Monday, July 4, 2016

Into the wild blue yonder


I dreamed of flying. It was a wonderful joyous dream that came to me repeatedly as a young adult. It was always the same. I was with a group of people I knew, either from work or my current friends and sometimes old friends. We were outside talking and for some reason one of them would remind me I could fly. I would remember, all of a sudden, how. I would flex some hidden muscle, concentrate and soar into the sky, flying over trees and landscapes with a joy that made me laugh out loud. I would always wake up about the time of my laugh, and for a few moments as I emerged from sleep, I would try to flex that hidden muscle that gave me the power to soar.

These dreams left me with a glow to the day from the residual joy of my flight. Then I had a different dream. It was more of a sample of a day in my life as a child, a memory of a hot summer evening at my childhood home on Highland Avenue in Dublin, GA. During the summer, when the heat was stifling, we kids had to play quiet games in the shade of porches or carports. If it was really hot we spent the day in unnatural stillness, building up a backlog of unspent energy. The dream was about the end of such a day when dusk came, we had all had dinner, and our parents walked out in the yards and the children of the block hit the street. My brother got on his bike to ride up the street and I ran after him. All the other kids ran too. We ran for the sheer joy of it back and forth up and down the block, a herd of screaming laughing kids. I felt the feeling of being 8 and running just for the joy of it, the release. I was flying.

After that dream I had the same after-glow as my flying dream, and then I realized that I had been able to fly after all. My father would swoop me up in his arms and lift me over his head. At the pool he would throw me up as high as he could. Swings, slides, races, chases, as a kid, I flew every day. It was only as I got older, too big to lift and too grown-up to run just to run, that I became anchored to the ground. I never had that flying dream again.

As an adult I flew many times, on planes and even a hot air balloon. There was one flight that was particularly memorable because of what almost happened. It was several years ago, after a long business trip. I was landing in Pittsburgh, something I had done hundreds and hundreds of time, on a crystal clear sunny day. Just in that moment when the wheels were down and I looked out the window at the runway, expecting the bump of touchdown, the engine revved up and we aborted the landing. We were going slow and flying really low. We didn’t seem to be picking up speed or height. I thought we may crash. The pilot was weaving his way between hills that were higher than the plane. I looked around thinking these may be the last people I will ever see. I looked back and met the eyes of a man, another road warrior. His eyes told me I was right, we were in trouble. The plane was completely silent. No one spoke. We all kept our eyes glued to the windows hoping to feel the plane rise. I remember thinking that some of us might survive because we are low and going slow. Then we felt the plane gain speed and with it altitude. We cleared the hills and went back up and around to land. The pilot came on the intercom, it had all taken about 2 long minutes. He said we had to avoid an object on the runway, but that all was well and we would land soon. It was a near thing.

Two nights ago I dreamed I died. The fuzzy part of the dream had to do with being in a plane that was crashing. I knew there were other people around me, but I only felt them there I couldn’t see them. I really couldn’t see the plane either. Unlike the near miss, I knew this was a hopeless situation. We were all falling, fast, toward a green ocean that was shining in the sun. For a second I thought of my death, and had a quick flash of all the people I would miss and who might miss me. My stomach began to clinch with a hint of fear. The I thought no, that’s not me. I was in the air above that beautiful ocean plunging toward it as it glowed in the sunlight. I started singing/screaming with the same sense of joy as when I was flying “Off we go, into the wild blue yonder”. It seemed the others around me joined in, “Flying high into the sun. If we live..”. Then I hit the green green water. It was like a shutter on a camera clicked. Just as I hit the water everything went silent and gray. I knew I was dead, but all I felt was peaceful and happy. It was not a nightmare. I think I hit the water because I don’t know the rest of the line of the song.

What does it mean when you actually dream that you die? What does it mean when you fly joyfully to your death? I have been puzzling over it. Maybe it is because the subject of death has come up too often lately. Maybe it is because the arc of my life is clearly over the apex. It could be because I don’t have the certainty of faith that comforts many of my friends. But I found comfort in my dream. We fly as children, in the joy we find in motion and the simple things in life. There is no reason to stop flying, each in our own way, as we move through all life’s stages. We can choose to be fearful or we can choose to be joyful. In my dream, I took the joy.

I called this blog the angle of repose after an engineering term meaning the maximum angle at which an object can rest on a slope without sliding down. I began it after I retired, and only a few months after the aborted landing.

My first post to this blog described my reasons for the name, and what it meant to me:


I read Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose a number of years ago, when I was working around a large number of engineers.  It was the first time I had heard of the concept and I was taken by the beauty and imagery of the term. The angle of repose, what a poetic engineer.   Why repose?  The word is such a rich one.  The Free Dictionary gives several definitions in the noun form of the word: resting; freedom from worry, peace of mind; calmness, tranquility.  The verb form takes the word a little further:  to lay down; to rest or relax; to lie dead.
As the object of this repose, I find retirement has taken me further from the slipping point than I had  been in a while.  There have been times when the angle was quite steep yet I felt solid, and others when only a slight elevation would have made me slip.  We are not engineered objects.  It is more  than friction and gravity that keeps us clinging to our spot.  This blog will follow my travels  as I navigate  the angles that I seek, and those that find me.”
I dreamed I died, I knew I was dying, and I chose to sing all the way to the end.

PS. The song I was singing is in the public domain and is now the official song of the Air Force. At the time it was written, in 1941, it was the Army Air Corp. I was singing part of the first verse:
         Off we go into the wild blue yonder,
         Climbing high into the sun
and part of the third:
         If you live to be a grey-haired wonder
Many versions of the full lyrics of the song are available on the internet.