TO THE FAMILY OF CAPTAIN MICHAEL JOHNSTON
This is a note to the family of American Airlines pilot Michael Johnston from the people of Syracuse, New York.
It is meant to offer introduction, condolences and love.
Your dad died in our town the other day.
More correctly, 33,000 feet above our countryside, he was called home, and when his friends brought him to earth, it was we who welcomed and cared for his remains.
We want you to know he was among friends here, too, that it was not strangers who attended to his final needs or who safeguarded him for you. The people of Syracuse are your friends and family, too, and your dad was treated like a brother.
He died far from home, but not far from family. We were here in your stead, and cared for him as you would have cared for him.
We mingle sadness with admiration for a man whose last hours were spent in service, in shepherding some 150 souls through the dark of night. While the nation below him and the passengers behind him largely slumbered, he was on duty and in command, using his talents and his love to assure their safety and peaceful passage.
He was doing his duty, being true to his calling.
And as the dawn broke on the distant horizon, he went to the light.
That place in the sky, where the orderly succession of command took place, looks down on the region where Michael Johnston’s faith was founded. A graduate of the Mormon church’s Brigham Young University, your dad’s last mortal moments were spent above Fayette, where the Mormon church was founded, and Palmyra, where a teen-aged boy walked into the Sacred Grove to see the heavens open.
To him, it would have had significance.
And to you, each time you look above and see a metal speck at the head of a lengthening contrail, be reminded of your dad, who dreamt and did, who loved and lived. Who wanted to conquer the air, and did, who wanted a family to love, and made one. Who, with your mother and God, brought eight of you into the world, to climb to your own heights and be captains of your own destinies.
Your father was an airline captain, an achievement of great significance and a burden of great responsibility. It says a lot about his dreams, his efforts and his abilities, and it says a lot about your own capabilities and potentials.
Live up to him, your family and your faith.
And know that no righteous person dies before his time. Know that there is a God in heaven and that he pilots us all, and that the passing of your father and the trials that creates for you are all part of a plan that has as its only purpose your own eternal growth and development.
It is easy to fly through a cloudless sky.
But when storms rage and can’t be flown around, when the ground can’t be seen and the destination is a distant calculation, you press on, vigilant and determined, regardless of difficulty. That’s what your father would have done, and that’s what you must do.
And where he is, you will one day be.
He just started his journey home 33,000 feet closer to his final destination than most of us. He traded one set of wings for another.
He left his family here for his family that had gone before.
We are sorry for your loss, and you are in our hearts and prayers. Please remember that those who cared for your father were representatives of us all, and though we are strangers, we are family.
And you will always have friends in Syracuse.
- by Bob Lonsberry © 2015