Monday, September 9, 2013

Windy Afternoons

Any of you who know my sister, Rebecca, our intrepid captain, and know her well, would know that she loves kites.  This started way back when we were children and on windy days would scout out open parks in the midst of our flat Texan suburbia just to sail our sunburst-faced kite with the crinkly red cellophane tail that seemed to go on forever.  We called him "Firecracker," and I well remember the time his string broke and he soared away unfettered.  Our parents drove us all over until we found him tangled across the dry-grass furrows of a lonely, undeveloped field.  It was like looking for a lost pet, accompanied by the same sinking fear, the same elation.

So it shouldn't have surprised me when, several years later, I saw her look longingly out the window at the Spring-bright leaves thrashed by wind.  We were both sitting in a quiet dorm room kitchen, both now college students, both studying furiously for final exams.  April is a cruel month to schedule final exams in, with the world awaking from winter and the warm sweet smells of outside calling you incessantly.  Rebecca liked to unwind by going up the hill to a large field perfect for kite-flying, and wile away a few hours under the shadow of her kite.  But today, it couldn't be done, and I knew she regretted that.

And then she said something that was more profound to me than I think she knew, something that has stuck with me over the years.  "Life is long, and there will be many windy afternoons."

We recently celebrated my husband's birthday.  I have always enjoyed my birthdays, so it is hard for me to relate to his displeasure as he marks progress in this journey we call "getting older."  He sometimes complains that he hasn't done enough with his life, that he expected to achieve more by this point, and compares himself to others his age or even younger in his profession who have far greater credits and accolades.  I sagely try to remind him that his path has just been different from theirs, that we have tried every step of the way to chose what was right, not necessarily what was "coolest" or "most impressive."  And we have felt clearly guided in all our decisions.  So how can we complain?  If he was feeling any sense of yearning for something more than the opportunities and experiences we have been blessed with, then he needed to rethink his priorities.

And then it happened to me.

For my husband's birthday, we spent the day with our 5 young children, exploring the historic and sentimental spots downtown in the city we would soon be moving away from.  One of the places we visited had a gallery of beautiful inspirational artwork.  There was a small display of paintings by an artist I greatly admire, and as I pointed these out to my husband he looked past me and said, "Well, she's right there!"

Right there.  Doing a demonstration.  Her easel set up, her palate perfect, a skillful portrait starting to take shape on her canvas.  She was casually bantering back and forth with her model, a bevy of young art students arrayed before her on the edges of their seats, sketchbooks on laps, being inquisitive and subtly showing off at the same time.  My first reaction was delight!  I sidled up to the group, listened briefly to the discussion, nodded intelligently, tried to be a part of the moment.  But suddenly something else touched me and made me feel a gaping emptiness, some chasm of separation.  My baby, my newest little girl, was strapped onto my front in her baby sling.  I grasped her soft hanging feet and felt the tears come on unexpectedly.  I looked at this remarkably beautiful young woman with all her accomplishment, and felt a tinge of jealousy.  I don't know if she is a mother, and if she is, I don't know how she manages motherhood on top of her blossoming career.  Some women can do it.  I have tried and find that I can not.  And in the grand scheme of things, I know that between my art and my motherhood, the most important achievement by far will be raising my children the very best I can.  But still, there is something that stings a little, something that aches when I think of what I might have been able to do if I had thrown more of my time into developing my art.

As soon as I realized the emotion that was seizing me, I decided it was time to go.  Even though I tried to smile, my husband saw my tears, and very quietly, graciously, put his arm around me and walked me out, all my little brood milling about us as we made our way though the doors and down the city sidewalk.  He didn't say, "Now you know how I feel," or "See what I mean?"  He probably wasn't even thinking that.  But suddenly, I did know, and I did see.

Sometimes we look through a window and see the wind beckoning, and we can't go out to play.  Duty or pressing responsibilities hold us back.  But there are seasons for everything.  This is a season that requires so much of my time and attention to be focused on just the daily grind of meal-times, cleaning the same messes over and over, doing hair on 5 different heads, endless laundry and dishes, homework, mentoring, and loving.  Some of those things will lessen or go away in time, and they will be replaced with other things.  Maybe I will find time to do art again.  Maybe I won't want to by then.  My desire has certainly decreased over the years.  But if it is meant to be, for whatever reason, I'm sure I will find the time.  Life is long, and there will be many windy afternoons, many chances to play again, many seasons for other things.