I was walking through a local park a few weeks back. The weather was cool and sunny with just enough wind to tease kites out of the closets and high shelves where they had waiting through the long winter and recent rains.
Laughing kids were running through the freshly mowed fields, brightly colored kites flapping, arcing wildly through the air behind them. I found an empty bench and watched the exercise in child powered aeronautics. One by one, the kits rose through the squeals and laugher riding the wind. Patches of sun illuminated the kites likes beacons, off and on and off again as they sailed over the summer meadows.
My eyes followed the near-invisible strings, angling taught to earth. When we call images of kites to mind, we think of the bold, colored sails or graceful fabric tails gliding through the sky, but we give little thought to the anchoring strings.
I’ve been thinking about the things that anchor us as individuals and as a culture, those strings that turn us into the wind and orient us to the sky.
The kite needs the constraints of the string to soar. The string anchors the kite, keeping it angled for flight, positioned to catch the wind and rise. Cut the string and the kite is freed from the tether’s constraint, free to tumble and careen wilding in any direction–falling as far as the string had guided it into the air.
The kite’s not entirely free, but the kite can fly.
The Western world is no stranger to flight. The culture of the enlightenment has guided us to such dizzying heights of human possibility and prosperity that we can free ourselves of the string and follow the winds, fluttering easy and unburdened for a long time–generations perhaps.
But gravity won’t be denied. Without their strings, kites always fall.
A decadent people indulge their fall through hollow lives of pointless pursuits and immediate gratification. They value the fleeting liberation of the fall over the work and constraints of flight. They tell themselves they need nothing to ride the wind; that freedom and progress will magically persist without the work and values that made them possible.
Without gratitude or understanding they cut the strings of culture, ignorant of their gifts. They do so with adolescent arrogance, blind to the approaching ground. They forget the trials of the past and the painful, hard-earned lessons they taught. They lack the wisdom of historical perspective.
Freedom and an enlightened society are the products of long struggle and the steady guidance of a culture promoting individuality, responsibility and human rights. That culture, and its long cultivated fruit, is preserved through a core of values, virtues and first principles. Cut those strings and the culture falls.
Maybe it’s always been this way. Prosperity makes it easy to forget past. Prosperity is wonderful–and dangerous. It disarms people, makes them complacent and offers easy paths of dependence; paths that let you quit, relinquish your independence, and allow others run the world. At the same time, prosperity does nothing to quell the thirst for power. For every measure of independence abandoned, someone is willing to take it up, extend their power, and rule.
The decay of civilizations might be inevitable, but when I watch the children running in the park, joyous, energetic, unspoiled and full of dreams, hope stirs in me.
Every generation seeks its frontiers and thirsts for its own possibilities, but we cripple our children. We blind them with the fog of cultural relativism. We make them whimpering, fragile victims as we strip them of strength, spirit and self-reliance. We deny them the values and empowering virtues that made our civilization possible. Without the anchor, strength and guidance of those strings we offer a future of slow and pointless ruin. We deny our children their birthright.
We are born with the spirit of explorers. I see it in my own children, the wonder, enthusiasm, and imagination of a new generation. If we grant our children the enlightenment’s tools and step aside, they’ll rise to new challenges and greater heights. They’ll shape the world, explore new frontiers and claim a better future for themselves.
The freedoms that carry us, elevate us, and offer greater liberation demand a price. History has shown this again and again. We have only to listen to the lessons of our past and teach them to our children. That is our only salvation.
We are meant to be more then kites fluttering to ground, much more.
Children need the guidance of those ancient strings and the promise of flight.