Submitted by Aaron Arkin.
In Walt Disney’s animated feature, “Dumbo”, a baby circus elephant with unusually large ears becomes the subject of ridicule and is separated from his mother. The very name, “Dumbo” suggests someone with no voice or agency. But he is discovered by the local crows to be able to use his huge ears to fly, observing this occurs when he is sleeping and dreaming. Moved by his sad circumstances and lack of self-esteem, they convince him he can fly by resorting to subterfuge: giving him one of their tail feathers and telling him it is a magic feather that will enable him to fly.
Relieved of the constraints of self-doubt and holding the magic feather with his trunk, Dumbo does indeed fly, performing even acrobatically for the crows. Scheduled the next day by the harsh circus ring-master to perform a dangerous dive into a fireman’s net from a great height, Dumbo, dressed and made up as a clown, is determined to show his worth, uniqueness, perhaps even greatness. But in his excitement as he leaps from the tower, he loses his grip on the feather and starts to fall helplessly and perhaps fatally to the ground below.
The crows, seeing the tragedy that is unfolding, quickly fly to him and shout that the feather is not magic, that he really can fly. Like Dumbo frozen in fear, we strain to let Dumbo know it too. And we hope with our collective hearts that somehow he will hear us, believe in himself, and do it.
And then, he does.
Perhaps, too, Simone Byles had a feather that carried her forward to great success and acclaim. Maybe it was being able to be in the moment, to see and feel the joy of her efforts: running, leaping, flying, twisting, balancing, landing, and knowing it would all happen the way she wanted it to happen because, as she put it, “I can.” Perhaps it was being able to feel mostly her own expectations, understanding she had only to focus on the next immediate thing, and knowing she had the support of family, the crowds, her co-gymnasts, and her country.
And then suddenly it was all eclipsed, perhaps by the pressure of high expectations, the emptiness of the venue, self-doubt or a fear of disappointing.
We may not be able to convince Simone she can fly without her “magic feather”; we can tell her it is still there if she can hold on to it.
And in our collective hearts, we hope that she will.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.