The sky can be sliced, can be serrated. When we fly, clouds pull apart, the first heaven reconfigures, an unblemished celestial landscape forever alters with exhaust. It has become commonplace, flying. We view it not as an enchantment, but an inconvenience. We are not awed by the height we reach nor the speed with which we may exit one icy clime and find ourselves in the warm embrace of another. We forget that this is only possible — earbuds stuffed into auricles, pillows plumped under our heads — because someone stretched.

Someone enacted an idea with a reach that exceeded his grasp. With a pounding heart and a galloping mind, he sketched, he planned, he fashioned and tested and failed. He had help. He was lifted, both by those whose ideas dovetailed with his own and those who doubted his ability to ever reach higher than they could. He s t r e t c h e d, and in so doing, built something that serrates the sky.

I have gone whole days without stretching, gone full weeks, many years, a lifetime lifting toward spots much lower than those I could reach. I’ve been meek. Once my nana accused me of shrinking: you’re too young to be losing height and too old not to stand like you know you’re tall. Stretch.

Her mother was diminutive. She lived to be 95 and in her final years, when you entered any room where she stood, it felt hallowed. After decades of curling down, she felt close to heaven. My great-grandma trained as a teacher then married a factory man-turned-preacher and raised 10 children, quietly. Old photographs show her sitting, stoic and adolescent, amid her sassier sisters who would grow up to buy land, write poems, perform monologues, ride camels in Egypt.

I like to believe she was content. Perhaps family was her reach. Perhaps her laborious, love-glazed meals were all she needed to grasp. But it was only when her husband passed and left her with a decade alone that I saw her s t r e t c h. She ventured a joke, a smile, a risque repetition, and basked in the laughter that followed. She tested opinions on her tongue, rolled advice around her molars, conjured a voice more confident than I’d ever heard her use. By then, the bones in her back had calcified; her spine, not unlike a comma, separated her new and independent will from years of dependent clauses: if the children are well, if my husband allows, if the weather lets up, if the grandbabies need me. If I can.


My posture is not what it should be, nor is my opinion of myself. This, like my talents, desires, and eyes, is an inheritance. But so are long arms, a galloping mind, an appreciation of aircrafts and their ability to serrate the sky.


This year has been one of reaching, of fingertips pushing past practical possibility. I have stretched my perceptions. Stretched the confines of an INFJ personality. Stretched my patience till it was pulled thin and pliable as taffy. Stretched writing past entertainment, past preciousness, past secrecy till I reached activism. Stretched a dollar till it hollered, forgot its diminished value, and yielded to my will. Stretched beyond my agenda to help others reach an apex. This year has felt like a rack, like I was not so much the agent of my reach than a slave to it.

Stretching is rarely triumphal. It is born of discomfort, desperation. It is born of disgust and necessity. It comes from dangling: yours from the end of a rope and that of the thing you most desire, within sight but just above the air you can touch.

It aches, makes you painfully aware of the parts of yourself you neglect. Stretching intensifies your accountability: the stronger it makes you, the more you can carry.

I am carrying so much more than I ever believed I would.

S  t  r  e  t  c  h.

4 responses to “Stretch.”

  1. Thanksgiving night, I was flipping through an old family reunion book and thinking to myself how remarkable that it was that Lela, your great-grandmother’s (my grandmother’s) sister was the first born (1908) and that she went from rural Mississippi to all over the world. I didn’t think of the word “stretch,” but I was thinking of my own life and wondering if I’ve done everything I could. I certainly haven’t been as may places as Aunt Lela, which is something considering that I was born 67 years later.

    Know what else fascinates me, though? I’d like to know the general time people started smiling in photographs. I don’t think my grandmother ever did. You mention the stoicism of Aunt Verlia in her photos. I don’t think it was limited to the family. I think there was a time when photographs were considered serious business, and folks were expected to look serious in them. I guess that’s a tangent, isn’t it. Anyway, glad to read that you’re stretching. Here’s to all of us doing the same.

    • I think you’re right, Jarvis, now that I think about it. I used to wonder why even the kids didn’t smile in professional portraits. Interestingly, my uncle Warren’s the first Brown child I remember cheesin’ back in a professional snapshot. That had to have been in the late ’40s, early 50s. He was around 5.

      Aunt Lela’s brave adventures have been a source of amazing and musing for me, too.

      • I shouldn’t say my grandmother NEVER smiled. I think I’ve seen one or two photographs of her as an older woman with her eyes twinkling and her lips slightly upturned. But as a young woman? Strictly business. She looks fierce, almost mean.

  2. Beautifully written! And I’m encouraged this year to stretch farther than I ever thought possible, the way I did when I was a kid trying to do a split. :Lol.

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