By Qin Sun Stubis
(originally published in The Santa Monica Star)
There are all sorts of avian creatures. Some know from very early on that one day they’ll fly, cuddling and watching from a nest as their airborne mother zooms home with lunch. Others have to wait for hints of their metamorphoses and are surprised to find a pair of wings sprouting from their backs.
Either way, they all eventually take off and start independent lives to carry their species forward.
Though humans don’t literally grow wings and fly, we still do metaphorically. Not so long ago, my daughter, Halley Stubis, was transformed into a butterfly in The Nutcracker on the stage of the Warner Theatre in Washington D.C., dancing side by side with the professionals from The Washington Ballet Company. Sitting in the audience, I was a proud mother seeing her baby spreading her beautiful wings and fluttering in the limelight. It was a moment I’ll never forget.
Many cultures developed a fascination with flying long before airplanes were invented. In China, for instance, people describe those who are overanxious to leave home and start an independent life as “trying to fly before their wings are ready.” And, I still remember neighbors and friends telling my parents that I was a “phoenix flying out of a straw nest” the day I left home for college. It was the first time I realized that I, too, could grow powerful, yet invisible, wings.
When I first arrived in America, I often heard people say “the sky’s the limit,” when they talked about ambition and opportunities. Though they never mentioned growing wings, I figured that it was implied in a sense since we couldn’t soar without them. I enjoyed learning that different cultures have similar perspectives.
And in some ways, our virtual flights bring us closer to our avian friends. Whether baby birds nursing their young wings under their mothers’ protective watch, or children climbing the academic ladder under their parents’ stringent supervision, all of them are preparing themselves for a similar special moment. And, when that moment arrives, they will take off and embark on a new life, from a rocky cliff toward a vast ocean, from one treetop to another, or for us humans, from familiar territory to a strange, often competitive place further away.
Unlike birds for whom a botched first attempt can be disastrous or even fatal, humans may keep on trying until they succeed, whether applying for a college or searching for a job. As we all know, if we don’t succeed the first time, we can try, try again. As a matter of fact, multiple attempts seem to build character.
Throughout life, driven by ambition and longing, we plot out our individual flight paths with higher and higher altitudes mapped out in our minds. No matter how many challenges we take on and conquer, though, our first successes are among our most memorable.
This spring, as multitudes of young birds trade their down for feathers, getting ready for a life-altering flight, our children will also be gathering their strength and new-found knowledge for trips of their own, heading to kindergarten or high school, college or a first job. Though the destinations may be different, we and our feathered friends are getting ready to take off with excitement to share, challenges to face, and knowledge to master.
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