by Michelle Goodeve – June 6th, 2010
Many friends relate tales of childhoods filled with fashioning paper airplanes, building radio controlled aircraft and dreaming of flying machines. A very lucky few were born into flying families or lived in airparks and were airborne as toddlers.
Not I. Chronic “Airplane Fever” did not afflict me as a child. I must’ve missed the chapter “For Future Pilots” in “The Handbook of Life.” (Truthfully, I put off reading it for so long, I believe, I must have misplaced the entire book.)
The fact of an airplane-less youth lent some credence to a lurking ‘Imposter Syndrome’ when I was first learning to fly. Shouldn’t all ‘real’ fliers have been born drooling over Spitfires? (Thankfully such qualms and inexperience were overcome by a sheer lust for life.)
Before my teens I didn’t even know small airplanes existed. My family lived poor in the solitude of the countryside, but I practically worshiped the sky from my very beginnings. Apparently the clouds drifting by would calm my rages as a baby. (Hmm, still does.) But actually being up – in the sky … that luxury existed only in the realm of my imaginings. I so enjoyed those recurring weightless dreams in which I sped through the air, body flat, arms out like Superman. (I guess that also addresses the oft-asked question, “Which Superhero do you prefer? Batman or Superman?” Actually I suppose Wonder Woman should be my favourite, but I never did “get” that invisible plane thing. But I digress … again.) Do we all fly in our dreams I wonder? My man, G.N., dream-flies upright, staring down at his feet! Oh well, I guess we all have our quirky side.
It dawned on me, not too long ago, that it wasn’t the vehicle – the airplane – that instigated this lifelong journey. It was the sky itself. (Ah, reprieve!) I always felt a little claustrophobic on the ground, seeing only from these tiny, almond-shaped-slits in my head.
I knew there should be more. I felt I needed to see with my whole body.
Little did I know how right I was back then.
As a kid I practically lived in the trees on my family’s 50 acres. My brothers and I had this amazing tree house that creaked and groaned in the wind. You could see for miles up there. The leaves shivered in the clear air and the tree-branches sang when they rubbed against each other. I was on a level with the birds and, sometimes, it seemed the clouds were so close I could step out onto them.
Angled trees were for racing up (and falling out of – which could explain a lot). I would seek out perfect “sitting trees” with “u” shaped limbs, and graceful, curving “sleeping trees” in which I was more or less successful at snoozing. (See “falling out of same.”) Giant Maples were for climbing, and one magnificent Oak was equipped with a heavy-duty tire-swing, which I tried to make go all the way round the limb.
Basically, I was happiest suspended in the sky.
One summer’s day my brothers and I got the idea that we could actually fly like a bird. We tied a rope to the highest tree branch we could climb, then stretched it tight on a downward angle and secured it to a stump on the ground. We bent a coat hanger, or some-such contraption, over the high end of the rope … then stared at each other.
Who would go first? Michelle, of course. She’ll try anything.
Without the remotest inkling of a thought that this might not be the best of ideas, I grabbed hold of the hanger, then launched myself off the tree and out into the air. I clung on for dear life as the rope sagged under my weight, then I was off and dropping fast. For the briefest of moments, I was flying! So enthralled was I, that I failed to consider the important stopping part. With breathtaking speed the oh-too-solid ground rose up to meet me, and I re-contacted Earth in a painful cloud of dust and a very undignified position.
Lessons learned; 1) knees should not impact lower jaw causing tongue to bleed, 2) one does not always have to be first, and 3) landing gracefully can be quite the challenge at times.
But even though the smile on my young face was bloody, I had flown. It was possible. I had discovered that weightless, buoyant feeling which answered a hidden longing for something more in my life. The something more, that silences the constant internal dialogue racing through my mind. That nagging little voice which is only quiet when I’m in the air. Finally.
I’m reminded of a story I heard about a Praying Mantis that was captured as part of an experiment. The insect was put into a jar and the lid, poked full of breathing holes, was screwed on to seal her in. At first, the Praying Mantis leaped about like crazy trying to escape, but as time went by her attempts lessened. When her captors finally removed the lid from the jar, the poor Praying Mantis stayed inside, trapped only by her surrender.
We all build our own cages, or allow others to build them around us (which seems to me a worse thing). We create most of our own limitations through fear or exhaustion or simply lack of perseverance. But when on the wing we escape into the omnipresent, wondrous sky which reminds us, always, that we are indeed … free.
About the Author
Michelle Goodeve is a Co-Founder and the Creative Director of Why Fly. Learn more.