What’s it like to float upon misty air?
Way up there upon winds of turbulence,
where your wings tame them,
as a cowboy does the wild Stallion.
–Dara Reidyr from “On Flying“
Four hours ago, I was finishing my iced coffee at the Java Cafe in the Outlet Mall. Even with the AC, the plastic cup was dripping on the article in the local Fort Myers newspaper. I was totally absorbed in a breaking story about an 18-year old guy who was arrested for roughing up his girl friend because she refused to go out and buy him some “clean” urine. He was on probation and he apparently needed to pass a random drug test. The water drops from my coffee obliterated some of the story, but not the part where he pushed her head and then threw bananas and a metal comb at her. More wet newsprint. Then the story ended with his breaking down in the kitchen, crying, and grabbing a carving knife, threatened to kill himself. It seems that a friend captured the whole thing on a cell phone.
It’s good to have friends.
Now, I was in the pool at the RV Resort where we are staying. I was leaning back with my head against the rim. I was intent on getting some exercise one way or another, and since its way too hot to go bicycling, the decision to go to the pool wasn’t hard. I was doing a peddling motion with my legs and practicing the scissors kick. Nearby, at the shallow end, there were a dozen seniors doing water exercises. A woman’s voice was telling them what to do.
“Now, turn around and lift your left leg–that’s right, just like that.”
“Okay, now run in place–do the best you can.”
I looked at each person in the group trying to identify the speaker with the tiny headset microphone. I couldn’t find her. She seemed to be joking with someone in the group. I looked again and still couldn’t find her. Then I spotted a cable from an outlet. It led to a small boom-box that was placed on a pool chair. Everyone was listening to a tape. But, how could she banter with the group?
I was puzzling over this when I looked directly across the water and noticed that a man was staring at me. He had on sunglasses, so I couldn’t be sure it was me he was watching. He looked exactly like Colonel Sanders, the founder of KFC. Same hat. Same white goatee. I would have bet my last fiver that it was the Colonel himself. I didn’t place any bet– there was no one to place it with and besides I remember that Colonel Harland D. Sanders died of leukemia in 1980.
The clouds were slowly thickening. The forecast called for late afternoon showers.
I looked up. There, in the pale blue of the sky was a soaring bird. I looked at its wings. It wasn’t an eagle–it was a turkey vulture. Both are built for soaring. Both are symbols–metaphors to us. So is the Albatross.
I looked over at the seniors who were busy treading water and then back to the turkey vulture, making slow circles above my head.
You do not want to know what goes through my head at times like these.
I’ve always found the Albatross very interesting and enigmatic. I’ve never seen one in the wild but from photos, they have an outstanding appearance. But, the poor bird is cursed by being a symbol of “a burden”.
“Oh, he has to carry that Albatross around his neck–too bad for him”.
We have Samuel Taylor Coleridge to thank for that. One of my favorite poems is “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”. In case you don’t remember your 10th grade English class, a sailor shoots an arrow into the sky and kills an Albatross. This brings really bad luck to him and his crew. He is condemned to carrying the dead bird around his neck while the voyage of his ship wanders the seas.
He is the ancient mariner who stoppeth one of three…
Sometimes, I feel like I am like the pitiful sailor–condemned forever to carry the wrongs and sins of my youth around my neck. It can depress a recovered good Catholic altar boy like me.
However, there are many times in my life that I’ve felt more like the Albatross and not the archer/sailor who killed without thinking. These great birds (some with a wing span of twelve feet) are designed to soar–to ride the thermals–for unbelievable lengths of time. Some say that these birds can go weeks (or longer) without landing. They eat by swooping and catching the unfortunate fish who came too close to the surface. They don’t need much food because they don’t expend much energy. Their wings are engineered by nature to lock in place. When you watch a skein of migrating geese, they flap their way from horizon to horizon. The Albatross hardly ever uses its wings, except to stay aloft.
It has also been said that they only land to rest briefly, on a calm portion of ocean. And, more importantly, they need to alight on a solid surface to find a mate and procreate. The Albatross generally mates for life.
But, to soar above it all–only coming to the ground when necessary–seems like an amazing way to spend a life. I feel the need to wander, sometimes far from home (like Florida), but I’m held by gravity to the surface of the earth. Yes, I can take American Airlines to Puerto Rico, if I choose, but you get my point.
To soar above the aches and pains and heartbreak of life–to dream with your eyes open–of faraway lands and people who fill this world. To soar and day-dream about the minute life below me and the sky, so blue and intense, above me, is enviable. I would make an extra circle high above that red-haired woman who is crying on the empty beach. I would make two extra circles around the Eiffel Tower and hear the cries of the Parisians. I would soar above the lonely man, broken by war, meandering a boardwalk and thinking of ending his life.
But, I would make sure that I soared low enough so that the dim eyes of an old person could see me. I would soar slow enough so the children, playing in the fields, would stop and point at me.
All this I would do, If I had the wings of an Albatross. I wonder if that is what death is like–we can soar around the heads of the loved ones left behind?
All this I would do, even knowing that I would never be totally unencumbered and without the dreams that live in the living.
Are birds free from the chains of the skyway?
[Images: Google search]