Monday, July 8, 2013

Walking on Sunshine.

“Mom, it’s beautiful!”

Her cherubic face has been glued to the window since we took off. It’s not her first flight, but it is the first flight away from the everyday to the exotic. Armed with new bathing suits and pretty dresses and fancy shoes and flip flops, her toes are the color of sea glass and her fingertips that of sand. A flower dances prettily above her ear and expectation dances in her bright hazel eyes.

We are thousands of feet in the air, wingtips drifting through snowy white clouds as the ocean bleeds into the bright blue sky on the distant horizon below. The mainland left us hours ago and we are floating on the cusp of seven days of Hawaiian bliss.

This is a moment unmatched for her, and distant memories surface. As a small child the World War II-era DC3 was our only transportation in and out of the remote community we lived in, a capsule of heat and discomfort in the tundra’s 24-hour daylight and a frigid tube in the harsh sub-zero winters that swept across the ocean ice for months on end.

My father once chartered a tiny plane to pluck me out of obscurity. The bill was forwarded to the government and their outrage was met with the gentle reminder that they should not leave a minor child abandoned in the Arctic for two weeks just because a snowstorm happened to roll in. A gentle reminder that positions of power are weak in the face of parental love.

Year after year, I traversed an entire country to land at boarding school or to return home, plunging headfirst into my independence courtesy of the four separate planes of varying size and speed in either direction. For years I flew the corporate routine, hasty turnarounds to accomplish business objectives with minimal impact to family. Half of one, plane rides were routine and moments to catch my breath, my sanity and a chance to get caught up on work.

When I was the only half left, they became an escape shuttle that trapped me in mother’s guilt.

Desperate to go and terrified to leave in the windows I heard my voice promise my children that he was out there in the clouds, somewhere, riding the soft boulders in death like he rode the mountains and trails in life. I was and remain ambivalent about the hereafter and so the clouds became a comfortable place in the space between, a place where my children took comfort and where I did not have to resolve my own unanswered questions.

High above the pain and the self doubt, I would stare numbly for hours and it felt as though I could simply open the window and step softly into the rolling expanse and he would be there. To forgive me for being the one left behind. To reassure me that I had the strength to carry them forward. To let me go.

And then life moved on far beneath the clouds.

Staring out at the clouds, I no longer need to be forgiven for living and I have proven that I have the strength to carry them forward in a life filled with love and expectation and reality and adventure and joy despite all of its sorrows. Because if he is out there, I know now that he granted my freedom long before I accepted it myself. And if he isn’t out there in the expanse, freedom was simply waiting for my own acceptance that it was okay.

To breathe deep. To live again. To love again.

“So this is what it looks like for Daddy. This is what heaven looks like.”

No sweetheart. He saw heaven in you.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Thin Lines.

“What does this picture mean?”

Like dominos, I watched the red line grow against the pitch black night. Separated by distance, the silent images became a virtual anthem against the searing pain. An unspoken statement that drew close a first responder family bound by honor, loyalty and family.

What does it mean?

The Thin Red Line of Courage “represents the last ounce of courage firefighters find deep in their blood to conquer their darkest fears in order to save and protect life and property.” The blood red line stands strong against the darkest hour, a reminder that men and women who respond to the call are forced to face their own fears and place their lives second to those they protect.

The Thin Blue Line – a silent vow of strength that is brother to the red line just as the red line is brother to blue – represents that razor thin place between life and death that Police Officers rise without question to walk every day. It is the line between order and chaos. Good and evil. Comfort and fear.

These are the lines that step forward – strong and defiant – when one falters or falls.

They are the lines that keep evil at bay. They are the lines that we run to and that we hide behind. They are the lines that we do not question and yet there are those that question their worth. They are the lines that face the greatest challenges and rise above them. They are the lines that stand for those left behind.

They are the lines that kiss their wives and their girlfriends, their husbands and their children and walk into peril and risk everything for strangers who do not care and those who do. They are the lines we blame for inconveniences and yet we look to them to cure our own.

What does it mean?

It means that a husband, a brother, a father, a son, a mother, a daughter, a wife, a partner and a soul mate was lost. It means that a thousand kisses goodnight will never be given, that a hand will be left unheld and that a laugh will fade.

It means that somewhere in the dark ashes an ember will glow and that a life lost will live eternally in hearts and memories. It means that, in a world where evil enters without warning and without consideration, something beautiful and brave and selfless still exists in the hearts and souls of those who dare to tread where others will not. It means that in the darkest hour, when we cannot fathom a deeper pain, hope and the spirit of human kind that these lost souls embodied will inspire us to be something greater than we already were and imagined that we could be.

It means that tragedy has struck and that we rise to stand with them.