6: Learning to Soar Again

6: Learning to Soar Again

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery

Learning to Soar Again

He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.

~Friedrich Nietzsche

I made my decision and finalized it by driving the stake into the ground. Big, bold, red letters read HOUSE FOR SALE. I went inside, washed my hands and sat at the kitchen table, anxiously clutching a glass of cold lemonade, while my eyes rested on a cardinal pecking away at the food tray on the birdfeeder outside my window.

I smiled as the memories of this table, the window and the bird-feeder blessed my soul. My husband had painstakingly measured from the ground to my eye level and placed the birdfeeder on top of the pole. He said he did it for me, and he did, but he enjoyed our bird watching almost as much as I did. We emptied many pots of coffee sitting here in the early mornings, watching yellow and black finches, blue birds, nuthatches and chickadees. But my favorite was the cardinal.

My feet propped on a stool, I breathed in the crisp, clean air and savored the taste of home-squeezed lemonade. My eyes fixed on a cocoon attached to the bottom side of a green clematis leaf winding around the trellis. Silky threads quivered, split apart. Brilliant yellow and black wings emerged, and the butterfly wriggled its way out of its safe place. Defying predators and collectors with nets, it dared to soar through open fields and sip sweet nectar from nature’s bounty, spreading its majestic wings, golden pennants glistening in the sun. The larva transitioned from a warm, safe, ugly worm to a free-flying beauty, ready to embark on life’s adventures.

Since I was going to sell this house, I thought I might as well practice what I might do and say to a prospective buyer. “Hello,” I said as I walked to the door. “Come on in. Come through the kitchen door. All my friends enter here.”

Then I began the tour. I couldn’t help but point to the birdfeeder my husband built, as I mentioned how he painted it white to contrast with my red birds.

“Do you see the woods behind the house?” I again motioned toward the open window. “We often drank our coffee in silence so as not to scare away the deer, rabbits, squirrels and chipmunks that wandered into the yard. The trees offer fine shade for family barbecues, too.”

I fingered the cut glass crystal vase as I talked to my imaginary visitors. “This vase once stayed filled with flowers from hubby’s flower garden, Kroger’s flower shop, or wildflowers picked from the open fields over there. My friends used to tease me, saying I was still being courted after 45 years of marriage. I didn’t argue with them.”

I pointed to the window on the other side of the house. “You can see the garage through here. It’s still full of tools, from woodworking to mechanical. Even when my late husband was sick, he liked to tinker in his workshop. His motorcycle is parked in one corner and our pontoon and fishing gear in the other. We spent many hours traveling around the country in that little motor home parked under the carport.”

I took them into our family room where the family Bible lay open on the coffee table and my husband’s portrait hung on the wall. I pointed to it. “He sure was a handsome one. When he was young, friends told me he looked like Elvis. He didn’t want pictures taken after he became bald from chemotherapy.”

Nodding toward the television, I said, “I bought him that big screen TV so he could watch his Kentucky Wildcats play basketball. He leaned back in that big brown recliner over there, watching the games or his favorite courtroom show.”

I picked at a loose thread. “The recliner’s arms have worn spots on them where the grandkids climbed onto their pappy’s lap. And the springs are a bit saggy because sometimes that chair not only held my husband, but both of our adult daughters at the same time.” The vision of the three of them all piled into that chair flitted through my head.

“Let’s look at that chair again. Search closely and you’ll probably find a cellophane-wrapped peppermint ball that fell from his pocket where he kept a stash to give to the ladies and children at church. They lovingly called him the Candy Man.”

An unbidden smile crinkled my face. “In fact, a peppermint ball mysteriously appeared in his hand after one of the ladies from church viewed his body in the funeral home.”

I swept my hand toward the opposite wall. “These are my grandchildren.” I ran my finger over the hand-carved trim on the wooden picture frame, letting it come to rest on my youngest. “In the trek from infancy to elderly, we encounter many phases of life. She turned two this spring. Plate and spoon replaced mother’s milk, and panties replaced Pampers. She put on her backpack when school resumed and announced she was going to school also, throwing a teary tantrum when the bus picked up her two siblings and left her behind. Her transition from babyhood to childhood was complete.”

My finger brushed over the next one. “Her brother, off to preschool this year, anxiously boarded the bus, then stopped, looked back and waved goodbye with a hint of an unshed tear lurking behind his lashes.

“And my namesake became a pre-teen this summer. Instead of children’s programs, her favorite TV personality is the latest popular teenage idol and her little girl clothes don’t fit anymore. Ten is a trying time, too young for boy-girl relationships, yet toys no longer captivate the imagination.”

In another photo, three grandsons stood in a row. “This grandson both eagerly and reluctantly moves up to middle school. Elementary school teachers will no longer be there to comfort him when he loses his lunch money or is harassed by bullies. So he faces a new level of independence. This grandson here is bravely facing the frightful monster called high school, while this one becomes a teenager next month. His baby fat is melting and a few pimples dot his face.” I spoke softly now.

“Before we go into the bedrooms, let me show you my children.” I turned to the pictures on the wall on the other side of the room. “My younger daughter will be thirty in September. She gained a few gray hairs while transitioning from a stay-at-home mommy to a freshman in college. My other daughter, once a special needs student battling dyslexia, has begun her quest to teach other special needs children.”

I picked up the filigree frame and the face of a beautiful young woman, who has left a void in our hearts, stares back at me. My eyes become misty as I look upon my son holding his granddaughter, my great-granddaughter, who helps to ease the pain in our lives and fill the vacant place in the family portraits where his only daughter once stood.

A tear slid down my cheek as I smiled wistfully. I looked at my pretend house shoppers and said, “I’m sorry I wasted your time, but I don’t think we will finish the tour because this home is no longer for sale. This house holds many memories and, with God’s help, I think I’ll keep them just as they are.”

A cool, healing breeze rippled through the window as I finished my lemonade and began planning for a new day. A black and yellow Monarch glided over the trellis, fluttering its wings as it perched on the clematis leaf. Last month I began my transition from a happily married wife to a confused, insecure widow, but, like the butterfly, I too will develop my own wings and soar.

~Jean Kinsey

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