James Salter Reads my Mind


I went back to work at United Airlines one year ago. I’ve already forgotten what some switches did in my military airplane. What callsigns used to go with which airspace. Did that happen on the first trip to Iraq or the third? I don’t remember. I couldn’t start an F-16 right now.

Even though I’ve forgotten particulars, my previous life is like my shadow. Being at the airlines is like being in my house, but my past in the military is like the air I breathe in the house. Like the weather outside the house. All around me all the time.

I just finished reading Gods of Tin by James Salter. He was an F-86 pilot in the Korean War and got one MIG kill. He left the service a few years later to become a writer. He’s well known among other writers. A writer’s writer, maybe. I read some of his novels and wanted to like them more than I did. But then I picked up this book about his flying. He does a great job describing flying fighters in a fighter squadron. There’s nothing like that line of work and few people have described it better.

There was a paragraph that nailed exactly how I feel lately. Nice to know I’m not alone. This adjustment to retirement is taking a while. It’s great, but it’s like an Afghanistan sandstorm. It takes a long time for normal visibility to return.

Here it is:

When I returned to domestic life I kept something to myself, a deep attachment–deeper than anything I had known–to all that had happened. I had come very close to achieving the self that is based on the risking of everything, going where others would not go, giving what they would not give. Later I felt I had not done enough, had been too reliant, too unskilled. I had not done what I set out to do and might have done. I felt contempt for myself, not at first but as time passed, and I ceased talking about those days, as if I had never known them. But it had been a great voyage, the voyage, probably, of my life. 



About Eric Chandler

Husband. Father. Pilot. Cross Country Skier. Writer. Author of Outside Duluth and Down In It.
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