Epiphanies

Aloft

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And the lessons learned upon landing

By Brian Doyle

June 20, 2014


 

I have spent a fair bit of time airborne on the basketball court, but the one time I was aloft more than a couple of feet was the summer day, more than 30 years ago, when I was some 10 feet in the air, screaming gently, and clinging desperately to a hang-glider, which I was supposed to be steering with confidence and minor skill after lessons back on mother earth, the sweet delicious earth I loved with a deep and abiding passion and to which I wanted to return with every ragged fiber in my body, which seemed to me in great danger of being imminently dashed and shattered with such epic violence that all that would be left of me would be one high-top blue sneaker, which my poor sorrowing parents would have to bury in lieu of the rest of their foolish son, who did not learn from Icarus, but sought to fly anyway, and ended his days strewn across most of northern Massachusetts, with his mangled spectacles being found, by a curious small child, many years later, near Lake Monomonac, in southern New Hampshire.

I was aloft, of course, because of a girl, who wanted to go hang-gliding, and I was in that wonderfully stupid time of life when if a girl had suggested we invade Tunisia armed with sharpened toothbrushes, I would have happily spent the night honing those brushes to rapier points. So I went hang-gliding, though I was terrified by the idea, which seemed patently nonsensical to me—that an intelligent being would deliberately strap himself into a huge flimsy plastic pelican, and run as fast as he could down a steep stony hill, and leap into the air, and attempt to manipulate the pelican with a series of intricate maneuvers that we had learned but that I had of course instantly forgotten once aloft— which is why I was screaming gently for all of the 30 seconds or so I was sans engine in the realm of birds and angels.

Soon enough I came back to earth, and landed awkwardly, having forgotten the principles of the smooth running landing and the deft adjustment of wings to act as brakes, and soon after that, I was no longer dating the girl, although our parting was over many more things than my egregious lack of enthusiasm for hang-gliding; and all these years later I realize that though I still am terrified of hang-gliding, and will never do such a thing again (neither will I ever parasail, or parachute, or leap off a mountain in one of those cool flying-squirrel suits, as my sons very much wish to do), I now think that perhaps my brief time aloft on my own power, screaming gently all the way, was actually a good thing, for after I landed my heart hardened, as if it was a moist clay vessel cured in a kiln, and I realized I had been a fool to do something I did not at all wish to do only to appear more attractive to a girl, and that I could only be myself, for good or ill, and if there was a girl somewhere in the world who liked me anyway, even though I was only myself and not at all a cool dashing adventurous muscled handsome guy, then that would be a thrill well worth hoping and waiting for. Unbelievably I actually met this girl, a couple of years after I flew, and she and I are still, in a manner of speaking, aloft together, having headlong adventures, many of which entail light screaming, for example, teaching our kids to drive the car.

Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland magazine and the author of numerous books, most recently the novel The Plover.

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