Flight 1357 to Gate 6. Flight 1357 to Gate 6. (In a Perfect World, We’d All Have Wings to Fly.)
The outgoing flights’ route cut across the northern edge of the peninsula. About a mile of land — a concert of metal, and wood, and dirt, and concrete — separated me from their path. I couldn’t see them.
When I began, the tide was low. The wind was light, off-shore. The waves were clean, but at the edge of my limit. Early on, I got a few good rides. I felt good. Easy I am to please.
Throughout the day, as bigger swell came in, as the tide and wind changed, conditions became more severe. Mild outward movement became a strong riptide. A swift current developed; constant paddling was required to maintain proper positioning. When we are in the middle of things, we often cannot see them for what they are. Such it was for me. I thought things much tamer than they were.
The jagged release of adrenaline, the fatigue, the rush that comes with catching a good wave; I didn’t notice how much my position had deteriorated. Furthermore, I was exhausted. My arms were shot. They’d already been noodly for a few hours. Mostly, things go poorly in life one of two ways: slowly and gradually, or quickly and profoundly. At sea, with your own survival ever in mind, you hope for the former. Unfortunately, that’s not how things usually go therein.
It was time to go in. I needed to take a wave. If I didn’t, the rip would pull me out. If I didn’t, I would drown. The waves were much too big for me, now. If I misstepped, or if the wave closed out — crashing all at once, rather than left to right, or vice versa — I’d get pulled under, pulled out, and might get held down. There had been others out with me, admittedly stronger surfers, at least from my perspective. Many had made their way to shore, but one or two were still out. But at that point, it didn’t matter; nobody could take this from me. Like many things in life, I had to walk through this by myself, experience this in the beauty and brutality of my own isolation.
For better or worse, my wave had come. I had to ride it, ride it in, the best that I could. My weak stomach was like a turning, flopping washing machine. It felt like I’d stand up and step out into nothing, falling forever. The terror was palpable, imminent, almost saturating. My cup was overflowing, spilling over.
I paddled once, maybe twice. It didn’t matter. The immensity of the wave’s power easily pushed me forward, properly positioning me at the base of its crest. The force felt like it might project me upward rather than forward.
I took off. I took off.
The speed was overwhelming. The dispersed washing machine tumble of my gut was tightly compacted into its bottom by some terrible confluence of convergent energies. I got to my feet. I stumbled up onto something terrifying, magical. Where there once resided the fear of becoming submerged, forever forced under the mashed, fierce ocean, became the horrible wonder at becoming airborne. Indeed, I had taken to riding air.
I was floating above the foam and the swell. The waves couldn’t reach me now. Although, a moment ago I shunned them, I now missed their familiarity — with their harsh indifference and all — in contrast to this foreign, unfamiliar experience of being midair.
I could see my family and friends on the shore, waving as I floated over their heads. My once sea-bound surf companions just stared at me, the impossible, with their boards tucked under arms, or resting on the sturdy beachfront. My nieces and nephews trotted through the sand to catch me, to keep me in view, swinging their feeble arms, yelling my name.
Torn into pieces by the multitude of emotions, I struggled to keep my balance over my board; the sadness of seeing the faces of my loved ones grow obscure, the tears and heaving cries that escaped upon my countenance; the wonder of the miraculous, my flight among the clouds; the fear that this fantasy, this dream would end, that the laws of gravity would cruelly resume; that I’d awaken mangled, that I’d lose my altitude and descend into far deeper, less hospitable waters, into utter darkness and obscurity; that I’d lose those loved ones forever as they remain on solid ground, and I venture into some arcane chaos, moving into a dimension of pure abstraction, losing embodiment, losing my place in time and space.
I’m scared, and I’m tired, and I’m bewildered by the wonder of it all. There’s no promise that I’ll land intact, or be able to get back to where I once was. For now, all I can do is attempt to maintain my balance, remain vigilant. For now, all I can do is fly, despite how impossible it seems. All I can do now is move forward, despite the doubt, the visceral tumult that comes with groundlessness.
But I will stay true.
I will move forward.
I will fly.