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    Off Course

    Donald Stokes

    Flying an airplane as a 12-year-old was exciting—until I got lost.

    My father was a professional pilot and also served in the armed forces in World War II instructing pilots. He was well respected for his ability to fly the many different types of planes that were being used at the time. He had many close friends in the aviation field who also respected his flying ability.

    On one occasion, a friend of his from California asked him if he would fly his newly built plane back from the East for him. On this particular trip he asked me to accompany him as his copilot. To me, a boy of 12, my father was a hero. I was so elated that he had asked me to be his copilot. I felt that he trusted and had confidence in me.

    It was on the second day of our flight that my father, having done all of the flying so far, started to feel the fatigue of the trip. My dad had been giving me flying lessons for quite a while. He decided that I could navigate the plane while he slept for a few minutes. As a wise parent, and one knowing the dangers involved, he gave me some instructions which were plain and easy to understand. He pointed the way along a straight path in which I should fly the plane. He said that I should never vary from that path. Off in the horizon was my goal, a big rugged yet majestic mountain. In addition, he showed me compass and map bearings and even pointed out Omni beacons which aided pilots when they flew at night or in stormy weather. Then before going to sleep, he reassured me that if anything should happen he would be nearby so I wasn’t to hesitate to wake him. As he began to drift asleep, the excitement of being able to navigate the plane equaled the great responsibility that was placed in my hands. I took comfort in the fact that my father wasn’t too far away if I needed his help.

    I wanted to do a good job so that he would be proud of me and let me fly again. My eyes were constantly scanning the horizon for other planes and evaluating the many instruments that decorated the front panel of the cockpit. About 30 minutes had gone by, and my father still slept. I felt so sure of my ability to navigate the plane that I decided not to wake him. The mountain that he gave me as a goal had long since passed. I then discovered a roadway some 10,000 feet below. The cars resembled my little brother’s matchbox cars. The road appeared to be going in the same direction so I decided to follow it.

    This was fine for a little while, but then I became bored with following the road and decided to do some experimenting. I began by turning the plane from side to side, then moving the rudder back and forth causing the tail of the plane to go from side to side. I was completely engrossed in my experimenting when I began to realize that I did not know where I was or in which direction I should be going. I was anxious to get back on the proper course and feared being caught in my mistake. I tried to use the map and compass but could not find my bearings because of my lack of knowledge of that area. I tried to recollect my father’s instructions, but I couldn’t remember.

    While in the dilemma, I was confronted with another problem. Seemingly out of nowhere two United States Air Force jet fighters flew up and positioned themselves on either side of me. The predicament I was in now was so desperate it caused me to lay aside my guilt and embarrassment. I quickly woke my father up to this awful situation feeling a great need for his help. He took immediate control of the plane, quickly got our bearings and guided the plane back to the proper course. He chastised me for not obeying his instructions and told me that I had been flying over a restricted zone, the site of an underground test launch area for missiles. The jets had been sent up to check us and escort us out of the area.

    I have often thought about that experience and how much it is like the plan of salvation and progression that Heavenly Father has given us. He prepared a plan whereby his children could progress and become like him. We came into this world through the process known as birth. Within a short time we found ourselves in control of the craft, having our agency to choose right or wrong. His flight plans or instructions for our lives are plain and easy to understand. “Yea, we see that whosoever will may lay hold upon the word of God, … which shall … lead the man of Christ in a strait and narrow course across that everlasting gulf of misery which is prepared to engulf the wicked—And land their souls … at the right hand of God” (Hel. 3:28–30).

    Groups of people have already flown past their original goal and are held in need of finding another majestic mountain along the path to which they could fly. And still other groups are experimenting and tampering with the controls. These people generally find themselves entering the restricted zones and in need of reformation. Boredom brings with it many forms of temptation which end up in the restricted zones of life. We need not wait until servants of the Lord in their various callings have to come and escort us out of that area. I have found times, much to my regret, that I’ve had to let my Father in Heaven awake in my life and guide me back. We all constantly are in need of his guidance and forgiveness. We can receive these through prayer. “Pray always, lest you enter into temptation and lose your reward” (D&C 31:12).

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