Is flying equal to freedom?

Is flying equal to freedom? Several characters in Song of Solomon seem to think so, but I’m not sure if I necessarily agree. Robert Smith, the man in the very first chapter of the novel, jumps off the roof of a hospital, under the delusion that he will, in fact, fly. It’s unclear whether or not he sees this as true freedom, but in his announcement note he writes, “…I will take off from Mercy and fly away on my own wings. Please forgive me. I loved you all.” I’ve asked myself the question several times, does Robert Smith know he’s going to die? Or is he so delusioned he believes he’s escaping to a better life among the clouds? Contemplating Mr. Smith’s story has made me realize that the first semester of college is very similar to jumping off a building. And in taking the leap I have realized that growth can be positive and negative for a person, and reflection can be good and bad for a person, and that both things resemble care and harm in this way.

Growth can be good for you. In fact, growth is viewed as a positive thing by most. For most, every day is about improvement. Every day you have the chance to grow, and be better than you were the day before. Every day allows for small moments of growth, which can be just as important as the larger growth moments. Both small and large moments of growth, I think, all boil down to choice. All change in the world is the result of choice, which is the result of free-will. The transition between high school and higher education is probably one of the biggest growth moments allowed in a person’s life. Some people are moving out, to a new place, to live with complete strangers, on their own, usually for the first time. You’re also—hopefully for the first time—taking on insane amounts of future debt. You have the chance to become an entirely different person in the span of a few months. Some people long for this change of pace, while some people are afraid of it. Especially lately, with the last few years, young people I know have found it harder and harder to move away from home. I, personally, jumped at the opportunity, and threw myself headfirst into the idea of it. Leaving home for college for the first time is a lot like jumping off a building. Sort of like Robert Smith, some of us jump with the expectation to fly, some of us jump with the expectation to fall.

People don’t always get to make the choice to jump, either. Instead of ‘jumping off a building,’ Guitar from Song of Solomon was arguably pushed, shoved into independence and maturity by the death of his father, and the actions of his mother following. He’s one of the most visibly independent characters in the novel, and he has been since early in his childhood. His parents are hardly ever mentioned in the novel, and when they are, it’s when Guitar opens up to Milkman about the accidental death of his father. We also gain an insight to his childhood when he explains his mother’s actions following his father’s death. Dealing with the horrible loss of his father and his mother’s inability to cope with it properly arguably shaped Guitar into the person he is as an adult. Towards the opposite end of this spectrum are the Dead children. Milkman and his sisters continue to live in their parents house well through adolescence and into adulthood. They certainly aren’t pushed into independence like Guitar, and they don’t seem able to take that step on their own. The Dead children, unlike Guitar, grow up with money, and even though their parents have their issues, they are both living. Milkman is the only Dead child who shows an urge to leave home, and become his own person. He has dislike for both of his parents individually, and the lives they lead. “He just wanted to beat a path away from his parents’ past, which was also their present and which was threatening to become his present as well.” as read in Morrison’s novel. However it takes Milkman a long time to actually do so. Milkman, too, seems to believe that flying is equal to freedom. When he learns of Mr. Robert Smith, the insurance agent who leapt from the roof of the hospital Milkman was born in, and when he learns that he, or any other human can not fly, he “.. he lost all interest in himself.” He, as a child, believes that if he can not fly, he can not be free, and that could be what keeps him from taking the initial leap for so long.

I, personally, am not a huge fan of change, usually. I have a difficult time with shifts in the small, and large routine aspects of my life. More often than not, it just makes me nervous and I try to avoid it. For this reason, it surprised many people, and myself, that I threw myself into the change of leaving home for my first semester. People would ask me if I was nervous to leave, and I would tell them, “Not at all! I can’t wait to go!” Sure, specific details about college made me nervous, but overall, I was excited. I forced myself to jump off a building. My friend and roommate, Abby, also forced herself to take this leap and we dealt with it very differently. Growth and change can be damaging to a person. I jumped off the building and did my best to fly. There were high and low points, because I, similarly to the Greek myth of Icarus, never tend to realize when I’ve flown too close to the sun. But I’ve mostly kept myself afloat this semester. Abby had a really hard time immediately, and she cried for about three days straight. She kept struggling for a few weeks, before things started to get better. In our metaphor, she fell, hit the ground then picked herself up and walked away. Guitar’s growth, and involuntary leap into independence is considerably very detrimental to him as a person. The moment in his life that changes him the most can be accredited to his father’s death. He blames that event and the compensation received —“It was the fact that instead of life insurance, the sawmill owner gave his mother forty dollars ‘to tide you and them kids over,’ and she took it happily and bought each of them a big peppermint stick on the very day of the funeral.”— afterwards with the beginning of his hatred of white people, and his hatred is what urges him to join the Seven Days. Guitar changed, and grew after this event in his life, but the growth that he endured affected himself and others negatively. He became a member of the Seven Days, a group of men who would kill a white person for every black person who lost their lives at the hands, direct or indirect, of white people. Whether Guitar was right or wrong isn’t the question here, what he chose to do was, by definition, murder. Whether this murder was justified, or if Guitar believed it was doesn’t matter. His metaphorical push off the ledge as a child was undeniably the event that shaped him into the person he was. Change is inevitable, but so is choice. Even though I’m not a fan of change myself, I’ve learned over time and through experience, that you can’t push against it. Change is inevitable, and always will be. However when we change, or when change happens to us, we make the choice of how we let it affect us. The choice to change positively is a real one. Guitar wasn’t able to make this choice, and his growth affected himself and his surroundings negatively.

