It’s Saturday morning and I’m having some quiet time. There’s nothing on the schedule until four this afternoon, so I’m up in my room with the door closed. I have already been interrupted about five hundred times. I have written one paragraph.
Enter the kids.
First, Zoë. She is in tears. Not angry tears, sad tears.
Then Denali. His sister confuses him sometimes with her emotion. Right now he is confused.
It’s all over this video that Denali told Zoë she should watch:
Here’s a synopsis: a kiwi, looking more like a fryer chicken than a bird, flightless or not, has built a stage by which he can experience flying. He has placed trees, one after the other, on the side of a cliff. Then he jumps off the cliff. It’s just like flying, only gravity does all the work. He sprouts little wing-nubs. His eyes water from the wind in his eyes. And then he hits the bottom. The screen goes blank, but you’re pretty certain he’s dead. It was an exceptionally tall cliff.
I had to cheer my daughter up. She felt so bad for the kiwi. High levels of empathy can be so difficult to manage! I told her what a stupid movie that was. I said, “Look. The kiwi is a flightless bird. It has evolved to be flightless, like a chicken or a penguin.”
That didn’t really help, because really she wasn’t sad because the kiwi couldn’t fly. She was sad because the kiwi died to fulfill its dream of flying. He had a dream worth dying for. That struck a very human chord for her.
So I tried a new tactic. “This is a bad idea. A false idea. People get bad ideas and make movies about them all the time. But people aren’t like that. Except maybe suicide bombers. If you have a dream you have passion. Passion for life. You are not going to sacrifice yourself. You love your life. Your dream is not more precious than your life.”
She feels better. She goes outside to refresh herself. But then I wondered, to myself, about what I said. Is your dream more precious than your life? The body will go on without the dream, but at what cost?
The moment when the kiwi’s eyes start to water is visceral and evocative. It’s a wonderful moment. We feel the intensity of his experience, his joy and fulfillment. If he didn’t die at the end, it would just be a game. He would go back and do it again and again, but the film would not have 36 million views. There would be no sacrifice.
I want to say to my daughter, “Life is complex! This movie touched you because it showed you a hard truth–some aspect of your dream is bigger than your body. You do not have wings but you want to fly, really fly. You want to hug your grandfather again but he is gone from this realm. You are more than your body but life will wear your dreams down to fit the body. You will stop yearning to fly. You will speak of your grandfather in the past tense. You will take the biggest dreams of your heart and whittle them down until they fit in the box that is your body. And that hurts. But the kiwi didn’t do that. He didn’t whittle his dream down to an airplane experience. He flew, even if it cost him his life, and it was beautiful. Really beautiful.”
But I don’t say that. Not to her. Because it seems entirely too truthful and even cynical and to this day I don’t want my dreams to fit into the box of my body. I know we are more than that. I am still attempting to translate my dreams of flight into the language of my body. And I’ll keep doing that, until the day I die. And then I will fly.