You have to warm up your wings before you can fly in subzero temperatures. Flying is a delicate and intricate process, after all—not to be done in haste, or without care. To remove frost, a pink colored liquid is sprayed with force all over the plane. The steam, billowing, blocks out my view of the Rocky Mountains to the south.
5,730 miles to Cork, Ireland. We take off. Missoula, Montana falls away.
There is a nervous knot, somewhere above my stomach but below my heart, vibrating like a jet engine. Up to now the excitement, anxiety, and wonder have come in small, carry-on size packages. Now they come in oversized, extra-fee type baggages. Before leaving the house this morning I found myself spending the New Year becoming irritable over silly things. The bookshelf needs dusting; the dogs need brushing; the coffee this morning, not ground finely enough, makes me think that the coffee will go on, not being ground finely enough, for the next five months. How many things are going to be neglected their rightful attention while I’m gone? Then, like Missoula, the metaphor fell away and I realized that I was already missing Sara and that it’s not the coffee, but the way that I want to hold her, that will not be properly accomplished for 137 days.
Of course, I know she has my back, and that I shouldn’t feel guilty for leaving her. She texts me a goodbye message, just before my phone goes into airplane mode:
“Fly safely, Joel.”
She loves me, and I love her, and, after all, the world is not so large as those 5,730 miles that separate us because I can measure distance in the light-seconds it takes to send an email half way around the world. Now, somewhere high up over Middle America, I feel peace and excitement and profound pride, for the freedom of flying to Cork in order to continue realizing my dreams and passions. A freedom not possible without Sara.
It occurs to me that, as much as we so often project the lie, the majority of us are, sadly, not the sum of all our dreams. We do such a great job of pretending, don’t we? We use words like freedom and liberty as we drive to our jobs, where we work to enrich someone we do not know, in order to pay rent, or mortgages, or fees for things we become beholden to. It is, I think, very hard to experience moments of true freedom, where we feel as though we have tapped into some destiny or fate we have known all along we were absolutely meant to live. We must work hard for these fleeting moments. Flying now, toward Europe, to live for five months—writing, traveling, reading, studying—is a freedom to make my world bigger, better, and more full. A freedom that comes with all the weight of this Delta jet plane.
It’s interesting, flying has long been associated with freedom. Daedalus made wings for his son, Icarus, so that he could fly free. Milton’s Eve, before the Fall, dreams that she can fly, out from Eden and across the cosmos. Even Marquez’s very old man with enormous wings eventually disappears over the horizon and away from those who did not believe he was a miracle. Flying has always been, for us, a metaphor for the realization of our deepest aspirations.
So, here I am. Free to fly.
Years ago, when Sara and I first began dating, we text messaged each other constantly—sometimes to the detriment of sleep, the way silly lovers do. One such late night conversation I remember very specifically now. I can’t recall exactly how we came upon the topic, but I remember the exchange:
“I dream most nights that I can fly,” I sent. “I love those dreams. Sometimes I’m jumping really far, sometimes I have hawk wings, and sometimes I’m like a super hero. Almost weekly though, somehow, I dream that I can fly.”
“Well,” she sent back—and I remember her words in that green text-bubble perfectly—so similar to the ones I received just now, before the airplane went wheels up:
“Fly safely tonight, Joel.”
What I’m listening to—