My spirit like my kite
has too long laid on a shelf
lovely to see but flat in broken un-put-together parts, unfilled with wind.
Today I took my kite from its box
studied it and slowly fitted together its many parts-bamboo into bamboo-
tiny rings over slender ends of frame- each part just so.
By trial and error-memories half forgotten- piece by piece- a butterfly emerged.
Before it had hung on my wall inviting oohs and aahs of admiration.
Today with string firmly attached I carried it with hopeful, doubtful hands to a windy spot.
Alone I could do nothing.
Helpfully and skillfully my new found friend gave wings to my butterfly.
Up it soared- above my head, above the trees.
Joyfully I watched it fly and knew, deeply knew it was where it belonged.
It was flying!!!!!!!!!
It bobbed and danced and flew.
The dark green against the clear blue sky filled my heart with so sweet, so deep a feeling that I felt a tug as if a string were fastened to my very soul.
As if a kite-long laid aside from play was on a dusty shelf deep within.
My eyes watched that flying shape and my voice rose.
Fly, fly!!! Keep on flying!!!!!! Stay up there free!!!!!!!!!
You’re where you always ought to be!!!!!!!
It flew! And flying stirred a part of me long kept down and long denied.
Fly – Turn loose – soar high – don’t stop!!!
Such unaccustomed wind, such buffeting and dancing, such abandon in the sky brought tiny tears in fabric long lay still. Others bade me caution. “Pull it in.” “Rest it now.” “Keep it whole.”
New knowledge made me say- Fly it on. You hold the string. You send it high.
Oh kite within – find your wind – stir me free – go high.
Attached with an umbilical born of new hope; carry me.
NJP Lively April 19, 1998
Ten years ago I was approaching the day when I could retire after working from January 1962 until July 1998. These were my paid working years but in actuality as the daughter of a restaurant owner, my first unpaid work had started in 1951 when I began my career as a washer of glasses, later promoted to washer of dishes and then waitress. It seemed I had never had any leisure time when I could just be ME. At that time in addition to our jobs, my husband and I were caring in our home for a badly injured Chinese student who had been severely beaten and left for dead by some teenaged boys. One day when he was feeling well enough to do something outdoors, there was a kite flying day at our local college. I got a kite out of a box where I had stored it in the basement after I had taken it down from the wall over my desk in my library. It was a beautiful silk Chinese green butterfly kite which had to be put together carefully part by part fitting all the small pieces of bamboo into the little metal rings. I had used this kite only as a decoration and had never flown it. Once we were on the college hill, I found I was unable to get it in the air but Chang Le knew just how to angle it into the wind and give it ‘wings’. Watching it fly, even as it seemed the strong wind would surely tear it to pieces, gave me the thoughts in the poem above. I had arrived at the place in my life where I could Fly, where I could Turn loose all I had ever held back of my dreams because of so many years spent earning my living. I was ready to let myself Soar High where the wind of the Spirit would blow me secure that the hope anchoring my dreams would keep me just where I needed to be blown. Various meaningful volunteer jobs, much travel and many good days filled the next year and a half. Then an invitation to teach and edit in China allowed me to fulfill a life long dream of living in the land that had fascinated me from childhood. Again I returned to meaningful work in my church and community that I had never had time for before. Then the invitation to volunteer these past 4 years at IBTS came. My time here has been another ‘blowing’ of that Spirit’s wind in my life I am quite sure. Where will I go next? What will the future hold? I can scarcely imagine or wait.
Nancy, is that poem your own. I LOVE it! May I take a copy to share with people? Thanks. Ruth
Yes Ruth that is my own poem. I wrote it just as I explained in the blog immediately after the overwhelming experience of flying that beautiful old kite with our friend who was slowly regaining his health. I saw the kite’s ‘freedom’ from my basement drawer as such a symbolic thing and the way it flew without regard for where the wind was going to carry it or what would ultimately happen to it. It is my favorite among things I have written I dare to say.
I will tell you a little about Chang Le. He was a visiting scholar at the University of Maryland. He was waylaid on the path to his apartment one night by a gang of teenaged boys who he thought wanted to rob him. He offered up his money but they didn’t want money. They really hoped to kill him out of racial hatred. They kicked him senseless. He had such brain damage that he was in hospital for weeks after delicate surgery to relieve brain swelling. Another Chinese friend asked us to visit him if we could. We were so shocked to see his condition. He was left with seizures and for a while couldn’t see. The doctors finally agreed that if he had someone to watch him 24/7 he could be released so we invited him to stay in our home. He was so reluctant since he had never seen us before we came to the hospital. He knew we had visited his university in China and had worked on conferences there but that was all. A fantastic American translator who spoke better Chinese than my halting Mandarin explained to him that “Americans are really odd. When they invite you to their homes, they really mean it. It is not unusual for an American to invite a stranger to their home.” I mean she really told him an interesting tale which I could understand but could never have produced. He thought we were very odd but he agreed. We kept him for weeks to be certain the Dilantin which he was taking for seizures was the proper dosage and that he was neither having seizures nor passing out on the floor in a coma-like state. We were able to prevail on the American government to give his wife an emergency visa. They both stayed with us a short time longer and then she moved back to his student apartment with him.
Several years later when we were again working in his university in China we ate supper in their home one evening and were amazed to find he had managed a perfect and full recovery. His seizures had ceased and he didn’t even need any medications. He was fully cognitively alive and well and again teaching his courses in the university. After my husband returned home to the USA at the end of our 6 months of editing the proceedings for an international conference and helping manage the conference itself, I stayed 3 more months doing an interesting variety of things. I taught spoken English to 4 year old children in kindergarten (40 wiggling little ones at a time), I took 9 hours of spoken and written Mandarin Chinese and I taught a graduate level creative writing class to a group of professors from the Chinese equivalent of our West Point. (That is another very very interesting tale.) By the middle of February all that work and all that cold weather (no heat in classrooms, etc.) plus the DIRTY air conspired to put me flat on my back in the most primitive hospital I had ever seen. I had to carry my own sheets, blankets, etc., use a really amazingly dirty latrine, provide my own meals and pray I would survive a nasty case of pneumonia. Would you like to make a wild guess about who it was who prepared many of my meals and who cared tenderly for me? Yes, it was Chang Le and his wife.
So, the things that happened to me later made what had happened on that kite flying day even more memorable for me.
I am glad you liked the poem and would enjoy sharing it. By all means. It is public property on the web site.
Another short tale. My supervisor was killed in a car accident 2 weeks after I wrote this poem. I had shared it with him so he could get some idea of what I hoped for in retirement. He loved it and started to illustrate it for a poster as a gift for me for my retirement party. His wife read it and one year later asked my permission to read it at his one year memorial service for the Jewish dead. So, it has been used variously in the past.
Thank you for the work you do for IBTS. This is a precious place to me and I appreciate all who give generously of their time to make things possible here. Nancy