Broken Wing

The sound of my phone alarm – snooze.

Two minutes later…

The wake-up call is screaming in my ear – ok, ok, I’m up.

It’s 5am, I wake up in a hotel in San Diego and it’s the last day of a conference. The others have bailed, so I meet up with Candor and we set out while it’s still dark to reach the bottom of the cliffs. Our plans include a bit of running, a smidge of hiking and a beach at sunrise before the sessions wrap up. You can only imagine Candor’s disappointment when he discovers my not-so-subtle disdain for the art of placing one foot in front of the other in rapid succession. To my credit, I suffer in silence and keep the complaining to a minimum.

Can you see my silent suffering? It’s right there behind that wry smile in the low light of dawn. I know - it’s hard to see what with all the bad hair and sweater tied around my waist. And, there are those shorts again. Seriously, next time I should pack more than a purse-sized carry on.

Once at the bottom, we spend some time checking out Black’s Beach and admiring ourselves in Candor’s iPhone.

Good thing we figure out this very sophisticated perspective effect using the ‘hold out the iPhone’ technique. Backgrounding is best because seriously, I look rough.

Candor, the one of us who actually runs without complaining, takes off down the beach while I hang back to practice my observational skills.

Yeah, have fun with that running thing. I’ll just wait here.

I breath deeply to take in the sea and look down.

This morning kelp washed up on the beach looks a thousand times more beautiful. Reminds me of the haunting kelp forest from a few days before.

Then I look behind me.

Etched memories of love’s past. How long ago do you think Jan loved Chris? Was it passionate, yet brief or everlasting love?

Then I look out to sea.

The surf is calm this morning and the clouds cast a melancholy hue

I stand there looking out to sea and feel the breeze on my face. Then I look closer. That’s when I see him. He is an average-sized gull walking along the edge of the surf. At first, he is just coastal context for me, until I look a bit closer.

His right wing is broken and it drags in the sand and surf. I crouch down and watch him for several minutes. He walks to the surf, then back toward the cliffs, then back again to the surf. Over and over, he repeats this pattern. A man passes me on his morning jog and comments that the injured gull has been flightless here for days now and that the end should be near. This gull will never again soar over these turbid waters. His fate has been sealed.

I have always been transfixed by the hovering flight of gulls. They are, for me, a powerful symbol of freedom – from the faint childhood memories of Port Lavaca and Galveston to the courageous heart of Jonathan Seagull, who overcame and guided others to overcome limitations imposed by self and others.

“Come along then.” said Jonathan.“Climb with me away from the ground, and we’ll begin.” 

“You don’t understand, my wing. I can’t move my wing.”

“Maynard Gull, you have the freedom to be yourself, your true self, here and now, and nothing can stand in your way. It is the Law of the Great Gull, the law that is.”

“Are you saying I can fly?”

“I say you are free.”

– Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull

Jonathan knows that flight is a window – a window to discover what he can and can’t do in the air. Happy, hungry, learning – yes, and even dying to know the bounds of his limitations. Not content to be just another one of the flock, he fights to uncover what he had the potential to become. With speed and courage there as his teacher.

I wonder to myself, “what is it like to soar high above these cliffs and waters? To escape earthly limitations and be free to dance on the wind. My wings aren’t broken, so why do I live like they are? Why don’t I shout into the wind?”

I return to the hotel and attend the obligatory conference sessions, but the gull is still on my mind. “Hi, my name is Amber, nice to meet you. Who do work with? Have you enjoyed the conference? Here’s my card.”

My mind is restless and distracted.

The gull is still there.

Now, it’s two hours until I catch my flight back to Texas. Once again, I think about what would it be like to soar over that beach, like the gull before he was rendered flightless by a broken wing.

The gull is still there.

Why am I so distracted? I am blessed, I think to myself. I tackle interesting challenges each day with a stellar group of people. Right here, with my feet firmly planted on the ground. Then, the beautiful faces of my family glide through my head.

Today, another side of me is calling and I am listening.

The gull is still there.

A decision is made. One pair of nude pumps goes in the bag. One pair of sandy sneakers goes on my feet.

I hop into a cab and five minutes later, I am dragging my bag up the hill through deep sand. This is the place where I will run, leap off a cliff and soar above the sea before catching the 4:50pm back to Texas. If only I could find a place to put this bag for a minute or two.

I scrawl my initials and sign upwards of 75 places on over 10 pages of documents. Reading is optional because it isn’t going to change my mind. However, I do wonder how many lawyers were involved in this stack of liability-releasing madness.

I convince these lovely ladies to do it with me

The gull is still there.

So, I will soar.

I look at my wings lying there on the ground

No thinking.

Ready.

Pull back.

Lean.

Walk forward.

Run slowly.

Silence. I hear only the wind now.

After a few moments, over my shoulder he asks if I want to really feel it now. Lean into it and feel the real power of this freedom.

Absolutely ready.

We soar away from the cliff towards the water.

Lean to the left.

Now, lean to the right – HARD.

I feel it, I am soaring! Spiraling through the air, the force pulling me. I see fragments of water, fragments of canyon wall. I think of nothing but this moment. The bliss is without bounds and I scream into the wind.

Again.

This time, I release the death grip I have on my harness and once again scream into the sunlit silence.

After a few moments, my feet with the sandy shoes are back on the ground firmly planted on the exact same spot where they started.

Now I have seen what the gull with the broken wing has seen. Felt the joyful bliss of staring down a fear and overcoming limitations.

I think once again of Jonathan Seagull…

“He was alive, trembling ever so slightly with delight, proud that his fear was under control…He swallowed, knowing that if his wings unfolded at that speed he’d be blown into a million tiny shreds of seagull. But the speed was power, and the speed was joy, and the speed was pure beauty.”

Why did I decide today was the day to strap myself into a harness with a Korean named Ki, jump off a cliff and soar out over the San Diego coast?

Because in the light of dawn, a gull with a broken wing whose fate is sealed, taught me that mine is not.

—–

A special thanks to Ki at Torrey Pines Glidersport for taking me to new heights. You made me laugh all along the way.

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7 Comments on “Broken Wing”

  1. Gayla says:

    Oh my God how very fun!

    Love your work… Your biggest fan! Gayla

  2. […] Rewind just a bit. So, I contracted malaria on a recent trip to Africa. Yeah, that’s right, malaria. I know what you are thinking. This is another self-absorbed story about me and my bout with a tropical disease – like that time I told you about my early make out sessions with Andy Gibb, alter egos or jumping off a cliff with a Korean named Ki. […]

  3. Mmmm… totally reminded me of the unbridled scream I let out during my first skydive. There are some wise words in here Amber! Did I mention you are a writer? “…a gull with a broken wing whose fate is sealed, taught me that mine is not.” That could refer to so many people in my life. xo


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