Taking FlightBlog / Produced by The High Calling
She sits in a cubicle with no window, no sunlight.
Oh, there's glass. But it surrounds her, so anyone who walks by can glance in and see what she's doing.
This makes her jumpy and self-conscious. This morning she's scanning to see who's walking by, who might be observing her. Dan, from Accounts Receivable, on his way to the Xerox machine. Max, going to the water cooler or the men's room again. Sweet Patricia of the dowdy sweat shirts and sweat pants.
And there's Evon, wobbling by on her four-inch heels.
Evon is Denise's supervisor. She is two decades younger. She came in six months ago with her master's degree and her nose in the air. Evon looks as if she's playing grown-up, with her low-cut blouses, her red nails. At the age of 26, she hopscotched over everyone else in the firm. Except for two female lawyers, she's at the top of the pecking order now. She's never diapered a baby. She's never worried about day-care problems. She's not expected to take care of aging parents. In fact, Evon's parents are probably in their forties, just about Denise's age. With no one to take care of, Evon spends everything on clothes, and evenings out at restaurants, and face creams, and manicures.
At the moment, Evon is driving Denise crazy, because Evon has absolutely no idea, not a clue, how a forty-six-year-old woman has to split her time between her husband, her children, her work, and her parents. The proof is that Evon has asked Denise to come in at 8:00 a.m. all week. Since Denise's husband goes to work at 7:45, this leaves their three children without day care. Right now the kids are home alone. Soon they'll be walking to the school bus stop without her.
Denise feels like a corroded drainpipe inside.
The thing is, she knows better.
After all, how can she expect a twenty-six year-old without children to understand? Denise hasn't even tried to explain her situation to Evon. She's too enraged. She's afraid her voice might break. She might start crying, which would be utterly humiliating. Something about Evon rubbed her the wrong way from the start. But Denise knows that carrying this grudge is like walking around with a broken arm, intentionally refusing to go to the doctor.
She knows that if she could change her attitude, she would be happier. She wants to. She longs to. She remembers what it felt like to be unencumbered by this grudge, not obligated to carry it everywhere. She was free, buoyed up by her pleasure in work, her delight in her healthy, amazing children, and her funny, affectionate husband, Stan. Denise sometimes used to feel as if she were taking flight.
She still has all that. She's a believer. She thinks God holds her life in his hands. Her children are flourishing. Her husband loves her. Why not let go of this heavy grudge? She imagines taking flight. But she doesn't really know how.
So she imagines an angel.
It's herself in angel form—trying to take flight.
What happens afterward? It's told in a poem. The poem is about an angel trying to take flight. Call the angel Denise. She is trying to change her attitude, trying to believe she can fly again, trying to take off.
The angel speeding down the runway pulls up
her wing flaps, and, wouldn't you know it, wobble,
then dribbles to a stop. She stands on the windy
tarmac, embarrassed, brushing her blond hair
from her eyes, trying to remember how to elevate
herself, wishing she'd worn jeans instead of
the girly skirt that looks good when she's flying.
It's gravity's old malice, showing up in the strangest
places, now at the corner, where the fortune cookie truck
forgets how to turn, tipping gracefully, sliding on
its side as cookies spill into the summer night.
Then good luck stalls all around the city
and we're just bodies, only protoplasm for a wasp
to sting. Even love is a sad mechanical business then,
and prayer an accumulation of words she would kill
to believe in. There's no happy end to a poem
that lacks faith, no way to get out. She could go on,
mentioning that doubt, no doubt, is a testing. But
meanwhile the bedraggled angel glances towards
the Higher Power, wondering how much help she'll get,
not a manual, for sure, but a pause in entropy perhaps,
until she can get her wings scissoring. Call it cooperation,
helping her teeny rise to build, sustain itself, and
lift her past the tree line. When her feet clear, she knows
she won't fall, oh holy night, can't fall. Anything but.
Questions for personal reflection, online discussion, or small groups:
- Is there a problem at work you're having trouble letting go of?
- Can you imagine a time in the past when you weren't burdened by this dilemma?
- Can you imagine a future when you won't need to drag it with you?
- In Romans 1:17 Paul writes "The just shall live by faith." (King James) Can you summon faith to believe that you can make the future different by changing your attitude?
- For more articles that include poetry about work, read "A Dark Path Leads to Light," "A Direction You Can Start In," "Centering," and "The Secret Life of Bread."
More poems by Jeanne Murray Walker can be found in New Tracks, Night Falling, published by Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2009.