a measure of depth rather than breadth  

July 29, 2007 09:56 PM

The following is going to be hard to make heads or tails of if you haven't read a certain book. And even then, it could be hard. Tough.

"Take that, gravity."

This is something I've said privately to myself at the precise moment of takeoff - the very second the rear landing gears lift off the ground, every single time I have flown anywhere, ever. Except once.

It's a fascinating feeling to me, not just in a sensory way, but in an intellectual way - I mean, with all the force I can muster, I can make myself jump maybe 3 and a half, 4 feet in the air, for half a second. Despite appearances, I weigh considerably less than a commercial aircraft full of hundreds of people, their luggage, and a galley full of pretzels to placate them. The force necessary to completely escape the pull of gravity while hauling that much, and then remain buoyant all the way to Poughkeepsie, or whereever, somewhat blows my mind. The fact that we as humans have devised and built machines that do it so routinely makes me want to absolutely celebrate and jeer at nature, as evidenced by the above quote. I like it when we win.

I've never cared much for the oft-quoted end of Reagan's Challenger speech, which is in and of itself quoting liberally from a poem called High Flight by John Gillespie McGee (which, to get all tangental and me about it, apparently rips the line I dislike so much from a poem published several years earlier. But I'm getting ahead of myself.)

I have such conflicting feelings about this poem, because the first line, "Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth" - I could have a passionate European romance with this line, for reasons you now understand. It would be better if "of earth" were "of gravity," for general applicability, but overall I still absolutely love it. A mixture of poetry and anthropomorphizing elemental concepts of physics in a triumphant and defiant celebration of human ingenuity and exploration. I'm totally there.

The second quoted line, though - "and touched the face of God" - ruins it for me. Setting aside the larger question of whether God exists and is in fact using the earth's thermosphere to put on his contacts, visiting space is not touching his face. This doesn't even make the slightest bit of sense to me, and the rest of this paragraph is a rant to that effect. God would have to be, like, shaving with the Blue Ridge Mountains as a razor for that image to make any sort of quasi-literal sense to me, and in a figurative sense, I have absolutely no context for what it indicates spiritually to have touched the face of God. It could just as easily be "I have peeled the scab of God" and presuming it is not a literal meaning, I have absolutely no idea what this is supposed to imply. I'd go so far as to call it sophistry, which is a word I have been grateful to know for nearly 10 years now, as it succinctly expresses something I have hated for 10 years before that. Sure, it sounds profound and spiritual, but even within that spiritual framework it doesn't even make any sense, at least to me. Wow, I kinda got all over there, and wayyyyy off the point of this post. Without even having touched the face of God.

Anyway, that one line, when it hits me, poisons a great mixture of lyricism and expression with something baseless and nonsensical, and that, I find, is an absolute tragedy, as there is some great stuff in the poem, and one line causes me to resist it all.

This resistance also comes despite the fact that Reagan chose bookend excerpts, which I do frequently with all manner of source material on this very blog. I find it's a good way to basically say "The content of this post is similar to that of the content between the quoted points in something else." At this point it may be helpful to imagine I am winking at you.

That first line, though, it's a killer. As I said, I've celebrated that same sort of neener-neener mentality every time I have ever taken off in a plane, except one.

That one time, I was entirely too preoccupied with opening a card I'd been given only moments before, and had been instructed to open upon takeoff, presumably in order to do so in sync with She who Gave it to Me, who for the purpose of this post I believe I shall call Jane.

The contents of the card I shall leave out for personal reasons, and to satisfy my internal quota for crypticism, but suffice to say I cling to it very dearly during the stressful time I now find myself in.

It's not quite a Luxor token, as these things go, but it's the only thing to ever make me miss a chance to strut and caw in the face of all reason and physics, as the seemingly impossible and definitely improbable routinely took place all around me. This should say something.

Now, I look down the barrel of the hardest part of my life to date - packing it all up, turning my back on it, and going somewhere new. Taking a chance on adventure and love.

The thing is, I am not particularly scared. I have let go of outcome. I have a token to get me through this hard part, and it in itself is a reminder that I've already won, because I've got someone who doesn't care how this goes, and will invent some sort of ridiculous dance with me anyway.

This is what I found this past weekend. None of the fine details matter, because I've already won. Over the past couple months I've found myself emotionally up and down, slugged repeatedly, on the brink of losing it several times, and I kept coming back.

This weekend, though, I saw the arms go up.


This weekend, I sneered derisively at probability and physics.

Take that, gravity.

[also, jane]


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