Sunday, August 22, 2010

Different Meanings of "Air Show"

This weekend our local airport is hosting Wings Over Wine County, the annual air show.  This event entails lots of booths and planes, both civilian and military, on display at the Charles Schulz Airport in Santa Rosa, as well as sky-high entertainment.

I remember going to air shows as a child.  My favorite part was always the Thunderbirds in their sleek, fast jets, flying in formations and performing amazing aerial feats.

I grew up on Chuck Yeager and the space program.  Everything was so exciting - how far, how fast, how high can we go?  As I recently posted on my Facebook page, it was a time when people dreamed big and reached for goals with enthusiasm and hope, rather than out of desperation.  The sky was the limit - or was it?  We could go beyond the sky.

Yesterday, we heard the jets flying, so Becca and I started looking for where they were.  We discovered that the old sheep pasture near our house offered a really good and easily accessible vantage point.  We brought Breezy, our Shar-Pei/American Bulldog mix, out.  I turned over an empty metal water trough, and we sat in the sun with a cool breeze blowing our hair.

We ooh'd and aah'd as the jet flew straight up into the air, seemingly never going to stop - whizzing past, the turns and spins - it was so fun to see.  A couple of times, the plane banked and came right over our property, the noise rumbling in an exciting way.  (Breezy was unfazed, by the way.)  We heard the roar of smaller planes, and looked up to see a group of five Mustangs zooming literally over our house as they made a circle and headed back toward the air field.  After a while, the action moved lower and we couldn’t see anything, since it was beneath the ridge of the hills between us and the air field.  We went on back inside.

A few minutes later, I heard the sound of a jet again, and I shouted to Becca, “Jet!” as I put my shoes on to head outside.  She grabbed hers, and we went back to our perch on the hill to watch another F-15 put on a show for us.

As I was rushing out the door this time, however, I had a sudden and unsettling realization.  In my world, the sound of a fast military jet is a source of excitement, getting to watch the acrobatic show.  A woman on the other side of the world, with a 12-year-old daughter and goats outside her house, would find her heart beating in a completely different fashion.  The sound would signal menace and danger, rather than a show for entertainment purposes.  Every now and then, the mental veil that hides the real reason for these spectacular vehicles is ripped away, and I am confronted with the ugly reality that the child inside of me doesn’t want to see.  Doesn’t want to comprehend.  Isn’t really ready for.

So I live with the duality and the discomfort.  Air shows aren’t just entertainment, as a friend recently posted, they're also propaganda.  For the most part, it’s a big military advertisement, a recruiting tool.  I try to find the space inside me that allows me to enjoy the entertainment aspects of it.  I reject the killing that they stand for.  I hope for a world in which these are relics of a bygone era, before mankind evolved beyond killing as a means to resolve disagreements.  I doubt I’ll see that in my lifetime.  Yet, I might.  I never thought that in my lifetime I’d see an African-American behind the desk in the Oval Office doing anything other than cleaning or maintenance, either.  Times change.  I hope and pray that they will change for the better.


  1. When we were posted in Germany I cringed every time I heard a plane wondering "is it ours or 'theirs'?" When we saw them flying from the Gnoss Field Air Show 2 weeks ago we enjoyed the sight. Mixed emotions, certainly. Love, Mom

  2. I can definitely wonder and celebrate the beauty of flight, but not really the glorification of war.

    Yes...mixed feelings.

  3. Hope everything is ok. Haven't "heard" from you via this blog in a few. Just checking in. ;)

  4. Thank you for checking in, Bob. Since school started, it has been a bit of a push, and not as much time for writing. I have a couple of ideas brewing from yesterday afternoon and am looking forward to making space for myself to be here. It made me smile to see your post. Thank you! :-)