck wrote his controversial (at least in my world) book, The Road Less Traveled. Chapter 1, page 1, line 1: “Life is suffering.”

Right back to Buddha.

Seriously? Is that the best we can hope for? Absolutely not!

Every one of these individuals used those ideas as starting points in a conversation about how to find joy in an imperfect world..

May 18th 2012 I had  a profound opportunity to join that conversation…

I woke up on that trail, my nose and mouth filled with the dust of the Utah desert. The sun, earlier hidden by overcast now making itself fully known on my face and in my eyes. Pain building steadily between my shoulder blades and at the base of my neck as I became more and more aware. With that awareness came clarity and I told myself I must remain still until I knew more. With absolute care not to allow my head to move I took inventory of my extremities. Left toes? Yep, they work. Right foot? Check. Left fingers? No problem. Right arm…?

Right arm!!…? ? ?

Problem.

In the silence of that moment Fortune presented her challenge in great big letters across the sky: Your neck may be broken. Your right arm is gone.

How are you going to respond?

Part 4: https://thesymphonyofyourlife.wordpress.com/2016/01/22/the-watershed-part-4/

IMG_20151209_182818

Link to Mark’s book, The Symphony of Your Life

http://www.symphonyofyourlife.com

 

Mark graduated from the USAF Academy in 1982. After nine years as a pilot on active duty, he left the military to join a commercial airline. In addition to flying B-777s around the world, Hardcastle spends time in the Rocky Mountains and serves on the artistic staff of the Colorado Children’s Chorale. He lives in Centennial, Colorado, with his wife and four children. Contact Mark today to schedule a keynote or workshop for your organization!

The Watershed Part 2

A “Symphony of Your Life” blog with Mark Hardcastle

Seth - Moab May 2011 022

Up on the watershed
Standing at the fork in the road
You can stand there and agonize
Till your agony’s your heaviest load
Never fly as the crow flies
Get used to a country mile
When you’re learning to face
The path at your pace,
every choice is worth your while

– The Indigo Girls, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers.

Here’s something I know about you today. Today you are facing a hard battle. And daily you choose to fight it – or not. How’s it going? Why do you do the things you do?

I had a chance to ask myself that question 3 ½  years ago. May 18th, 2012 I was over in Moab, UT with a bunch of friends who go there every year to ride mountain bikes. Day one of the trip began perfectly. Clear deep blue sky. Crisp morning air. Sitting in the Moab diner with biker breakfasts of pancakes and sausage, bacon and eggs, and biscuits and gravy we could look across Main Street and watch the sun warm the red rock wall of the Colorado River canyon.

We left the Diner and hitched a van ride to the Porcupine Rim trail head, geared up, cranked the rest of the way to the summit, and started the adrenaline-infused downhill through the willows toward the Castle Valley overlook. By this time a high overcast had moved in, providing some small mercy from what can be a tortuous sun in the Utah desert.

After freewheeling down the slope for about 45 minutes the trail crosses a paved road. So I skipped up onto the pavement, then down into the dirt on the other side. As I settled back into the single-track I saw the rocks sticking up on either end of the half-buried log. Not a big deal – I’d already negotiated far worse several times that morning so I didn’t think anything of it. Didn’t even slow down. But I do remember thinking “I’m gonna have to either jump that or go around it.”

That’s the last thing I remember from the ride.

The next thing I remember is waking up… looking at the sky, no longer gray. The sun in its arrogance was making itself fully known on my face. I was still on the trail, but I wasn’t on my bike anymore. And I wasn’t moving. In fact I couldn’t move my right arm. I could move everything else. But I couldn’t move my arm.

It is an indisputable fact of life that stuff happens. Fortune simply does challenge us on a regular basis with difficult situations. And we have an opportunity in those challenges to create meaning. Now it’s not the challenges themselves that matter. We have no say in what Fortune throws at us. The opportunity is in how we respond.  So how are you responding today when Fortune challenges you with difficult times?

We’ll think together again in Part 3: https://thesymphonyofyourlife.wordpress.com/2016/01/21/the-watershed-part-3/

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Link to Mark’s book, The Symphony of Your Life

http://www.symphonyofyourlife.com

Mark graduated from the USAF Academy in 1982. After nine years as a pilot on active duty, he left the military to join a commercial airline. In addition to flying B-777s around the world, Hardcastle spends time in the Rocky Mountains and serves on the artistic staff of the Colorado Children’s Chorale. He lives in Centennial, Colorado, with his wife and four children. Contact Mark today to schedule a keynote or workshop for your organization!

The Watershed Part 1

A “Symphony of Your Life” blog with Mark Hardcastle

With Jennifer at Denny's 05-22-14

Up on the watershed
Standing at the fork in the road
You can stand there and agonize
Till your agony’s your heaviest load
Never fly as the crow flies
Get used to a country mile
When you’re learning to face
The path at your pace,
every choice is worth your while

– The Indigo Girls, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers.

