Well, today I was 32 years old. Not atypically, this latest birthday finds me taking stock of my life [most of which has been spent in front of a computer monitor] and asking "What’s it all about?" and "Where did I put those chocolate biscuits?"
I’ve just finished reading Paul Brickhill’s Reach for the Sky: The Story of Douglas Bader, a smashing rollercoaster of a biography, which can be summarized thusly:
Douglas was born a jolly fine chap, quickly learning to savour adversity as a series of challenges to be overcome. As he grew up, he became truly great, excelling at all things, and even when he was behaving like a reckless idiot endangering others he was great, because you could see it was merely his indomitable spirit emerging. Arrogance, vanity and petulance were all just different ways of expressing his all round British greatness. He lost both legs in a plane crash while showing off, and his triumph in learning to walk again rendered him even greater still. Then to his relief the war started, and he proved himself the best of pilots, and he shot down loads of Germans, and everyone thought he was invincible, which it turned out he was, so that was lucky. Then he got shot down and locked up in Kolditz for three years but that was ok, because he made up for it by being even more indomitable. Even the Germans had to respect his greatness.
If you were to assume that my summary is ironic, you would be only half right. Reach for the Sky is a story that unsettles me, because in spite of the unabashedly rose-tinted adulation which the author lavishes on his subject [almost embarrassing at times], it is nevertheless clear that Bader truly was an extraordinarily impressive self-made man. I read about someone like this, and I ask myself: "Am I even a tenth of what this guy was?" … and I figure I already know the answer.
But hey, what is greatness anyway?