The Safety in Kites & Flowers
I use this “blog” like I would a journal.
When I started blogging, I did so for two very important reasons. One, I thought of it as a safer way to keep a diary. Whatever I wrote would be saved on the computer, which was less likely (if ever) to get lost or damaged than paper. Two, and this was the really, really big one: I desperately needed a way to “open up.” I am not an open person by nature. In fact, if left to my own devices, no one would know anything at all about me, not even those very close to me. But I’ve traveled the road of isolation long enough to know that it is a slippery and dangerous road to be on. In order for me to really, truly heal, other people had to know… about me. They had to know who I am, and why. I didn’t necessarily have to know them but I needed to know that someone, even if I never knew a name, understood me. I promised myself that, no matter what, I would write whatever I needed to write. I promised myself that I wouldn’t write something just because I felt someone wanted me to. If I wanted to write about clouds three times a week, then that was what I was going to do. I also promised myself that this thing, this blog, would be for me. Of course the books and writing would play a significant role in it but only because books and writing are as integral a part of my character and daily life as oxygen: you might as well as use the words Tiffini and writing interchangeably because I could never, ever imagine my life without the written word and stories. For the record, I’d never even want to. So of course the books would be prominently featured. But I promised myself that this blog would not become simply another avenue by which to market the books. Instead, this place would be a healing, safe place for me to be… well…. gut-wrenchingly, painfully open and, even more importantly, safe. Every once in awhile, I have sneaky thoughts pop up, like, “You shouldn’t write another post about that.” But then I remind myself that Tiffini’s way of healing is writing and that healing as much as I possibly can in this lifetime is more important than making somebody else not read; I remind myself that it does not matter how many times other people accuse me of being a “perpetual victim.” Instead, what matters is that maybe the first post about any particular issue will resolve in my soul whatever is bothering me. But maybe that won’t happen until the epiphany comes during post thirty about the same issue. Therefore, I should write the thirtieth post.
Amazingly, I have stayed true to this promise. It has grown, books have sold and still…. I write only when there is a need inside of me that warrants it. I am open and transparent because it is what I need. Tonight, I’d like to tell you a true story from earlier this week. The girls and I went to the Y. After that, we decided to stop off at the nearby park. Along the route there, we saw a Walgreens and spontaneously stopped. We went in to buy a ball to play with at the park but came out instead with two kites. Flying a kite has been a dream of mine ever since I was a kid. There’s something iconic about the image of a child running in the hopes of keeping a kite soaring in the air. It evokes feelings of peace and freedom and joy that inevitably call to something deep, deep inside of me. Soon after arriving at the park, we started practicing. It took a few minutes (and a cupful of patience) but, before long, the kite was in the air and they were both flying them.
I watched them with this big, goofy grin on my face. For just a few minutes, everything went still.
Now, this phenomenon happens to me at least once a day: a few moments where time just stands still for a minute. Mostly, it happens during our morning or nighttime Chatter Chats—the few minutes the girls and I spend talking together without any distractions. But, every so often, it happens when I least expect it to. Like when we were flying kites. And the meaning it had was particularly special and valued. You see…
I don’t get overwhelmed often. I pretty much have my little life script down pat and it takes a lot to throw me off-balance. But the last couple weeks have done a nifty job of threatening that balance. Two giveaways on Goodreads that are coming to a close at the end of this month, I’ve re-written a speech in front of book readers PLUS other….. gasp….. AUTHORS (did you hear my voice screech on that last word?? ) about half a dozen times, a book tour for which I have to prepare coming up in a few months, registering with the state so that I can be an official and -legal- reseller (it enables bookstores to order directly from me, which is a big deal for lots of reason) and getting a crash course in everything THAT means, and then, right in the middle of all this, a brand new character (Maelea) pops into my head which meant I had to stop everything and LISTEN to her while somehow working out the finer details of cementing another book signing at a new bookstore who wants me to help promote the event through printed materials I don’t have and so have to create and print; plus, you know, all the regular day-to-day stuff like feeding and bathing and teaching and playing with my kids while also finding time to prepare lesson plans for two classes I teach at church…. while it’s all awesome, it’s been a…. whirlwind… this month. Things haven’t just been still very much at all. There hasn’t been much time to, you know, stare at the clouds and just breathe. But that’s exactly what the girls and I did while the kites were in the air. We gasped when they danced dangerously close to tree limbs, we oohed and aahhed when they went higher than we’d expected. The wind blew against our faces and the sky was brilliantly blue and there wasn’t anywhere we had to be but there. It was one of those moments you knew you’d savor for years to come.
