Recently I wrote an article about Angel Flight Northeast that will be published next month in Avalon Magazine. Angel Flight Northeast is an organization of volunteer pilots providing free flights (in very small planes!) to those requiring medical care.

I interviewed three people for the article: Larry Camerlin, Angel Flight’s founder and director; Mike Shabazian, one of its volunteer pilots; and Betsy Carnie, the mother of Odin, a toddler passenger on Angel Flight. Speaking to these people felt like a privilege. I have never concluded any interview feeling so moved and uplifted as I did by each one of them.

I was particularly struck by the resonance between comments made by Larry and then Betsy. Larry had emphasized that the only criteria to qualify for the services of Angel Flight was the willingness to ask for help. He particularly did not want anyone to think, “Oh, I shouldn’t ask, there are people who need this more than I do.” Betsy emphasized her hesitancy to presume Odin qualified as an Angel Flight passenger. I’ll save the details of her story for the Avalon article, but trust me: Any outsider could have told her Odin was an obvious candidate.

Having finished my interviews, I began to write the article. It took me longer than I’d anticipated, because acute neck pain made it difficult for me to sit at my keyboard for any length of time — or do much of anything else. After 18 months of seeking help, the only relief I’d found was a treatment solely available at Mass General’s Pain Clinic. But getting to Boston regularly was too time-consuming and expensive, so I’d stopped treatment a few months earlier. I was spending most (not all) of my time in pain, just dealing with it (full disclosure: and complaining about it).

I finished the article before the obvious thought occurred to me. But I dismissed the notion as quickly as I’d had it: I shouldn’t even ask. I wasn’t dying. There were people who needed Angel Flight far more than I did.

Oh, wait a minute: That’s exactly what Larry Camerlin had told me he didn’t want people to think.

Feeling parasitical, I wrote to Keith D’entremont, Angel Flight Northeast’s outreach coordinator, who had arranged the interviews for me. I queried him, and then was ashamed even for asking. Despite hearing firsthand from the founder that nobody should feel undeserving, I felt undeserving. I knew, better than most passengers, the effort these pilots were making. That made me feel even more undeserving.

Keith wrote back and assured me that I was not undeserving. He connected me to Carolyn Bartholomew, a mission coordinator. She was wonderful, and equally assuring I was not undeserving.

Suddenly, I was living through the process that Larry, Mike Shabazian and Betsy had been describing to me. By coincidence, Mike flew me to Boston. As likeable as he’d been in the interview, he was even more likeable in person. Richard Jacobs, a pilot from New Bedford, brought me home. The return trip was an especial relief: To be spared the bus-and-ferry schlep home after getting medical treatment made me teary with gratitude. I’d been so moved while interviewing people who were part of the AngelFlight experience; becoming one of those people was unexpectedly extraordinary, and my need was not nearly so dire as most passengers. I wanted, instantly and instinctively, to give back.

I will do so this Sunday, at the Angel Flight Northeast Wings of Hope Fundraiser in honor of Alan Campbell and Kathleen Gillis. I was planning to attend before I became a passenger. Please join me. I hope nobody reading this ever needs the services of Angel Flight Northeast, but if you do, they’re there for you. And the good feeling that comes of supporting a good cause can make you feel as high as a twin-engine plane.


The Angel Flight Northeast benefit is on Sept. 25 from 2 to 6 p.m. at Farm Neck Gold Club, with hors d’oeurves, cocktails, entertainment, live and silent auctions (silent auction items may be accessed online at angelflightne/org, under “events”). Tickets are $50, available at online at