This piece of flash fiction is from my 2005 book of stories "Welcome to Storyville". A friend mentioned it the other day and I realized it might be worth sharing on this blog, given all my talk about the quest for living in the present moment. This very short piece explores how simple it is when you enter the process with the 'beginner's mind' of a child. I hope you enjoy "Kite".
The struggle began well before takeoff. He stood there on the beach, oversized bathing suit sinking off of his tiny hips, wrapped in a morass of ribbon and tail. No sooner would he liberate one strand before he’d have another caught up in what seemed an infinite spool of cord.
I could’ve helped him, but I didn’t. He was dogged, all jutting chin and nimble fingers; for an adult to step in seemed treasonous. A life lesson, learned far from scornful eyes and wagging fingers, is perhaps the kindest of gifts.
The sun slipped behind the sky’s lone cloud as he managed to unravel the components of his charge. He stood up, toes twitching as he studied his dance partner. She had to travel just right. Couldn’t run too slow or she’d drag and bend, couldn’t let her get caught up in a low tidal gust that’d push her into the sand. She required grace, a gentle and knowing hand that would give her room, a stride which would let her find her own way. He couldn’t know all this yet, of course. He was too young, too clumsy. But he was on the verge of magic.
His first attempt, hobbled by an uneven gait and a whisper of wind, was quickly sullied. There was no judgment from the boy. He picked up the kite, unwound the line from around the frame and renewed his effort. This time, the sky denied the kite harbor with a swift squall that sent the diamond sputtering into the seashore with a thrust violent enough to rip a lesser model. He studied the kite, relieved to find it still armored for its maiden voyage.
The third time was no charm, nor the fourth. He tried for mere minutes, but they snaked like painful hours as I watched. Yet, the boy never wavered, never sighed. Each failed flight a lesson in refinery, every disentanglement a cause for hope.
Finally, the breeze steadily rippling off his back, a headwind in from the east found favor with the nose of the kite. And so the climb began, wrists turning in rhythm, feet adjusting for his dance partner’s wide berth. If you’d checked your watch to see how long it took, you’d have missed it, the ascent was that seamless. The kite had embraced the theory of flight, and he rode on her shoulders.
His kite and the sky: that was his world. Nothing else, not even the cry of the sea, could penetrate it. There was no sense of where the spool handle ended and he began. You cannot buy that in a boardwalk hobby shop. It’s an attention we’re born with and one we start losing so soon thereafter. The erosion is self-inflicted, and ultimately fatal. But for these precious moments, he was in possession of something no one could touch. Even my voyeuristic joy was only a shadow of what he must’ve felt, watching his sandpiper nestling open her wings to the world.
I left him there, kite still kissing the sun. I couldn’t handle watching him rein her in, an inevitable retraction of freedom that comes when the sun sets, when a parent calls, when a small seismic shift reminds us we are earthbound. I needed to remember him at the height of his discovery. For that day, he learned to trust the wind and tide, the elements that have the energy to lift us heavenward if we’ll let them. He himself flew. He took me with him.