This is the 12th article in a summer series on what travel has to teach us about life.
My boyfriend and I headed out to the U.S. Air Force Museum one sunny Saturday in May, with plans to stop for a roadside picnic en route from Columbus to Dayton. With beach towel in hand, we found a secluded spot off an exit where a deer had darted out of the woods, and had a leisurely picnic lunch.
After we finished and were back in the car, the ride was pleasantly quiet for a few minutes. Suddenly, my man screamed something terrible, like possibly a Sasquatch had him in its grip. As I was turning my head to see what was wrong, I caught him trying to flick some sort of bug off of his ear and straight onto me.
At this point I went into a fetal position and began chanting, “What is it? What is it? What did you flick at me? Answer me, answer me, why aren’t you answering me?” as I madly searched my body for some still as yet unnamed creature from the black lagoon.
He just stared at me with the glazed eyes of a trauma survivor as he made a mad dash for yet another exit to pull the car over. Halfway down an off-ramp, he found enough space outside the yellow lines to screech the car to a halt and fly out his side of the vehicle. Once out, I again demanded, this time with all the authority I could muster in my squeamish state, “WHAT THE HELL DID YOU JUST FLICK ON ME?”
The fresh air must have knocked him out of his trance because he finally bellowed, “It’s a tick, and I didn’t flick it, I think it’s still on me.”
Secretly I celebrated that my brush with death was over. While my boyfriend was madly ripping his shirt off, I found the little bugger making a mad dash up his spinal cord. I said “It’s making a mad dash up your spinal cord.”
“Get it off me, get it off me, why aren’t you getting it off me?” It was his turn to chant like a mad monk now as he lost the battle to keep his rational mind. I on the other hand, staying present and calm, formulated a plan to stick my jacket in front of the little guy and see if he’d crawl onto it. The tick fell for it hook, line, and sinker, and we were able to flick it into the same grassy Dayton oblivion that the Wright Brothers probably used as a jumping off point for some of their initial flights into the vast sky.
Of course, we broke up laughing at ourselves when it was all over. He tried (obviously to no avail) to extract a promise out of me to never tell how terrified he’d been over a tick. I thought it was too good a story to keep to ourselves.
All of our insane insect paranoia did get me wondering though, what crazy little phobias did the Wright brothers have which they ignored for the sake of aerial advancement? Did Orville run like a wuss whenever a mosquito came near, but somehow found the courage to have 10,000 of them smashed into his face while doing test flights in the muggy Ohio summers? Was Wilbur secretly scared that his face would get stuck like that, in wind-smashed mode, like his mother used to tell him as a kid? I didn’t know, but I had a sneaking suspicion that they were just like the rest of us, with stupid little fears to deal with.
Once the boyfriend and I did a full clothing/beach towel/vehicle tick check, we were on our way to find out just exactly what they endured so that the rest of us could fly the skies. We learned about Orville’s awful accident that nearly killed him, and the harrowing adventures that the original aviators endured to move the country’s flight program forward. We saw the amazing advances from 1900 to the 2000’s, a short 100 plus years that started with a perilous wooden plane and advanced to an aircraft so stealth we couldn’t even see it in the museum (I kid. I think.)
As we toured the museum, the fantastic humanistic displays made me realize that the people involved in the flight and space programs were practitioners of enlightenment principles. Not as a stated life philosophy, but rather they practiced these principles with their actions. The Wright brothers, for example, did their work without knowing that they’d receive worldwide fame one day. In fact, they had a good chance of being laughingstocks if they failed. But their life experiences working on machinery enabled them to realize they could control a vehicle that was in the air. And they really wanted to control a vehicle that was in the air.
This strong desire had to be tempered with consistent Discipline. The first aviators put years of hard work into tweaking aerodynamic control to a point where a plane they designed did fly. In the interim, they messed up many a control design, but kept at their experiments diligently. This theme of trial and error resounded throughout the museum. The people involved in the flight program in its’100 year plus history really wanted to know how to make aircraft work, and work better. They were willing to think outside the box in order to do this. They were willing to stay disciplined. And they were willing to go on Faith.
There’s a certainty that comes with hard work on one’s life purpose, which some mistake for arrogance. That certainty is an act of a rebellion, a revolution against what is. Revolutions, at their core, require a quiet yet unshakable confidence to succeed. For example, could you imagine telling almost anyone in 1900 that by 2015 the world would have “invisible” vehicles in the sky? What if the person you told was one of the Wright Brothers? Hard at work in their bicycle shop on experiments that had nothing to do with the job they were “supposed” to be doing – fixing people’s bikes – these brothers probably would have believed you. Few would have joined them in their belief, which is exactly why their certainty was necessary in the first place.
Enlightenment, then, requires a kind of graceful audacity, a knack for finding ways to pursue one’s purpose despite all the naysayers. Designing and testing a newfangled flying machine; being shot into space in a tiny module no bigger than a smart car; proposing a design for an invisible airplane: all these acts required an incredible amount of hoospah and hard work to come to fruition. Those traits, combined with the innovators’ need to know, learn, and revolutionize, made these “insane” ideas instead studies in the success that happens when certainty, reason, and purpose collide. A billion new stars are revealed, and countless planets and passageways are discovered.