Oh my goodness. The kite thing. Never did I think I would find someone else who shared this idiotic phobia with me. That someone else is my daughter.
I watched her face as her new Hello Kitty kite began to take flight, lifted by a rare gentle Kansas breeze. As it began to ascend, her brow furrowed, and a panicked look replaced her smile.
“I don’t want it to go too high mommy.”
I knew that look. And I knew that feeling. “Is it because it makes you nervous when it starts going up real high?”
She shook her head up and down, and I reassured her, “I know exactly how you feel.”
This didn’t seem to surprise her at all. After all, I get her. Just like my dad got me. She has no idea how precious this bond is yet, but she will someday.
I assured her nothing bad would happen, and tried to get her kite up for some decent air time. What was wrong? Was it the way I was maneuvering it? Was it the kite? It kept slamming back down to the ground after short bursts of flight. I didn’t stick around to find out. I handed off to her daddy and grandma while I went in the house to make everyone dessert. My mom had joined us for a dinner of chicken enchiladas, and homemade shortbread with strawberries and fresh whipped cream would soon be our after-meal treat. As the hand mixer whirred around and jostled against the chilled glass bowl, I almost regretted taking all this time to make it by hand. A tub of Cool Whip, and we’d be eating by now. But no, I wanted to do it the long way. I never had before, and I wanted to give my family a special treat. I loaded up five bowls with deliciousness on a tray and headed outside.
Looking out at my small family in our large yard, I smiled. My mom, pressing on with life in spite of loss, had valiantly taken the reins on the fluttering plastic contraptions, something she admitted she’d never done. Never flown a kite? “Well, I’ve never jumped in a lake either,” she quipped.
I set the desserts down, and was getting ready to call out for everyone to come eat, when I stopped. My oldest daughter now had one kite, and my husband the other. “It’s like a Hello Kitty Kite Festival!” She was so happy. Family time had finally arrived. After a long holiday weekend of home improvement projects, she was ready for us to slow down. To stop doing, and start being. This meant everything to her. More than even her mother’s effort to create sweet treats for her enjoyment.
I sat down on the porch with my mom, both of us sighing with relief as our backsides sank into the soft patio cushions. But I didn’t stay seated for long. The father-daughter kite flying duo was across the road, and I just had to see how high their kites were flying. I reluctantly stood back up, and tried to spy their kites by peeking out from under the porch roof. I couldn’t see them. So high they flew, I had to step out into the yard.
Wow. Their kites flew what seemed like a mile above our heads, floating like hawks riding a head wind. How had they done it? And how was she not scared? It was beautiful. The flight, the fearlessness. Her father. His smile radiated like the sun overhead, and it was so good to see him happy. Work and home projects have been weighing him down, and to see him so carefree gave me great joy.
“You’ve got to let out a little string if you want it to fly.”
Of course. This no-nonsense man often drops the biggest revelations on my mind, and does so in the simplest of ways. You’ve got to let go. Give it some room to breathe. Let it lift. Your life. Your kite. One in the same.
I’ve been holding onto my string a little to tightly. Afraid to let it out. Afraid to see my hope soaring and rising above my head. What if it carries me away? What if it crashes down around me? What if I get so caught up in watching it fly that I become disoriented and lose my footing? What if, what if, what if.
As I put a red rose on my father’s grave today, I felt a sting much greater than the thorn that pricked my thumb. Death. All around me. Red, white and blue whipping in the wind over bodies that lay still. A mother, half a cemetery away, kneeling at the grave of her son who never had the chance to serve his country. Unlike my father. However untimely his death, he lived a full life. A shining jewel on his crown was his service as a photographer in the Navy. My daughter did the honors of placing an American flag in front of my father’s tombstone, something that had been overlooked by those distributing veteran flags.
“Mom, what’s a veterinarian?,” my daughter asked after sinking the stick-end of the flag into the still-fresh dirt around my father’s grave.
What an odd question to ask. “It’s an animal doctor sweetie.”
She looked at me as if my answer were just as strange as her question. “So then why do only veterinarians have flags at their graves?”
I laughed. I told her the story of her great-grandfather, my father’s dad, who died in his early twenties on board the minesweeper USS Spectacle during WWII. I told her of her great-grandmother, who now had three young children under five years of age to raise on her own. “Can you imagine how hard that must have been for her?,” I asked my daughter. As we walked over to my other grandfather’s grave, my mother’s father, I gave her one of his sage gems. A stoic farmer who’d lost several fingers during childhood agriculture-related accidents, he was never allowed into the military, in spite of his sharp-shooting ability. It’s just as well, or I may not have known any grandfather at all.
“When old people die, that’s not sad. But when parents of young children die, or a child dies, now that’s sad.” Grandpa Johnny wasn’t a man of many words, but when he spoke them, you’d better listen.
“Momma, who’s that?” She pointed to the woman at the far side of the cemetery. As I watched the dark-haired woman lower to the ground at the grave in front her, a tear rolled down my cheek. Her son. Dead before his new life could begin just months before high school graduation. And as my grandpa would have said, now that’s sad. I explained to my daughter who she was, and why she was here. Her forehead wrinkled in deep thought. “It’s sad when a kid dies, because they never even have the chance to grow up.” From the mouths of babes, indeed.
We drove home, and enjoyed a for-the-books evening of feasting, kite flying, swing-set shenanigans and in the end, fishing.
It was perhaps a bit foolish to head down to the creek just an hour before I wanted to put the girls to bed. Without knowing where the fishing poles were. Without bait. Without a plan. Just like my father would have liked it. Always one to grab life by the horns, and sort out the details while he held on for dear life.
Standing among the names etched in concrete today, I was reminded of how soon I will be but one of them. A name on a grave, remembered by loved ones for years, but forgotten by eternity. My fear of death, however vain, is beginning to slowly and methodically fall away. I’m willing to loosen the grip on my kite string, even though I know I’ll reign it in after life’s inevitable crashes. And leave it to my mother, a former English teacher who’s never stopped teaching those around her, to drop a William Shakespeare quote on me during a recent mother-daughter getaway. We talked about everything, from boob jobs, to s-e-x, to politics to family drama, and importantly, my apprehension about death. Her’s, mine, the death of everyone I love.
“A coward dies a thousand times before his death, but the valiant taste of death but once.”
Yes. This was me. I’ve died a thousand times. From cancer that doesn’t exist. From a car accident that never happened. This. I don’t want to be.
Let out your string if you want to fly. I’d sure like to try living before I die.