From Here...to There...
Here...circa the mid 1950's
My fourth grade class assembles on the blacktop. It is not recess time and we are not here to play or run the bases. Wrapped around each wrist, a loop of string attached to the neck of an inflated helium balloon. The moment we step outdoors, the balloons tug and try to pull away from our grasp. Lighter than air, they long to float and soar on the whim of a breeze. Truth be told, we, their handlers, wish to do the same, but we are assembled with purpose. Earlier, back in the classroom, we wrote our names and addresses on the front of an index card. On the back of the card, we wrote in bold letters, the same message. "If found, please return this card to sender, and note your location. This is an experiment being conducted by our fourth grade geography class. We are having a contest to see how far our letters will travel through the air. If this letter reaches you, it is me, reaching out and waving hello. I hope you will take the time to wave back."
Our teacher stands on second base, as we gather in center field, arms outstretched and balloons taut and batting the air, anxious for escape. She drops the flag and I feel the card slip through my fingers. I rest my hand on my forehead to shield my eyes from the sun, then realize I am saluting, as my yellow and blue striped balloon bobs and wobbles near a stand of trees. It catches in the outstretched limbs, and I moan. No. No. I cannot end up exactly where I started. Oh, oh, a breath, a puff and then a gust of wind rushes in and under my balloon shaking it free. I clap my hands as it soars higher and higher into the sky, until it is just a yellow dot. One blink of an eye. Gone. My letter is in the skybox, successfully sent with a neatly printed reminder, Return To Sender.
Trooping back to class, our teacher lets the air out of all our balloons with a cautionary tale, not to get our hopes up, as we live in a bustling city in the Midwest, full of towering skyscrapers, busy skyscraping and getting in the way of good pen pal penmanship. Or, perhaps, pecking birds will punch a hole in one over the Great Lake and our missives will drown. Impediments. One bad connection and the conversation will be over before it starts.
But we can hope.
We can always hope.
That someone out there is listening. Looking. Watching the sky.
For a little yellow dot with their name on it.
We launched in April. By the end of the school year, several students received replies. From all over the country. As far away as Texas, and as close as two blocks down the street. My mailbox remained empty. The school year ended and summer began. I gave up hope.
One morning, mid-August, I got a letter in the mail. Inside the envelope was my index card. Smudged and torn, but tucked inside a sheet of paper. A letter. From Holland, Michigan. From a friend. A pal, taking up the pen, to let me know that my card sailed over the Great Lake, and landed in the middle of his pasture. He found it while working the land. On a hot August morning. And it made him smile, to think of me. This kind man, took the time to let me know, he was out there. Just like me. And glad to meet someone new. From a place he had never been.
I was a stranger to the state of Michigan. I had not traveled outside of my home state. I had walked along the shore of the Great Lake, but when I looked out over the water, I could not see the land beyond, nor any sign of the the people who lived there. So I pulled out my geography book, found a map of Michigan, and put a tiny gold star on the city of Holland. Holland, Michigan. Across the lake. Perhaps one day, I would skywrite across the ocean to Holland, the country where the tulips grow. I practiced my pen pal penmanship. I promised I would write one day, and I did.
To HERE, on the other side of the world, an older and slightly more cynical letter writer, I sit and skywrite late at night. Open the mailbox and hit Send. Time passes and no reply. Just as hope slips through my fingers, like the index card in the hopeful hand of a fourth grader, I imagine my letters tangled up in the trees or at the bottom of a lake. Then, one morning, months and months later, a note in my Inbox. From Australia. Another from Switzerland. Ireland. Wales. And yes, letters from the deep south and the far reaches of the Pacific Northwest.
I have a map now. In my studio. With tiny gold stars all over it. Sky letters from me to you. And from you to me. We may never meet, but in this day and in this time, I am so very glad to have the opportunity to say hello, to have a conversation, and to know that at night, we look up at the same sky, and wish each other well.
From One Aspiring Not-Yet-A-Yeti to Another...