Red Umbrellas & A Swing…
I wish I could start my life over right now, but be who I am today. I mean have all the experiences I have had, all the places I have lived, all the people I have loved, that have loved me back. I just wish I had more time to be who I was too afraid to be when I was younger. Intrepid, but afraid, which I know likely only makes sense to me. I wish I had not wasted so much time being afraid of myself.
As I float above the fray of every day life, 34,000 feet in the air, soaring above a vast ocean and untold amounts of trouble, I can see that I have always been in my way.
I used to read the classics, I read them all. Not because they were assigned but because I actually liked them, the prose, the language, the turn of phrase. I loved the humanity, the issues and rhetoric that took people into the life they cared not to lead. The unrequited love, the unforgiven family, the tosspots, the crackpots, the drug addled and the confused. The heartsick and the lovelorn. All of them, confused, lonely people who roamed the earth, and even more so the ones that took the time to observe, to write about it and to tell me the story that played so often in their mind that they could not keep it in, or make it quiet. They could not hold it back lest it strangled them from the inside out. They were the brave ones. The ones that didn’t forget who they were before they got so concerned about being someone else.
I wonder how I got so lost. How did I start off in life, knowing, being absolutely sure of who and what I was. And how and when did I let the others, all the others opinions of me change that? Where was I?
The time that I was most myself, ever, was one morning at 5 am on a swingset in Panama. Everyone else was sleeping, but not me. I was swinging because there just didn’t seem to be enough time for swinging once everyone else in the world got up. I was only 4 years old. Out in front of my house, alone, on a Saturday or Sunday morning. Swinging. Thinking thoughts that were really only interesting to me, well at least that seems to be what all the adults told me often.
I had big ideas and the energy to excite them all. One day for no particular reason, I climbed a tree, my new umbrella a makeshift rucksack, holding tin cans for my survival. I had failed to mention to anyone that I had made the difficult but brave decision to reside in that tree, with canned fruit for my sustenance. I was probably up there an hour or so before my boredom got the better of me, thinking being only good company for so long. So I reached for my provisions, and realizing immediately that in my haste to begin my new life, at the ripe old age of five, I had neglected to bring a can opener…
Immediately, I was cross with myself. Irritated that I could gloss over such an important necessity for my survival. So I remained seated in that tree for another hour, waiting, for an idea to come that would not result in me having to climb down, go inside and beg my mother for the device that stood between me and the rest of my life. Being only five, I came up with nothing. Always being quick to see when a plan of mine had come unwound, I hastily decided to leave my treetop retreat and make the long trek of exactly twelve feet back to my house.
I didn’t realize how precarious a container an umbrella actually makes until I dislodged it on my way down. Then I saw that provisional tin cans were actually quite heavy and damaging as weathered rain as they plummeted to the ground. As I remember it, I only got nailed by two…but who knows, my childhood left me with many skinned knees, stubbed toes and injuries, mostly internal. But that day I only recall getting pummeled by two cans. My red umbrella still hanging limply in the tree, holding no more cans and likely ruined for the effort.
As I looked up that day at my failed plan, I forgot about the morning sunrise swings alone. I forgot who I was. I, instead, began to recite a new story where I failed. Where I was not a good planner, and certainly should not be trusted with my own survival.
Odd now, thinking back, about how there have always been two stories, the one where I am free, alive and swinging through my life, and the other where I am getting pelted with a downpour of tins cans of fruit. I mean anyone could see which decision was the better course…and yet, still, I chose to believe the later story, the one mishap in my early life of choice. My exercise of free will lacking, in everything but canned fruit.
Today, I wish that I could go back to the girl standing in the canned storm aftermath, and to whisper in her ear, “this is not your life. Do not fear your own decisions. Do not be dismayed. Sometimes life will rain down heavy things from cute umbrellas in the sky…and sometimes you might be the architect of that particular disaster…but, my sweet, brilliant girl, this is not your becoming. This is just a bad decision, of which you will make many, many more. Today, you learned that umbrellas make poor backpacks and trees are not the best idea for starting a new life, exactly twelve feet from a bed and food. But fuck, you tried and this time you failed, but fear not the future. Remember the swings, remember those mornings you woke early and wandered outside, to sit on damp, steamy swings and began to pump your legs until you sailed aloft. Remember that decision. The decision to live your life, to be unafraid, to work hard, diligently even, to set yourself in flight, then when you are flying high, leap, leap, leap into the abyss that looms in front of you…”
I can’t go back in time, except in my mind, and so I will, I will rewrite my herstory and tell myself the tale just told but I will take creative licenses and change the ending.
“And so she flew through the air, knowing, believing and trusting that regardless of the outcome, soaring through a dewy morning air or beaten with falling cans, her decisions, her life, her willingness to leave, to move forward with that nameless fear, her only course, the only trajectory that would ever truly be her own. So today, I turn the page in the book of my life, and begin to write a new chapter that gives me hope that it is never too late to have a different childhood. And if I can rewrite things that occurred forty-seven years ago, then I can totally make some changes now.
So I will and I will care little about whether I get rained on by metal cans falling from the sky, or whether I fly feverishly through the air, alit in my life, without a care. And that, just might be the bravest thing I have ever done, to begin again, at this age, knowing what I know, full of fear, full of gusto, but committed to live my best, most authentic life, still.
And let it never be too late for any of us to start again, to remember who we are, who we were, and to allow ourselves the not so slight indulgence to believe that there is no other way to live.