This is undoubtedly one of the top ten iconic images of the last century. December 17, 1903, 4 mi (6 km) south of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Wilbur flew their plane for 59 seconds, at 852 feet, an extraordinary achievement for the era. John Thomas Daniels, the photographer, froze the moments in time for us. Orville, although not with his brother in the plane, had to feel the same rush of wind as the flight took off that December day. Aviation changed … forever. Time stood on solid ground no more. Two bicycle guys changing the world.
Pilot ourselves one-hundred seventeen years into the future, we’re at another desolate Kill Devil Hills – the actual location where things were made Wright. This time, however, the whole world is watching through a lens of millions – not just one.
Instant access and immediate feedback are the black and white images of the day set in blips and dots. We are not celebrating – with hats in hands – while our brothers and sisters take flight in a plane truth. Our stand-by reality is very stark, unreal, … quite plain … as different versions of what is true perform acrobatic aerials in the sky above us. Exhausting messages of false hope or inexact models, these sky-floaters bounce on clouds of 24/7 news cycles two bicycle guys never saw a century ago. Ironically, only a few short years before the last pandemic sat on droplets of the very air lifting their plane off the ground that wonderful, hazy, tearful, most likely heart-happy day.
What was Wright is now all eerily similar. “In this time of COVID-19, it feels like we are building a plane while we are flying it”, as so eloquently penned by our local Lutheran Bishop in the most recent newsletter. I find Bishop Rhyne’s words walking upon the wings of a timely narrative. Although his frame is clearly around a god narrative, not a double-layer fabric with twin pusher propellers and a sticks, the message is a kindred spirit: Hope.
Hope that, somehow, what is invisible can be conquered through means we have yet to understand.
Hope that someone will emerge with leadership we can, collectively, trust to lift our eyes off the horizon.
Hope that somewhere a small workshop of ideas is churning out medical, economical, and biological solutions to a pandemic.
This is certainly not an inclusive list. Walk into any community or home and this list could be multiplied by tens or hundreds. Those of us who isolate and mask know of uncertainty and reach out beyond ourselves … looking for our plateau upon which to set our plane free. We want to navigate a destiny and chart a path forward, but need guidance through the fog of information pushing down on the field we find ourselves standing 6-feet apart from one another. And, we wait …
Orville and Wilbur aren’t around to save us this time. It’s up to us to revolutionize, innovate, and find a way through … together. I’m not so sure we can do this, but I’m not giving up hope.
I have no assurances national umbrellas are the dry-land lighthouse in the midst of this storm. The pilots of the Washington pandemic-plane can’t make up their minds to save their own sneezes and erratic paths through Nimbostrati on a daily – if not hourly – basis are laughable anymore. News media can’t cover their owns a**es half the time, let alone the real numbers of corona deaths vs “assumed”, vs what they “need” to report. FOX news and MSNBC could look at me and one say, “Man”, the other, “pencil”. Yes, a slight exaggeration, but the fact I’m a resident of Pencil-vania doesn’t make this too far an overstatement.
I’ve often said, “I don’t know if this is a thing“. It’s one of my favorite expressions of the day. I’ll stand by its side with you as we watch everything unfold before us. We can hope together, right? We can decide what to do … one small decision at a time. Together.
I’m pretty sure two bicycle builders did the same thing a long time ago. No mass media telling them what to do – how to think. No politicians around demanding a piece of glory. They did what they knew, what their gut told them to do: Their idea took flight … and changed the world forever!
Hats off, again, to Orville and Wilbur. We are forever in debt to your genius. To your hope in us.