archives, happiness

What I Want Is to Fly Without Fear.


I want to wake up flying, and knowing I will land with confidence, like my daughter used to when she flew off that rope swing into the lake in Michigan, suspended in air, all joy, no fear as she descended into the water.

Now, as she prepares for adulthood, I want to see her fly with abandon, to let go, but I often see her wings getting clipped or falling off or whatever wings do when girls turn into young women. Where she once leapt, she seems to carefully place each foot down wondering if the floor will hold her.

Will it? Did I forget that I used to move easily in the world? Was I ever really able to? Re-remembering (or imagining, believing, having faith) that the air, the water, the earth will hold me as I am?

When I first learned to swim the summer before I turned 5, the summer I was the youngest to pass my swimming test, when I would dive off the high dive into the deep end over and over, kind of afraid but doing it anyway, my mother told me, “Only breathe if you absolutely have to.” She was talking about breathing while swimming, but it was also advice about living.

It was all fine and good to smell the chlorine/ketchup/French fry/pizza mélange at the pool that summer, but in general, she taught me not to breathe too deeply or too often, not to take up too much air, too much space.

Last summer, on a cool starlit Vermont evening, I hear my good friend’s 21-year-old daughter go up the stairs in the old farmhouse where I am staying. She places her feet down with such force, to my socialized-in-the 70’s and 80’s ear, she sounds like a man walking through the house. She is so un-self-consciously taking up space, owning the weight of her body, assuming the floor will hold her.

I am shocked by it, even a little miffed by it. It seems like too much noise for her to make. CLOMP, CLOMP, CLOMP, CLOMP, CLOMP. On a hot summer evening in Philadelphia the following week, as I go down the steps with the laundry basket, I suddenly realize how much I tiptoe in my own house, don’t make noise, don’t put my full weight down as I go up and down the stairs. Even when I am alone.

What I want, what I desire, is both the joy of flying and the weight of gravity. I want to fly without fear. I want my girl to remember what it feels like to fly through the air off that rope swing into the lake, and her squeals of uncensored delight.

But I also want her and me to own our own weight, to have her see me take up space, to stomp, clomp, not hold back as I walk, swim, dance, fly through the world. May her walk make the sound of a herd of elephants if she wants it to — even in the library, in church, morning, noon and night. May she and we be free.


Ellen Skilton is an educator, ethnographer, applied theater practitioner, dark-chocolate-lover, oldest child, mother of teenagers, skilled napper, and glass-half-full Philadelphia resident. Last fall, she wrote and performed a one-woman show in the Fringe Festival, entitled Reality in Retrograde, that she called “an ode to our shared flawed and sacred humanity.” These days, her creative work in the world focuses on utilizing applied theater approaches to address isolation and imagine new futures and writing creative non-fiction. Her creative maladjustment process is in its infancy, but the future looks bright.


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