How to Handle the Weight of Command

Messy traffic in a central asian intersection

Sometimes the simplest jobs get messy.

Our driver weaves the van right to pass the truck but dips back.  The truck slides right, so our driver moves left. Still not clear, he trails again behind the swaying load. Another peek to the right reveals open space. He accelerates into the lane. But a motorcycle pulls up behind, then passes on our right running along the pavement’s edge. At the same time, a bus appears around the bend ahead, filling the opposing lane, bearing down upon us.

The honking motorcycle races forward clearing our finder by an inch, then threads the shrinking gap between bus and truck. Our driver drops back into the shelter behind the truck as the bus speeds through the vacated space. A few minutes later our driver successfully exploits a fresh opportunity but then brakes as a farm tractor meanders onto the highway. The truck instantly looms close behind, blasts an air horn but doesn’t drop back.

Wild by North American standards perhaps but our driver skillfully winds, wends, bobs, and ducks within the normal traffic flow. After an hour and a half of a melee that makes video games look tame, we reach our meeting place.

But his work neither began when we left nor finished at our destination. Before we started the trip he prepared the vehicle—checked fluid levels, tire inflation and condition, cleaned windows, cleared seats and cargo space. En route, while negotiating traffic, he also scanned for obstructions and damaged roadways, navigated and watched the clock to ensure our timely arrival. He carried all that against the backdrop of avoiding vehicle damage and, most importantly, guarding the human lives inside and outside his vehicle.

Pilot calculates the airplane's weight and balnce

The easy part of jungle aviation was flying the plane. Other things complicated it.

Reminded me of when I worked as a jungle pilot. Then, the easiest part was flying the airplane. The biggest challenges came from dealing with all the other stuff at the same time—erratic weather changes, unknown strip conditions, limited fuel supplies, sudden medical emergencies, not sliding off the runway after landing, avoiding obstacles after takeoff, getting lost over trackless wilderness, unclear passenger expectations, garbled radio communications, and cross-cultural misunderstandings.

One job uses winged vehicles, the other does not. But both impose similar burdens upon the one in charge—just like the rest of life.

My primary job, writing, seems easy enough. Yet, like everyone else,  life’s messiness dramatically complicates it. When I wrestle with annoyance and frustration, I remember three options confront me.

1. I can try harder, work longer hours and struggle to power through.

2. I can retreat, hide and ignore responsibility.

3. I can rest and depend upon a strength that isn’t mine.

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