Bird flight is a miraculous event. I once had the privilege of watching two golden eagles in mating flight over the Red Rocks of Sedona. They swooped and swirled, and at the very last moment the female turned on her back in mid-flight and they joined, the male carrying both of them with his strong wings. That numinous vision has remained with me to this day.
I sat on the back porch at dawn the other day, watching the sparrows dive in to the feeder, while the hummingbirds performed aerial acrobatics overhead. Even the pigeons, so clumsy on the ground, soared and gyrated in the morning air.
As a species, humans have always wanted to fly. It’s the only motion of the animals that we can’t do ourselves: we can walk, crawl, swim, climb—but not fly. And we want to. But it is a particular type of flight—the flight of the angels. Not for us the flittering, bare-skinned flight of bats and pterodactyls.
No, we want wings! And feathers! Or better yet, nothing at all. Think of the magic when Peter Pan first shows Wendy how to fly, just by holding on tight. Or when Superman gives Lois Lane that first breath-taking ride over the city.
My heart stopped at that sword fight among the bamboo branches in Crouching Tiger, Flying Dragon. They had to be sorcerers, to stop time that way, in midair. Yes! That’s what I wanted, too.
We’ve tried to copy it the best we can, through airplanes. But traveling enclosed in a metal cocoon with windows that don’t open is like comparing a sedate freeway bus ride to swooping down Highway 1 along the coastline of California at 90 mph on your Harley with no helmet!
We know what we want: That startling adrenaline rush of being in total control of our own destiny. We yearn to soar through the air on the wax wings of Icarus, and yet we crash just as inevitably to the ground. We want the ability to fly. And that’s just what we can’t have.
Some people cope through complacency and forgetting. Peter Bruegel once painted a picture of Icarus plunging into the sea while a plowman nearby focused on his fields and the ships continued to sail by as though nothing important was happening.
Some people cope by dreaming. We fly only in our dreams, in our imagination, in our flights of fantasy and creation.
Maybe wanting what we can’t have is a good thing. And maybe that’s why we can’t fly.
That inability becomes both a lesson in humility and a rainbow to the future.
As long as that desire exists, the hoping and the wishing that is the most quintessentially human of virtues continues to vibrate through our species.
It pulls us forward, helping us to grow, allowing us to dream of the someday when perhaps we can fly!