Christopher Logue’s oft-quoted poem is a meditation on challenge, fear, exhortation and victory. There is a simplicity to its metaphorical picture that is deceptive: Left to our own devices, we would find reasons aplenty not to take that leap of faith, but with a push, who knows what might be achieved?
We often look at tough circumstances or difficult people in life through a path of avoidance. Something seems too hard? Let’s skip it. Someone’s exhausting to be around? Let’s cancel on them. The price of avoidance is a slow but steady attrition of life experiences – the more we withdraw from situations and people, the less we are engaged with the business of living. At first, it might be more comfortable – but at some point, comfort becomes safe, then stifling, and ultimately, a trap, which is hard to free ourselves from.
Behind this tendency toward abstaining from life is often a kind of unconscious fear that we have successfully obfuscated from our conscious awareness. In avoiding people, places and experiences, we don’t usually stop to ask ourselves: What is it about the person that I find so difficult? What is it about the situation that makes me not want to take part? Unsurprisingly, fear is often the root cause. Mr Logue’s poem ably demonstrates this: “we might fall”, “it’s too high” – again and again, we might find ourselves sitting out during the major and minor events of life because there is some kind of fear that holds us back. Such fears are often left in the realm of the unconscious because we are able to manage them away, buried beneath the conscious thoughts of the person being difficult, or that situation being too much to handle at the moment.
The poem’s device of supplying a push – “and he pushed” – offers an imperfect solution. Even though the poetic image of flight is used to convince us that the reward of living life is worth taking the risks that we so fear, we as individuals are often the ones who have to do the hard work of ‘pushing’: of overcoming our fears, letting go of that which holds us back, and taking that leap. Waiting for someone to push us might force us to face our fears, or to blindly ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ – but this seems heedless to our sense of self, and can feel punishing and extremely painful. We may fly, but for how long?
Relying on – or more likely, being compelled by – an external impetus to take action denies us the sense of power and truth that accompanies a conscious choice to truly live. Such a choice is only possible when we have looked beyond the person or circumstances, and into our own selves, and grappled with the fear that keeps holding us back. It is only with this kind of conscious engagement with our internal process, looking deeply into who we are and what we are made of, that our act of leaping – rather than being pushed – can set us free to truly soar.