We have all seen the news. God like pilot lands a fully loaded A320 in the Hudson River and saves all 140+ souls. Think about that for a second. Think about how those last few minutes must have unfolded… how a lifetime spent in the cockpit saved 140 lives. I have watched the pictures. I have seen the cold and recently reprieved – shivering under the blankets, recently on their way to the Carolinas. Try as I might, I can’t imagine what that was like. Think of the whole episode and the keen concentration, the sudden and final decisions, the commitment to a decision – good or bad – done none the less. The winter sun, glinting off the water of the Hudson, the urgent alarms, the chatter of the flight deck, the certain understanding that there is no time left, no do-over, no chance at last minute redemption. The silence of the glide, the uncertain confidence of your fellow crew….. their lives absolutely in your hands. You might think about how powerless they are back there, tightly strapped their seats, absolutely powerless, entirely in your hands. Entirely.
There is no way you glide slowly to the river, decision made, that you don’t consider that you have the weight of all those souls on your shoulders. You have made a thousand flights, bus driving really, until this one day in the clear morning light you see the grim face of your destiny – right there in front of you, and all the years of training and experience demand, absolutely demand from you to make the only decision that can save everyone. And you make it. You make that one clear decision, that one clear command, the commitment of your life and the lives of all the crew and the cabin load of the innocents…. and it is the absolute right decision. And… as you stride the deck after the tumult has subsided, the confusion abated, the passengers gone, and the water slowly fills the cabin, and you realize that all those flights, and all those heart stopping moments over 29 years in the sky served you for this moment only. This moment only. And you step out of the plane into that life raft, the biting wind, the -7 degree air – brings you suddenly to the reality of the day. And you take that last step knowing that you stayed cool, did your job and saved more lives than most.
And then it is over. The press hails you as the new messiah, the President calls, the world believes you have done that one thing that captures the imaginations of us all, that one crystal moment of clarity, the right call, that one decision we all face sooner or later, although sometimes with less effect. You sit in a hotel, and you wonder how your life, and the lives of those who shared your fate for those few short minutes, will ever be the same. The truth of it is that they never will. They never will. You have felt the keen edge of the wedge, felt it closer than most, and you had the opportunity to walk away. For the rest of your life, you will always gauge the experience of the moment against that rigid Hudson River yardstick. An unyielding experience, it will always define the balance of your life in one way or another. The keen edge of the wedge.