Having spent nearly his entire life experimenting with flight by gliding, Wilbur Wright found himself in France with the opportunity of a lifetime. For brevity, I don’t find it necessary to outline the entire development of the Wright Flyer nor the brothers’ experiences at the famous Kitty Hawk hills, but it’s sufficient to say that after years and years of trial and experimentation, the first true powered aircraft capable of carrying a man-pilot was ready for exhibition that day at Le Mans in 1908.
There had been much anticipation for these flight demonstrations by commoners and governmental figures alike. Since the beginning of time there had been fail after failed attempt to “soar as the birds.” From the philosophers of ancient Greece to the engineers of the Renaissance, no one had been blessed yet with the necessary illumination as had Wilbur and Orville Wright. Though many speculated, the occasion exhibited a general hope in the ingenuity of humanity, and the excitement was felt worldwide. The Wrights, interestingly, had also kept their experiments very quiet and discrete, not in the least drawing attention to themselves as had other aspiring aviators making their grandest catastrophes a public affair. That two regular Ohio men, bicycle mechanics at that, claimed to have solved the problem of manned aviation was something notable. The world was waiting to see.
Thousands of people gathered at Le Mans for days in anticipation. But because of some technical difficulties as well as inclement weather conditions, Wilbur refused to make his attempt. He knew the responsibility that he had to the world, and would not risk ruining his chance (or his life) due to ignorance or negligence. But finally the time had arrived. It was on the evening of August 8 at approximately six thirty that the Flyer was removed from the hangar and prepared for departure. Having been prepared for the moment since birth, Wilbur Wright turned his hat backwards and uttered some of the most epic words to ever be spoken by a human being: “Gentleman, I’m going to fly.” And with that, Wilbur embarked on one of the greatest feats ever humanly achieved by flying his powered flyer for just under two minutes covering the distance of two miles. History had been made, and time had been wrinkled.
Why is this story so remarkable? Because it shows character. It shows the manner of man that was Wilbur Wright, as well as an honorable statement for his family and those that had helped him become who he was (Orville as well, equally). It exemplifies the American way. Wilbur Wright was going to do something. He knew what he was capable of doing, and he made it happen. So how can this principle be applied to each one of us? I believe that every human being has something unique to contribute to the world, and if that spark of grit could inhabit every soul the same, the possibilities of a more prosperous humanity are endless.
As I contemplate the problems that might inhibit this ideology from gaining increased traction in our world, the idea at the forefront of my mind is that as a society we have generally lost the vision for perpetuation that Americans had in eras past. In other words, there doesn’t appear to be as many pressing challenges to innovate, or a need comparable to that of flying. We have everything. People born into even the most basic yet privileged households of America can live and die without truly encountering a need. Technologies advance and things become better, for sure, but what are the next biggest things that presently we are without that could possibly make our lives better? The answer to the question is not as easy as you would think. Because as of right now, things seem pretty good.
There are problems, yes. Poverty, healthcare, world peace, political unrest, economic failure, pornography, mass murders, natural disasters, scandals, injustice, child sex trafficking, religious disregard, and cancer. These are all serious problems in our world. But we have treatments. We have history to teach us solutions. We have organizations and military. We can Skype our grandmothers and ask Siri for restaurant suggestions in rural towns. She’ll even give us directions to them. We can fly our children in high-speed jumbo jets to receive the best cancer and heart disease treatments the world as to offer. We can purify water and plant crops in the most impoverished areas in the world. We can alter genetics. We can conceive children using science in laboratories. We have young men and women in even the most remote communities of the earth spreading the Gospel of Jesus. Engineers prevent floods and cave-ins. Women can vote and work. The FBI finds criminals and domestic terrorism is prevented. We rebuilt the world trade center and now can drive electric vehicles at increasingly high speeds. The list could go on and on. If nothing else, we have more resources now than anyone had before they did what it took to make those resources available to us all.
The Wright brothers are just two of many people that have achieved extraordinary results in their efforts to make things happen. They had something else to live for. They didn’t just ride the wave of life, but found the heart of it. They acted, as opposed to being acted upon. As far as what it means for each person to fly in their own way I have no idea. Sometimes even the vision I have for myself becomes increasingly unclear. All I know is that if the Wright Brothers can build and fly an airplane, if a man can create a light bulb, walk on the moon, invent wireless communication technology, the printing press, or liberate a people from slavery, what can I achieve? If all of us could have even a glimpse of that attitude in our lives, I am convinced that we would see an impressive difference in our personal value and the impact we have on society, however small it may be. We would be less subject to the plagues of the times, wasting our lives away on social media while the next Mark Zuckerberg is coding the future. I do not know what each of you will do in your life. As for me, ladies and gentleman, I’m going to fly.