Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The World on a String

It was made to fly.

From the moment I hit the beach with my new kite, it struggled against my efforts to keep it grounded while I tied the string and secured the connections. When I finally released my grip, the aerodynamic array of crayons caught the wind and soared, tugging for more line, eager to ascend heights far beyond what my string would allow. My muscles strained against the upward pull, part of me afraid that I’d be swept off my feet, and all the rest hoping that I would.

To fly a kite is to experience the tension between freedom and control; letting go enough for it to fly while still managing to keep it in your grasp.

This is what it means to have the world on a string: to release something beautiful and watch, spellbound, as it takes flight-- never certain of the outcome, but exhilarated by a connection to something soaring beyond the limits of normal reach.

Conditions weren’t as favorable on my next kite-flying foray. Ill-winds buffeted my craft, sending it on frequent nosedives. One particularly nasty blast threw my kite into the clutches of the beach’s singular tree where it dangled just beyond my grasp.

Holding the limp string while my husband extracted the kite from the tangle of twigs and branches served as a grim reminder of life’s darker side: the days when we wish our ideas would take off but we end up hanging on to our dreams by nothing more than a frayed thread.

I’ve always viewed these kind of days as wasted time: sure, I might have learned a thing or two, but if I was on my “A” game, I’d already be airborne. Like many people, I’ve always viewed life as a journey. But I’m beginning to realize that despite being well-packed and eager, I’ve spent the past couple decades a bit fuzzy on the trip itinerary. I’ve skipped along under the assumption that, at least for earthly purposes, life was a one-way ticket toward some type of goal—after which, one lived like a kite on a stiff zephyr—reveling in the experience of living your purpose. Oh, of course there’d be trouble—even I’m not naive enough to doubt that—but it would all come to some sort of meaningful conclusion, not unlike that nasty flap between George Bailey and the bank examiner in It’s a Wonderful Life.

Last week, I realized that my cumulative thoughts concerning some TV viewing, a high school play and a funeral signaled a shift in the way I’m learning to view life.

Like the rest of America, I watched last week as newly-crowned American Idol David Cook sang “The Time of My Life.” A big Cook fan, I cheered along with the rest of his armchair supporters, all the time wondering just how many of us even recognize the time of our life when it happens. Chances are slim that any of us will have our defining moments documented live on national television amidst shower of confetti and thunderous applause.

Most of us can better relate to the fictional residents of Grover’s Corners, who some of my former students brought to life in a recent production of Our Town, which concerns the rather mundane comings and goings of small town life in the early 20th century. An omniscient stage manager makes it his business to keep the audience abreast of the town’s trivia, making endless wry observations along the way. “Once in a thousand times, it's interesting,” he observes at the end of the wedding scene, after giving a blow-by-blow of the humdrum minutiae Emily and George would likely weather: domestic challenges, bills, aging, and the like. When Emily later dies in childbirth--I suppose I should have issued an alert about the plot spoiler--she wistfully remembers the commonplace details of life--coffee, sunflowers, hot baths and ticking clocks—as she delivers the play’s key line: “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it–every, every minute?”

Which brings me to the funeral. It was for our music minister—just 6 years my senior—who died unexpectedly in his sleep. He had a family, a lot of talent, and so much left to contribute to our church. Everything about his death seemed wrong. Everything but—as our senior minister ironically observed—the timing. Harmonious relationships, professional responsibilities humming along at full speed ….this man left earth with all the Important Stuff in tune. His life wasn’t defined by a single moment but by countless choices he made to touch the lives of others while seeking God’s purpose for his own. He lived in the same place as most of us: in a personal Grover’s Corners, drinking coffee, enjoying nature, and composing his own lyrics against the rhythm of the ticking clock.

It’s hard to say what will happen the next time I go kite flying. I have more string now, so maybe my kite will reach unexplored heights. It’s equally possible that I’m simply giving it more thread from which to precariously hang. Rise or fall, the story is still all about flight. Just like our lives. Whether we’ve got the world by a string or life seems to be hanging by a thread, we’re all just testing our wings against some pretty stiff wind. Fortunately, our lives aren’t measured by whether we reach the clouds or bite the dust, but by what we do with all the moments we spend on the launch pad.

We were made to fly.

Welcome to the time of your life.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Pilgrim's Progress

“Almost there!” the old man enthused.

Palms slapping the water and legs kicking madly, my 12-year old self rallied for the final push to the Styrofoam finish line.

I filled my lungs with air and squeezed shut my eyes, expecting my fingers to make contact with the bobbing white flotation device at any second.

“You’ve got it!”

Slap. Slap. Gasp. Kick.

“Keep going!”

Seeking the encouraging sight of my fingers about to touch wet Styrofoam, I tentatively opened an eye.

Whoa. I stopped kicking and planted my feet in the lake muck. Discovering that I hadn’t spanned the anticipated gap between myself and the flotation-goal would have been grim enough. But even with my admittedly fuzzy vision-- forced as I was to swim without glasses in my pre-contact lens era—it was clear that the goal was more distant than it had ever been before.

“Oh, that Father Bill,” my aunt said of her visiting relation.

“What kind of tricks are you playing on that child?” another lake visitor demanded of the sheepish priest.

“I’m just trying to help build her stamina,” he shrugged innocently.

I have thought of this childhood anecdote from my aunt’s lakeside cottage on many occasions over the past few weeks as I gasped toward the finish line of what I long ago dubbed as “the semester that just won’t end.”

