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.