If you’ve been following my column, you’ll know my family just buried my stepfather as well as my mother-in-law.
During this time, we have shared a lot of tears, and I’ve heard more than one person ask the common question: “What if I start crying and I can’t stop?”
Some people call this the snowball effect of tears. But I have another name for it. I call it the kite string effect of grief.
I coined the phrase out of my childhood experiences in the San Francisco Bay area, where every March, my friends and I would buy or build the best kite we could afford.
Like little engineers, we obsessed about the kite tail length and how many bowtie knots it should contain for proper balance. Others of us were subject matter experts on exactly where the twine was best fastened to the kite’s crossbar.
To me, the string was the most critical part of the assembly, because it wasn’t simply a kite string. It was a tether precariously fastened to something I wanted to fly and reclaim from the sky.
As the son of a struggling seminary student, however, it was rare that I could afford the monster ball of string needed for the fickle microclimates of the Marin County hills.
Short of a quality and quantity of string, I’d anchor myself on the steep hillside in a weed from the fig-marigold family called ice plant and wait for an inviting gust. Soon, the whimsically wild winds took hold of my kite and sent the string whizzing through my fingertips and the ball dancing at my feet.
I tried desperately to ration the rapidly diminishing roll of string, but with each gust, the string would fling into the wind like so many tangled spider webs.
My younger kite-less friends would yell, “Give it more string!” or “Let it all out!” Yet I knew that if I did let it fly, the string might empty too quickly from the cardboard core, and I’d see the end slip through my fingers, releasing the kite into the forested hills and gone forever.
Simultaneously, my older friends coached me to tease the slack a bit, play with it and finesse it. The problem was that playing with the string too much might cause the kite to go into uncontrollable, low-flying loops and wrap itself around an electrical line.
Flying a kite on the Marin Peninsula always left me with a contradictory fear that my kite would go nowhere or it would go everywhere. In either case, at the end of the day, all that might remain was a wad of string to splice onto my next kite.
Letting loose of your tears may bring with it much the same feeling. You think if you hold the tears back, you’ll never be able to launch your life again. And if you let your tears flow freely, you start to feel your life is out of control, like so much endless kite string whizzing through fingers. Where will the string of tears stop?
At the end of my day, I chose to let it fly. I let the tears fall freely like healing balm on my wounds. I chose to lean on the words from Isaiah, who promised God will one day, “banish death forever. And wipe the tears from every face.”
Burkes is a former civilian hospital chaplain and an Air National Guard chaplain. Write firstname.lastname@example.org or visit thechaplain.net. You also cab follow him on Twitter, username is “chaplain,” or on Facebook at facebook.com/norrisburkes.