And it was more.
My heart, I felt it warm and expand. When I breathed in, my lungs filled with more oxygen than usual. And…. I felt it…. that small light known as “safety.” I’m not sure why I felt safe in a public park flying a kite…. but I’d recognize that feeling anywhere. It always strikes me as novel; it always demands my attention. And it always brings with it just a tiny extra dose of confidence. When you really, truly feel safe, you relax. When you really, truly feel safe, you laugh harder and cry harder. When you really, truly feel safe, you ask for help. When you really, truly feel safe, you give more because you’re not too busy protecting yourself. When you feel really, truly safe, you are more likely to express who you really are instead of maintaining the mask you wear for those around you. When you feel really, truly safe, you speak your mind and opinions more. When you feel safe, you don’t really care what others think of you as you do silly things. When you feel safe, joy is within your reach. It’s when you’re left feeling vulnerable and exposed that you retreat and start over-analyzing every single minute of the day; it’s when you don’t really, honestly feel safe that the driver who cuts you off makes you mad at the world. There are a ridiculously limited number of people with whom I truly, truly feel safe. I can count all of them using less than four fingers.
I don’t remember when the feeling of safety really left me. It would be easy to say it happened when I was five. But I don’t know for sure. Honestly, I don’t remember very much of the days between “events.” Of course I felt unsafe around my father but I don’t know if that was a permanent kind of feeling or if it came and went for a while. When I was a few years older, though, maybe around nine, I remember consciously thinking about everything I did before I did it. I remember consciously debating whether or not to leave my room. I remember consciously weighing the pros and cons of speaking. So I know the overall feeling of security was gone by then. Recently, I saw a video on Facebook of a father and daughter dancing at her wedding. It was a happy, fast-paced dance and everyone was laughing. It was pretty awesome. Except it ripped the scab off my heart and made me break down in tears. While it’s true I’m not married, I was engaged and for long enough that I actually planned the wedding. I had seating charts, I ordered Save-the-Date cards, I booked the church and the preacher, I even bought a wedding gown that cost me just at $1,100 (which was a lot of money to spend). And I had music picked out. But whenever I would work on planning the wedding, I became sad. At one point, I was almost visibly panicked. Who was going to give me away?? Of course, my mom would. She’s been the one who took care of me in every aspect of the word. But…. who would dance with me? There would be no father-daughter dance. Even tonight, as I type that, my eyes burn with the sting of tears. No one has ever longed for something as deeply and sincerely as I long for a dad, a strong, loving one. Having a loving mother is something that no one could ever replace. My mom is an extraordinary woman and whatever I have good in me is attributed whole-heartedly to her instilling values like faith and family deep into my core. In fact, I’m not so sure that it’s a father I long for at all but, rather, a sense of safety that, I imagine, comes from having two protective, strong and united parents. What I’m longing for, I suppose, is to be wrapped in a hug that might remind me of an idyllic childhood spent riding bicycles and playing with Care Bears and going to sleepovers. More even than I mourn for the physical safety of the little girl I was for such a short time, I ache for the sense of unrealistic strength she has claimed since then. No one is as strong as I pretend to be; what might it feel like to know that that was okay, that I didn’t have to be because someone stronger than me had my back? See, these are the things that are taken for a child who’s hurt in unspeakable ways as a child: an innate sense of self-confidence and, perhaps most profoundly, a sense of security. I can’t just walk away from losses of that magnitude because their absence haunts me every time I need help but refuse to ask for it, I’m reminded of them every time I spend the night tossing and turning until I give in and turn the bathroom light on as a way of helping me sleep. And, to tell you the truth, while I of course want to feel the emotional release of such abstract ideas as “finding closure” or “moving on,” frankly, I’m also terrified of walking away