For reasons that are now lost to the blur of childhood, the character of Peter Pan (the Walt Disney version) resonated on a profound level with my five-year-old self. Certainly part of the attraction was the never-grow-up attitude. And the fact that he wore a dagger. And that he fought pirates.
More than all of those touch-points, however, I was drawn to Peter Pan because he could fly.
In the mid-1970s, unless you had access to 8mm movies or what was then nascent home-video technology (I did not have access to either), you could only watch—and re-watch—movies as they were released in theaters. The classic Disney animated movies were on a re-release cycle of multiple years, so kids from my generation (Gen Xers represent!) could say that they saw ‘Sleeping Beauty’ when they were six or ‘Pinocchio’ when they were nine.
I was five when ‘Peter Pan,’ originally released in 1953, was re-released. And I was ready. I had had the album version of the movie (it was a combination of narrative and soundtrack) from before I could remember, and I had dressed as Peter Pan for as long as I could walk, and to this day I can’t hear ‘You Can Fly’ without zooming around the room, my arms cast wide. Seeing the film back then cemented the character’s importance in my genetic make-up, and it’s been one of the tragedies my life that Peter Pan didn’t try to recruit me to be a Lost Boy. Or that I can’t literally fly.
For more than a year—thanks to my taking a consulting job where I now regularly travel across the United States—I have lived in the sky. The toughest parts of being a traveling consultant are what you’d expect – being away from my wife and children, spending inordinate amounts of time in airports, dealing with other people (folks, reclining your seat is akin to committing all Seven Deadly Sins at once, and the Universe will find a way to punish you for doing this, and the Universe is just in doing so), and the physical reality of sitting for hours in Medieval airplane seats.
However, there’s part of living up here that never gets old. The miracle of flight.
We are creatures of gravity. We are earthbound. To trick or escape this, whether for a moment or for the length of a transcontinental trip, is wondrous. It is our opportunity to thumb our nose at the way things are. It’s our moment to simultaneously be closer to God and to openly defy Him.
Airlines do much to obfuscate and separate us from this miracle, because to acknowledge the blessed nature of being able to live part of one’s life in the sky is to acknowledge that gravity always wins and that our lives are more obviously at risk. This obfuscation isn’t always unfortunate (there are times, during severe turbulence, say, or in the midst of a magnificent thunderstorm) that I appreciate not being reminded that I’m in an all too fragile aircraft amidst a much vaster, elemental force.
Sometimes ignorance is necessary for mental survival.
That said, I find—and perhaps you do, as well—that as I get older, I become more integrated with my previous selves. Passions and interests and pre-occupations return and re-surface, and there’s a settling into who we are that synchs up to the person we have always been. It feels natural that a component of my existence has brought flying back as an integral aspect of my life because I’ve always wanted it to be so. It’s different than I’d envisioned it, certainly, and yet it’s present.
As if I’ve been practicing the act of living in the sky all along.
Here’s a nice bit from Louis CK that acknowledges the realities of airline travel vis-a-vis the awe that flight _should_ still summon in all of us.