“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.