Several years ago I was acquainted with an airline Captain here in the Denver area. While I never had the opportunity to fly with him personally several of my friends did. And without exception they all said he was just the kind of Captain we First Officers love to fly with: technically competent, ran a great crew, fun on a layover.

But did you know that airline pilots have to retire at a certain age? Eventually this career-ending limitation caught up with this guy and he was required by law to hang up his Captain’s hat with the scrambled eggs on the bill and his Captain’s jacket with the 4 stripes on the sleeve.

At that point he found himself standing on a watershed. On one side of the watershed leading up to retirement he had been the quintessential airline pilot. It’s all he’d ever wanted to do; it’s all he’d ever done. His entire identity was wrapped up in this idea of flying big jets around the world for United Airlines.

But now he was being challenged by Fortune to look down the other side of the watershed and try to figure out how to be something… else.

As I tell you this story I think about Victor Frankl and how he taught us that life is not so much a quest for pleasure or power as it is a quest for meaning. And I think of Friedrich Nietsche who tells us that “one who has a ‘why’ to live for can bear almost any ‘how.’”

This Captain needed some meaning to live for. He needed a new ‘why’ to help him bear his new ‘how.’ He was facing a hard battle.

Sadly, he chose not to fight it. The day after his retirement became official he drove to the fire station in his neighborhood, parked his car, pulled out a gun and created a permanent solution to what should have been a temporary challenge in his life.

Here’s something I know about you today. Today you are facing a hard battle. And daily you choose to fight it – or not. How’s it going? Why do you do the things you do?

We’ll think some more about that in The Watershed Part 2: https://thesymphonyofyourlife.wordpress.com/2016/01/20/the-watershed-part-2/

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Link to Mark’s book, The Symphony of Your Life

http://www.symphonyofyourlife.com

 

Mark graduated from the USAF Academy in 1982. After nine years as a pilot on active duty, he left the military to join a commercial airline. In addition to flying B-777s around the world, Hardcastle spends time in the Rocky Mountains and serves on the artistic staff of the Colorado Children’s Chorale. He lives in Centennial, Colorado, with his wife and four children. Contact Mark today to schedule a keynote or workshop for your organization!
Email mark@symphonyofyourlife.com or call 720.840.8361

You Can – You Just Need to Know You Can, Part 1

A “Symphony of Your Life” blog with Mark Hardcastle

JOAX 13-03

During my third summer at the USAF Academy, I had the opportunity to attend the U.S. Army’s Parachute Training Jump School at Ft. Benning in Columbus, Georgia. It was a challenging three-week course. Ground Week taught us to properly put on our 50 pounds of equipment and how to do a tumbling roll to absorb the impact of hitting the ground. During Tower Week we were hoisted up on towers high enough to allow us to experience descending underneath an actual open parachute. Then came week three: Jump Week. During Jump Week we would jump five times out of perfectly good airplanes.

Three different weeks, three different skill sets to master, on our way to earning our Parachutist Badge, or “Jump Wings.”

It would be an important omission though, if any description of Jump School did not emphasize that the syllabus consisted more than anything else of physical conditioning. It’s certainly true that when descending beneath an open parachute one comes down more slowly than if one didn’t have a parachute. Even so, one can still hit the ground pretty hard, and injuries are not uncommon. The best way to keep from getting hurt is to be in the best possible shape. So a large part of the training involved getting us in good enough condition to endure a parachute landing without injury. We did a lot of push ups under that Georgia sun. And more than a few sit ups in the wet heat.

No surprise, then, when we showed up for training in the middle of the second week and were told that we were going on a one-mile run. We formed up in a platoon and off we went. And the Jumpmasters set what we might call a “brisk” pace. And then they got faster. And faster again. As we approached the end of the course we were at a lung-searing sprint.

We came down to the final hundred yards. At that point the Jumpmasters began taunting us, telling us that we’d be going another full mile before being allowed to stop!

Soon as they said that a bunch of trainees dropped out of the platoon. They felt like they couldn’t go another step, much less another mile. So they gave up on the spot.

Then came the lesson of the day. Those of us who stayed in formation ran maybe another hundred yards before the Jumpmasters called us to a halt and let us rest. As we walked back to join our friends who’d given up only a few yards short of the end, the instructors said nothing, allowing the lesson to become self-evident…

Part 2: The lesson of the day…

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Link to Mark’s book, The Symphony of Your Life

http://www.symphonyofyourlife.com

Mark Hardcastle graduated from the USAF Academy in 1982. After nine years as a pilot on active duty, he left the military to join a commercial airline. In addition to flying B-777s around the world, Hardcastle spends time in the Rocky Mountains and serves on the artistic staff of the Colorado Children’s Chorale. He lives in Centennial, Colorado, with his wife and four children. Contact Mark today to schedule a keynote or workshop for your organization! Email mark@symphonyofyourlife.com or call 720.840.8361