Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Leaping Without Looking

I'm trying to teach Sylas how to pump his legs on the swing.  He has the general idea, but he hasn't fully mastered the technique for increasing velocity, height, trajectory, etc.  So, for much of his excitement, he must rely on someone - in this case, me - to push him from behind.

It's a tricky business, this swinging thing.  It seems simple enough. You go forward, your feet go out, swing back, and your feet go back. But there's timing and reach and a certain amplitude that determines just how high you swing, how far you can push chain and hook and steel frame, and it must be mastered before one leaves childhood.


Because learning to swing by yourself, as high and fast as you can, under your own power and control, may be one of life's most valuable lessons.  There's a moment when you've mastered pumping your legs on the swing, when you've got it just right, and you know how it works - how hard to pump, how high to go, how far you must lean back, then bow forward to go just how fast, and at what angle - that you realize that if you wait until just the right moment, let go of the thick chain, pull your arms into your body, time it just right, and then leap, for a moment, you can fly.  For just a moment you hang in the air at the top-most arc of the swing's pendulum, before falling to the soft sand below.  And in that moment of airborne bliss, whole lives are lived.

Jumping out of the swing is not for everyone. I know people who learned to swing when I did who still haven't done it.  Not even once.  They never dared let go of the big steel chain links long enough to feel the nothing underneath them for a few brief fractions of a second. The weightlessness of it, the anti-gravity at that point in the arc, it's a glimpse into what life would feel like if it were lived with no limits.

Limits come in all forms - natural and man-made. But they can always be overcome. Look at that plane NASA uses to train astronauts to accustom themselves to weightlessness - The Vomit Comet.  It's just a particularly nimble, agile fixed-wing aircraft that can fly on a specific parabola, the peak of which produces a 20 - 25 second immunity from gravity's pull. But for nearly half a minute, an ordinary person can feel what it's like to escape one of the most persistent, powerful forces of nature.

The boundaries of science can be overcome, even if only for a few seconds, through cunning, determination, and fearlessness. And most of our limits aren't scientific.  Most of them are simply self-imposed ceilings we've incorporated into our lives to stay "safe". Like the decision one makes never to let go of the steel links at the top of the arc of the swing and set sail for the unknown. The 2000s have been a ceaseless attempt by me to break those bonds I've set on myself. Work, education, the body... Since the millennium, I've been working to try and make the last fifty years of my life as full of growth and danger as the first fifty were.

I think 2015 is, for me, the Year of Love. Not just romantic love, but all kinds of love. This is the year where I figure out how to start looking at everything through a lens of love. As opposed to the lens of cynicism or anger or extreme annoyance.

This is the year when I look back at the chances I've taken and I embrace all of them - both the ones that worked out in  my favor and the ones that didn't.  Embracing success and failure, with neither hubris nor regret, is the overwhelming goal of 2015.

Also, I think, falling in love... with my whole heart... with someone who deserves it.  Even if it doesn't work out.  I want to love as if I were 17 again - that love that you feel when it would never occur to you that the other person might not reciprocate.  It's harder now, because now I know that the other person might not reciprocate. I know that when you're in a love relationship, the door locks from the inside, and everyone is free to leave at will.

That's the miracle. The miracle is that you can leave, or they can leave, but neither of you does. Every day that you both stay, especially when the days get hard and un-fun, that is where the miracle of love abides.

I used to think that being alone was a safeguard against a broken heart. But it's not. It's the quieter way to go, for sure, but no less horrible.  We are put here to love each other - platonically, romantically, sexually - and sometimes all at once.

Louise Erdich wrote in The Painted Drum:
"Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won't either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.”
This is the year I will taste as many apples as I can, even if some of them are rotten. This is the year I swing as high as I can, pull my hands around the chains, point my toes, and - without looking - I leap.

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