By Norris Burkes, Feb 20. 2022

Some years back — decades actually — I left my young family to spend seven weeks in Montgomery, Alabama, for Air Force training called Squadron Officer School.

The dry content included Air Force leadership, communication and strategy. Not much to hold a chaplain’s interest, so when a classmate offered to take a few of us on a beach-getaway, we jumped at the opportunity.

I remember my buddy as a tall, self-assured affable guy, but since I can’t recall his name, let’s call him Lt. Gray.

When Gray told us we were making the trip in his personal plane, I assumed he was an overpaid flyboy. But when we got to the airport, his 1957 Piper Cub spoke bargain flight. 

I couldn’t help but think how I shared a birth year with this plane and prayed I wouldn’t share a death year with it as well. 

Nevertheless, I swallowed my fears to tell the lieutenant what I thought he’d want to hear.  “Wow, what a cool plane! She’s gorgeous.”  

Looking back, I’m sure I enjoyed the beautiful 90-minute flight, just as I surely enjoyed the stunning sands of Ft Walton Beach, Florida. 

But sometime late in the afternoon, we noticed our pilot studying the sky. “Time to go,” Gray said.

As a reader, you have the luxury of knowing we would return safely, but if you’d been there, you’d have enjoyed no such luxury.

That’s because halfway into the flight, the clouds amassed quite a threating arsenal. Flashes appeared in the sky and the plane rumbled toward the approaching storm like a tennis shoe in a dryer.

During the next thirty minutes, the chatty, confident banter of young sunburnt officers disappeared. “I think I can steer us around this,” Gray finally announced. 

As our pilot plotted to skirt the storm, I was trying to say my prayers, thanking God for my wife and firstborn daughter. 

But just as quickly as the drama built, it dissipated into a smooth landing in Montgomery.

As Gray was taxiing the old girl right back to where we started, he glanced at our copilot to say, “Well, I’m glad we took the chaplain along for that one.”

Chaplains are used to the rabbit-foot, lucky-charm jokes. But it was time to set the record straight, giving credit where it was due.

“Yeah, I’m just glad we had a good pilot,” I said. “I was scared spitless.” 

My story seems a decent analogy of the pandemic-size storm our world has navigated the last two years. 

Like our makeshift aircrew, it’s time we all admit something. We’ve all been afraid.

Some of you may say, “Not me. I didn’t panic. I depended on the Lord.”

Others insist they knew science would save them all along.

Either way, we can’t honestly deny that we were afraid.

All of us knew fear, such as the anxiety of losing a job or business, or worse yet, the terror of losing a loved one.

Now’s the time we find the bravery to admit we’ve all acted out of that fear — whether we were fearful of a vaccine or fearful of being without a vaccine. Both the masked and the unmasked were stricken with a bout of unhelpful fear.

Whatever side you were on, it boiled down to one thing — losing control of our lives.

As tragic as this pandemic has been, the thing I fear the most is that we may come out of this crisis not speaking to each other, afraid of one another.  

Our pilot’s joke that day about his chappy passenger, was the first time I realized he’d been scared. That moment we all laughed together became the most redeeming one — it was the minute we knew we weren’t alone.

As I learned during my shaky flight, faith in God and/or a pilot’s skill doesn’t exempt us from fear. But honestly admitting our fears is the first step to overcoming them.

Something I’m confident Lt. Gray learned well by the summer of 1990 as the Air Force graduated him and half my classmates to fly combat missions over the sands of Kuwait.

Take a fearless flight with me to Honduras May 15-22, 2022. Signup deadline March 15, 2022:

Contact Chaplain Norris at or 10556 Combie Rd. Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602 or voicemail (843) 608-9715.