from a little girl no one protected. A reader wrote of a special book: “I almost stopped reading but found I couldn’t turn my back on that little girl.” That hit me hard in the heart, because I can’t turn my back on the real little girl I once was, either. It’s not that I enjoy reliving these memories through writing; I’m not a masochist. It’s not about attention or selling books, either. It’s about truly, gut-wrenchingly knowing an innocent little girl never grew up; I was the little girl who thought a car dealership was a packed parking lot. I was the sixth grader who hit a home run and then carried the bat with her as she ran to every single base. I was the kid who took her entire collection of beloved Baby-Sitter Club books door to door, trying to sell them to get enough money that my parents would buy me a Fan Fair ticket. I was the little girl who came home crying for years because she could not understand math. I was the girl who started physically shaking whenever she heard a raised voice and who needed to sleep on the wall side of the bed in order to feel just a little bit safer. I’m terrified, even though I intellectually “know better”, of forgetting or not caring or choosing to ignore what happened to that little girl. It was almost as though she were here one minute and gone the next…
I could get lost on this road. It’s a slippery slope that ends in tears and being overly skeptical of strangers and friends alike. It’s a cliff that leaves me holding my breath, waiting to lose my footing and fall. There have been numerous times in my life during which that has almost happened. Except, every once in a while…
A kite catches wind and soars.
A few months ago, the girls and I bought some inexpensive flower seeds and planted them in our front yard. Every other day, we’d water them. When the stem broke through the ground, we jumped for joy. When we saw the first green leaf, we squealed with excitement. When we saw the closed bud and knew that the flower within would soon bloom, we began rushing every morning to see if it had happened yet. We held our breaths in anticipation and expectation. The hope of something beautiful coming from a patch of dirt made each day just a little bit…. more. Unlike our normal behavior, we did not spend the Summer looking up pictures of morning glories. We did not draw pictures of such either. We just let God’s seeds be. Until, just the other day, we walked outside to check on them and two of them had bloomed beautifully. The pure white, large flower was so… perfect and delicate. We oohed and ahhed; the girls each picked one. We smelled them and marveled over them. Those simple flowers touched our lives and made our home a little more sweet. They inspired a sense of serenity, which wrapped us up in a sense of safety.
Safety doesn’t mean being wrapped in a bubble. Those flowers, they had to contend with an unsightly amount of rain, stray cats, weeds and other hazards. The kites had to avoid being ripped apart by tree branches or even the lack of wind would cause them to sink. Neither the flowers nor the kites were guaranteed. Some of the flower seeds have not sprouted and we have had kites get rendered useless by tree branches. But the flowers and the kites, they bloomed, and soared, despite the dangers. Likewise, I’m not guaranteed tomorrow. I can’t undo yesterday. All I have is the present, this moment. I can wait for the mystical, abstract concept of “security” to wrap me up…. or I can bloom, whether it come rain or shine. I can hold my head high and write what I need to write, no matter what anyone else says or thinks. And when the rain does come, when I feel isolated and scared, I’ll think of the tender flower reed that continued to stand upright while it was getting drenched by heavy rain. When the rain does come and I feel uncertain and exposed, I’ll think of the kites that barely missed being speared by a tree branch… and continued to fly. My hope doesn’t come in being a china doll or in teaching my girls to be afraid of life or men; my hope comes in shucking off the shoes to dance in the downpour; my hope comes from deliberately reaching for a dream rather than allowing fear of the unknown to steal it from me. The ultimate security comes from the assurance that God has my back and that, even if I never feel the light of security again as long as I live, He’s still here. The ultimate safety isn’t something I can create and then grasp—it is a state of mind that comes with conscious and deliberate behaviors. After all, no matter who you are or how old you may be, the first instinct when given freshly picked flower is to smell it.