Higher, farther, faster.
Felix Baumgartner’s record-breaking free fall to Earth was a wonderful reminder of the spirit of adventure. It was also a nice counterpoint to the spirit of depravity poisoning our world daily. Keeping up with the Kardashians just doesn’t quite stack up to keeping up with a man falling faster than the speed of sound. Thanks, Felix.
Thanks also to Red Bull. Neither your money nor mine was used to send a five-story-tall balloon with a man dangling underneath to 128,000 feet altitude. Red Bull did it privately. Whether you got excited or not, you weren’t forced to support the mission. Good thing, too, since you were already supporting a thousand people doing nothing extraordinary.
This event may give us some valuable information about space travel. I for one think that’s nice but not really the main point. The point is that it shows how much adventure and accomplishment shape us, define us, invigorate us. We are adventure. We live on the edge because we are the edge. Until such time as we find another race elsewhere in the Universe that has our intelligence and will, we are it.
And what a great feeling that is. As a kid, I read about Joseph Kittinger’s previous skydive in 1960. I wondered what the Earth must look like from that height and how it must have felt to step off that platform to hurtle to the ground at a speed most of us cannot fathom. As Kittinger coached Baumgartner (he was the only person allowed to speak to him during the mission) what must it have felt like to live it again vicariously?
When you get a moment, do yourself a favor and look up more about Kittinger. Pilot, prisoner of war, teen speedboat racer–he’s done a lot. He was still setting balloon records when most people are holding down a rocker. Look for that in Baumgartner too. He already has a good start.
On the step getting ready to leap, Baumgartner stands in the foreground of an astounding photo–the Earth, curved and distant. Soon he will descend back to the place it all started. Every microbe that preceded us, every smart ape that learned to use a tool, every curious and courageous human came from there.
Had that been me, I wonder if I would have regretted having to go back. Sometimes I feel an enormous drag on my soul as I see the fervent worship of all that is base. We don’t even have enough character left to live in the mundane. Our lives have been turned into pornography–our televisions streaming in image after image of the worst in all of us. We watch people with the same forebears as Baumgartner, Kittinger, Lindbergh, and Yeager clawing at each other for their “fair share” and politicians spurring them on to claim more and more while doing less and less. The contrast is nauseating.
I feel some days like the light is dying out in our species, that we have gone from standing upright to slouching forward. Thanks, Felix, for giving us new heights to seek and new records to break. I may never step off a narrow platform into space, but I sure can write a better blog, teach a better class, or be a better father. May the same guardian angel invoked by your mentor Joseph Kittinger as you stepped out of that capsule fly alongside each of us as we find our own way to go higher, farther, and faster. It’s what we are.