I was clueless about Fearless Felix’s free fall adventure over the weekend—hadn’t even heard about it. It was homecoming weekend for my high schooler, so my radar was tuned in to catch breaking news of other antics, if you know what I mean. But my 12-year old daughter evidently had heard about some guy’s attempt to tumble through space and break the sound barrier. She was following the story, and at her first opportunity, she tuned into CNN online yesterday afternoon, then announced to us that he had succeeded and landed safely. I nodded blithely, barely paying attention, and continued on with loading the dishwasher or recycling the Sunday papers or some thrilling supersonic chore. Then this morning, I watched a video replay, and cried.
Holy bejeezus—did you see this dude? Stepping out into the vast blue-black nothingness at the rim of an endless canyon of atmosphere, in only a snazzy spacesuit funded by… Red Bull? Forget breaking the sound barrier and zooming at Mach 1.24... this stunt was pure marketing genius. Talk about an energy rush. Watching Felix, or rather, a fuzzy white dot cartwheeling through space, made my heart rate zoom to nearly 834 mph—the top speed he clocked. Watching his mother, Ava Baumgartner, watch her son plummet to earth, made my heart ache. If there is an emotional equivalent to dizziness, that’s what I felt.
What is this need to push boundaries, to test mettle and shatter records, to “go where no man/woman has gone before?” When does courage cross the sound barrier into craziness, or vice versa? Can one explore the unknown edges and mysterious crevasses of what it means to be human, to dwell on this particular planet at this particular latitude in this particular moment, while, say, unloading the dishwasher? Or must we suit up and ascend to outer stratospheres, then reverse course, hoping our blood doesn’t vaporize, as Felix’s team feared might happen.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, ‘cause I just don’t know. I do know that fear can be a damn good teacher, but so can gentleness. And I know I love Felix’s comment right before he stepped off that capsule: “Sometimes you have to go up really high to realize how really small you are.” But even more, I loved his comment after he landed: “When you stand up there on top of the world, you become so humble. It’s not about breaking records anymore... It’s all about coming home.” Welcome home, Fearless Felix. Welcome back home to terra firmer, where small wonders at slow speeds also abound.
And, of course, the soundtrack for this post, brought to you by Tom Petty: