To take flight.
It’s the goal of many of our endeavors. To master a skill or talent or job so that when we do it, we soar, effortless and powerful, self-sufficient, peerless.
Good musicians achieve this occasionally. Great ones do it regularly. Michael Jordan did it, and Wayne Gretzky. Swimmer Maritza McClendon just did it. Artists and chefs and scientists, authors and carpenters. Dancers fly. We can actually see it. Have you ever watched Misty Copeland?
It’s why we watch professional performances, why we marvel over their magical “play” and wonder how they did that. But their play (a term we use for musicians and athletes, but not for others) is a result of years of work, dedication, practice, concentration, study, experimentation, mistakes, re-dedication, competition with themselves — ourselves — to push, to leap, to attempt repeatedly to take off and stay aloft.
To Daedalus. Without the “flying too close to the sun” part.
It’s enough sometimes to get an inch off the ground. I’ve done it once or twice in the Brahms Ballade and the Khatchaturian Toccata. In writing, occasionally. I saw it last weekend at the Community Music Center Anniversary Recital, during the faculty performance. It’s stunning to see people you encounter every day transforming into a collective effort pushing skyward, the music creating an updraft, the chamber orchestra following. Like the house from “Up” affixed to a million balloons. The musicians stood, seemingly earthbound, connected to one another in tempo and rhythmic pulses and eye contact, but if you weren’t watching, if you took your gaze from them for a second, you would be sure they had taken off and were dancing far above, beckoning. Come with us, leave your gravity and fly, you can do it too!
And so, after watching in wonder, many of us head back to the practice room. To the desk, the lab, the palette, the workshop, the top of the key, back to our repetition and promise to the research and failed attempts, to the possibility of lifting off even an inch at a time. For the chance someday to not be earthbound. The feeling of liftoff, the tickle in the stomach, the butterflies so akin to falling in love or off a cliff, into danger, is the joy in life, the “ah-ha” moment, energy of danger and excitement and realization of our haunting dream. The elusive sense that we have touched that magic that skitters out of sight, around the corner, in our periphery.
And maybe that’s the point of Peter Pan. Not just retaining childhood innocence, but the belief in ourselves. Belief that if we never forget our magic, we can truly fly.
Maybe not like Peter and the Lost Boys, but in our way, in the manner we were designed for. I will never fly like Misty Copeland, but I can fly as I am; with words, or in E Major, or with my voice.
But I can’t stop trying. For those of us who keep falling in the attempt, we can’t stop trying. Because deep down, I know it’s possible. I won’t give up the attempt, even when I keep falling. And I see this is true for my scientist friends, and artists and actors, my musician friends and authors. For those of us who just can’t stop pursuing this crazy idea, even when it doesn’t look like we’re getting very far. We do it for one reason and one reason only.
For the persistent belief that, just for a moment, we can fly.