High Flight

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air. . . .

Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

— Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr
No. 412 Squadron, RCAF
Killed in action, December 1941

I first encountered this poem at some point in high school, I believe. It made a huge impression on me then, but became even more poignant when I cared for a former RCAF officer for several years during my nursing days. He was an amazing man in so many ways, not the least of which was his way of coping with very severe Multiple Sclerosis. The disease eventually stole most of his physical abilities, but it never touched his keen mind, or his beautiful spirit. When I think of my former career, his face is one of the first memories to come to mind. And when I think of him, I always recall the time I read this poem to him. I struggled with reading the last few lines, as the expression on his face caused such a lump in my throat. He had closed his eyes as I read, and I knew where he was for those few moments. I’ve never flown in my life, but just then, I knew what it must be like to soar above the clouds, and to feel that God’s face is only an arm’s reach away.

If we’re lucky, we encounter kindred spirits many times in our lives, often in the most unexpected places. I know that I made a difference in this man’s life as he often told me so. But he probably never knew the profound impact that he had on mine. Sometimes there just aren’t words to express such things. After each of our chats, I left his room feeling uplifted, with a set of metaphorical wings attached to my back. And now, all these years later, I still feel those wings each time I think of him.

It’s a few years now since I saw his obituary in the newspaper and knew that he had “slipped the surly bonds of earth” forever. There was an initial touch of sadness, as the world had lost a truly phenomenal human being. But mostly I smiled, knowing that his spirit was finally free to “dance the skies on laughter-silvered wings.”

I’m sorry that you fainted dead away when you received the news of my resignation. But, to this day, that remains one of the highest compliments that I’ve ever been paid. You played a large part in that resignation, though, so you only have yourself to blame, really. Were it not for you, a young woman might not have found the courage to truly spread her wings and move on to a much better life for both herself and her child. Despite the fainting episode, I knew that you were truly happy for me.

Thanks, Ron.

For more takes on the “wings” prompt, head on over to Sunday Scribblings.


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