Lead a life less ordinary
Damp eyes pointed to the bluebird sky, I blinked through tears to watch the Cessnas fly over the sundeck at Sunlight. Some of the planes flew so low, the sight made me quietly gasp.Like a rafter anticipating a big wave, Jessica craved such a thrill. As the lyrics of a song written in her memory read, ” … the woman could fly.”I wondered how exciting it would be to pilot an airplane. To be the one at the controls. To leave fear back on the runway, smiling all the while.Jessica McMillan knew.And she achieved such a thrill with a passion that resonated in her everyday life.Attracted to her adventurous attitude, others felt – and adored – her zest for life. One by one, fellow pilots and ski patrollers, grieving family, close friends and even next-door neighbors stood behind a microphone to share their memories of her. Of course there was much talk of her ever-present smile. There was the way she made others – including former flight students and copilots – feel comfortable in any situation. Laughs were usually part of the equation.And there was that fearlessness.The kind that motivates a person to move thousands of miles away from home to live in Colorado. To pilot airplanes that fly over snow-capped Rocky Mountain peaks. Or to go rafting through the often rambunctious rapids of the Colorado River. The kind of fearlessness that makes someone become a ski patroller, selflessly helping others in their time of need.Jessica knew such fearlessness.If a lesson is to be learned from her passing, it is one of approaching life without fear. Not being afraid to fight a ferocious disease we all know as cancer that has no mercy and can leave little explanation. Of not hesitating to take one day at a time and not “sweat the small stuff,” as authors Richard and Kristine Carlson advise. Of being an inspiration for others who are diagnosed with cancer and don’t know what to do next. Or where to even start.Not everyone is called to such a higher duty.But Jessica wasn’t your average person. She had no limits. She was an active member of the Colorado Chapter of the Ninety-Nines International Organization of Women Pilots, winning two Amelia Earhart Memorial Scholarship Awards. She logged more than 4,000 hours of flight time. At one time she managed the Glenwood Springs Airport, not the easiest of jobs. She also worked her magic through watercolor paintings inspired by the western outdoors she so cherished.Jessica knew how to take a chance.I knew Jessica from her time as the business office assistant at the Post Independent, a job she continued well into her cancer treatment. When I moved to Flagstaff – then returned to Glenwood in a matter of a few months – she had kind words of encouragement. She told me not to feel bad about things not working out for me there. Sometimes new places aren’t the right fit. … At least I had taken a chance, she said.She knew just what to say.If I can do anything to honor Jessica’s memory and continue her legacy, it will be to not fear the unknown. There’s a reason I’ve never gone scuba diving or jumped out of an airplane. Even the thought of marrying a second time and the painful process of childbirth can make my face turn as white as Michael Jackson’s. They scare me like the monsters hiding under a little girl’s white canopy bed. Really, I’m afraid of the unknown.Like Jessica, there are women who have come in and out of my life that haven’t been scared to take a chance. My maternal grandmother, Betty Wilson McAnany, left her small town in eastern Illinois to move to Indianapolis and start a new, city-girl life alone. That was back in the ’40s. In the 1970s, my mother wasn’t afraid to have babies – lucky for me – or get married a second time even though she had been burnt so badly in the past. Today, my best girlfriends have returned to college to further their education in their 30s while managing work and motherhood.If that’s not fearlessness, then I don’t know what is.During Jessica’s memorial so many people spoke of her daring spirit and the special way she loved life, her husband, family and friends. I could only be so lucky as to be remembered in such a positive light. It is up to me – and no one else – to make a difference in this world and inspire others like Jessica has. No sitting around, being afraid of the unknown.I’m sure Jessica would agree: What fun would that be anyway?April E. Clark will be thinking of Jessica and all the women who can really fly in this life while rafting on the Colorado River for the Yagatta Regatta this Memorial Day weekend. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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