I am no aviator, like Antoine de Saint-Exupéry or Alberto Santos-Dumont, and I don’t profess to want to be one. All I know is that I admire aviators for their spirit of adventure, their derring-do, and the way they look at impossibility with romantic scorn. If the world had never been blessed with the Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur, and the optimism and the spirit of can-do they embodied, mankind would never have made those admirable first feats up in the air.
So, whenever I think of the word flight, the great names in aviation history come to mind, and along with them a soaring sense of freedom, a lightness of being, and ironically, intimations of death.
As one who’s only 16, I am glad to report that my mind is filled with more freedom and possibilities than the dark rumblings of death. My first real flight, if you can call it that, came after a “face-off” with my father when I was almost 14. I had been perpetually homebound since then, never allowed to go out with friends at all.
To prove I could be independent, my father, a two-dan karate expert, gave me a test: fend off five of his blows, and I would be entitled to step out of the house with my friends, or on my own.
Poor Papa! Not only did I fend them all off, he met with a coup de grâce at the fifth: I got his chin in the crook of my right elbow with my left fingers curling into the back of his neck. I was still on terra firma, yet I felt as if I were flying. It sure looked like a piece of cake: wham, bam, tah, tah, hah!
But those swift and deft strokes wouldn’t have been possible without nine diligent and devoted years of aikido practice. So when I compare the spar that floored Papa in less than 10 seconds with the 36 hours it took to complete the Chief Commissioner Award (CCA) Hike, I can’t help reflecting upon the multitude of things that must come together in order for us to take flight.
For the finer art of self-defense, we need prepared minds and bodies.
For the CCA Hike, we need the same things too, except our opponent isn’t so much a person, but a long winding road of ups and downs with sweat stinging the eyes and the constant duel between “I’m going to make it” versus “I don’t think I’m going to make it.”
Organized by the Singapore Scouts Association and open only to the finest and toughest scouts in Singapore, the CCA Hike has a success rate good enough to put a damper on even the most determined soul: only five percent of all first-time participants in the 14-year-old age group have been known to complete it.
And so, just as I was about to start our hike from the Mountbatten Police Post at 8AM that last Friday of June 2011, I breathed in deeply with the steely determination I would succeed, yet couldn’t shake off that disturbing 95-percent figure.
We trekked eastward to Pasir Ris Park where we camped for the night—the three juniors in my team snoring away, while I slogged away at my “Day #1 CCA Hike Report,” all handwritten in accordance with hike rules.
Time seemed to move at a grueling pace that first day right into the next. Twenty-four hours of hiking and more report-writing later, I completed everything in good time, utterly spent. I almost felt like flying, but the real flight hadn’t really taken off until three months later. The news came to me with nary a smile or a handshake from a wooden, poker-faced official who merely said, “You passed.”
I guess not all big victories require fanfare. So too with big news. They don’t always come with drum rolls. There were none that Thursday morning in August right before our chemistry preliminary exams, just the doleful voice of our principal that delivered the news of John’s passing.
John was my schoolmate, a quiet guy whom we remembered as the one with a smiling fortitude and the prosthetic right leg, the leg that helped him walk for a good year, about six months after his real one got amputated from cancer. John’s flight from life, from this world, filled our young minds with baffling whys, which could only be answered in the simplest terms: he had flown off to a better place.
As we try to make sense of a death that struck someone so close to us, John leaves us with not just a fond memory, but also a little heart gift that speaks of a flight taken not with the Grim Reaper, but with the likes of Saint-Exupéry, Santos-Dumont and the Wright Brothers.
Jett, Secondary Four