Monday, July 11, 2011

Straight on 'Til Morning

In February 1953, RKO Pictures released a film that would powerfully affect my sleeping and waking hours for years to come. The film was called Peter Pan. It was the largest grossing film of 1953, beating out the likes of: Shane, From Here to Eternity (Academy Award), War of the Worlds, Julius Ceasar (Marlon Brando), and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. Walt Disney would go on that year to found Buena Vista Distribution to release all of the rest of his film and TV productions. (His studio was on Buena Vista Street in Burbank, CA.)

I went that winter into Philadelphia with my mother. I was six years old. The city movie theatres back then were wide-screened palaces of sleek marble and glass, grand murals and tapestries. Going into Philly was an exceptional treat. My mother bought me a book version of the movie right there at the theatre, and we stopped at the Automat at Horn and Hardart's for macroni and cheese and baked beans before we returned to Drexel Hill, in the suburbs.

The movie's lush images and music and adventures burned deeply into my six year old imagination. But, the notion that you could fly if you really wished hard enough, and had just a sprinkle of pixie dust, became imprinted on my psyche. For close to 25 years, my dreams were laced with intense concentrations of my will so that my dreaming body would lift slowly off the earth. If my mind stayed focused and strong, I would soar above the roof tops and trees. I could see and hear and feel sensations that were lost to the earthbound. My heart and soul were free.

As time passed, work and responsibilities pressed down on me. There were fewer instances of my trying to fly in my dreams, and, when I could, I would often begin to sink back to earth. Nightmares were often the norm.

But then, when I least expected it, I discovered that I could fly when I was wide awake. It was not drugs or alcohol that released me from the earth. It was a used 1969 305cc Suzuki motorcycle.

As a tiny guy on a tiny bicycle, I had learned balance on the long common driveway behind our twin house on Lasher Road in Drexel Hill. I remember the absolute joy of staying upright for the first time when I pushed off from a wall and peddled like hell to keep moving. I remember the concern the first time I released the clutch on the 305 Suzuki and lurched forward, to stall out. But, I had decades off practicing in my dreams, of focusing and willing myself to be free of the earth. So I tried again, and stalled again. And, again.

Finally, after much jerking and lurching, the Suzuki and I moved forward, with hesitation at first, but finally, after many hours of practice, with flow and grace and confidence.

I rode that 305 Suzuki and an R60/5 600cc BMW motorcycle for a decade or so, until, once again, responsibilities forced me back to earth. College tuitions, my own graduate work, coordinating a school-wide gifted and testing program, teaching at night in a graduate school, all leeched away at my need and ability to escape the earth.

Somewhere along the way, I picked up Peter Pan and Wendy and discovered the caution offered by J. M. Barrie: "...the moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to do it."

Over the last 10 years, I have regained the freedom and lightness that a two wheeled machine can breathe into the soul. Moving down a shaded country road, the scent of Amish farm or hidden brook or newly mowed pasture thick in the air, there is an openness that is startling. There is no room (or time) for old worries because every second is new and different. Each bump and dent on the road must be seen and considered. Animals, small and large, may appear suddenly. Cars and trucks, with drivers hobbled by cell phone blindness, must be avoided. Your feet are working the gears and the rear brake. Your hands are working the throttle, clutch and front brake. And, all the while, at 65 mph, your balance is holding up a 500 lb marvel of rubber and steel, oil and paint, pistons and power.

I rarely have a destination when I ride with my buddy since 6th grade, Jimmy D. It isn't the arrival that we enjoy. It's the miles on the windy roads, heads in the wind, freedom in our hearts, as we steer a course "second star to the right and straight on 'til morning."

Copyright (c) 2011 by James Hugh Comey


  1. I think the Buddists or the Zennists and others have a name for this. Since I'm neither of these, I'll make my own name: being intensely aware. Athletes talk about the same thing. It's pretty amazing and I imagine a pretty important thing for your physical health. Fun to read about!

  2. So that's why you like to ride. I will have to ask Dave if he finds the same freedon on the golf course instead of on a bike.