Thursday, January 12, 2017

Hey, It’s Not Déjà vu All Over Again!

Don’t you sometimes wish you could have had more time to deliberate about something that required a fast decision? Or thought it would be nice to have a “Groundhog Day” type of experience, when events would repeat themselves until you finally got things right?

The late major league catcher/philosopher Yogi Berra might have been referring to this when he famously stated, “It’s like déjà vu, all over again.” In other words, it’s the feeling of “been there, done that,” only there you are doing it again.

Sometimes the "birds" of life can bring
unexpected, instant complications.
I recently viewed the movie, “Sully,” about pilot Chesley Sullenberger and his January 2009 forced landing of US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River in New York City. All 155 passengers and crew survived the incident with minor injuries, largely because of “Sully’s” unconventional decision to turn the river into a landing strip after a flock of birds struck the plane’s two engines, rendering them inoperable. (The birds, alas, also became inoperable.)

The aircraft avoiding a disastrous crash in the frigid Hudson instantly turned Sullenberger into a national hero. However, as the film shows, an intense investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) sought to determine whether the pilot could have taken alternative measures  to safely divert the jet to a nearby airport.

What struck me about the review was how NTSB officials repeatedly cited computer simulations of the events, determining each simulation showed sufficient time to avoid the risky and unprecedented river landing. Toward the end of the film, however, all parties agreed that only if the flight crew had anticipated the bird encounter well in advance, with ample time for evaluating possible alternatives, could different measures have succeeded. The need for instant response negated other possibilities.

Isn’t everyday life like that? I remember years ago driving on an interstate highway when a large piece of tire retread suddenly flew from under a truck in front of me. I didn’t even have time to swerve – probably a good thing. The retread struck the undercarriage of my car, causing damage that had to be repaired before I could proceed. As with Flight 1549, but on a much smaller scale, it could have been worse. I definitely hadn’t been wondering, “If a large piece of retread suddenly flies toward my car, what evasive measures should I take?”

What things in your life required immediate response that later, with the perfect vision of hindsight, might have been dealt with differently? If there had only been time for more reflection, or for assembling all the pertinent facts, things might have gone another way. But life comes at us quickly, in an blink, and often doesn’t give us much, if any, warning.

It would be nice to log onto and amend actions and decisions we made in the past, but of course that’s not an option. We can prepare as much as possible for the unexpected. That’s why highway signs remind us to wear seatbelts, not to drink and drive, and to avoid texting and other distractions. For people working in stressful, deadline-driven professions, it’s wise to anticipate potential problems and have a “plan B” (or C) readily at hand, just in case.

But when a “flock of birds” appears of nowhere, all we can do is the best we know how – and entrust the rest to God, including the outcome. In 1 Thessalonians 5:17 we’re directed to “pray without ceasing,” and this can be done while driving, during a crucial business meeting, or in the midst of a family crisis. (No need to close your eyes or bow your head – especially driving.)

We’re also told God isn’t aloof, anxiously observing in the heavens as events transpire in our lives. The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged (Deuteronomy 31:8). Long before adversity comes our way, He is already well-prepared, anticipating what will transpire, and “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Yes, we can and often should evaluate past decisions and actions in seeking to do better in the future. But experience has taught me that “woulda, shoulda, coulda” thinking doesn’t accomplish much, whether we’re flying jet aircraft or dealing with a coworker or family member. Even in our mistakes, our darkest moments, God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).

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