Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Amelia Earhart Flew Away

Today is the anniversary of Amelia Earhart becoming the first woman to fly alone across the Pacific Ocean.  Her solo flight was January 11 to January 12 1935.

I have been an Amelia fan all of my life. She has represented many things over time and been a role model in many ways. I read my first book about Amelia Earhart when I was eight years old. It was one of those “We Were There” books. I knew immediately that I wanted to fly. I remember how brave Amelia and how daring and how different she seemed from the women in my life.  I imagined Amelia always looking as she does in the famous photos: short hair, strong face, lean, elegant body in her leather flight jacket. Amelia took risks and flying was just one of them.
To reach her dream she took other risks—moving away from home as a young woman and working odd jobs to pay for flying lessons when women of her background did not work. She took risks in her relationships as well. She broke off her first engagement when her fiancée asked her to stop flying. Years later when she married the publisher George Putnam, she spelled out an agreement daring at the time—that promised both of them freedom if after one year either of them was not happy. She would not, she wrote, “live like a bird in a cage, regardless how cherished the bird or how gilded the cage.”
Her story inspired me to learn to fly. For my 30th birthday I soloed in a small plane in rural Pennsylvania. The greater part of my challenge was not conquering physical fear—I was a dare devil then-physical challenges were a great distraction from my emotional ones—but my challenge was passing ground school and learning the science and physics and protocols of flying.
I don’t fly anymore. It got to be too expensive and starting my recovery—also at 30—gave me bigger and much scarier challenges. But I still love to be a passenger in any plane. I’ve memorized the explanation for airfoils, wind speed and drag but I still think it’s a miracle when a plane goes up.
Think about Amelia today. Her courage, her fight and her cool leather jacket. She was no braver than us--her diaries show a woman who worried, suffered and maybe died because –years later--she didn’t set boundaries with an alcoholic navigator. But she did her thing and she flew away.

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