Monday, January 20, 2014

Flying Lessons

I’m in Colorado for a week right now to see friends and pour a little life into what has been a very lifeless few months.

Every time I have visited this state over the past six years, I’ve been struck by how everything here feels a little more vivid, a little more like the truest version of itself. The sun’s rays feel hotter on the back of your neck, the air feels sharper and cleaner and colder, the mountains have a kind of perilous beauty that you could break yourself on.

Yesterday I took my dear friend’s 10-year-old daughter on a walk to a park, where we played hard for over an hour, regardless of the fine mountain dust coating our clothes and our hair. After a while, she pulled me over to the swings-- a favorite feature of any playground for both of us. She quickly invited me to race, a challenge to see who could swing up level with the top of the swing set first.

Soon we were flying against the deep cloudless sky, our shadows sharp in the keen beams of setting sunlight bleeding over the mountains’ silhouette. I quickly became aware of a contrast in the way we experienced those moments swinging as high as we could go. My 10-year-old friend found flying so high she nearly slid off the swing exhilarating. She pushed herself as high as she could, laughing with the sheer joy of being weightless, being high above the gravel below. Meanwhile, as soon as I got too high, my breath caught and my hands locked around the chains in fear. I slowed myself down as fast as possible, maintaining a more moderate height.

I remember being her age and having her same confidence. Back then there was no fear that the chains would break, no thought that maybe I’d fall to the earth below. The sky was mine, and I had this thought burning in me that I'd been created to fly. I would push myself as high as possible and then jump, soaring through the air before dropping into a roll on the ground below. I was 10 years old and invincible. I hadn’t learned yet what it feels like to fall.

Of course I find these things symbolic, for better or for worse. We live in a world where we learn to fear falling early. Whether because we actually fall or because we are told it’s the inevitable outcome, we learn a caution that keeps us on the ground. It’s often so much easier to never fly at all than to weather the risk of losing altitude.

And so when I do encounter hope or beauty or some deep blessing in my life, my reaction is often more one of fear than the limitless joy of a 10-year-old flying on the swings. I grasp the familiar chains desperately, I force myself to slow, to lose momentum.

"I wonder, though, if the good feeling will last. I do this with good things; I think joy into its coffin; I analyze too much."
- Donald Miller, Through Painted Deserts

This may be in some part because the risk is higher for me now than it once was. I’m probably around three times heavier than my slender 10-year-old friend, which means I gain momentum faster, and were I to fall, I’d fall harder too. The risk of flying is greater as we grow-- there’s more to lose. But the ability to fly higher and faster means there’s also more to gain.

I’m not entirely sure what it looks like for me to properly embrace the highs without fearing only for the moments I have to come down. But I do know that we have a measure of choice, the choice to encounter life with all the reckless joy of a child rather than the fear of hearts tied to chains. I still believe we were created for the former, not the latter. My young friend’s laughter and encouragement to loosen my grip and soar higher challenge me to allow deeper joy in my work with music, my marriage, my friendships, my passions.

And for me that starts here-- to embrace these adventures in Colorado with delight instead of cautious analyzing. These days, like all days, are a gift. May they be marked by life abundant.