To me, to “take flight” means to go high. It means to soar. It means to accomplish, to become independent. When someone in my world takes flight, they’ve done something cool. Something great. Something worthy of praise.
When my students tell me that they “took flight,” it means they beat someone up.
In the urban dictionary it explains this phrase, I kid you not, like this:
In the Merriam-Webster dictionary the definition is very different.
The definition of to take flight:
(a) to begin flying. “The bird took flight when we tried to approach it.”
(b) to begin a period of rapid activity, development, or growth.
“The idea really took flight and soon it seemed everyone was copying it.”
(c) to leave or run away from danger. “Fearing arrest, they took flight and hid in the mountains.”
The two definitions couldn’t be more different from each other.
My late, beloved father had a deep fascination with slang. When I was in the army in Israel, he would ask endless questions about the army slang, trying to understand, trying to see where in the Hebrew language the root was from, what in the culture led that word to be chosen as slang. Then, he would compare it to his own army slang. I remember at the time being incredibly frustrated with his endless questions, puns and stories of his army service. Silly, stupid, young me.
My dad was trying to connect me to him, to the culture of Israel, to his own army experience. There was no way my 18-year-old self could see or understand that.
As I listen to my student speak and tell me how she “took flight” on a kid that pissed her off, I think of that phrase: “to take flight.” I wonder why that term was chosen to describe beating someone up. I wonder who started that expression. I could see myself about to ask my student a million annoying questions as my dad did. Then I smile to myself feeling my late father’s presence in me.
I listen to my student tell her story.
People are nodding their heads on Zoom.
I love this student. She has risen above so much. Yet, I am saddened that she succumbed to her anger and “took flight.”
When the class is over, I think about this term “taking flight.” I think about the countless students I have watched take my definition of “flight” and cross the graduation stage, get clean from drugs, spread their wings and leave the gang.
I am watching my own children begin to “take flight” away from me, blossoming into incredible, young women, but, through the endless challenges, almost killing me in the process.
My student shared that when she took flight, it felt good. “I ain’t gonna lie. I didn’t do this in a while, and it felt good to lay it into that kid. Why did he take my car? He shouldn’t have done that. Not cool, Ms.”
The kid took her car. He is a minor. She lost it and went back to her old ways for a moment and beat the crap out of him.
Thank God, nothing really bad happened!
Although sometimes something like this can put my students back to square one and/or back in jail, thankfully, it didn’t this time.
Once you have a record, the system is not forgiving and very, I mean very, quick to judge.
I tell my students they must be careful.
Things don’t always turn out the way we think they will.
A bad choice, losing it, can take them way off the course they are on.
We talk together about how once you have screwed up, the world is not kind to you.
I am relieved and happy that, in this case, it turned out okay.
A few days later, I want to make sure things did not escalate. I love this woman and I am insanely proud of where she is and the obstacles she has overcome in the past year.
In the hood, fights can simmer and then get out of hand. I want to make sure the fire was out, that she was okay, and she didn’t get herself into a compromising situation. I call to check how she was doing.
“Hey there,” I say. “Everything okay?”
“Yup,” she tells me.
And then she moves me deeply.
“I ain’t gonna lie, Ms.,” she tells me again. “It felt fucking good. It felt fucking amazing to beat that punk up. I forgot how good it is to take flight on someone.”
I hold my breath.
“But to be honest, Ms., after a few hours, it didn’t feel good no more. I don’t know, Ms., it ain’t the same anymore. You know what I did? I called him up and I’m going to help the punk. I’m going to bring him to Homeboy (Industries). I’m going to help him get help. I just didn’t have it in my heart to make a big deal out of it anymore. He didn’t know what he was doing. He needs to do work. I’m gonna help him.”
My heart is happy because this is what change looks like in action.
“Now you are taking flight,” I tell her.
“Ms., I am telling you I am taking him to Homeboy. I am doing good.” She is a little annoyed with me.
So, I explain to her, “You know, to take flight also means to fly, to go high, not just to beat someone up. You are taking a higher ground and doing a good thing. You are taking a different kind of flight.”
She laughs. “I didn’t know there was a different choice.”
“There always is,” I say.
“Oh, but it is a motherfucker, Ms.,” she tells me.
“Yes, it is,” I say and add, “You took flight and now you are flying super high and doing the right thing.”
She laughs “You know there is another kind of high. Right, Ms.?”
Now I laugh.
“Yes, I do.”
Then she answers thoughtfully, “I think when you take flight on someone, it makes you feel like you are high, but the bad kind. I like your taking flight better than mine.”
We agree and laugh about being high from doing good. I tell her how proud I am of her. We chat a little more and she tells me that she is “gonna take my flight more often now.”
I smile and hang up.
I think of my dad and how excited he would get when he understood a slang word that I taught him and how he would use it again and again, proud of himself for getting it.
I then actually laugh out loud thinking what a kick he would get out of the fact that a bad ass ex-gang member with a golden heart is the one who triggered my fond memories of him.
And now, I am taking flight from the memory of my dad, and the beauty of my student’s change all combined together.