Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Bringing in the Wings

When I was a kid, I read "Jonathan Livingston Seagull." It inspired me, in a schmaltzy kind of way. Even at that young age, I knew schmaltz when I read it. But I also couldn't put it down. It mattered, to a young teen whose parents just divorced, whose life was a storm on the outside (and in), to imagine this bird - this outcast, too - who kept trying despite it all.  It was likely the right book at the right time. 

I grew up near San Diego - inland, but we saw seagulls - so it was a bird with whom I had affinity.

I haven't read it since, and I don't remember a heck of a lot of details, other than that it was about a bird who tried - who really, really tried.

Except I do remember one thing. I remember how he soared higher because he brought in his wings.

JLS was learning to fly high, and then dive. He'd dive towards the ocean. He'd try to keep his wings stiff as he flew towards the sea (is how I remember it). The wind would beat his wings back, and he wouldn't succeed - time after time, the wind would pull a wing and flip him before he could reach his highest speed.

Then he had an idea. He'd pull in his wings. The wings were what stood in the way. If he brought his wings into his body, there would be less wing to disrupt the flow.

So he flew high up - brought in his wings - dove from the height - gathered up the greatest speed he'd ever experienced.... it was heaven.

And then he went to bring himself out of the dive. And crashed in the ocean. He was going so fast, the ocean was a brick of water.

I thought he was dead.

And then, when it turned out he wasn't dead - I thought he was done experimenting.

That was crazy! To nearly die, just to go fast. Just to feel like heaven on earth. 

I thought he'd have to stretch out his wings again. He could still dive, just not as fast. It would be safer.

But I wanted him to solve it, too. I wanted him to touch the sky, ride the wind, live to tell.

And then he figured out a different solution - he figured out that he could still do the deep dive with his wings pulled in - he just had to change how he came out of the deep dive to survive it. Instead of trying to spread his wings there at the end, he needed to move a feather or two. With his speed, that slight move would create enough shift that he could scoop himself out of his dive before hitting the water.


It took him awhile to figure out that would work - and to figure out the right combination - it took a lot of practice, and many more crashes. But in the end, he made it work, and soared higher than ever. 

I've forgotten most of "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" - other than the sense of connecting to a bird who felt a little like I was feeling, in the new life thrust upon me because of my parents' divorce.

But I do remember his bringing in the wings. And I do remember how the tweak of just one feather saved his life. It all was easier than he first imagined. And it was worth the risk.

Time to practice.