The fact that Mighty Mouse could fly was why he became my favorite cartoon character. It was during the days of black and white television and he was a super hero that flew over buildings, through the clouds and over the oceans. His adventures and good deeds were fun to watch, but in my opinion, the real joy was in the flying.
One day I tied a towel around my neck and jumped off the top bunk of our bunk bed. I fell and I cried. When I went out to the family room where the rest of the family was occupied and told them what had happened, they just gave me this look that clearly showed how stupid they thought I was. I was pretty young then.
A few years later my siblings and I figured out how to get up on the roof of the house. We would first climb up on the bottle gas tank, onto the top of the clothesline frame and then jump onto the rooftop. I got the brilliant idea that if I held the four corners of a blanket, I could parachute off of the house. I fell, I knocked the wind out of myself, and I cried. My siblings looked at me in a way that clearly showed how stupid they thought I was.
I wanted to fly. I dreamed of flying, not in planes or rockets, but flying, like my cartoon hero. My arms would be outstretched and I would soar through the air!
I have friends who say at night they used to put themselves to sleep by counting their fingers or remembering the events of their day. Some of them still do it. When I was young, I imagined I flew until I would fall asleep. When I flew, I could feel the wind and the mist on my face. I could see the rolling hills and the sun come up at dawn. Sometimes I had wings, long beautiful white ones that couldn’t be hidden. Then I could fly only in the wild and lonely places where I was safe from prying eyes and profiteers. I had few friends, but they were loyal.
A few years after the parachuting event, I climbed up into a maple tree. It was a perfect autumn day, with a nip in the air, yet the sun was still warm enough that I could go barefoot and wear shorts. Like a still-life photograph, I sat in the tree in the country solitude. I couldn’t hear traffic or any human sound, but I could hear the small birds and the wind gusts rustle through the dry grass. As I sat there, I observed the small details close to me. The sun glowed through the leaves like red Christmas lights. The air had a distinctfully delightful autumn smell, and the brown satin bark of the young branches had small leaf scars from the previous year’s growth.
My body rocked with the swaying of the tree, my toes clung to small branches for support, and my eyes drank in the colors around me. I was confident in my solitude and free in my safe unfettered world.
Then, just inches from my face, I saw something that I had never seen before. Years later, I learned that the insect I saw was a praying mantis. I did not know that at the time. In fact, I never even knew they existed. What I did see was an insect that looked like a small green leaf, except now I could see its spidery legs. It also had two front legs that looked like arms, with hands. It had a face, with bulging green eyes. Its head could swivel around and look at me, and it was looking right at me, rubbing its “hands” together.
Hackles. Do you know what hackles are? That’s the hair on the back of an animal’s neck that rises up when they are scared or upset about something. It’s usually a good time to leave them alone. I felt the hackles rise up on the back of my neck, and on my arms and nose and shins and even on my butt.
Never in all my imagination had I seen anything like it. Here in my face, was the most hideous creature trying to disguise itself as a leaf. I wondered if it was deadly and how many more there were lurking around me in the tree I was sitting in.
I don’t really know how I got out of that tree, over the barbed-wired fence and onto the road. This time, I really think I flew. When I told my siblings about the praying mantis, they didn’t look at me as though I was stupid. No, they looked at me in a way that I came to recognize over the years. If they had known then about ingesting mushrooms and getting high, they would have thought I had eaten way too many of them. I would never tell them how I got out of that tree.
I don’t remember when I stopped pretending to fly or when the dream flying quit. One day many years later, I realized I had forgotten how and I grieved the loss, but I was an adult now and burdened with an adult’s responsibilities.
One day, my daughter and I rented the movie, Hook by Steven Spielberg. It’s the story of a grown up Peter Pan who forgot his flying days. He was lucky because at the end of the movie, he found his youth again, yet he didn’t compromise his adulthood and maturity. The authors of Peter Pan and Hook understood about flying and about losing our ability to fly as adults and I think there is a more profound issue here then a child’s vivid imagination. It is about our ability to create, to dream, to dare, to trust and to hope for a perfect future. These are gifts that we seem to lose as we mature, and there is a price to pay for that loss.
I have seen people going through a midlife crises do things that they would never have thought of doing before, but they perceived that they had lost something of their youth and were desperately trying to get it back. I have seen other people who refuse to even consider their loss, so they focus only on the stark reality of their present day. They put blinders on and focus straight ahead. As for myself, I can’t go either way too far, because in my Peter Pan pursuit, I do not want to do anything that would harm my family or me.
My mother always said I had a mercurial personality. It bothered her because she could never tell what I was thinking of, or in what direction my train of thought would go. I really think it was a sophisticated way of saying that she also thought I ate too many mushrooms during the 60’s and 70’s. The truth was I was earthbound and I needed to fly — and to not fall and knock the wind out of myself.
I have a science degree, I have a decent job and I raised a very gifted and responsible young woman. I made many sacrifices and have the battle scars to prove it. I do not have an excess amount of money or free time. This does not change the deep yearning to feel free, passionate, and alive with possibilities.
I finally found my way of flying, mostly alone in those wild places. I write. Sometimes I write on my coffee break, away from the laughter and camaraderie of my coworkers, sometimes on the bus, and sometimes I write in the evening before I fall asleep. Everyday, my pen flies across the pages and my fingers across the keyboard. My hope soars, my soul has wings and my imagination has no bounds. I am flying!