‘He was not bone and feather but a perfect idea of freedom and flight, limited by nothing at all.’
― Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull
A man a few months out at sea stands on the edge of a ship. A little bird a few weeks old stands on the edge of a nest. Both are on the edge of the world, of their worlds, looking out, looking down. Both are afraid and want to turn around and go back inside. Below, far below, waves crashing against the ship. Rocks. The hard base of an oak tree. If it leaps, the bird may fall or it may fly. If the man leaps, so may he.
Birds fly by instinct. That little bird does not know it yet. It does not know that they can fly because that is how they are designed. Because their wings are shaped like airfoils, air flows faster above them than below. The pressure down is less than that exerted up; birds are lifted off the ground.
Birds can fly because of that muscle structure that develops after birth. But whether a bird does depends on a choice it must make on the edge of that nest. The leap itself is not the scary part; that is in the few minutes before. The battle of curiosity, hunger, freedom versus fear,
And you ask, "What if I fall?"
Centuries ago, one thousand Puritans faced political and religious persecution in England. They had a choice: status quo or the sea. So they boarded a boat. They crossed the ocean, and months later reached the Shawmut Peninsula, Massachusetts. They must have hesitated on the edge of the ship. Choice again: freedom or fear.
They landed on an autumn day like this one perhaps, and built a town they would call Boston, in 1630. Freedom came at a cost: the cold, an earthquake, a fire, hunger, homesickness, six outbreaks of small pox.
They were taxed, not represented. Chose freedom, again. They launched a revolutionary war. They protested, rioted, dumped tea into harbors, ran midnight rides, a siege. And won.
A century after independence they stood on the edge, facing another choice: the freedom of all, or some. So they fought this time to abolish slavery.
Then later, much later, you and I landed in Boston, on the edge of a runway last week. A choice: U-turn or a new adventure. We walked toward border control.
There is freedom waiting for you,
On the breezes of the sky,
And you ask, "What if I fall?"
Oh, but my darling,
What if you fly?
- Erin Hanson
We may fly. We may fall. We may freeze to death in a few months. We may be happy or miserable in this all-in-one-room apartment with our piano, salt and pepper shakers, inflatable bed. Three plates, three bowls, two mugs and a large cup. We will plant basil on the windowsill. It may grow, or not, who knows? I have never planted basil before.
A bird has no knowledge or guarantee that it will fly if it leaps off the edge of the nest. In fact, it will probably fall to the ground the first time and it will hurt. If it stays in the nest it will be safer, warmer, but birds are designed to fly. Explorers are meant to take to sea and travelers to take the road. Merchants, mapmakers, mountain climbers. Deep sea divers, aviators, astronauts. Researchers, scientists, entrepreneurs, inventors. Two new foreigners to this city, like you and me.
To take a leap of faith is to hold hands and jump toward whatever we believe and want. Standing on the edge of the nest, looking out, I will if you will, mon chéri. And whether or not we fly or fall, how small the nest will seem. How big the world is. Freedom. Let’s go.
One, two, three.