The Windsock

by Julie DeStefano Shahen and Edon Copparini, ATP, CFII, MEI

Every time I drive past an airport, and certainly on the days that you are going flying, the first thing you do is look to the sky and then look to the windsock. 

Pilots look to the wind for decision making, We look to see what direction we will be taking off from, and which runway will be suitable for landing. If there isn’t a windsock, we look to the lakes for telltale ripples on the surface or the rustle of treetops that beckon a sign.  Possibly there is a flag nearby waving in the wind, but rarely is it so calm that there isn’t some stirring, some suggestion, a nod of guidance. Mother nature gives us many signs and so much direction, but only if we pay attention.

How do we choose our course through life? Do we only go where the winds are calm? No, that is not always possible. Sometimes the wind is right down the runway, and sometimes it’s 90-degrees off your wingtip — whatever it is, we face it (literally, and physically), deal with it, make the corrections and compensations to deal with it, and go forth. Your inputs follow you to the chocks, intuitive, hands and feet in sync, feeling the wind in the wires. It is a part of life as a pilot where you must be totally in the moment, totally a part of the airplane you are controlling.  It is a time in life when you are fully engaged in every decision and every movement that you make.

Perhaps you’re one of the lucky few to be flying a floatplane and it is a calm day. Perfect, no? Funny that it is just opposite, as you must now land on a glassy, reflective surface, a depth-perception issue dubious to a pilot. Interesting that calm presents its own challenges, huh? Some of my worst (and hence, memorable) landings occurred on calm days. Is that because I felt just a skotch more lax on these flights? Were my inputs a fraction more relaxed, my nerves one-quarter of a peg down, imperceptible to anyone but my airplane and the touch conveyed upon her control surfaces? Is this a metaphor to living – that we are at our best when our senses are at their peak, when we’re working a bit at something, set upon a task?  I believe that it is so.  We are so engaged when we are living in the moment.  You are required to be there and nowhere else.  It is a beautiful temporary escape from anything else that is happening in life. 

This sort of accountability is two-fold, I think, in the way we can look to the wind for guidance – as in, “I made my decision because of the wind. I made the best decision I could make at the time…”


“My landing sucked because it was super windy.” The latter is not the best way in my opinion, but a way to look at what occurs in your life. We all have our trials, our challenges and our “bad landings”. I like to look at each trial as a testament to my openness to learn from it, but also the growth that occurs within as a result of it. Every bad landing or close call have been lessons on every level. The most important lesson I tried to instill in each of my students was to never become arrogant about flying because it can bite any one of us at any time. We willingly take that risk, but must always be cautious and make safety a priority on every flight.

What fun to judge/critique landings. This is part of the fun of going to lunch at The Hangar restaurant at Albert Whitted Airport in downtown St. Petersburg, FL. If the winds favor runway 07, odds are the conversation will drop a moment to watch the plane coming over the numbers touching down. Once they’ve got it, we resume our “hundred-dollar hamburger”.

And then, sometimes, we go around, abort a landing – this too being a sound metaphor in life. It’s okay – better a moment or two longer in the sky than a bent airplane.

Whether you are a pilot or not, always remember that a plane lands against the wind, not with it. May we all stay positive during this difficult time.



His Name Was Ed

The first time I went to Omaha, Nebraska, it was October of 1994. It has since become like a second home, it bears that sort of feeling.

But that first time, I was there because I was in liver failure. I was twelve years-old and my parents had exhausted options in our home state of Florida.

This was an era before Internet; fax machines were the hot technology. The information and support available to patients and families was limited. Being as we were so far from home, we stayed in a sort of group home offered as a patient resource. It was a converted Victorian-era home called “The Potter House”, where families from out-of-state could stay more affordably than a hotel for extended visits. We were in room six, on the second floor. Our room had a lovely sitting area, a sunroom of sorts, that was ideal for reading. It overlooked the quiet neighborhood about two miles west of downtown, which is now known as the Blackstone area.

Every act of kindness creates a ripple with no end

I was being evaluated as a candidate for a liver transplant. This process can be lengthy, requiring all sorts of tests before learning whether one will “qualify”, for lack of a better term, for the national waiting list. And, once a person is listed, there is no guarantee that they will receive the organ they need. Life on the waiting list is precarious, but that’s another story for a different day.

The idea of a liver transplant was terrifying, as in the early nineties, it was still kind of a new thing. There was a support group and some books available, but I was unclear about what my future would entail, should I receive a new liver. Would I be able to attend school or play sports? I was at that time very sick and home/wheelchair bound, so all my hope was to be a “normal” kid again.

Then I met a man named Ed. To this day I don’t know his full name or really any details about him. I just remember coming downstairs to breakfast, gathering in the communal kitchen; I watched Ed lace up his shoes and sprint out the door, going for a run.

Ed had very recently undergone a liver transplant. And he was out for a run. I was fascinated.

“What advice can you give me?” I implored, incredulous, to this man that was a picture of health.

He smiled and considered my question. He replied: “it’s gonna be hard, it’s gonna hurt, but you gotta push through it.”

I was floored. In that moment he became a sort of enigma, embodiment of a muse.

Nearly 25 years have passed and I have thought of Ed’s advice every day. It was simple advice, but he represented the very torch of hope to me.

In many instances, his advice has gotten me through the day.

I don’t know what became of Ed, but I am still here. His advice helped me navigate and recover from two liver transplants, one on April 16, 1995 and another on August 5, 2011. His advice taught me how to be a good patient, because that in itself is a difficult prospect at times.

Ed will never know what he did for me that day. It’s amazing that we can touch another person’s life without ever knowing it.