May 1, 2010

To Fly, To Read

Chapter nine of David McCullough's Brave Companions begins:

In the mid-1920s, in several parts of the world, a number of brave, skilled young men and women began taking to the air at the controls of a variety of aircraft ...

I was hooked on that chapter. I was hooked on the book as well, but I read and re-read that chapter. Then I went back to it and read it again.

These were no amateur pilots. They were intensely professional, intensely serious about the craft of flying and about their own role in history....

But most remarkable is how many of them proved to be writers of exceptional grace and vision, authors of more than a score of books.

The chapter was compelling because it combines two things I am passionate about ... reading and flying. You get the reading part. Who else would agree to read 15 books in 15 days and finish? Either someone who is passionate about reading or crazy (and I have been called that before).

But my passion for flying is a hard one to explain. I am not a pilot (my husband takes the controls of our personal aircraft). As many times as he asks me if I want to take the controls, I say "No." That is too much pressure. Too much responsibility. I don't want to pilot.

I like to navigate. I like to figure out how to get where we are going ... too easy sometimes with our modern avionics. What I really like is too look out the window and watch the ground rush by as we fly overhead. I like being up in the air. I like seeing the world from that angle. I like to fly.

I understand what compelled them to fly and to write. It is the same thing that compels me to read and to travel in our small plane. Both take you to new places.

The airplane offered a spiritual pilgrimage in ways other machines never had. These aviators wrote of being lifted out of themselves by the very act of flight, of becoming part of something infinitely larger than themselves.

McCullough discusses the books of both Lindberghs, Beryl Markham, Nevil Norway and Amelia Earhart. But I realized with a shock that I had never read one of the most famous pilot/authors signature works. I had never read Antoine de Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince.

That would be my 15th book. The Little Prince.

Much has been written of this little book that I learned to love in an hour of a day. But McCullough can say it better than I ever could.

"What frightens me more than the war is the world of tomorrow," Saint-Exupery told his mother in late 1940. Central to all he wrote was the theme of responsibility. In The Little Prince, it is the fox, finally, that tells the Little Prince what really matters in life, by reminding him of the flower, the single rose, he had cared for at home on his own small planet. "Men have forgotten the truth," says the fox. "But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose."

I see that as I fly. The responsibility I have as a wife and a mother. The responsibility I have a citizen. We have built this country. We have planted and harvested from her soils. We have crossed her majestic peaks. We have settled and populated her. We have tamed her. Now we are to be held responsible.


  1. Wow! Fifteen books in fifteen days! And I thought I was a reader. :-)

  2. Lovely post. I like The Little Prince and McCullough. I've had Saint-Exupéry's wartime diaries for ages, but haven't read them yet.