The first word that comes to mind when I think about the myth of Icarus is “eleutheromania” or “eleutherophilia”, “a mania or frantic zeal for freedom”, more like intoxication. You may have heard of it. The Greek myth of Daedalus and Icarus talks about a father and son who were trapped in a labyrinth devised by the father, Daedalus, himself. In order to escape, Daedalus fashioned wings from bird’s feathers glued together with wax. He warned his son, Icarus, not to fly too low lest fall into the ocean or too high that the sun melts the wax holding his wings together. But Icarus was too eager to see how high he could fly, and just as his father had warned, he drowned in the ocean.
Icarus’s story is meant to be a cautionary tale against unrestrained ambition and hubris, and yet I find myself thinking about how his story must be unfair to him, how he represents the young and naive, not the prideful and delusional, and how maybe there’s an Icarus in all of us at least for a moment, although it might be buried in some. In fact, I find it harder to believe if that weren’t the case. I consider the ways I might fit his profile: I value exploration and novelty over stability. I am still in the stage of pursuing individualism before interdependence. I repeatedly fixate on ideas that are too complex to wrap my head around and seem larger than life, thinking I’ve already mastered the simpler things. I can be stubborn in my opinions, in getting my way, and at times even refusing to sleep (which is often something you hear from kids, not sleep-deprived adults), because, like a child who can’t wait to grow older, I can’t wait for my future.
But it is not just the need to chase heights, but an aversion for anything less. Who could blame Icarus for wanting to see how high he could fly which must have been exhilarating after being trapped for so long? Leonardo da Vinci’s words come to mind: “Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been and there you will always long to return”.
I think of the myth of Icarus as a conversation between two generations. I imagine the father in the voice of A.A. Patawaran: “Life doesn’t get easier when your dreams come true”, he once wrote in his travelogue anthology “Manila Was a Long Time Ago”. It sounds cliche up until the moment he said it. I read the statement twice, thrice, and stared at the page for seconds. I can’t imagine I should be worried! I wanted to protest because considering my vantage point, I am not even close to my dreams. I did not need that disclaimer. I did not want it to be true, because if it were, that could also mean:
Your dreams come true and you still have the same problems.
Your dreams come true and despite how far you’ve come, you feel like you’re in the same place.
Your dreams come true and not only does it not make life easier, your life gets even harder.
Your dreams come true and it doesn’t solve everything.
Not to mention, I meant to read the book to wind down before bed, not have something to keep me up after hours, as if figuring out how I’ll work towards my dreams wasn’t enough to worry about for the time being. But I found myself saying with more conviction what was my initial reaction without the defensiveness I had at first: I can’t imagine I should be worried. Because he’s right. And because it doesn’t make a life in pursuit of dreams any less rich or meaningful. In fact, if the only meaning of one’s dreams is to be a cure-all, that’s what renders it insufficient. Because at the same time, Icarus would not have had his wings without his father.
I find no one else captured the spirit of Icarus better than the artist who said, “When you’re a child, and you’re told you can be everything, you demand that you become everything”. And in the stage of self-discovery, taking risks without permission is more forgivable, sometimes even expected, when you’re young. Sometimes mistakes can lead us to unexpected places that we would not have otherwise found ourselves in. I know I have. And where uncalculated and miscalculated risks made me think back to what I’d say to my past self, I’ve yet to catch myself speaking in the voice of the father. Instead, I find myself in agreement with Lorena Barros when she said,
“I would not desire to be young and wise–it would be intolerable to know what life really is when one’s function is rightfully action. Sometimes when I am wise I know how difficult it would be to achieve even the merest hints of my own dream and it makes me want to quit right there and then. But then I am foolish again, young again, and I just go on trying. Time enough for old age and bitterness. And by that time there will be other foolish youth to replace me”.
Action. I am not romanticizing carelessness and delusion to the point where following one’s own agenda becomes selfish. Maybe someday I will find myself having the words to speak in the father’s voice. But until then, I am learning to accept uncertainty, seeing how things have turned out for the better. If you would ask me today, I would a hundred times choose the Nova Effect, where my bad luck turns out to be blessings in disguise proving that my shortsightedness reveals I’m not a good judge of the events of my life as either good or bad, over the gift of clairvoyance or being able to see into the future. I learned to ask myself, “How did the worst thing that happened to you turn out to be the best thing that happened to you?” I think if I let myself be paralyzed by uncertainty at this stage of my life, I’d be suffering a serious lack of imagination. And I wouldn’t have been able to say that to myself in the not-so-distant past.
In my adaptation of “The Fall of Icarus” by Peter Paul Rubens, Icarus may not have reached the sun, but in the process of trying, he might just reach the moon. As Paul Brandt once said, “Do not tell me the sky’s the limit when there are footprints on the moon”. I also gave him real phoenix wings that cannot be burned in place of the makeshift wings attached to his arms. The torch and bay leaves allude to another Greek character: Nike, the goddess of victory.