I believe in attempting to fly. Purchasing an airline ticket doesn’t cut it—nor does getting a pilot’s license. Not even hang gliding quite gets at what I’m talking about. Maybe I should refine my point by saying it’s the attempt that interests me most. What greater aspiration could there be? Who could resist breaking one of the few contracts that confines all of us—our contract with gravity.
I don’t want to be a bird. If I was, I’d spend all day looking for food to keep my metabolism fluttering along. I’d have hollow bones and paper thin skin. I might even have to eat worms. Besides, birds are designed to fly. Humans certainly aren’t. That’s what makes it so tantalizing.
As a boy I dreamed of flying. My dream flights were not sustainable. They were nothing like what I’d seen airplanes or Superman do. In dreams I pushed myself away from the ground and floated up in an arc that peaked briefly. There was a concentration knack to my dream flying. If I could intently focus, I could stay in the air.
Sure, I was fascinated when I heard about the man who tied balloons to a lawn chair in order to fly. But long before I’d heard about him, I saw a group of my friends standing on a giant sand dune in Northern California. The dune was eroding away onto a flat stretch of beach below. The wind was roaring onshore. My friends waited until forceful gusts were hammering against them. Then they leapt forward, thrusting out their arms and legs. They had bed sheets duct taped to their ankles and wrists. The sheets opened into thin, rectangular wings.
I can’t say my friends achieved flight. I can’t say they became airplanes or superheroes—though they looked like superheroes in their cape-like wings. Picturing them now, I am reminded of Leonardo DaVinci’s drawing “Vitruvian Man,” a male figure centered within a circle, in two positions: one spread eagle, the other standing with his feet together and his arms out-stretched. In my mind the “Vitruvian Man” is a universal image of humanity and DaVinci represents the potentials in humankind which can only be realized through daydreaming.
As for my friends, they picked the only sane place to jump off a cliff with a bed sheet wing. They opened their arms and embraced the wind. The wind, however, did not embrace them—though it seemed to ease their way as they plummeted. When they did touch the ground, their feet sank into soft sand on an incline. They rolled into balls and tumbled down the hill, laughing. Sand filled their pants pockets, their eyes, ears, and hair. Getting messy is all in a day’s work for those who would take on gravity. So let us pay homage, to daydreamers, artists, and inventors—to those who would challenge forces of nature. Cheers to Orville and Wilbur. And cheers to my friends on the dune, those bed sheet winged angels, those young Vetruvian men.
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