Have Something to Say to a Hungry Crowd?
by David Alan Arnold
Cathedral spotlights are pointing at me, in front of a large funeral crowd.
I loosen my tie, which felt fine before, but now I’m sure I must have tied too tightly.
Three hundred people stare at me with hungry eyes. I know they want me to say something hopeful, even though someone has died.
But I don’t know how to do this.
I planned a joke to ease the tension but I nervously stammer and forget half the joke. It’s not funny and not a single person laughs. The spotlight feels hotter in the awkward silence.
Public speaking is not what I do but a voice inside tells me something I already know. I must do this.
So, I tell the story of a man who reprimanded me every day for 18 years. In two decades that I knew him, we did not have one normal conversation.
In fact, most days, he threatened to beat me to death.
His name was also David, but I always called him “Dave Number Two.”
Quantum Leap taught me the best way to tell truth is to tell a story
Dave Number Two had endless ways to describe my violent death by his hand.
He used to refer to the fingers of his clinched fist as individual people who are angry at me.
“I’m going to land this helicopter and beat you for a week.” he’d say.
Now the crowd is laughing. And they’re nodding, because they know I’m telling the truth.
The truth is, "Dave Number Two" threatened me a thousand times when he flew us over shows like The Amazing Race, the World Series, and Super Bowl. But he never landed the helicopter to beat me up.
David Gibbs was, in fact, the most kind-hearted man I ever met. He gave me more opportunities than anyone in my career and he always threatened to beat me up because he knew it made me laugh. It made me laugh for 18 years.
In fact, I can honestly say Dave Number Two never entered a room without going out of his way to put a smile on my face.
And now I must admit another truth: “Dave Number Two really was Dave Number One.”
I’m trying not to cry in front of this crowd. But the best I can do is half-crying, half-talking.
Suddenly, I notice people in the crowd are crying too. I think I just saw 300 handkerchiefs come out of purses and pockets around the church. If there is a dry eye in the room, I can’t find one.
I think they’re crying because I learned in Quantum Leap the way to tell them that I love my friend David Gibbs is not to say it. The best way is to tell a story.
People are crying because my story tells people what a special human being he was. Now they know how much I miss my friend and his daily death threats.
Dave and I flew together so many times that when he crashed his helicopter and was killed, people assumed I died with him. But I didn’t die. I’m alive.
And I have a story to tell.
The story I told touched people I'd never met
It does not come easy.
I have only a high school education. People who read my writing say I write things in the wrong order. I will need a lot of help to write a book and publish it.
But thanks to Steve Harrison and his coaching team, I have written two books. In fact, because of Steve and his coaches, I knew I should write a series of three books, not just one.
As I finish my speech in front of Dave’s funeral crowd, the silence is broken by people clapping. But you’re not supposed to clap after someone’s death.
Oh, well. If you invite me to speak at a funeral, I can promise you will not have a normal funeral.
Now people are standing and clapping. I’ve never seen an ovation at a funeral. I suppose that’s because I didn’t talk about Dave’s death. I told a story about his life.
Thank you, Steve Harrison.
As I walk out of the church, I’m surrounded by people who want to shake my hand, give me a hug or talk to me. I’ve never met them before but they were touched by my story.
Thank you, Geoffrey Berwind.
And now, everyone is looking up, as the sky fills with aircraft, flying a salute to Dave Number One. My eyes fill with tears as each pilot flies to honor my friend. I recognize all the planes and helicopters. I’ve flown in every one of them, usually with Dave Number One at the controls.
But as the last helicopter passes, here comes something I did not expect. A fighter jet screams toward us, with one of Dave’s colleagues on the controls.
The pilot does not fly by, but rolls upside down, cutting a circle in the sky above our heads, and then pushes the throttles in a move known as “balls-to-the-wall.”
The air fills with thunder, and the ground shakes as the power of three thousand horses push him straight up, into the sky. The jet rockets out of sight, in the same way David Gibbs left me, with a breathless mixture of good vibrations.
It’s a fitting tribute to a man who threatened to beat me up, every day, but never laid a hand on me. He went out of his way to make me smile.
And then, he was gone.
Three Books, 10K Social Media Followers, and a Multimillion Dollar Deal with Netflix
A journalist calls me later and says, “Hey Dave, I want to come up and fly with you. I want to do a story about your flying over Deadliest Catch.”
“Great. C’mon up. You’ll need to do a class on underwater crash survival.”
“Underwater crash survival?”
I can hear the enthusiasm drain from his voice as I explain the number of people who died in the sky above Deadliest Catch.
When I tell him of my near-death adventures on Deadliest Catch, he says he’s changed his mind. He doesn’t want to go. And then he pauses, takes a deep breath and asks, “Why do you do it?”
It’s a good question. Why, after two dozen of my colleagues perished, do I continue to do it?
“I believe humans are built for adventure. We are not made to play it safe.”
That is why I’ve flown a thousand times since Dave Number One’s death and have done every dangerous thing that killed Dave and two dozen of my colleagues.
Only in Steve Harrison’s class did I realize how this makes me different from other people.
At one of Steve’s Quantum Leap Meetings, he challenged me to take out a pen and paper and write down what I do. In that moment, I realized that I know something few people know—how to die happy.
What I do is deadly dangerous. but I will die happy because I am living fully. And I have a story to tell.
Since joining Quantum Leap, I have written two books and started on my third.
I have gone from 700 social media followers to more than 10,000.
By listening to Steve and his coaches, I scored a multi-million-dollar deal to develop a TV series for Netflix based on my books.
If you’re like me, you have something to say to a hungry crowd.
If you’re like me, you’re going to need a lot of help.
But if you’re like me, you came to Quantum Leap at just the right time, to get exactly what you need.
Like the spiraling fighter jet that flew for Dave Number One, I hope you will accept the pull of gravity, but push your balls to the wall and climb, Onward and Upward.
Thank you, Steve Harrison. Thank you, Geoffrey Berwind. Thank you, Brian and every coach at Quantum Leap.
And thank you to my fellow Quantum Leapers. You inspire me!
This post is adapted from an essay David wrote as his entry in our "How I Made My Quantum Leap" contest, in which Quantum Leap members wrote about the difference the program made for them and their careers.