Monday Over Coffee: "Landing Instructions"

Published April 17, 2023 by Greg Funderburk

Any kid can fly, few can land.
— The Who

Do you remember your yearbook quote from high school? Or if you haven't graduated yet, are you thinking of one for when the time comes? A number of publications and websites offer help with this momentous task, whether you're going for something funny, something inspirational, something sweet, something random, or something that's just memorable. Here are a few suggestions I found:

  • Well, that wasn't like High School Musical at all.

  • Remember that time I did that thing you thought was funny? Good times.

  • I'm not great at senior quotes. Could I interest you in a sarcastic comment?

  • I want to thank Google, Wikipedia, and whoever invented cut and paste.

  • I love me a good pancake.

  • Honestly, I didn't expect most of you to make it.

A quick review of my own yearbook indicates that one of the unappreciated hazards of this tradition is that the mists of time can easily cloud over the significance of a quote after a few decades. That is to say, I read a few and have no idea what the person is talking about. Other times, a quote has a way of very precisely marking out one's high school experience, putting a kind of time-stamp on it. For instance, there were several in my younger sister's class who quoted Ferris Bueller; the movie chronicling Ferris's memorable day off was released the year she graduated. "Life moves pretty fast," Ferris and a number of my sister's classmates pointed out. "If you don't stop and look around once in a while. You could miss it." Yes, good times.

I think with my own senior quote, I was trying to be a bit too profound. I was so earnest back then. Despite this though, the quote has always stuck with me. On page 241 of the red leather-bound volume of Memorial Senior High School's Reata yearbook from 1983, there's a picture of me among many others. Fuzzy red hair with that awkward expression that emerges when you're not fully committed to a smile, I'm dressed in the required wardrobe: fluffy white tuxedo shirt, clip-on bow tie, and a boxy, generically-tailored black jacket. Under the unfortunate photo it reads: Greg Funderburk, "Any kid can fly, few can land."

The quote is from a 1982 song by The Who, the famed British band, well beyond their heyday in the 1960s and early '70s but still producing some interesting music at the time of my graduation. They released an album in the fall of my senior year and promoted it with a world tour that made a stop at the Astrodome that spring. I had bought the cassette tape, and this particular tune—a catchy one containing some cleverly-devised lyrics concerning the confoundingly tricky nature of life and how difficult it is to pull it all off well—really resonated with me. It went something like this:

Any brain can hide, few can stand,
Any kid can fly, few can land.
It's hard. It's very, very, very, very hard.
Any soul can sleep, few can die,
Any wimp can weep, few can cry.
It's hard. It's very, very, very, very hard.

In retrospect, the song, simply entitled "It's Hard," probably captured my attention because having had a terrific time in high school, I realized I was about to leave the only home I'd known and sensed correctly that life was about to get trickier. Much more than I realized perhaps, my quote—chosen mainly because I liked the song and thought it was cool—reflected what I was feeling most vulnerable about: How was I going to land? More interestingly still, the song concludes with lead singer Roger Daltrey offering a lament, a prayer to God, over and over again: "Deal me another hand, Lord," he sings, "This one's very hard."

When I now recall the next steps I took out into the world after leaving home, I see that the quotes that really pulled me through the most daunting challenges I faced weren't lyrics from songs or even the treasured notes that classmates scribbled in my yearbook. Rather, they were found in another red leather-bound book—one my mother gave me upon graduation—a book of Scripture and prayers that I turned to when things were hard. They kept me aloft, then always got me back down in one piece. The one I remember as most helpful in the midst of the stormiest of headwinds was this: "For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and self-discipline." (I Timothy 1:7) Those were my landing instructions.

God — Thanks for getting me down. Amen.

— Greg Funderburk