“Look Dad, you’re flying!”
Those wonderful words spoken by my three-year-old son, Christian, while I struggled to regain my balance, inspired the theme of my speaking business: “Who needs legs, when you have wings?”
Flights of fancy, I believe, are as important as real flight. Of course I will never really fly. That is impossible.
Or is it?
It is a beautiful misty morning in the spring of 2003. I am driving alone on Interstate 15 near what we call The Point of the Mountain. There, the Wasatch Mountains intrude into the valley with an enormous steep ridge or “point.” Winds that hit this ridge produce huge updrafts that support swooping, climbing, and diving hang-gliders. On a good day, over a dozen kites move in and out in an eclectic pattern like a free form dance of brightly colored butterflies.
Looking closely, I see the people suspended from the hang-gliders. I can’t see their expressions, but can imagine their look of freedom.
I noticed them before, as I drove past this particular spot on my way to and from my ranch and the airport. This time, something new catches my eye. I pull over and watch fascinated as two people, connected in tandem, sail on the wind suspended beneath large purple and red striped wings.
This is it! This is for me! I can do this!
I exit at Draper, just north of The Point of the Mountain and locate the office of Cloud 9. The owners tell me they have taken paraplegics up and assure me there is no reason why a quadriplegic couldn’t enjoy the same experience. They have to make additional arrangements to accommodate my disability, but they are happy to do it. I set up a date for the following week.
What happens when a procrastinator has a great idea? Nothing! Action and procrastination cannot exist in the same space. If I’m going to get something DOne, I better just DO it, right?
I am excited. I am finally going to fly – really fly! Who needs legs, when you have wings! I can do anything, if I am willing to do it differently.
They put me through a one-and-a-half hour training course, where they show me all the things to do to control a hang-glider. They show me how to twist, turn, and shift my weight to catch the draft as one catches a wave in the surf. They tell me the most important thing is to let go and have fun. This good instruction does me no good. There is no way I can do the things they advise, except the “have fun” part. That I can do.
Three men strap me into something resembling a sleeping bag. I prefer to call it a sleeping bag, rather than a body bag! I am strapped to the flight instructor’s body above and slightly to one side, so I can catch the scenery. In addition, I must be out of the way so Chris, the instructor, can have his feet available to control the landing when we return to earth.
How ironic. Chris (my son) inspires me to fly, Chris (Superman) convinces me it’s possible, and Chris (the instructor) gets the job DOne.
Here we …
Ever jump to your death? Of course, you haven’t. Your sense of self-preservation won’t let you – unless of course you are piloting a hang glider – then, overcoming your natural fear and jumping into the void is essential to getting airborne.
A lot like life.
Pushing off the edge of the cliff, my worst fears are realized. We do fall – straight down! I am scared half to death. Why? I don’t know. It isn’t like it would hurt. Maybe it is just that natural instinct not to dive headlong into sharp jagged rocks! If I close my eyes, it won’t be happening, right? My eyes slam shut. They stay that way for about fifteen seconds as I try to compose myself enough to look death in the face. This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever done – next to my desert marathon – or the rollercoaster ride.
We are in free fall. The ground rushing up at …
Then, as the speed of our fall enhances the power of the wind beneath our wings, lift takes over and in one beautiful heart grabbing moment, we swoop into a two hundred and fifty-foot climb. This is incredible. Indescribable. Wonderful. I am flying!
Isn’t it interesting how the fear of falling often precedes the thrill of soaring?
It is a smooth flight, no rips, no ripples, no air pockets. We keep to the east side, close to the mountain, across the ribbon of blue that is the I-15 freeway, and to the north is Utah Lake. Tiny boats and water skiers weave white foam tracks in the blue water.
Brightly colored toy trucks and cars maneuver for position on the tiny blue freeway – little ants busily concerning themselves with their mysterious little errands.
Those vehicles carry real people with real goals and dreams, and real problems. But from this height, it seems that I am seeing what is really important, what matters most. This overview of the valley helps me realize that, if we could see life in this same perspective – an overview from a thousand feet up – we would discover that, overall, life is good; the world is beautiful.
I begin to look at things from a different perspective. Even though I lost much because of my accident, maybe I’ve gained much more than I’ve lost. I begin to understand on a deeper level how we can do the seemingly impossible, if we are willing to do it differently. After all, here I am – flying.
We can get through the difficult, sad, even dangerous frustrations of life, if we just get above it for even a minute or two and see the big picture. If we could share God’s view for just a moment, we would know that no matter how tough things seem, life is an incredible journey. Whether on foot, on wheels, or on wings, we will eventually make it through just fine.
This is a beautiful experience – on bright and beautiful wings. I want it to last forever, but after only twenty minutes, my teeth begin to chatter. Even though it is a sunny spring day, I am getting cold. Remember, I have no body thermostat to turn up to burn my morning Wheaties for fuel for warmth. I’ve paid for a forty-five minute ride, but I better go back, before I suffer hypothermia. I’m okay with it, though. I’ve been flying only twenty minutes – but what a beautiful, paradigm-shifting twenty minutes.
Chris’ landing is smooth and expert. They unstrap me, get me warmed up (Chris wanted to stick me in the microwave) and help me back to my van. I sit there in reverent silence marveling at what has just happened.
Mark Twain said, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear. Except a creature be part coward, it is not a compliment to say it is brave!” Was I brave or crazy to try this? A little of both, I suppose – not a bad combination, if you want to gain a new perspective and a new attitude and altitude in life.
When Shondell sees the video of my flight she has a few words of “advice” for me. I promise not to do it again.
I still dream of flying, though – so I do as many things as I can to fly in as many different ways as I can to make that dream be true. Isn’t it amazing what we can do, and get DOne, if we are willing to do it differently?
My son is right – I can fly.
Who needs legs, if you have wings?