“Janet, stop jumping around and doing cartwheels in the house.”
That was my dad, his temper often intensified by the hangovers and headaches that regularly debilitated him.
I stopped cartwheeling and practiced backbends. Facing outwards to an open wall I would slowly arch over and walk my hands down towards the floor, the old floorboards creaking as I made the half circle.
It was easier with each time I tried.
My face inches from the old plastered-wallpapered-over walls, I could see a column of ants making their way across to the kitchen. I tracked my way back up, smashing them as I went.
Migrating to the top bunk in the bedroom I shared with my toddling brother, I walked across the railings, balancing, hands out. If I lost my footing, the solution was easy. I would land, feet first, absorbing my “fall” in the spring of the mattress and the criss crossed metal springs. Using the stored momentum, I would then propel myself to the ceiling, hands help high. I considered these maneuvers extremely successful when the palms of my hands met the ceiling.
“I thought I told you not to jump on the bed!”
“I’m not jumping on it, Dad.”
I believed this to be technically true. The bed was a safety net, in case of missteps when walking the narrow rails.
“Your handprints are on the ceiling,” he said.
I looked up. The ceiling was not dissimilar to those smokey, faded neolithic cave paintings, this one painted with childish sweat and grime. The look on Dad’s face indicated he found it hard evidence for disobedience.
“Go outside and play,” Mother said from the kitchen. “You are driving me crazy.”
Outside meant there were more things to balance and swing on, handstands to perfect in soft clover patches. One could turn up side down on the cross bar of the swing set and pretend it was a trapeze.
“I wish I had a trapeze,” I told Dad as he walked past, remembering seeing people fly through the air, sometimes falling into the net below them when the circus came to town. I followed him to his truck.
An old 64 Ford F100, Dad had fashioned a 2 inch square tubular frame around the bed of the truck. His plan was to build a camper around the frame. The truck sat under an old Black Gum tree, its leaves beginning to blush, a sign they would be bright red in less than a month.
Dad whistled his way to the front of the truck and I climbed up the tailgate, up on top of the cab and out onto the frame. I figured I could reach the tree limb of that old tree from there.
“How far around can you go?” Dad asked. He was peaking around the heavy metal hood. It was harder than I had thought to walk the tubes and reach for a limb. I balanced myself, hands out to my side, stepping one foot in front of the other, purchasing as much of the metal that the souls of my feet could cover.
“What are you trying to do?”
“See how far I can go,” I said. “I would like to fly through the air,” I finished.
“Get down,” he said. “Lay on the ground.”
Dad laid his wrenches down, with hands strong and sure, he grabbed my wrist and my ankle. Before I knew it, I was arcing through the air. Round and round as Dad leaned back, his forearms flexed, I flew.
“Enough?” he asked.
Only for the moment.
I follow two twenty somethings, a Ukrainian brother and sister dance duo, on my socials. I did it originally because I wanted to exercise with them. I also like knowing how young people dance today. Browsing through their reels a few nights ago, I watched as Slavik helped his sister Miranda fly.
It made me think of when I was young with a back that still bent backwards. I considered fondly that a few cousins, taller than me and stronger, consented to my youthful request, to balance centripetal and centrifugal forces, and give me more memories of denying gravity that I can reflect on today. There is beauty and hope in youthful bodies that can bend and not break.
One could mourn for lost youth.
There is another kind of beauty equally true and important when decades of living pass and life proves messy. What matters is a flexible mind, bounded by love, a heart firmly planted on knowledge that allows recognition of hidden prejudice. It’s the spirit of generosity that finds new ways to explore the truth that God loves every single one of his Image bearers. And so should we. It is the need for courageous actions and gentle spirits that can comfort in the face of ambiguity and uncertainty.
I can continue to enjoying dancing with the Ukranians in hopes of keeping some semblance of flexibility, all the while appreciating what youth has to offer and the grand plan of it all.
But mostly, this day, this time for me, I pray with fervent plea, “God, thank you for swinging me around, in my heart and mind, always and ever, closer to you.