When I was a kid I would hop on my bike and after some hard and furious pedaling, climb into the sky. My bike had a propeller, a pair of stubby but effective wings, a tail, and controls integrated into the handlebars. What was really cool about my bike, as aeronautical engineers attested, was that it could fly slowly without falling out of the sky. I could take off, bank and turn back over our house and peer down the chimney flues. Then as I pedaled to school, I would fly over neighboring dairy farms, observe their cattle in barnyards from above and fly through flocks of pigeons as they startled out of the blue silos. Over school I could see other kids swinging on the swings and climbing on the jungle gym and I would be out of reach of the playground bullies.
This was all a flight of my imagination, of course, but it remains more vivid than my memories of countless bike rides on the ground. I was not alone in this fantasy because later Hollywood had kids flying bikes in “ET,” the film about the loveable alien, and engineers at MIT were able to build and fly several human powered aircraft.
Imagination, the ability to picture in our mind something that does not exist in front of us, has sparked most of our accomplishments on this planet. It had to take imagination, to invent the wheel, to conceive of the earth as a sphere before we could actually see its curving horizon from above. And the world’s religions arose through time from the imaginations of the great prophets.
Imagination is an aspect of American culture that especially brings out my patriotism. Our constitution came from the brilliant imaginations of the founding fathers. Our collective imaginations eventually freed slaves and gave women the vote. Americans invented the steel plow, the airplane, and the telephone, among many other wonders. American imagination got us on the moon. Our can-do attitude springs from imagining what just might be possible and an eternal hope for a brighter future. So when we struggle to resolve energy shortages, climate change, or seeking elusive world peace, I have faith that it will be our imaginations that will pull us through. I say, “Let’s hop on our bikes and fly!”
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