I’ve already forgotten their names and faces. Being new to the area, they were nice enough to invite me to dinner in their home. And by the looks of it, they mustn’t have been married long because he still had Star Wars posters on the walls and they served us water in Burger King collectors cups. But the food was excellent and the conversation was easy. Those are the things you remember most.
I was a missionary. They were a young couple from Idaho. He was a pilot, fresh out of his program, and the youngest in his training group at a small airport that mostly serviced the nearby elite who had more money than taste. He chewed everything with his mouth open, including the ice cream we had for dessert, and he laughed in sharp, manic bursts. She looked as if she were about thirty-seven months pregnant and never snickered or rolled her eyes at her husband regardless of how justified she would have been at moments to do so. Or so I felt. They were lovely and were a warm welcome in a town I didn’t yet feel a part of.
As the conversation started to lag, I felt myself blurt out, “how do planes fly?” like an eight year-old on a class field trip.
And in plain-ish English, he explained how the shape of an airplane’s wings makes the air move faster on the top and how the faster air decreases in pressure creating just enough contrast to the lower wing’s pressure that it all lifts into the air. I was instantly intrigued. I was clueless to what he just said, but intrigued nonetheless. My follow-up questions were rapid-fire and covered everything from what speeds are necessary for the weight of an aircraft to the odds of being sucked into the toilet on commercial planes.
He had to have been getting annoyed by my questions that didn’t seem to end. It was getting late and I was still trying to understand how planes act with the Earth’s rotation while downing my third bowl of Chunky Monkey. And I was just about to get into my theories about bird migration and electromagnetic pulses (as if I had any clue) when he cut me off.
“The first lesson any honest pilot learns is the real, unspoken explanation of what makes flight possible: magic.”
After all, those two brothers couldn’t aptly justify the act when they were discovering human flight anymore than it can be fully justified today. The science is there; the physics, the calculations, the theories tried and true. But there’s also the bit that wonders what makes it all so – pressures to react against each other, and so on. Magic, perhaps, as my new pilot friend declared, “is all that needs to be said to fulfill our query, to satisfy the act.” Because there are places in life where both can exist together; where love can exist with rationality, law with reason, Shakespeare with Kardashian. Where life can exist with, and maybe a little bit because of, magic.
Magic, because it’s what we all want to believe in.
Magic, because sometimes it’s all that’s left to ease the eternally wondering child in us.
Magic, because why not?
A Christmas tree that, overnight, fills with the presents you wished and hoped and wrote St. Nick for. A pillowed tooth that turns into money. That old man at church who pulls quarters out of your ear. A girl wandering into your life, unannounced and unapologetic, to mess up all your plans for grandeur only to bring you in intimate contact with love and kindness and charity and wonderment as you never before knew was ever possible. Magic.
If you fly high enough, you can begin to see the patterns in which we all live – the pools and trampolines that fill our backyards, the character of the places where people live versus the character of the places where people shop, eat, get their cars waxed. Higher than that and farther than that, you start to see the patchwork farms that feed us. Or rather, the farms that feed the animals that feed us. Same thing, I guess.
If you fly high enough, you begin to see the texture and curve of the earth’s face, the attitude of the land and the fractious results of tectonic plates in an endless series of thousand-year turmoil. The patterns of the life of a planet.
And if you fly high enough, you break through the gaseous junk we all make and the billowy puffs earth makes and you skim on the edge between here and forever. The edge where nothing really exists, but where everything begins. Where few have broken through and sailed beyond and explored new colors and new textures and new gravities and new time and new realities and new capacities for existence and growth and possibility. Where, above it all, they reached out and touched the face of God. The patterns of life in existences beyond us.
Let’s go there, let’s do that. Yeah? Let’s move with the speed necessary to both lift and push and let’s soar above these places. Let’s use those physics, the chemistry, the calculations to get above the traffic jams and inevitable crows feet. Above the missed opportunities and habits we can’t seem to break. Above the frail time that claws at us, above whomever’s fault it is, above the bodies that simultaneously keep us and remind us. And let’s fly away. Fly away. Fly away.
The sun is rising, calling for our soaring, and I have it on good authority that all it takes is a bit of magic.
“The desire to fly is an idea handed down to us by our ancestors who… looked enviously on the birds soaring freely through space… on the infinite highway of the air.” -Wilbur Wright