Hummingbirds vs Cargo Planes


Recently, I was talking with one of my sons about someone I admire. “But Dad,” he said “I’ve heard that this person has a really judgmental attitude about [fill in the blank].”

I couldn’t deny his criticism, although I’ve never personally seen the flaw in this hero. My initial response was that an otherwise admirable person might have come to hold a judgmental attitude with some justification. For example, he or she might be responding to what the Bible apparently teaches.

The following morning, I looked out my office window. Noticing the hummingbird feeder, I realized that my son deserves a better explanation.

Old People Are Like Cargo Vessels

Let’s say you’re piloting a C-5 Galaxy and suddenly realize that you forgot to pack your parachute. Obsessively, you initiate a 180-degree turn so you can go back and fetch it. In this huge bird, you’ll cover more than a mile before your broad turn has you heading back home.*

The same could be said for other large vessels, like ocean liners or freight trains. They don’t turn, stop, or —frankly—do anything quickly.

That’s how it is with us old people. We don’t turn on a dime. For better or worse, we’re loaded down with decades of cargo. For an older saint, much of that cargo is precious: God-pleasing habits of discipline and obedience, things that a charitable person might even admire. But some of the cargo isn’t very good. It’s garbage that anyone and everyone would bring on board back when we were young. Back then, nobody—not even virtuous young people—actually thought it was garbage!

Finding fault in an old person is unremarkable. What is remarkable is seeing an old person recognize that some of their cargo needs to be thrown out, and actually doing it. It’s not an overnight process. I have the privilege of observing people even older than myself making this slow but sure transformation. It’s beautiful.

Young People Are Like Hummingbirds

The young person, light as a hummingbird, has little trouble changing directions. He’s not encumbered by decades of wrong thinking. Abandon an idea that he adopted just yesterday? Not a problem. Turn away from an action that hasn’t had time to become habitual? Easy! Almost admirable!

But is this lack of settled vice the same as virtue? I don’t think so. While the young person may dislike what he sees in an older person, he is not really in a good position to be judging the old person. To the young person I say, “Just understand that there, but for the grace of God go you. Some day you, too, may be weighed down by decades of wrong thinking, maybe even judgmentalism. For now, it’s best to acknowledge the weight of goodness in the older person, and pray for their transformation if that’s also needed.”

Hummingbirds are beautiful. So are young people who recognize the weight of goodness in their elders.

*For the nerds, here is interesting data from my friend Bert Howard when I asked him for a realistic minimum and/or typical turn distance for a C5 Galaxy (and the part about going back for a parachute was just my lame humor):

It really does depend on type of aircraft and mission profile… the C5A is more commercial form than other aircraft so would require more distance… the standard rate of turn is 3 degrees per second or 1-minute to complete 180 degrees of turn… formula for radius in feet is velocity in knots squared then divided by 11.26 times the tangent of the angle of bank… I’d think the C5A would hold at about 200-240 knots and use 25-30 degree single of bank…
200×200/11.26x.466 would be about 7,600 feet or about 1.2 nautical miles (6000’ for NM, 5000’ for statute mile).

Bert Howard
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