I discovered my favorite poem back in high school. It was not a romantic Shakespearean sonnet or one of Robert Frost’s idyllic verses, though “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” is a close runner up in my book. The poem that struck my heart is one often attributed to Guillaume Apollinaire instead of its true author Christopher Logue and one that is misquoted as often as some of movie’s most famous lines.
For the record, it’s “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore,” not “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Toto.”
The poem that speaks to me reads simply:
“Come to the edge.
We might fall.
Come to the edge.
It’s too high!
COME TO THE EDGE!
And they came
And he pushed
And they flew.”
The words, monosyllabic and rich in story, are an inspiration. They make me wish I could fly, and they humble me when I let my fears get in the way.
One friend of mine is so deathly afraid of airplanes she has lived within a fixed radius of her home all her life. She seems happy and from all appearances fulfilled, but her sense of adventure is stifled by her fear. She misses out on reunions and trips and opportunities to see the world with her own eyes. She is more comfortable exploring behind a television screen than jet setting to greener pastures.
Phobias are very real. The anxiety they trigger sends a rush of adrenaline through the body. The heart pounds hard and fast, skipping beats in the melee. The stomach turns, met by nausea and the bitter taste of acid. Sweat tickles the skin and arm hairs stand on end in fight or flight. Before long, a sense of impending doom washes over you. The response is at once intense and visceral. It is no wonder people will do whatever they can to avoid it.
While not everyone has an airplane phobia, many people are afraid to fly in a figurative sense. What is it about taking risks that makes us so afraid to fall? What is it that we are really afraid of?
Are you afraid of the height? Some people have a true fear of heights. They may get tunnel vision when they look down over that “edge”. For others, it is more about the anticipation of what is to come. The higher you climb, the farther you’ll fall but the bigger the reward.
Are you afraid of the drop? Some people get sick on roller coasters — literally. Vertigo, nausea, you name it. They scream because they are truly horrified while others holler for the sheer thrill of it. The drop is the journey, the actual experience that makes us grow. Not everyone is ready to accept the rises and falls.
Are you afraid of the landing? Some people focus on the worst case scenario rather than on what can be gained from an experience. Without reassurances that the end justifies the means or that things are going to play out in their favor, there is fear of losing. What happens to the people who fear but take the leap anyway? They are the ones who get the chance to fly.
Have you ever watched a bird in flight? It is purely majestic. A hummingbird flaps its wings at such rapid speeds (as fast as 80 times per second!). It hovers in the air in what appears to be pure stillness. Hawks fly overhead, beating their broad wings before gliding effortlessly over cushions of air.
With the exception of birds like the ostrich, emu, and penguin, it is a bird’s business to fly. It is in their genetic makeup. It is instinct. Even turkeys find themselves caught up in trees. I looked out the window and saw two turkeys on my neighbor’s roof the other day! They may not make it very far but they dare to fly.
If only people could take inspiration from birds. If we could direct our energy, maybe not as beating wings but as actions towards our goals. If we could go to the edge, bravely facing our challenges. If we could live in the moment, instead of fearing the fall. If we could take the leap, trusting that our wings will support us when we let go. If we could soar, think how much we could accomplish.
Fear holds us back but only if we let it. Only you know what fears are blocking your path in life and only you know why you are afraid. Is it the height, the drop, or the landing? If you don’t know, maybe you have not been completely honest with yourself. A little introspection goes a long way.
What am I afraid of? Not the height. If anything, I aim to climb higher and higher. It’s not the drop either. The ride, take it from this roller coaster junkie, excites me. What I fear most is the landing. I am afraid of letting other people down. I am afraid of letting myself down by not living up to my own admittedly high expectations. I want to be Wonder Woman, and Wonder Woman should not make mistakes.
Ambition is a tricky beast. It is healthy to want to succeed, to make your life better. But there will be failures. It is inevitable. No one is perfect. Dare I say, *gasp*, not even Wonder Woman. All you need to know in life is this secret: the only way to succeed is to do. You will never achieve your goals if you only dream about them.
Come to the edge, she said.
Find out what you want in life, and go and get it.
I am pushing you.
Come fly with me.