On the day I am jetting back from Georgia, hurtling 30,000 feet above the earth in a blessedly horizontal position, Felix B. hurtled vertical like a human bomb 26,000 feet from sky to earth, breaking the sound barrier. He said he didn’t feel anything.
We used to fear speed. What happens if you go too fast? Just 51 years ago, the Twilight Zone posed that question. “The Odyssey of Flight 33” which ran in 1961, (which I watched again yesterday, . Rod Serling’s gravely voice interspersed with creepy theme music, gives us the set-up:
“You’re riding in an airliner from London to new York. 35,000 feet. What you’ve seen occur inside the cockpit of this plane is no reflection on the aircraft or the crew. It’s a safe, perfectly designed machine. The problem is that the plane is simply going too fast, and there is nothing within either the realm of knowledge or logic to explain it, moving them into unchartered regions well off the beaten track of commercial travelers. “
What happens next? The plane inexplicably speeds up to 2000 mph, then 3000. There’s a sudden jolt, the lights flash, and not long after, as the cockpit crew peers out the window through the clouds, they see a brontosaurus calmly munching on the treetops of Manhattan. They’ve broken not the sound barrier, but the time barrier. They can’t get back. We imagine the plane, full of passengers, flying forever, a truly non-stop flight . . .
We seem to have lost our fear of the elements. We chase tornadoes with a truck and a camera. Just this year, a 62 year old woman, Diana Nyad, attempted to be the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida. Nick Wallenda tightropes across the Niagra Falls. Felix Baumgarten steps into space. We feel such mastery of earth and sky!
But I do not call out “Hubris!” Or, “Pride goeth before the fall!” which sounds like a special reference to Baumgarten. I cheer them all on. Here’s one reason why.
The last two months it has rained and fogged almost continually in Kodiak, following a summer of the same. I flew to Georgia to teach a class at Covenant College this last week with great anticipation of deliverance: the sun! the warmth! Instead---rain and fog every day there but one.
I habitually look up at the sky mostly with resignation and endurance, which is its own kind of courage.
But not everyone does. Some people string a line between their fear and their comfort and walk it. Some swim between continents, some dive into the deepest ocean trenches. It is astounding! As I watch these feats, I hear the Psalmist David’s words in my ears:
“ . … what is man that You remember him,
the son of man that You look after him?
You made him little less than God
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You made him lord over the works of Your hands;
You put everything under his feet:
all the sheep and oxen,
as well as the animals in the wild,
the birds of the sky,
and the fish of the sea
that pass through the currents of the seas.
How marvelous! God, who is beyond Great, has yet turned his attention to spindly, little human us to crown us with glory and honor! We are remembered and looked after by the God of All Things. We are charged to take charge of the world, to tend and love it. Because of all this, women and men dare to leap and fly and swim and run and dive within all the elements and places of the world.
And what of the rest of us, pedestrian us, who live mostly with feet on the ground we are made from? We are daring too. We break barriers every day, we people of dirt, water, fog and air.
Some days I break the dirt barrier---I sweep the floor.
Some days I break the water barrier----I go running in the sideways rain.
Some days I try to break the sleep barrier---I stay up half the night writing.
Some days I break the aesthetic barrier---I wear my bunny boots with my Leopard-spotted raincoat.
Some days I break the sound barrier----I turn off the radio and listen to the ocean.
Some days I break the ignorance barrier---and I read a book.
Some days I break the fog barrier---my plane, improbably, makes it in.
Some days I break the distance barrier----and send words out to friends in disparate places.
And you! What barriers are you breaking today?
Truly, what a marvel we are!