Charlie Sparrow and the Secret of Flight tells of a bird living in a city of birds, none of whom know they can fly. As Charlie starts to stumble onto the reality that he can fly, he is diagnosed with leaping syndrome and informed his beautiful feathers must be plucked to cure the dangerous disease. Attempting to avoid the awful fate he meets up with an alternative treatment – time at a “Sharing circle” and a chance to practice his leaping into water, but the alternative treatment breaches the laws. Will his new found support community be able to survive? Will he and others ever learn to fly?
Now I like stories that are metaphors or allegories, but sometimes the metaphor is just too overwhelming and threatens to squash the story. Such, I found, was the case of Charlie Sparrow. My children enjoyed the story. It is light easy reading, very quick paced and not long, but I found myself constantly wrestling with the questions of what the story is trying to say about real life. What is leaping syndrome? Is that ADHD? Or the inability to be content with life the way it is? The story is listed as “a story for kids who know they have wings.” What are the wings?
Is the story a critique of those who would medicate children? Is medicating them equivalent to plucking their feathers? The villain in the story is a doctor. But then is the story suggesting that if we don’t medicate children, but just allow them to develop their talents, they’ll take wing and fly? While I sympathize with the idea that children are too often medicated, or that medication is used to help a child adapt to an ill suited environment instead of changing the environment to suit the child, I know there are times when medication is necessary for mental illness and I worry that anti-doctor attitudes can end up depriving children of the support and assistance they need.
Yet in many ways we do live in a world where would would try to fit children into an ill suited world, where like birds being expected to not fly we expect them to sit and study, or go from activity to activity. I think a precious child whose off kilter behaviour constantly brings disapproval and how that seems to strip him of his ability to celebrate his skills and strengths. Is flying just living out our strengths? Then too, most of us function more as consumers than producers. We buy, rather than make things, and it takes little skill to do so much of what we do. Where can we get the sense of accomplishment? Are there places where individuals – particularly children, but really any individual – can feel like they contribute to society? (Though in fairness, in the book even the adults who don’t fly have roles and status in society. They manage without flying.)
I find it interesting that within the book the desire to jump is seperate in some way from the ability to fly. There are many people who have “leaping syndrome” whom have no clue they could someday fly.
The whole talk of flying makes me think of this quote: (source unknown)
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us most. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and famous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in all of us. And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of Charlie Sparrow and the Secret of Flight in exchange for doing a review of some sort.