THERE IS an episode of the Andy Griffith Show that is iconic in my family. In the episode, Opie — Sheriff Andy’s young son — takes care of three baby birds after mistakenly killing their mother with his slingshot. He contemplates keeping the birds as pets long after they are healthy but after talking with his dad, Opie reasons that the birds were intended to fly all along. Like a proud parent, one by one, Opie releases each bird and encourages each to “fly!”
My mom and I were such buds. Every time I went back to college — every time! — I’d tear up saying goodbye to my dad and bewildered brother (“Em, we’ve done this like ten times now. I’ll see you in a few weeks…”). But one look at my mom with tears welled up in her eyes, it took just a second for us both to be sobbing. Inspired by Opie, she’d tell me, “It’s time to fly! It’s time to fly! We are going to be just fine.” I’d wipe my snotty nose and tear-stained face, take a deep breath and make the drive back to college.
I’ve always thought I was able to fly because of my mom. I’ve always imagined her as the wind holding me up. She kept me soaring. She lifted me up. How could I fly without her now?
In the last few months, I’ve learned that each of us has all we need to fly in ourselves. Yes, geese may have an easier time flying in their famed “V” shape but each bird could make it to Florida for the winter if it had to. If more can be learned from birds than how to catch Cheetos mid-air at the beach, I think it’s that we are each equipped on our own. Each of us have the essential pieces, parts and mechanics to fly. My mom was not my wind. She was not physically powering my wings. She was surely the bird right next to me but I’ve been flying all along.
With that said, I don’t think we are expected to fly alone. No other participants are essential to our flight, but they sure make it better. While we can be sufficient on our own, we thrive when we are gathered. Sure, we could fly to Florida on our own but why? How lonely. Every good road-trip needs passengers. I believe we aren’t meant to do it alone. Nobody should bear their burdens on their own. I’m not saying we mix our troubles with a megaphone but with the right group, being fully known together outweighs being a lone bird.
Here’s the scary part of flying: You either sink or swim. Crash or soar, if you will. You either soar among the clouds or you nosedive into the ground. If you soar, great! Enjoy the view, dance in the clouds and relish in your triumph. If you are more of the nose-diving type, just know it will hurt. We have a few more bruises to heal from but we know all the sweeter flight will be. In the end, I think the outcome is only secondary to the fact that we tried. Flying is when we muster that courage, take a deep breath and attempt lift off, despite our racing heart-beat. That is monumental on its own.
What’s even more comforting: We’ve all crashed and we’ve all soared. Regardless of the camp you are currently in, you are bound to be in great company.
To be less abstract, flying for me has taken all kinds of real, concrete forms. Flying is starting the Whistling & Co project (!!). Flying is first dates. Flying is showing up to life even when I’m acutely missing my mom one particular day. Flying is talking about mental health, depression, and suicide when we’d REALLY rather not. Not all attempts are a soaring success but all are an attempt to be bold in the face of fear. [HI-YA!]
Many times I’ve been unsure of the strength of my wings. But I’ve learned there’s only one way to find out: Simply try. I also know that the strength of our wings is much greater than the strength of my wings.
At the end of the Andy Griffith Show episode, Opie holds up his empty bird cage. He longs for his birds. He hangs his head and says “The cage looks awful empty, doesn’t it?” Andy turned his gaze upward and says, “But don’t the trees seem nice and full.”
Look up. You were meant for the trees, Whistler.