As a young boy I watched the film The Great Escape several times. I felt sadness when my favourite characters were recaptured, or worse, killed after they had executed such a magnificent plan to flee their prisoner of war camp. Taking inspiration, I once hastily plotted my own escape from parental tyranny. I stuffed an old Boy Scout rucksack with supplies and tiptoed to our apartment door only to be confronted by my mother standing with a bag of garbage in her arms. “I see you’re leaving,” she said. “Drop this down the furnace chute on the way out.” I walked to the end of the corridor, dumped the bag down to the incinerator and walked back home, head hanging, resigned to my fate. So much for that impulsive idea, I thought.
In the natural world escape is all about running away from predators. When you can’t fight, you must take flight or be eaten. Prey species are in a constant state of nervous tension, looking over their shoulders for the enemy, sniffing the air for signs of danger.
Yet fleeing isn’t always that dramatic. We can make a decision to ‘get away from it all’ by taking a vacation. Time or finances permitting, separating ourselves from regular routine can provide rest or a new perspective. We can return to our everyday lives refreshed. After retirement, I wanted to go on an adventure with my new bride. I felt like something or someplace was called for that stretched us both into a new day, so we planned an extended stay in New Zealand. For three months we were nomads, living out of a camper van leased from a company aptly named Escape Rentals. Leaving careers, family, friends and our sense of place behind was liberating and challenging.
Environmentally, economically and politically our home planet is challenged right now. Many are trying to hold it together by advocating for a healthier stewardship of the resources our Earth and its people can provide, while others are working on an escape clause: Habitation of space.
Some have even entered lotteries so that they can be the first to colonize Mars! These contestants may feel exhilarated by poetic concepts of escape, like those written by John Gillespie Magee Jr. in High Flight; “Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth…”
In my youth, I used to think space exploration was a continuation of humankind’s adventurous spirit. Now the cynic in me sees only corporations proving they are after the money to be gained from such ventures. I believe we’re being fed lies about the imminent possibility of human habitation of lifeless planets.
To live life we must have air, at the very least, yet some choose to stop breathing. Suicide is the ultimate escape. It is a cause of death that we are uncomfortable acknowledging; as individuals or as a society. When we hear of someone who has fled life we wonder why. Perhaps pondering those times when we, ourselves, have wished to escape, might provide enough insight to begin a conversation.