On Being Immortal

After signing a credit card receipt, the clerk, probably in his sixties said, “Have a great day.” I responded with “at my age, every day is a great day when you are looking down at the grass.” He laughed knew exactly what I meant and said, “we’re all immortal, until we die!” While some proof – okay, its completely delusional – of my immortality. Here are three “facts” written with my tongue firmly implanted in my cheek.

One, I’ve survived ~3,800 logged ours in the cockpit in helicopters built by the lowest bid. Helicopters beat the air into submission so they can get off the ground and are nothing more than 30,000 bits and pieces of metal and fiberglass flying in tight formation. What this means is none of them have had a mid-air collision that started a catastrophic chain reaction.

Two, the bad guys – North Vietnamese and the Iraqis – couldn’t kill me despite my own stupidity. Either that, or they were totally incompetent. It is concrete proof that it is better to be lucky than good.

Three, I’ve managed to make hundreds, probably thousands of landings from the back end of a small ship where the tolerances are measured in a few feet, as in less than three. Often the ship is moving up and down ten to fifteen feet and rolling back and forth, ten to twenty degrees as it corkscrews through the water trying to get the wind flowing over the port (left) side of the helo deck at thirty degrees angle from the centerline. And its dark, and the weather is crappy.

Land to far forward and the rotor blades hit the ship’s superstructure. Too far to the left or right, and the helicopter rolls on its side and beats itself to pieces. Touch down with the tail wheel aft of the deck and besides being embarrassing and crunching the fuselage, bad things happen like the helicopter rolls left or right. The end result of any of these situations is often a fireball and you become a crispy critter because even if you manage to get out of the helicopter, where do you go to get away? Over the side? Assuming you don’t drown, the ship has to find you and it just lost its best rescue asset!

I can cite more but the point of this is at 72, I can see the end from here and I don’t like it. Life’s like a roll of toilet paper, the closer you get to the end, the faster it goes! At an age when one is supposed to be slowing down, I’m now in a hurry because there are so many things to get done before I leave permanently – like writing all the books rolling around in my head.

Not to be overly morbid, but life plays a cruel joke on you when you get older. You’re now in a hurry to do the things you’ve always wanted to do. My bucket list is relatively short – reality and finances – play a role on what’s on the list, but age also forces one to prioritize. As the years have gone on, I spend less time thinking about the past and more on what I want to do in the future. Its not memory loss, just call the past a prologue and leave it at that. The next chapters in the book of your life are what count.

Marc Liebman

November 2017

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