Monday, August 01, 2005

Waiting to Fly

Once there was a man who could fly.

How Daedalos happened to gain this unusual ability, no one really knows. Some say he was a wizard, and having trapped the four winds in a leather sack, refused to release them until Aeolus gave him wings. Other people insist he was a wise man, not a wizard, and had made the wings himself after studying birds. Daedalos himself never said which it was, but if he did kidnap the winds, they evidently forgave him, because his ability to fly soon became legendary throughout the city.

It started one morning down by the Acropolis when an Athenian going about his business nearly tripped over another who was standing stock-still, his neck tilted backward and his eyes staring in disbelief at the sky. Soon a crowd had formed, dozens of necks straining and twisting, and the entire city was watching Daedalos chase a falcon through the air.

No one wanted to learn how he did it, but it soon became a popular pastime to watch him as he flew. When the air was relaxed and cool, Daedalos would glide gently along wherever the breeze took him. In the fall, when a heavenly roar echoed through the sky, Daedalos would throw himself into the air. As long as the weather held, the city would echo with his laughter. The wind would drive him one place and another, casting him down toward the streets before hurtling him upward once more; one moment dancing in wild and reckless swoops, the next wrestling like friends in a passionate embrace.

"When you fly, it's as though you're free of everything that ties you down on this earth," he once said. "You no longer worry about which path to take, or feel concerned about the petty details that seem so important the rest of the time. The wind can be savage, but you know it'll never hurt you, not really. Sometimes you can’t shake the dread of where it might blow you, but at the same time, you're inexpressibly free."

One day, the wind carried Daedalos out to sea. It wasn't until Athens started to recede from view that he began to feel the first pangs of concern. Concern became fear as the land dwindled to a speck, and when it vanished from sight, he turned to panic. He beat the air with his wings as hard as he could, but to no avail. The land stayed hidden, and beneath him rolled the unending waves of the Aegean Sea.

It wasn't until he had reached Crete that the wind finally died down. It slowed and stilled, and it gently deposited him on the ground, and then it was gone.

With no way off the island, Daedalos put his time on Crete to the best use he could. He worked a while for the palace, erecting a maze to conceal and to contain one of the king's more monstrous secrets. With the wealth he earned that way, he bought himself a home, where he began to teach those who would listen what he knew of the wind and its ways.

But most of all, he waited. By night he dreamed of flying over the sea, unencumbered by earthly concerns, going wherever the wind would take him. By day, he watched his students master what he taught them, then make wings of their own and join the seagulls in flight. He heard tantalizing stories of storms, of breezes, or of squalls that blew for others, but if he caught them at all, their strength never lasted. Daedalos would sail into the air for the briefest moment, and then the breeze would carry him to the ground and leave him there with a soft moan.

One night, when Daedalos had been on Crete for so long that he almost believed his stories of flying were nothing more than idle fantasy, he heard the soft rustle of the leaves on the trees. At first he ignored it, but the motion became more insistent, and at last he went outside.

All around him, trees were swaying. From the shore he heard the crash of the waves upon the rocks. Overhead, the clouds rolled and tumbled as they flew past, throwing the ground into light and darkness as they hid and uncovered the moon.

"At last," he whispered.

His fingers trembling with fear, Daedalos picked up the wings he had worn years before when the wind had brought him here. His aged limbs shook as he climbed the ladder to the roof of his home, and then he stood there for a moment, basking in the glory as the air swept over him, blowing his gray hair and clearing away the dust in a rush of motion.

"At last," he said again, and he lifted his arms to his sides. His wings filled with air, and with a mighty laugh, he threw himself from the top of his house.

He was free at last.

Copyright © 2005 by David Learn. Used with permission.

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