THE RABBI AND THE FEATHER
June 1992. Rio de Janeiro was the place chosen to host the biggest meeting of Heads of State — 108, to be exact — together with religious and spiritual leaders from all over the world. There would also be representatives of about 6,800 NGOs from 177 countries.
I was consulted on the phone for a double flight with one of these spiritual leaders who would be in Rio to take part in ECO 92. The passenger in question was Rabbi Zalman Schachter.
It was his disciple, Rabbi Nilton Bonder, who gave me a short class on Jewish Renewal, a movement that they belonged to; in fact, Zalman was one of the leaders. He was more concerned, however, with giving me some recommendations as to his master’s safety. Rabbi Bonder asked about each detail, and repeatedly reminded me that he wanted to be quite sure that absolutely nothing could go wrong.
As usual, I tried to calm him by telling him that after all I had already made almost a thousand totally successful double flights since I had given up a career as a lawyer specialized in intellectual property law a few years previously. So he could count on that experience to rest assured that his master would have a safe flight.
We arranged where and when to meet: the Pedra Bonita ramp at 11 in the morning.
The day started cloudy and with normal winds for take-off, and I was happy to be sharing yet another adventure in the air, until I spotted Rabbi Bonder and the future flier.
My hands began to sweat. They had forgotten one detail. An important detail. From some distance I could see that my future passenger seemed to be a bit heavier than what I was used to carrying on my wing.
Technically I knew that the conditions were perfect as far as equipment and weather were concerned, but I also knew that the passenger’s mobility and weight are fundamental safety requirements for checking your passport on the Pedra Bonita ramp. For instance, the wing alone weighs about 35 kilos, and the final speed necessary for taking off is 19 kilometers an hour, reached in just eight meters on a runway hanging 520 meters over the Atlantic Forest, with a view of the sea parallel to
São Conrado beach, one of the prettiest in Rio. In short, if the rabbi did not run fast enough to reach the necessary speed, the hang-glider could get dangerously close to the trees just below the take-off ramp, which would mean a far greater effort to prevent colliding or even falling.
In my mind I could hear Rabbi Bonder asking me about safety, and I was already planning how to cancel the flight when I was introduced to Rabbi Zalman. A wave of tranquility, love and peace chased the idea away. Despite his obese body — he probably weighed 100 kilos — his docility and the assertiveness of his look convinced me. At that moment I knew we could fly together. And in absolute safety.
In order to confirm the possibility of each flight, I always rehearse a trial run with my passengers prior to take-off. This allows me to adjust movements, measure the intensity of such movements, and give each passenger some information to be used at the proper moment.
I realized that this was going to be one of my hardest trials. I had to find the right way to take off with this differential, because if the rabbi could not manage to accompany me running, I would have to account all alone for my own weight, the weight of the wing, and approximately 100 kilos for the passenger.
That was when I proposed a partnership, and to this day I do not know where I got the idea from, but
I do know that I made the request inspired by the spirituality, transcendence and other qualities that pertain to a man of the divinity.
“Rabbi Zalman,” I said, looking into his eyes, “please think of something very light.”
“Yes, Ruy, I will,” he said quite serenely.
After that confirmation, we made a final check of the straps. Both mine and his were all well adjusted. I lifted the wing, looked at the islands on the horizon, counted slowly to three and said: “Let’s go!”
The wing started its flight without losing a single meter. Although I was intrigued, I noticed that the trees below us seemed further away and that we were touching the São Conrado sky gently, as if the wind were a close friend of Zalman’s. From the calm performance, our wing seemed to be carrying a passenger who weighed no more than 60 kilos.
He probably realized the uniqueness of the experience he was going through with me, for he asked me after we made some very smooth curves over the Atlantic Forest: “Ruy, may I bless you?”
At that moment, when I already felt blessed and happy for such a successful flight, I immediately answered yes.
Gliding over the sea, I prepared him for the landing, which was as perfect as the flight itself. When we had finished all the post-landing procedures, I could not contain my curiosity about what he had thought at take-off, for the sensation of lightness that we had felt in the air was unbelievably intense.
He answered simply: “I thought I was a feather.”
These words echoed in my mind until I reached the area for derigging — a piece of empty land between the beach and the Free-Flight Association, next to the Pepino beach promenade — when my thoughts were interrupted by someone calling out: “Are you Ruy?”
The person asking the question looked like a monk, dressed in a long orange tunic.
“Yes, that’s me.”
“I was looking for you because I would like to take a flight.”
“Great, I’m free now. What’s your name?”
“You can call me Dada.”
Dada — an affectionate way to refer to a monk of the Tantra tradition in India — said that he had found my name in the Lonely Planet guide book.
We drove up to the ramp, and he practiced breathing, always with a very calm expression on his face, paying close attention to the movements, trials and exercises. Then we made another perfect flight on that privileged and for me highly spiritual day.
It was only when we were in the air that I could not resist and asked him what had led him to want to fly. Dada explained that he lived in a village in India which you could only leave by crossing a bridge. Once he was sought out by a distressed mother whose daughter was fear-stricken every time she had to cross one of the bridges. The mother asked the monk to explain to the girl that there was no reason to be afraid. To do so, he felt that he would need to understand the reality of the young woman before giving her a convincing explanation. So Dada decided to face a fear of his own: to fly on a hang-glider. But first he studied the physiology of fear and stress and how both are reflected in our lives. With me he experienced in practice how it was to confront them. Then he told me: “Exactly three months have gone by since that girl’s mother came to visit me. But only now am I ready to talk to her.”
And only then did I realize that what the monk took three months to learn had taken me 27 years.
When our emotions, together with our thoughts, are in balance and focused, they can prepare us mentally, spiritually and physically for any adventure, project or dream, if they respect what is Sacred.
If we consider taking off from the ramp as a new event in our life — whether a new job, relationship, undertaking or change of cycle — we will be able to see how we face each of our challenges.
During all these years practicing hang-gliding, I have noticed that some people react to challenges better than others. And little by little, though it has taken far longer than it took the monk, I have learned what factors change some flights into a real take-off to happiness.
And this experience is what this book is all about.