On the brightest of sunny days, a flying contraption soars on a current of crisp blue wind. Two hundred feet above the earth, an oversized metal bird on a rogue mission. Its speed is overwhelming. It easily leaves behind the flocks of white birds on their yearly migration. It maintains its smooth speed through the aggressive wind that attacks us as if we were its sworn enemies.
I sit upon a wooden bench at the helm, a rickety old fence post, probably stolen from a neighbor’s yard. There is no floor, and my legs dangle loosely over the seat, each new gust of air sends them swinging wildly, like the limbs of my companion.
The machine is small and compact, made mostly of copper tubing, sheets of metal and a huge brightly colored air balloon which keeps us afloat. It looks like a lunatic’s invention, created quickly from a doodle using found scrapes and stolen debris. It has traveled far to make this journey, centuries or more, but there is an excitement that permeates the whole of it, blanketing us in newness and innocence. This is a maiden voyage, clean from any past experience.
“All that you see below, all of it. I want to tell you something about it. I want to clear certain notions from your mind, I want to bypass this, the surface, and go straight for that which lies underneath.”
His words make me think of you. I can’t help it. I remember that day, you know the day I mean? The day I ran over to touch your little feet. They were miniature toes with even tinier nails, you were just ten weeks old, of course you couldn’t possibly remember.
How can I even remember it now? When I can’t even say for sure how I came to be up here.
That day you still looked shocked to be in a world of sunlight, a complex web of sounds that came from all directions, that surrounded you like a hurricane of feathers spiraling towards your eyes.
You looked at me with gray-blue eyes. I had been wearing my glasses all day while working in the bright rays of spring, but as I looked at you, I remembered to take my glasses off instantly. It was as if another well of knowledge opened up, the part of me that knew this was different, that this required contact without barriers, that this required more than I was usually able to give.
We are directly above a city. A potpourri of structures stretches to the horizon in all directions, a striking mixture of large and small buildings, civic plazas, offices, houses, museums, and monuments.
This is the eternal civilization- the one that has spawned countless poor imitations. This is Rome as it could have been. This is the city philosophers have spoken of…the ideal city thought only to exist as a concept.
The walls shine, scrubbed clean and glowing in every possible glory. Their hues are soft and inviting, only the palest shades of marble have been used in their construction.
Under the light of the full sun, everything is immaculate. Stretching to eternity, the avenues are precise and wide, dividing the immense landscape into navigable blocks. They are so clean…so exact. Their possessive symmetry shouts far into the sky and reaches my ears. The best engineers and mathematicians have created these roads and I am breathless in witnessing the precision of their art.
I reach up to touch my face and there are no glasses. These things have been left in the past.
“What you see below, the surface… it is all false, it is an illusion. It is underneath those streets that you will find what is real, what really counts.”
I looked at you that day while your Dad stood still observing our interaction.
I wonder what happened to him? I wonder if he is now in some flying contraption like I am? If he is, he is not thinking of me. I am sure of that. But I surely think of you.
Your lovely father wore you like a precious necklace upon his chest, maybe sensing you then as the tangible creation of his love, worn right above his heart. You wouldn’t know what that meant, you were just a baby, you smelled of milk and newness.
Maybe you felt his breathing, hanging there suspended on his chest. You and I looked at each other until you finally looked away. It seemed that you never would.
You had just come into existence right then. Your material form, your body, your eyes, your crying, your name…none of it was here, there, wherever it was that all this happened. You came from some other elsewhere, from a place I wish I could remember, but now I can hardly remember anything. And yet I can remember you.
You came from a place I wish I could recount in colorful stories that would paint my dreams in infinite dimensions. But is the price of travel paid for in language? Did you maybe come from a place that spoke in other ways, ways I still don’t understand?
Without a shared language between us then, I looked into your eyes and I hoped that you could see the stars that had collided within me. I searched in your grayness for the missing pieces of the sentence.
“Listen to me as you look down there, listen to me but not with your own inner cities, your own shining streets. Let my words slide into the tunnels that multiply under your conscious thoughts, let my words travel through forgotten passageways made of mud and ice.”
You were a piece of that distant earth then, a piece of matter that breathed and cried and slept. You grew inside of a woman and came out into arms that were waiting. Was I that woman? As much as I clearly remember you, I can’t really say. You took a single breath and with that unbidden impulse you began your life, a life I would only briefly touch.
Was it the smallness of you, was that what struck me then, is that what strikes me now? Was it the strange materialization of a new being that was so natural and yet, so completely strange?
“If my words find a way in there, I guarantee that they will change you, in ways that you can’t even begin to imagine.”
You looked at the trees and the faces that cooed at you without judgement, for all judgement would come later. You seemed without character, without personality, an empty vessel which would quickly be filled with words and ideas and thoughts, taught how to count and tell time and speak in predetermined sounds that fit together like Legos. Soon you would be polluted and the smell of milk would fade.
Would you be able to remember why you came here? What you left behind? Would you learn to use your new language to describe your experience coming through the tunnel and filling your lungs with warm free air for the very first time?
How did I find myself up here, in this strange flying contraption? How did I come to sit here with this man that even now looks strangely into my eyes, as if he knew what I thinking, as if he knew that I was thinking of you, you back there where I can’t reach you, you somewhere that I have left behind, maybe in that city that we pass over, maybe in a city we already left behind.
Maybe you come with me. Maybe you fly along with me and my companion. Maybe I will never leave you. Maybe you sit still waiting, waiting for the day when we come down from here, the day when we stop flying. Maybe you sit waiting for the day when we once again take in a single deep breath and open our fresh new eyes, ready to explore, eager to make change, eager to discover together, together as one.