In this month of short days, I found myself turning to a reread of Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Farthest Shore, which has become one of my comfort reads. (A couple decades ago, I would have turned to Tombs of Atuan instead. Perhaps in a couple more I’ll turn to Tehanu.)
He knew now why this tranquil life in sea and sunlight on the rafts seemed to him like an after-life or a dream, unreal. It was because he knew in his heart that reality was empty: without life or warmth or color or sound: without meaning. There were no heights or depths. All this lovely play of form and light and color on the sea and in the eyes of men, was no more than that: a playing of illusions on the shallow void.
They passed, and there remained the shapelessness and the cold. Nothing else.
Sparrowhawk was looking at him, and he had looked down to avoid that gaze. But there spoke in Arren unexpectedly a little voice of courage or of mockery: it was arrogant and pitiless, and it said, “Coward! Coward! Will you throw even this away?”
So he looked up, with a great effort of his will, and met his companion’s eyes.
Sparrowhawk reached out and took his hand in a hard grasp, so that both by eye and by flesh they touched. He said Arren’s true name, which he had never spoken: “Lebannen.” Again he said it: “Lebannen, this is. And thou art. There is no safety, and there is no end. The word must be heard in silence; there must be darkness to see the stars. The dance is always danced above the hollow place, above the terrible abyss.”
When I fly (in an airplane, not by magic–though all flying is a sort of magic), I can judge how I’m feeling by how I respond to in-flight turbulence.
There’s a part of my that’s a little uneasy about flying … mildly uneasy, nothing compared to friends who are genuinely phobic. But when I’m feeling worn thin and small, that uneasy part of me flinches at turbulence, braced with every jolt for the jolt that will throw the plane out of the air. Humans flying seems such an improbable thing anyway. Surely it can’t last, some part of my backbrain thinks. Surely this jolt will be the one the plane doesn’t lift out of, or the next, or maybe the next.
Of course, planes can fall out of the sky. But in any given instant, the plane I’m on probably won’t.
But when I’m feeling strong and whole, that knowledge isn’t the thing I look to for reassurance and comfort.
It’s something more I look to. A feeling of joy in that bouncing of plane in air–of me in air. I’m flying, and I know it, and how incredible and exhilarating is that? It’s an impossible and wondrous and dancing thing, and I’m able to cast something of myself out into that dance and that joy, trusting the sky to hold me up.
Or … not quite. When I’m living most fully, I’m not actually actively reassuring myself that mostly, probably, more often than not, the sky won’t let me fall. Those are comfort thoughts for hard times.
In good times, I know full well the sky can drop me at any time. I fly accepting that knowledge, not denying it but not obsessing about it either, and somehow … joy isn’t lessened for it. That acceptance may even be part of where the joy comes from, though not all of it.
Because flying? It is an impossible and wondrous and dancing thing.