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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Taking Flight

In the desert there is a horizon. It is always there and always unreachable – the thin line where the brown of the earth meets the blue of the sky – a reminder that there are limits to existence.

I remember times when those limits weren’t so harshly defined.

There was a time many of us remember, when televisions didn’t have a thousand channels and there were no remote controls or cell phones. There was a time when radios would be propped against sand dunes, the sound coming from them a gentle, tinny background voice, as out in the distance the waves rolled in – and in the further distance, ships navigated somewhere between the sea and the sky.

In those days, there were no ipods, ipads, home computers or internet. Newspapers could be seen unfolded in corner babrber shops daily, and astronauts were visiting the Moon. There were all sorts of people whom you could look up to – and even if you didn’t agree with the government and the president, there was still a kind of respect you could find – a level of statesmanship you might someday hope to aspire to.

In those days you could recite the pledge of allegiance in school, and not wonder if someone was going to object. You could fly your flag in your front yard and not have to wonder if the day was coming when you would be told to remove it because it offended the family living next-door.

A kaleidoscope of images come to mind when I think about these things. Memories, some dark, some bright – all clamor for attention on the surface of my mind. I remember the call of gulls late in the day as the fishing boats returned. I remember when people used to receive their day’s milk in bottles delivered to boxes at their back steps. I remember when the mailman was trustworthy and had time to stop and chat. I remember when a ten-speed bike was a miracle of engineering and when having power windows on your car, meant you probably had an Olympic-sized pool in your backyard, a house filled with fine-china and finer furniture. I remember when housing developments seemed unusual – when it was strange to see so many places side-by-side, looking so similar. I remember seasons of salt-laden summer breezes, falls filled with bronzed, fallen leaves and new maple syrup and candy apples. I remember winters of cold temperatures, but warm family visits. There were holidays filled with strung lights and song and there were spring-times when the girls always seemed prettier and you just knew things were going to get better and better.

It’s a kind of sadness I feel, I suppose, when I compare the future we have traded for that past - which I know in my heart to have been somehow purer and more complete. We made that trade with our eyes open, grasping at the shiny magic beans – giving away a world of life on Earth for a hoped for place in the clouds.

But here in the desert, the world speaks few lies. Look at these things we have now. All the accoutrements of a modern age have cluttered our homes and our lives, and left us with less, not more. The progress of science and reason has made for greater technology, but a dearth of spirit. Like Orwell’s Winston, we are beaten down and left tired and sickly by the crush of our own personal institutional monsters. Many seek solace in the voices of big media concerns, but the men and women of those businesses always make their money on the controversy and carnage. It isn’t in their interest to have a better world.

Our answers seem always out of reach. Despite promises of change and progress we are always offered one more magic bean through technology and politics and science and religion. And despite living in the world promised by Frank Dille, in his Depression-era Buck Rogers cartoons, we seem no closer to that horizon. We can reach the shores of a new sea from our space-station foothold in the infinity of space, but are no closer to a better life. There’s no promise of a new diaspora. The horizon remains unreachable.

But remember, there was a time when the days ahead of us were endless, and this place held nothing but possibilities. Hope was real and change was a word, which had meaning. We had a future that was wide open to us all. There was room for heroes and explorers. There were great men and women of all kinds. We could believe.

The difference between then and now is really a simple one. We knew our world for what it was. Freedom was part of our being – we stood certain in our identity. We were Americans and we could be proud of our country’s short 200+ year journey. This has been a journey, which resulted in each of us alive today - walking and talking and running and screaming and laughing and crying in delight and pain and the range of all emotion in between.

 Believe in that place again. That’s all it takes. Believe in the country I saw from shore in 1976, as the Tall Ships gathered in celebration of the Centennial. Liberty isn’t in the titan’s flame, held aloft by a statue in New York. It exists small and always nearly flickering out, in the hearts of men and women everywhere.

As it turns out, we are as close to the perfect horizon as we want to be. We can choose to see it as an expression of our tired, earthbound nature, or we can seek our future with gladdened hearts seeing each day as a gift. We can keep safe that small light inside us. We live in the end-times only if we choose to. Dille knew it when he commissioned the Buck Rogers comics in the ‘30s and influenced a new generation of people. But it wasn’t technology he was selling then – it was the clarity of belief.

We can be so much more if we choose to be. And in that simple thought, the horizon disappears, and we understand that the line where the desert meets the sky wasn’t reminding us of our limitations – it was proof of the music of our immortal souls. Within that symphony we can finally know that we are completely free – and that we are truly alive.

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