The Kites We Fly
by Rabbi David Zaslow
I was eight years old in 1955 when Hurricane Diane struck the East Coast. I lived in in a little beach community called Sea Gate, in Coney Island, Brooklyn. The day of the storm was dark, and the rain soared downward and even sideways across our front window. I was sick that week and was home with little to do but watch the wind on the beach as the sand was tossed high into the air like hair wildly brushed. I saw the turbulent tides of the Atlantic form high swells that jumped onto the beach as if trying to reach my house.
That day I built my first box-kite. I concentrated with all my might as I meticulously glued each piece of long, thin popsicle-stick wood and plastic skin together. I neatly wound the string and knotted the end to a stick that was to be my spool. The spool was a kind of steering devise that I could tug and turn, commanding my kite to perform all sorts of amazing aerial acrobatics. I was so proud of my checkerboard blue and red masterpiece. On August 19th, the rains were over, the sun was bright and reborn after the storm, and the air itself felt alive. The winds calmed down to a gusty 25 m.p.h., and I figured it was perfect weather to fly my box kite on the beach, even though I was still a little feverish. I swaggered in the wind to the beach, holding my kite close to my chest.
Every kid knows that normally he/she has to run to get his kite aloft, but that day when I let go of the kite the wind instantly took hold like some gigantic magnet. A gust pulled my kite and unwound hundreds of feet of string from the stick in mere seconds. Up and up, it was like a rocket on a straight line toward heaven. And then…the unthinkable. The kite, my first box kite, the kite I had made by hand, snapped from the stick and continued out across the Atlantic. I felt insulted, shocked, and angry. The wind seemed to know what it was doing, and how it would affect an eight-year old boy who was flying his first box-kite.
Hurricane, rain, beach, kite, string, spool, and child. We have all faced hurricanes – moments of grief, loss, rebirth, change, and transformation. We have all built kites – our jobs, hobbies, and relationships, and we tie our kites to a very thin string and knot them to the spool of our hearts. King Solomon chanted a poem that we read each autumn on Sukkot that says “To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven.” If we try to fly a kite when the winds are too strong…snap, it will likely break away from us. Everything has its own time.
In a way all of our personal spiritual practices, our prayer and meditation, are as delicate as a box kite. We protect ourselves by practicing in communal gatherings, in the privacy of our homes, or surrounded by the beauty of nature. But like a kite on a string, we are all so vulnerable. Take away the beauty of nature and replace it with the fury of nature– and snap, the kite will break loose. Take away the elegance of a synagogue service and we find ourselves struggling to do the inner work that each holiday calls forth.
The festival of Sukkot that just passed is a reminder of the how delicate our dwelling places really are, and how subject we all are to the winds and rains of life. Yet it is those very rains that make spring possible. So, may the Holy One bless us all to make our kites well, but to know when to fly them… never in strong winds the day after a hurricane on a beach in Brooklyn.