Gary was my flight neighbour and was there at the start. He could see me drinking it all in and not missing a marbled inch. He briefed me on our little suites, and emphasized the bar in the back (which I ended up spending half my flight at). He told me about his experiences on other airlines and how Emirates was unparalleled. He would know. He only flies to get around.
Gary was a pilot. A bush pilot who flew planes of 10 to 20 passengers, and he lived well on his pilot’s salary. But he discovered his life’s mission was to offer himself up to those struggling in third-world countries, and now his home base is in the air, his life's belongings beneath, stowed on our flight. He loved his former life as a pilot, but it was his touching stories about helping out in the thick of unimaginable despair, in such countries as Sudan and the Philippines, which inspired the tears in his eyes. He regaled us with stories of his pilot life, including one intense close call on a flight, saying, “I was about as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a roomful of rocking chairs.”
It was an emotional, life-changing event in Rwanda in 1994 that gave Gary the foresight to know that what he really wanted to do was to help others – he decided his mission in life was to travel the world and give relief to those in war-torn or Mother-Nature torn countries, those who had lost their health, their home, their family, and their will. He was now on his way to the Philippines, and then on to South Sudan. He had just returned from Sudan to Toronto two days before the ice storm hit. From temperatures in the 40s and 50s to our chilling minus 15s and 20s. Ouch.
“It’s moments like these,” as he surveys the Business Class cabin, “that you wonder what the poor folk are doing. And I said wait a minute, we are the poor folk. We just got lucky.”
It feels good to be lucky.
TIP: Make nice with your neighbours in Business Class. Gary and I have been keeping in touch as he saves lives in the Philippines and I don't know the last time I have met someone so interesting.
Published journalist, world traveller, big thinker, fun haver