Illustration of a boy in a red cape
“Man of Steel” illustration by Ken Taylor. Copyright Warner Bros.

Story Notes: In the Sky

Author’s Note
In the Sky is a story that my friend Andrew and I hashed out together over FaceTime. I wrote these notes a few days in advance of our meeting. For me, it was a meditative experience as I pondered the meaning of dreams and what it would be like to fly.

Some dream of flying, feeling as weightless as a leaf in the wind. They take a chance and spread their arms. Although uncertain, they find balance on the currents and are lifted higher. A sense of exhilaration overtakes their fear and self-doubt melts away. Soon they are soaring! Anything feels possible. For them, the sky is freedom.

Others dream of falling. Burdened by life’s expectations and failures, they feel the earth slip away beneath them. Their hearts fill with dread as they tumble downward. Why are they falling? Why can’t they stop? Their arms flail, hands open wide, grasping for anything. All is lost! They perish into a bottomless void only to awaken disturbed and weary. For them, the sky is terror.

We all dream of flying or falling through the sky. The thoughts we think and the people we see during our waking hours are kept in check by our conscious mind. But when we are asleep, our mind is untethered from reality. Fact and fiction become one. That sense of freedom while flying–or the terror of falling–becomes exaggerated. Emotions are more extreme and logic lingers at the periphery of the mind’s eye. Yet, no matter how real flying may feel, we know something is off. Man cannot fly on his own. This makes it possible to distinguish dreams from reality.

Falling, however, is less easily distinguished. We can fall and injure ourselves in reality as easily as in dreams. Metaphorically, we can fall out of fellowship with others. We can lose our social standing, our finances, our sense of purpose… ourselves. Falling is always possible, and it feels synonymous with failure.

Knowing this, would we dare fly outside the safety of our dreams? Think of the terror. Think of the freedom! For one, the gift of flight would mean emancipation from gravity. For another, it would be a living nightmare. Imagine keeping a secret as big as flight from your family, no less the government. The challenge would be next to impossible. Where could you fly undetected? How would you stay warm moving at high speeds? Would bugs splatter in your face? What if people witnessed your takeoffs and landings (or crashes)? Would they keep your secret or expose you? Would they ransom photos to prove you’re “the flying man” from the news? Would people shoot at you? Would the government want to dissect you? Would anyone believe you could fly even if they saw it? Videos and photos are easily faked. Eyewitness accounts are rarely accurate.

Or could you be a source of inspiration? A real-world example that man has yet to discover all of life’s mysteries? Could the ability to fly be useful to others? Useful for one’s own fortune? Would you be asked to fly our flag across the field at sporting events? Take kids for a ride? Photograph a sunrise from above the clouds? Could flight make you the most well-known person on the planet? Would you be able to find a single soul who hadn’t heard of you? Would you be treated like a god?

Certainly the “how” of human flight would be fascinating to scientists. Ordinary folk would be more inclined to wonder, “Can I fly, too?” Does anyone have the right to keep the gift of flight to themselves? If it could be shared, would we owe our fellow man the chance to join us in the sky? If everyone on earth could fly, how would that change what it means to be human? How would it alter the course of history? Would the evolutionist community presume flight as mankind’s next step? Would believers call it a miracle?

For our story, we could explore the broad “fly or fall” dichotomy described earlier. This goes deeper than optimism or pessimism. Even a pessimist dreams of flying. Dreams give rise to aspirations. Man cannot fly, but he has aspired to overcome his limits. He has succeeded by mechanical means. Look at our history: first we conquered the sky, and then we went to the moon! Flight makes dreamers of us all.

So then, dreams are inextricably linked to the experience of human flight. In dreams, we know how to fly. Yes, it may be rocky taking off or landing, and steering is not guaranteed, but flying feels natural. Why do we know how to fly? How is that possible? Were we made to soar someday?

For some, what feels natural varies. “If God wanted man to fly, he’d have given him wings.” Some of us were born with our feet planted firmly on the ground. We don’t like flying in planes because we expect them to fall out of the sky. How do planes even work? Sure, they generate lift and propulsion. But have you ever watched a plane and thought it looked wrong? Inelegant? Out of place? Unnatural?

Those who don’t fear failure are more likely to soar in their dreams. Perhaps, in the waking world, they are too wrapped up in themselves. If they fail, it’s not a big deal, because no one is counting on them. Their responsibilities are few, and their primary concern is for themselves.

Perhaps those who do fear failure are more likely to fall in their dreams, to imagine their loved ones in harm’s way. Those who cherish much have much to lose. They fear to let go of control–control they have on the ground, where they feel secure, not in the open sky.

So, who will our characters be? Will they overcome challenges despite great risk? Will they succumb to defeat through naiveté, fear, inaction, social pressure? Is flight a gift? A curse? A little of both? Will our characters support one another? Should her strength be his weakness? Or should his ability be her disability? Are they friends? Strangers? Enemies? Do they share a common dream?

This much is certain: anyone with the gift of flight would want to try it at least once. Perhaps once is all it takes for the story to begin. Perhaps, during a moonlit night, our protagonist drifts over the treetops of a residential neighborhood and is spotted by an amateur star-gazer.

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