Flying Lessons

“Flying Lesson” by Julia Kasdorf

“Over a tray of spent plates, I confessed


to the college president my plans to go East,


to New York, which I’d not really seen,

though it seemed the right place


for a sophomore as sullen and restless


as I had become on that merciless


Midwestern plain. He slowly stroked


a thick cup and described the nights


when, a theology teacher in Boston, he’d fly

a tiny plane alone out over the ocean,


each time pressing farther into the dark


until the last moment, when he’d turn


toward the coast’s bright spine, how he loved


the way the city glittered beneath him


as he glided gracefully toward it,


engine gasping, fuel needle dead on empty,


the way sweat dampened the back of his neck


when he climbed from the cockpit, giddy.


Buttoned up in my cardigan, young, willing


to lose everything, how could I see generosity


or warning? But now that I’m out here,

his advice comes so clear: fling yourself


farther, and a bit farther each time,


but darling, don’t drop.

 

I love that poem. Always have.  It strikes a chords in so many ways – the restless student itching to push out of the “merciless” everyday; the description of the “coast’s bright spine” and the glittering city lights; the thrill of the gasping engine edging towards too-late; and most of all, the image, or the idea rather, of the tiny plane “flinging itself” farther and farther over the ocean and into the dark unknown.

The dog days of August are packed. Trying to raise support to get to India – envelopes and awkward phone calls and emails; visits to cities and lunch meetings.  I love to talk and write about justice, human trafficking, India – can do it for hours – but I hate to ask for money. Or ask for anything. I want to do everything on my own, and my pride inevitably comes back around. Trying to balance support raising with life, the reality of not being able to work a paid job full time hitting the reality that groceries and gas cost money.

Freelance writing to pay the bills. In an irony not lost on me, I hit a terrible bout of writer’s block while trying to knock out an article on brain health.

Relationships, church Bible studies, weddings, research, the balance of working with my hands to repair a motorcycle, pounding out miles on mountain trails, seeing and wanting to speak truth to the lives I’m wrapped up in here, carving callousing into my fingers from hours of climbing, pacing out the search for the words to type, fueling the writing and the long hours with French presses of coffee until my hands shake.

And stories. Always stories – the rags to riches tale of an American puppeteer turned Florence and Vatican trained sculptor; programmers solving puzzles; refugees in Western Uganda; a Marine taking mortar fire in Iraq; the air force pilot, wrapped up in silver wings and roaring engines, who tried hang gliding and found the silence so deafening that he could finally hear God.

Stories in Kolkata that I want to hear and tell. That whole bit in Prov. 31:8-9 about opening your mouth for the destitute and defending the rights of the poor and needy.

Stuffing envelopes and drafting case statements is not my element. In some ways it’s harder than being in the field – I feel more at home in Africa and India. The comfortable has become uncomfortable. But, this bit of the journey is also a kind of uncharted territory, a risk and a shot in the dark.

On the bush planes in Africa, taking off from the red-dirt airstrip was my favorite part – building speed and defying gravity and rocketing off into the big African sky.

India looms ahead like the ocean and the dark unknown in that poem – huge and terrifying and thrilling. And like that pilot I want to “press farther into the dark,” fling myself farther and farther into the mix. But I have to keep reminding myself that “flying” takes “flying lessons” – and that’s part of what this stateside season is about – lessons.

And good coffee. It’s also about good coffee.  And probably rockclimbing.