Flying Lessons

Something dreadful happened this week. Dreadful-awful. A beautiful, beloved family friend suddenly passed. She was just 22, my son’s best friend. They shared creative, brilliant joy and sadness, and, like all dear friends, the understanding and acceptance that no matter what the world may see, each was imperfect. And that it was all right. And their laughter was a secret handshake that said it’s okay to be impeccably myself with you, and goofy-silly, and even if you piss me off greatly today, I will love you tomorrow.

flyI screamed at the painful injustice that had been dealt my son. I looked at the kitchen spaces where we’d never see her again. I twisted my hands over flipping stomach and rapid-beating heart, realizing the sheer irrationality of losing a child. Not mine. But too close. Nightmare I’d only heard about made flesh. And what of the ripples of pain, her own family ground zero, dear friends shaken, so many lives changed forever? Maybe I didn’t hear the phone message right. But I did.

My son and his friend shared another reality: way too many losses in their young lives. This, now, another earth tremor, greater than the last, before the rebuilding had even begun. I envisioned the world falling away from my feet, blue floor tiles tumbling below me yielding nothing but space. My parental instincts saying, you must save your kids from The Bad Thing. We know how to build shelter when the sky is falling, after all, but what when it’s the ground that goes to pieces?

And so the conversations about the talent, potential never to be realized. Work left undone. Artist, musician, sharp witted, well-spoken, so much to give. Memorial posts so out of phase amidst photos of peers in caps and gowns.

Legacy cannot be that hers was an aborted mission, never to be realized. The Universe is not that cruel. Task of the survivors, then, to uncover the message. If her work was done, we had better find it. And name it. And take it forward into the days and years ahead.

I cannot tell you what others will see, but here it is for me. Tumbling through space, frantically reaching for floor pieces, futility realized, I see but one way out: Wings. Right there behind my shoulders. Open them and fly. Understand life is not for huddling in a bunker, building shelter from The Bad Thing, hoping it will shield my kin. The shelter is an illusion, its protection merely a buffer from sunlight and joys undiscovered. This knowledge brings terror, but so much more than that, freedom.

Each day is a gift. Every lumpy, imperfect seeker in this life who crosses our path is a present, a lesson, a window to a perspective that is carried by exactly one soul. Precious.

And so, Kate, when my eyes begin to burn, and I feel the now too-familiar stream of warmth down my cheeks, I will remember there must always be joy in the moment. That beauty isn’t what we will be some day, it is here, it is all around us. Our life is not our future, it is now. Thank you for reminding me it’s not about keeping my feet firmly planted, it’s about soaring through the tumbling pieces that will always surround our lives.

May your story, 22 years of brilliant, impossible-to-duplicate light remind us to live in every moment, to never be so preoccupied to forget to love deeply, and, for gosh sake, learn to fly.

  1. Oh. Oh. Oh.

  2. Beautifully written. The heartache is in every sentence. So sorry.