Seat 1D - Passion at 10,000 feet

Seat 1D chronicles the gifts of inspiration, connection, and reflection given to me by the most unlikely of people that fate places next to me during my many flights traveling around the country training with my Search & Rescue dog Redden.

Not that kind of passion! Come on folks, this a dog blog after all. I know what you were thinking.

No, this is about real passion. The kind that sets your heart on fire.

On this particular trip, Redden and I were taking a more circuitous route to get home making our way from Norfolk to Kansas City via Orlando. I know, through Orlando? I don’t understand the logic either. But if you haven’t caught on, I am a huge Southwest fan. They take such good care of Search & Rescue dogs that I was willing to take this roundabout way home.

Redden and I are settled in our regular seat in the bulk head row across from the door. I am in the middle seat and the flight attendants have offered the window seat to stay open so Redden has more floor room. In strolls a man in his mid-40’s. He is relatively tall, confident. I have sat by this kind before. Young business execs. Space takers. Arm rest hoggers. Ugh.

You would think by now with my past Seat 1D experiences I would have learned to not judge a person at first glance, especially on an airplane. But at this moment I know I will not be getting a nap so I turn and say hello and meet Will.

I ask the standard question “You heading home or heading out?”

Heading to my second home he says. I go down to a place in Florida most weekends where a group of us train for competitive wingsuit flying.

Well this is not an answer I have gotten before. My curiosity is piqued.

What I think I actually said out loud was “Wow! How did you get into that?”

One year for his birthday he decided to skip the traditional dinner party and do something different. He gave wingsuit flying a whirl…and the rest is history.

The rest is history. Whoa, wait a minute. “The rest is history” is my line. I was a poor grad student who felt helpless after 9/11, saw a lady on TV who trained search dogs and had deployed to 9/11, and 15 years later…the rest is history.

Tell me more I ask.

And so he does.

He manages a family business and it is going great and provides him a good living, but it does NOT set his heart on fire. He makes a half-apologetic shrug and says, “Flying does.”

I totally get it.

So, as we make our way down the East Coast, he introduces me to the sport of wingsuit flying. He shows me videos and points out the intricacies of the different wingsuit designs and how they affect your performance in the sky. He enthusiastically tells me about the different competitions, formations, and the ways you can compete and be scored.

I know nothing, absolutely nothing, about jumping out of planes and coordinating myself with others to create the perfect formation. But what I do know is how it feels to be part of something you are passionate about. I know that I consider myself blessed to have found my passion. To have found that thing that does truly set my heart on fire.

My heart breaks for those who don’t have it. Who can’t find it. Who lost it. For there is no greater sense of peace and feeling of purpose then when you have found your passion and are able to so completely immerse yourself in it.

When you have found your one thing, when your heart is on fire, you become the best version of yourself. Not only do you reap the rewards of a joy-filled heart and a peaceful night’s sleep that only comes from doing exactly what you were meant to, but those around you win as well. For if we all could find that one thing, and respect each other’s thing, what an unstoppable force of good our communities would be!

And if you wonder what Redden’s passion is. What sets his four-legged heart on fire? It’s playing tug with his toy. That’s what makes the dogs we pick for Search & Rescue so special. It is their undeniable, unstoppable passion for play. Because of their passion, they will go to the ends of the earth to find that one person trapped under the rubble.


So, while I cannot speak to what is really going on in the mind of a dog, I do know that after a hard day of training where he can search and find that person that will tug and tug and tug some more, Redden too seems to find that sense of total joy. He too is rewarded with a peaceful night sleep.

Narrow it down. Stay on the path where your heart is on fire. Trust it, that is the door.
-Chameli Ardagh

Get ready for some over the top, socially unacceptable, laughing out loud in the next Seat 1D.

 *Names have been altered to protect the privacy of those who unknowing fly with a blogger.