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Friday
Jul192019

Book Review: True Course: Lessons from a Life Aloft

True Course: Lessons from a Life Aloft. Brigid Johnson. Outskirts Press, April 25, 2019, Trade Paperback and E-book, 326 pages.

Reviewed by Deb Lecos.

True Course is a work of non-fiction and is centered on discovering, accomplishing, and living an intrinsic dream. 

People have unique passions: playing an instrument, art, growing particular strains of cucumber, or as described in this memoir’s story-chapters, piloting an airplane. Brigid Johnson has written an inspirational book about spending many of her days aloft. Told with humor, insight, and a poetic voice, the author carries the reader along as she first learns to fly and with her side-by-side teaching and lyrical stories about flight.

Brigid strives to answer the question “How does one renew their spirit?” by relentlessly pursuing what the spirit wants. For this aviator-writer, that meant “looking up to the heavens to recharge . . . the smell of aviation fuel . . . and the roar of a Stearman’s Lycoming R-680 engine . . . a symphony of wonder.” 

For the author, renewing the spirit first became necessary when at the young age of four, her mother began a lengthy and difficult battle with cancer. A cherished toy airplane given to her by her father transferred a feeling of flight while going through what she describes as “. . . a dark sky from which the air is so dark and thick it’s hard to draw a breath.” The small, winged craft was managed by a control stick from inside the moving family car while strung out a partially opened window; it gave the child the sense she could fly. From this young girl’s backseat cockpit she could make the plane dive and climb, imagining she was aloft too.

For Brigid, when she flew, there was a discovery that was “almost empowering in its perspective,” going even further to wonder if birds felt the same. Through a series of vignettes, she continually returns to the natural world and her faith, and the lens they both provide for viewing her life from childhood to adulthood, with the symbolism of water and air as quotidian word-scape features.

For the author, the act of flight changes when it transitions to becoming a method for earning a living. As a college student, she began teaching others how to fly planes. The amount she made depended upon whether someone wanted to learn to sail the skies or if the skies would cooperate. Later, as a commercial pilot, the job necessitated navigating the quirks of co-pilots within the tiny space of the cockpit. After 9/11, when planes were purposely crashed, killing 2996 and injuring over 6000 people, the tragedy shifts her employment direction. Having observed that monumental moment in American history, Brigid realizes that none of us knows for certain what might come next. With her father needing supportive care, she decides to shift her career from the sky to the ground, and into a form of law enforcement.

Throughout the narrative of this aviator’s life path—deaths, loves, schooling, career changes, hardship, and rescue dog companionship—the author weaves in wind currents of flight, metaphorically projecting wings with her words. The reader is seated in the cockpit as she views events from above and alongside, following her map to letting go, grieving, remembering the joy, developing new interests, and mentoring others with what she has learned.  

When it’s time to leave piloting as an occupation, Brigid manages to see the benefits and drawbacks to this career, giving both viewpoints to a friend considering the same endeavor. She shares the thrilling sense of freedom she felt in the sky, the toll a life of flight can take on relationships, and how airports and the lift of a pilot aren’t always that great. She says to the young man, “What is it that makes you complete? What is it that will give you the life you want and I don’t mean prestige, or income, or titles? Grab your destiny and forget what others think.” 

Unfortunately, this is likely a rare form of counseling offered to those considering a new trajectory. Wouldn’t this world be far more interesting, have greater potential for joy, and create more diverse thinking if we began our day or made a decision using Brigid Johnson’s approach—What is it that our spirit wants? Perhaps, “renewing” our spirit, as she suggests on the first page of her memoir, would then become second nature. 

A life aloft, indeed.

 

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