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He Was Going To Die

June 9, 2014

Please give your attention to the flight attendants as they demonstrate the safety features of our Boeing 737 aircraft.


Yesterday i flew to Richmond, VA on business. If you’ve flown more than a couple of times, the safety lecture is the LAST thing to which you are going to pay attention. We all know our seat can act as a flotation device and it’s not called an unexpected water landing, it’s called crashing into the ocean. And really, how many times can you hear “insert the metal tip into the buckle”?

And who needs that anyway? What functioning adult doesn’t know how a seatbelt works?

I met him.

It was several years ago and I was flying from Seattle to Europe to speak at a conference. I had the aisle and he had the window in business class. He looked about 20 years old. As we settled in for what would be a long flight we did the normal settling in, nod and then get started on a book. Well, I did anyway. My seat mate didn’t have a book and he fumbled with the seat belt. Not the normal “am I sitting on half the seatbelt?” fumbling. He had both parts in his hands and he couldn’t get them attached.


You might think there is only one possible way to even attempt to attach a seatbelt. You’d be wrong. My young friend was attempting to insert the metal tip into the back of the buckle. As you might imagine, it didn’t fit.

I think you need to turn that part around.

Like this?

Yeah, now you’ve got it.


No problem. So, what are you headed to Europe for?

I just graduated from high school. I decided to hitchhike through Europe for the next few month until college starts.

I was surprised. He was going to die! Did his parents not love him? Who sends a kid to Europe to wander around for several months unsupervised? I mean, he didn’t even know how to buckle a seatbelt, who knew what trouble he’d run into trying to navigate foreign currencies, trains and finding a bathroom.

Do you speak any foreign languages?

Nope. Just English.

I said a small prayer for God to watch over the young and naive. I’m not Catholic, but I’m sure there’s a patron saint of fools and innocents.

A funny thing happened. . .nothing.

I never saw or heard from the young man again, and that’s my point. There wasn’t a case of an American teenager kidnapped in Berlin, or killed in Brussels. Sure, he might have had some harrowing circumstances, but I’m guessing he came out of it with an entire travelogue full of experiences.

It made me think about risk. How often do we miss out on a great new experience for lack of trying? As a (at the time) 40 year old man, did I have the courage to simply go and assume it would all work out?

Probably not. Does that mean I’m not brave enough? I don’t think so.

There an episode of Star Trek The Next Generation called Tapestry in which Captain Picard has a chance to go back in time and “correct” mistakes he made during his academy days. He exercises better judgement and avoids some of the missteps of youth.

But, when he’s brought back to his “normal” time he discovers he is no longer captain of the Enterprise. Instead he’s a low level clerk who’s greatest distinction is that he’s punctual. Picard describes his “corrected” life as bereft of passion.

It was the wild days of youth that made him who he was as a adult. He gladly regains his misspent youth even at a risk to his life.

Courage is a funny thing. As a mature adult it might mean changing careers. It might mean going back to finish a college degree. Maybe it’s betting everything on a start up. These are the brave acts of a person of experience. But, they are brave, none-the -less. For a young person, bravery might be asking a woman to marry him. Maybe it’s the decision to pursue a career in medicine. Or, maybe it’s back backing through Europe for three months, even if you can’t insert the metal tip into the buckle.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children and one grandchild.

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  1. Shanna permalink

    Great analogy. I did 8 weeks in Europe with a friend between high school and college. We had only 3 reservations for the entire 8 weeks. It turned out great.

  2. I went off to be a missionary during that time. But, there was an entire support structure. My second oldest daughter joined the Army Reserves out of high school, so again, lots of support. I admire those who take off without a real plan in place.

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