When I was little, my dad came home from work every day at 6:00 – not a minute later – and my brother and I would run outside and my dad would hardly be able to get out of his work clothes before we were begging him to push us on the swings. Dad and Seamus would talk about the upcoming baseball games and I’d sing my heart out and kick my legs and my dad would say, “don’t you dare jump off of the swing,” but he’d laugh a little while he said it like he knew I’d jump anyway. I’d leap and fly through the air and feel absolutely weightless and land with a huge grin on my face, or maybe I’d stick my legs out too late and scrape up my knees but the little bruise was worth the feeling of soaring through the air.
The first time I ever had a play date was a Friday afternoon with my friend Harrison, and our moms were so excited because we were both so shy but never with each other. We were on his swing-set at his house and we were playing ninja spies but the wristbands were making my arms itchy so I wrapped my arms around the swing and took the wristband off, and when Harrison tried to do the same thing, he forgot to wrap his arms around the swing and he fell flat on his back. But a few minutes later he got up and we ate apples on the picnic bench and I went home with sticky cheeks and a new best friend. When my mom asked if I had fun I told her, “Harrison fell off the swing set, but he got back up and we kept playing even though his head probably hurt an awful lot.” She just smiled back.
In second grade, when we were too cool to play tag anymore, we hung out on the swing sets, and I always made sure I was swinging next to the boy I thought was cute that week. My day was made so fast when we’d swing in sync and he’d look over and tell me, “look, we’re married!!” Sometimes my mom would ask if anything special happened at school, and I’d tell her about my wedding on the playground. Sometimes I’d hold the joy in for myself.
Senior year, when we were so sad to be leaving each other, we went to the park at our elementary school and it felt like the closing of an era because we were right where it all began and we were watching it all end in front of us. It was like the air was sucked out of my lungs the whole time we sat there because these were the kids who knew me best my whole life and they were about to hardly know me at all. I clawed the chains tight while the boys ran under my swinging legs to get me soaring, and soon I let go of my grip so I could fly through the air one last time.
Today swinging was so soothing and I wondered if maybe that was what I felt when I was a kid. I was breathless thinking about these swings and all the moments I shared with them, and I walked away and I thought, “this is it,” because this swing set told me everything I needed to know about the world. We must go backward to go forward. We must let go to soar. Take the leap, and if you fall, get back up and try again.