Reflection on your past and where you’ve come from physically and otherwise is important to people. The past shapes a lot of people and can be extremely hard to let go of, and this isn’t always a bad thing. Reflection is a good thing. I’ve done a lot of reflecting personally this semester. About halfway through, there was a death in my family, and I missed about a week and a half of classes. I spent that time at home with my family, and our long distance family that had traveled to be with us. During that week alone I saw more of my family than I had in the past two years. While seeing all of these people that I loved and spending time with them was amazing the whole week really, really sucked. My mother was having a really hard time, so I asked her if there was anything I could do for her, and she said yes. She asked me to put together some pictures for the services. Old photos and memories, that sort of thing. This task was something tangible, something I could do to make me feel a little in control during an awful time. So I spent a few days doing nothing but reflecting on the past. I flipped through countless photos of myself as a child, as an infant, and photos from before I was even born. I dug up over a hundred suitable photos, and everyone thanked me. Told me what a great job I did, how wonderful it was to see all these old memories again. This reflection during a hard time helped me feel grounded, and was one of the only things that got me through the week. My personal reflection kept me steady.

Reflection on a larger scale is important societally, just as much as personal reflection is. We’ve all heard some variation of the saying, “If we don’t look back on history we’ll never learn from our mistakes.” From Here to Equality demonstrates this ideal perfectly as they discuss racism during the Civil War era, and how it continued on afterwards. The authors, Darity and Mullen, also have entire subsections dedicated to ‘Myths of Racial Equality,’ as well as ‘Criticisms and Responses’ about reparations for Black Americans. The America of today is still dealing with immense racial issues. As I learned from this book, not too much has changed at all in terms of racial equality since the Civil war. Books like _From Here to Equality _reflect on America, and the world’s past in a healthy way. They aren’t harping on something that happened ages ago, slavery is very recent in our history as Americans, and blatant racism is still prominent in 2021. In this case, reflection is necessary. Reflecting, and harping on the horrors of the past and present is the only thing that might bring reparations to the future.

GLOBE stresses that we as students at Geneseo should “gain practice in the ability to ‘reflect upon changes in learning and outlook over time.’” I agree strongly with this idea, especially with the impotence put upon gaining practice in the act. I think that being well versed in reflection is important, so one can be able to look back on time that’s passed in a healthy way, and not so you are in a constant state of looking back instead of forward at the world ahead of you. Too much reflection could be extremely harmful to a person. I wasn’t exactly sure where to look to find examples of this concept in Morrison’s novel, but one of my classmates, Kate, steered me in the right direction. Macon Dead, Milkman’s father, reflects often on his life in Song of Solomon. At the very beginning of the novel when he, for lack of a better word, spies on his younger sister, Pilate. He didn’t see his sister for most of his adult life, as they parted ways when he was sixteen years old, and he didn’t see Pilate again until after Milkman was born. But in the first chapter, after one of his tenants dies by suicide, he makes the choice to visit her home and observe from the outside. By watching how his sister lives, he is viewing a lifestyle he could’ve had, had he and Pilate not parted ways. Instead of living like Pilate, he is driven by a want for money, instead of happiness, and seems to be truly miserable in his life with his family. Also in this section of the chapter, Macon reflects on his relationship with his wife Ruth, and what he witnessed of Ruth’s relationship with her own father. This reflection is sparked by his learning of his son’s nickname, Milkman, and Macon’s hatred for it and what it implies. Macon’s reflection on things he’s witnessed and his own past seems to be detrimental to him, as all it does is remind him of bad things he’s witnessed or been partial too, or remind him that he is miserable, and made himself that way. It’s often stressed, when people are moving on from the high school stage of their lives, to the higher education stage, that while reflecting on and remembering the past is okay, you can’t live in the past. You have to be able to let go, and let yourself grow. I’ve watched people I know personally make themselves miserable in their first year of college, because all they can think about is their friends back home, or their parents, or their old school. I read a book last year, called We Are the Ants, by Shaun David Hutchinson, and in it is a quote I think about often when considering reflection. “That’s the problem with memories: you can visit them, but you can’t live in them.” Your past is what makes you who you are, and it’s important to be able to look back on it and enjoy the life you’ve led so far. But you can’t live in the past. So you have to let yourself reflect in a healthy way, or you’ll only upset yourself. Both reflection on the past and outlook into the future are integral to the process of growing as a person.

So is flying equal to freedom? Robert Smith and Milkman Dead would answer yes, I think. I’m still not sure about my own answer. In my own metaphorical leap off a building, in leaving home and coming to Geneseo, I’m not exactly flying, but I’m not exactly falling either. I’m happy with where I am, and where I’ve been. I’ve grown as a person all my life, both positively and negatively, and I like where I am right now. Hopefully I’ll continue to grow, but also reflect in positive ways in my future. For now, I’m focusing on the present, and my outlook into the future ahead of me.

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