Many years ago, I learned how to fly. I’d jumped before, but had always fallen back. I can remember lying in bed using my preteen physics and philosophy to argue that silly adage: “What goes up must come down.” When I took my first flight I knew I’d finally won the debate. I reached into the clouds, then higher, and higher. I jettisoned my boosters and turned off my radio. And I gloried there in orbit – because the Earth was too beautiful to leave altogether. I loved my world as it sparkled so far away. I felt I knew it because I could see it all.
And as it spun softly below me, I knew an openness of pleasure that I took to be the heavens. I was there wasn’t I? I forgot the truth, that any orbit is a falling, one long Icarus burn.
My people called to me, but I wouldn’t answer. The man who’d packed my parachute lay in bed worrying. The women who’d calculated my reentry bit their nails. I was not lonely because I had the stars, the moon, and the lascivious extravagance of time. The control room knew my truth, that I was lost. But they could only wait, every one of their seconds an eternity of my own.
When my ship began to fail I had to make a choice: one last blast to break the pull, or come back to Earth? Could I trust in the gravity of my planet’s core and the faith of my people to bring me home? My heart made my choice. To feel again. To love. To hurt. And to accept that my freedom was pure only in its separateness. As the Earth grows larger and time regains its meaning, I realize I’ve missed so much of life that you can only see when you’re close enough to touch. And I’m scared.
But when I turn the radio back on all I hear is cheering and a hundred held breaths let go. We will celebrate together, with our toes in the sand and my lungs filled with real air. Because I want to touch. I need to feel. I’m sorry I was such a fool, and I have to admit I was wrong. What goes up really must come down, but only if we’re very lucky, and very brave. And I comfort the child who could not take the fall, because now I can hold her, gently, through the landings. I learned so much playing up there in all that space with the stars, but bringing it back home to Earth is the greatest gift – one I hope to share.