I had seen several news features on Captain Sullenberger, as we all have. The words I might have used to describe him: noble, humble, gracious, dignified. Perhaps also heroic, serious, sincere, kind, and intense. I wouldn’t have chosen lighthearted. It wouldn’t have even been close to the list. A serious in-control hero like Captain Sullenberger didn’t seem to need the added bonus of humor in his life. He is just all about doing his job tremendously well and making excellent decisions, after all. He is a man of action. Taking care of and saving lives are all just part of his everyday fare. They are his daily expectations of himself.
So imagine my mouth dropping open when I saw the David Letterman show last night. There they all were, as they have been before, the five courageous heroes of Flight 1549, retelling their story as they have done before. The two pilots were first. Pilot Jeffrey Skiles, Captain Sullenberger’s second in command, appropriately deferred to Captain Sully for the telling of the story, but Skiles allowed Letterman to deftly extract a few one-liners from him. Skiles did not steal Sully’s thunder, but he did provide a little needed lightness. Finally, the dignified and reserved Captain Sullenberger broke into a grin that involved most of his face, and I’m sure had all of us in our easy chairs at home grinning right along with him. A real mouth-breaking bona fide face lighter-upper! Later on when the flight attendants came in, he did it again!
Ah, that lovely grin. Wow. When I went on YouTube today, there it was again. When I checked the CBS website, there it was again. I didn’t really need it, because I have it in my mind forever. It was just like my daddy’s grin, just like my son’s. It was the grin I knew of a fine and wonderful man having a good bellylaugh over something genuinely funny.
We like our heroes and leaders to be serious, so they can get the serious work done. But when it is finally done and over, we also like for them to be able to smile: “It was no big deal, really. We do this kind of thing every day. We’ll do it again if we need to. Relax. It’s all over now.” That’s how we know it’s all right again, when our heroes begin to smile.