The first “presidential” debate was so far from presidential that it spun me into that edge between dark humor and utter despair.
Sometimes crisis fatigue gets the better of me—I not only can’t spread my wings, but I also forget I have them.
Which brings me right back to the seven “flying lessons for life” I wrote about in my book. As I revisit these, hoping they help you and me too, lesson four seems perfect: “Remember why you long to fly.”
When I was in flight training with my instructor, Clio, I had regular mini-breakdowns. They had a distinctive pattern. After totally botching an attempt to put a heavy piece of machinery safely down on to a strip of concrete, I once again decided I didn’t have it in me to be a pilot at 56. I would burst into tears in Clio’s office (another humiliation, since she was not a crier) and declare I was quitting. She would counter my drama with reason, point out that training was the antidote, and give me some encouraging homework.
One assignment was, “Go home and read your logbook; see how far you’ve come.” When I did, I remembered that I was taxiing like a drunk on the first lesson, unable to master the rudder pedals. Since then, I had learned how to take off, turn, perform some emergency maneuvers, and was making progress toward soloing. I guess I had made progress, and maybe this was just a setback.
When you read your own “logbook,” what progress have you made in your life? What is the evidence that you’ve actually come a long way?
And when we read our country’s logbook, isn’t there similar evidence? What if this debate debacle becomes a way for us to claim our original gifts and our dedication to equality and justice for all? What if today’s chaos really is leading to tomorrow’s better dream?
Clio’s second piece of advice was this: “For the next lesson,” my aviation-therapist declared, “We’re going on a beauty flight. Every now and then, you have to do this to remember why you wanted to fly in the first place.” So off we went, up over the Catalina Mountains. I was somewhat scared but mostly excited. “Go a little closer to that peak,” she would encourage me. “You’re in control and safe.” It was spring, and in the high desert below was a stunning carpet of orange poppies.
I was reminded of an Amelia Earhart quote:
“You haven’t seen a tree until you’ve seen its shadow from the sky.”
What straightened out inside me was that I was going through all this for the beauty and thrill of flying above the earth and seeing it from the vantage point of an eagle—something humans longed to do for thousands of years. I was privileged beyond belief, and if I couldn’t put up with a little stress to get to my goal, then I really was hopeless.
How does this help me today? Well, at 77, I’ve lived through a good bit of difficulty, and also am privileged beyond belief. I’m able to mostly live a life on the Beauty Path. And when (in my mind) I fly up above the terribly disturbing, exhausting, mind-boggling chaos of political humiliations, wildfires, pandemic, and personal crises, I can at least see it all through a different lens.
The fourth flying lesson is connected to the lifelong project of opening our hearts, and this wins it the prize of being a key lesson for life. My soul chose to come here to this wild earthly plane, but part of the game was that I would forget who I really was. I would need an ego and a mind to navigate this plane. If the soul were a little bird, the ego would become like a cage to protect it. The only catch would be that I would soon identify with the cage instead of the bird.
Opening the heart is like reaching up and opening the door to the cage and releasing the soul bird. You’re the only one who can do it. I invite you to picture doing that right now. What happens? Maybe the soul bird is confused, disoriented, a bit afraid. But make no mistake; it was born to fly. And you long to fly. Can you remember why you long to fly?
The power of that soul bird is love, as cliché as that may sound. And love will win out over force. Love is true power, and we humans have the chance to help it win out over force. It will triumph over all the difficulties of life. Maybe not in my lifetime, at least not in the visible sense. But the human experiment hopes that it will eventually.
You who are younger than I must remember: you’ve already come a long way, and so have we, and do take those beauty flights! We’re a young country and still in the throes of adolescence. You know how that feels and what the forces are. And we’re a young species, still in flight training. It’s hard and exhausting, and sometimes we want to quit. So I’m volunteering to be your Clio and remind you (and myself as well) to remember the why.
If you’re discouraged about life right now, could that be because you actually love life the way you know it can be? Then hang on to that love. If you’re discouraged about politics, could that be because you actually love equality, justice, dignity, and caring for other humans? Then hang on to that caring. Those are special gifts of the heart. Don’t let that cage door slam. Reach up and open it now. Fly free.