All my life I've been fortunate to have dreams of flying, beginning with the mystery dream when I was four or five, when the difference between dreaming and waking must have been still working itself out in my budding understanding. Across the street from our house on Church Street in Salem, Oregon was a school for the blind; my best friend was the son of the director, a boy named Jerry. We played on a swing-set under some trees on the lawn, a set with chains from which canvas straps were strung, making a flexible seat. I loved swinging there, up and down, high into the trees, back to the ground, that childhood joy of danger and daring and flight.
The whole experience is somewhat lost in the haze of time now; I recall the recollection more than the experience itself. I know that for a long time I believed, without questioning, that I had actually flown at one point, while swinging: the straps were gone, maybe even the chains; I just swung up into the air as if lying on my stomach, gliding, soaring upward, weightless and unattached, in a golden light, sky-blue world of puff clouds, dancing leaves, breeze and beauty, flying like a bird.
Further recollection is that years later, eons in childhood time, perhaps when I was 9 or 10, this long-held memory of flight suddenly dawned on me as an impossibility. It had been there in the background of my mind as a sort of a priori given; unremarkable, though lovely, no more questioned or pondered than the presence of the sky. In one of a series of gradual "falls from grace" with the onset of puberty and growing consciousness of the world around me, it hit me that that experience could only have been a dream. Again, what I remember is the memory of how that realization shocked and puzzled me, as if I had learned that gravity, a given my whole life, only worked with your eyes open.
The discovery reshaped my whole concept of who I was in the world and how things worked. Magic, ingrained in me deeply from an endless supply of books treating that subject (more about that in other posts!), was an essential and continually elusive aspect of the real world, and only gradually, over many more years, did I release my belief that it was as true as any other law of nature, just harder to pin down. I'm not sure I have released that belief to this day -- just reshaped it, really.
Helping to keep belief alive is the steady flow of flying dreams through my complex and vivid dream life. The flying dreams come again and again, in all kinds of permutations; they are one set in a catalogue of magic dreams: the ones where I can breathe underwater and explore the bottom of an ocean or stream bed (these have become much more rare); where I can talk to animals and befriend them in their languages; where I explore underground worlds; where I fly or leap or float, sometimes with control, often losing control in some way, either to fall, or drift, or fail to fly high enough or far enough to escape an approaching danger.
For a while not too long ago I was wondering if I was losing the gift of flying in dreams; it seemed I hadn't had one for quite a while, and I speculated as to the cause. Maybe becoming a public school teacher, I thought, had taken away the magic. It seemed like a logical association of ideas. The dreams have returned, though.
Less than a week ago I had a most elaborate one, starting in a park in Manhattan, pedaling upward as if on a magic, invisible bike, laughing down as people stared at me in wonderment. I sped westward, ending up at a castle where the skyline of the city was barely visible in the distance. Several adventures there involving climbing over rooftops and discovering mouldering cadavers under the shingles, then creeping along a window ledge back toward the gate and an open terrace, a perfect and much-needed launching ground for my return to the city. I stood there, amazed at how far the city was; summoning my strength, determined, I finally launched down a steep hillside, airborne, and headed homeward. Once aloft, though, I realized I had forgotten something -- I wish I could remember what -- and would have to fly back. Of course, this proved virtually impossible; my intuitive, invisible directional instruments were off-kilter; it was a huge effort to describe a long, slow circle back to where I had started, with a deepening sense of gloom about ever succeeding of reaching either of my destinations: the city in the distance, or the castle from which I had just escaped.
More dreams of this kind than I can ever count or remember have leavened my night life, filled me with hope, wonder, terror, and elation. Thank you, o Muse. All my life I have been lifted, warned, deceived and tantalized by the invisible trick of flight. What it has meant to me as a waking creature is not fully knowable, except to say, perhaps, that without those dreams I should have been confined to a flatland of my imagination, rather than a recurring and inspiring realm of air and sky.