It is hard to describe the unique role that a Wings of Mercy pilot plays. At the most basic level, we are cab drivers, there because a vehicle is needed and somebody has to drive it. But somewhere between hello and goodbye things change.
We, the pilots, have an advantage in our relationship with the patients we transport. We know something of the suffering and danger that our passengers are experiencing – know that every smile on their face, every cheerful word is an act of bravery, a picture of courage. As pilots, our immediate questions are about this flight; how much fuel and how much weather. Their questions are more profound; “Will we be able to afford treatment?”, “Will my child survive?” They rise from unfathomable depths to meet us at the surface. Or, perhaps, they condescend.
I remember one young man, his body by then reduced to a rickety skeleton by the cancer that had nearly consumed him. I was with him for but a few hours on a single day, and yet I was present at two major events in his life. In the morning, I stood awkwardly aside as he said goodbye to friends and family in Michigan where he had spent his adult life. In the afternoon, I stood aside again, an awkward witness as his parents took him gently from the airplane and helped him into an old pickup truck. The reunion, they all knew, was to be brief. He had come home to die. If he spoke a word to me, I do not remember it, but I will always remember the steady gaze from his exhausted face, the kindly nod to say “Thanks. I’m ok.”
Does God waste pain? Is our suffering ever for nothing? Is crisis a private thing – a virus to be hidden and quarantined? As I have watched the patients and families served by Wings of Mercy I have seen something very different, that families and friends can bear a little of the burden, can help to answer a question deeper than “How will we get to the hospital?”, even deeper than “What will this disease do to me?”.
I am just a cabbie but I carry in my heart and in my flying a little of God’s love for these brave people. Thanks to Peter VandenBosch, I can be a part of the answer to their deeper question: “Is there a love and purpose for my life that transcends even this illness?” It is to answer this question that Wings of Mercy exists; to share another’s burdens, sometimes to weep with those who weep, always to say with our service that God is here, that his love and mercy reach into every dark corner of this hard world.