Called to Serve, Called to Prepare:  Lessons From Captain Sully and Our First Responders

The miracle on the Hudson.  Photo by Gregory Lam

Dear Anne,

Fifteen years ago, four airplanes (and the monsters that flew them) turned our world upside down. Eight years later, a plane that landed safely on the Hudson (and Chesley Sullenberger, the hero who flew it) lifted the hearts of the whole country, not just New York City.

I went to see the movie Sully this weekend and was brought to tears by Captain Sullenberger’s dedication to his calling—and aviation was indeed a calling for him, not just a career. He “felt” the plane, flying with a precision no computer simulator could match and, most importantly, he felt the weight of the 155 souls entrusted to his care. While the film doesn’t directly mention his military training, Sully’s Air Force Academy ring is prominently visible. In his book Highest Duty–My Search for What Really Matters, Sully credits the training and, more importantly, the discipline he received as an Air Force Academy cadet as a cornerstone of his preparation. As the mother of a young man who wears the same ring, I know the sacrifice that a military career means, but also the rewards that come from that training. Sully noted that his whole life, all this training, led him to that fateful morning in New York. “One way of looking at this might be that for 42 years, I’ve been making small, regular deposits in this bank of experience, education and training. And on January 15 the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal.”

US Air Force Academy cadets

The same can be said about the first responders on that fateful day fifteen years ago. Not thinking twice, they followed their training and their calling into buildings that thousands were trying to flee. Their whole lives, from the first “I want to be a fireman” or “I want to be a policeman” moment as a child, through the training, through all the calls that followed, tragedy and false alarm alike, led them into those burning buildings in lower Manhattan. They, too, felt the weight of the souls they were called to protect.


We are all called to serve our neighbor and the “regular deposits” we make every day, through prayer and reflection, prepare us for the moments when we need to make a withdrawal in support of spiritual warfare. I’d wager none of us is going to safely pilot a jet through an emergency landing or rush into a burning building, but we will have those moments when we will be needed, when we are the one with the preparation to serve. Our moment won’t be covered by the news, and we might not even recognize when our inspirational word or small act of mercy makes a world of difference to one soul.

So as we pray for those we lost fifteen years ago, let us also be inspired by those who live intentional lives of service, whose training and sacrifice allow us to live in comfort.  Let us learn by their example and prepare our lives with the spiritual training of prayer and sacrifice.  We aren’t likely to face the type of evil that was in the four  planes that crashed, but we are still called to protect and serve–and maybe, with the right preparation, we can serve with the grace of Sully, the pilot whose plane landed safely.



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