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.


Kayla McOink said...

You used my kite!
Its a good picture :-)

Catherine Wannabe said...

It is good to be reminded to soar on a day with no wind. Thanks!


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