With over 50 pages worth of written material due in the span of a single week, I paced myself by assigning undo significance to a series of inconsequential milestones: the final bibliography, the last page of reading, the capstone assignment for this or that course. Constantly laboring under a premature sense of completion eventually took its toll: I was seeking an endpoint that just kept moving further from my grasp.

But despite setbacks such as the meltdown I had after a particularly gruesome 3 hour bibliography reading (one instructor's idea of a fitting final class), the end finally came—or so I thought. With classes finished and final exams complete, it seemed safe to assume that Spring ’08 was a wrap.

Until I pulled my final grades up online.

Even with my contact-lens enhanced 20/20 vision I had to blink several times, hoping some pesky floaters were responsible for what I took to be the second letter of the alphabet hanging out at the end of a perfect formation of uniform Alphas.

How could this, well, be?

With a perfect average in the bank, I’d turned in a project on The Canterbury Tales that would have made Chaucer cry. It was stamped all over with professor approval. I think she just about kissed my final draft. Really. I know I’m fuzzy with numbers, but this equation hardly seemed mathematically viable.

Without belaboring some very sketchy details, let it suffice to say that somehow this project ended up in a non-approved format, and that in order to improve my lot, I needed to buck up for a return visit to Canterbury.

The goal-shifting priest’s sneaky techniques may have been effective for building physical stamina, but let me assure you, the experience doesn’t translate to the academic realm. On the heels of my mental rigors, I currently have the attention span of a middle school boy at a poetry reading.

I’ll admit to exhibiting signs of a weak psychological fortitude at the prospect of revisiting Canterbury. But then I realized that life is full of many “finish lines” that are really arbitrary at best. Is it more important to “finish” by a certain date, or to appreciate the opportunity to reach a little further for a personal best? Where is this “end” that we’re always striving toward, and what happens once we’re there?

Besides, Chaucer’s pilgrims never even made it to Canterbury, but they still had a good time along the way—spinning yarns and swapping tales, all the while angling for a tasty free lunch.

As for me, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed sharing this story with you, and if you have a tale, just throw a comment my way. I’d love to read it. In the meantime, my daughter is up in the kitchen fixing some homemade tortellini that I’m about to smother in tomatoes and garden-fresh herbs. Like Chaucer’s pilgrims, I’m going to revel in the simple pleasures of tall tales and shared meals, and not worry too much about the rest. After all, Canterbury’s nothing but a short stop on an amazing journey I hope I’m on for a long, long time.

What’s Afoot?
…an update on yesterday’s mishap

“It’s kind of like a preview of when you’re old,” my daughter said, as we pulled out of the Walgreens yesterday, clutching a bag containing first aid tape, ibuprofen, and crayon band-aids (I’m employing the red ones as a sort of alert, to keep a sort of safety buffer around my toe. The rest are for cheer.)

I was fumbling through my change, puzzling over some particulars of the transaction. “Why?” I asked, startled.

“You’re confused, you’re hobbling,” her voice trailed off. “I’ve decided you’ll be quite a handful.”

My daughter had spent the better part of the afternoon shuttling me to Dr. M’s office and then to the hospital for some x-rays. It seems that my toe, although fractured, will be just fine in a week or so. Toes, evidently, are “very forgiving,” according to Dr. M.

And all that nonsense about not running? What a waste of time when I own 21-speed, yellowy-orange mountain bike with great shocks and stellar tires, a package my daughter describes as “pretty intense.” Despite being thrilled to receive it as a gift a couple Christmases ago, it boasts surprisingly little road wear. That’s about to change.

Besides, the running really hasn’t been doing that much for me. It’s time for a little shake up in the routine.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008



I was flitting about the house, busily investing my new-found freedom in happy home pursuits when my forward-moving toes contacted the door frame with an ominous force. I'd been en route to the front door to investigate the source of widespread canine excitement but never made it past the kitchen where I remained crumpled in a sad little heap of pain and remorse.

I don't manage my toes well. It's as if those 10 little appendages don't really operate in concert with the rest of my body. As a result, I have built an impressive resume of stubbings, cuts, bruises and breaks--most of which eerily afflict the three center toes of my right foot.

The current carnage bears a shocking resemblance to the results of a particularly nasty accident in '03, a late May affair taking three toes--you know which ones--out of commission for the inaugural weeks of summer.

Ironically, my checkered podiatry history is not reflected in the thick chart I've amassed at my General Practitioner's office. As a hypochondriac, I'm all over a wide range of medical anomalies--vague symptoms suggestive of long term impairment or grave outcome, ocular and aural irregularities, ticks masquerading as melonomas--virtually nothing escapes my vigilance. But--pun aside--I have to admit that I find toe injuries thoroughly pedestrian. I mean, really, I know what happened, and I'm reasonably certain that, in time, I'll return to the ranks of the sure-footed.

But, nonetheless, my daughter insists that the bruised digit jutting awkwardly from my right foot needs to be "checked out" this morning.

This is bad news on several fronts. First, I'd already made a personal committment to a summer free of medical drama. Blowing it in May really seems pansy.

Secondly, I've been on a strict regimen of daily running. I figure, minus doctor involvement, I could hit the pavement again in a few days, a la Johnny Damon during the 2007 baseball season. Once doctors get involved, it's a crap shoot.

Finally, it seems a waste of a day, as illustrated by the fact that, despite not feeling really finished with this post, my daughter is jangling the keys and telling me to get in the car.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Links to Pass the Time

I'm coming back. Really. I'll post witty observations, funny stories, and inspirational tidbits. I've been saving them up. Letting them distill, culture, age like fine wine.

In the meantime, you can visit me here:,0,830621.story

and here:,0,5864275.story

I'll be back soon. I promise.


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