Fly Your Own Kite

You are not responsible for disappointment when you do not meet the expectations others have for you. Many of us never see our childhood upbringings to catch up with what we learned about the goodness of the outside world.  

I found this note in an old journal on the topic of how to leave a place, a topic that continues to fascinate me…because leaving, I believe, can be tumultuous.  And how are we to respond if our leaving – especially leaving someone else’s expectations – is tumultuous to others?  Is it okay to not buy into the expectations others hold for us?

I remember the shame and then rage that I felt when an elder from my youth wanted to reconnect.  I was indifferent about seeing him.  We had not been in touch for years.  Most importantly, I worried that I couldn’t control the conversation because I wasn’t on my own turf.  Still I went.

He was jolly, I’d say.  We sat on the patio outside his hotel.  The pool was under construction as we looked out across the parking lot; the conversation mostly chit-chat.  I think he was in town on a disaster relief project.  

Recently, the town had flooded.  The palliative care program I was interning with had recently evacuated hospice patients from a flooded care center.  I couldn’t imagine the trauma of moving beautiful, frail people who likely had six months or less to live.  My heart was going to get a beating in this role, I thought, in a good way.  I knew I’d found meaningful work, even if on my first day, my supervisor told me I needed to work on my “quiet presence”.  All that to say, my learning hat was on.  I had been practicing being open to input and learning and growing.  Or so I thought.

He sat off to my right and as soon as we caught up on the busy-ness of grad school, the conversation turned to whether or not I was currently attending church.  “No,” I told him.  Suddenly his eyes filled with tears and he commented that I must’ve been hurt by the church but the church wanted me back…and had I heard about this one church that a lot of younger people liked because it was new and edgy and the pastor – a woman! – even swore?  

He’d send me the information, he said, as he wiped tears away.  Then he asked where I was living.  

At the time, I was in a cruddy apartment with a roommate who smoked so much pot that his bedroom door looked like the Scooby-Doo van.  It sucked but I was almost done with school and surely would find a better place soon.  But the elder made it about himself.  

I was living with an unmarried man?!  He began to cry again and I’m pretty sure I was holding my breath.  I could always come back, he said, to the church – even though I’d been hurt, even though I was living with an unmarried man.  (Did he even have a clue about the housing situation in Denver?!)

But here’s why his reaction surprised me.  I hadn’t necessarily made these decisions or “left the church” as he put it because I’d been hurt.  Why do people always assume this?  I left because I wanted to be around my people.  My people who were deep and wide, authentic and edgy – but mostly my people who were themselves and could let me be me…with all my lack of pop culture experience, gullibility, weird skills and all.  He didn’t get that.  It was all about him.  Because I had chosen a different path, he had failed.  

It feels, I wrote, like I was supposed to keep the kite of his expectations in the air.  Like he tied his kite string to my back without me knowing and, when I failed to run, the kite nose-dived.  Then he blamed me.  He was trying to remind me with his questions and crying that the kite couldn’t soar.  Wasn’t I devastated?!  Run, Jill, run!  It was getting dirty on the ground – all those expectations of who I would be and what I would do.  What a waste of a perfectly good kite!  

And the funny thing was, I was angry that someone had pinned this kite of expectations to my back and expected me to run, to take perfect care of keeping their kite in the air.  For goodness sakes, I was in grad school to become a social worker which I’ve often joked is like being a secular missionary.  I almost felt guilty that I didn’t measure up, guilty that I didn’t care he’d attached these expectations to me.  Here was someone crying even with all the good I was doing in the world.  

I sighed.  He’d have to find someone else to pin his hopes and dreams and identity to.  I’m sure there were others who would be game for keeping his kite in the air.  What a racket to make someone believe the expectations you’ve pinned to them is their freedom and that they should run, run, run to meet those expectations.  That’s pretty much narcissism….holding onto your own agency and freedom but expecting others to be an extension of you, to follow what you choose for your life.  I picked up some notions in the years since we’d seen each other.  And I changed from when I was young: we can’t put pressure on others because of the outcomes we want for them.  They get to choose. 

This elder sent me an email with very specific contact info, dates and times for the church where the young people love the pastor (a woman! who swore!).  I never wrote back.  

I wonder how he looks back at that time and what his guides and god and higher powers think.  I’ll take the extra prayers for my soul but I’m happy to know that I wouldn’t put myself in that situation again.  I’ll pick my own kites.

Picture of Jill Eelkema

Jill Eelkema

Having the right guidance as you or a loved one journey through life’s transitions makes a world of difference. Jill’s helped countless individuals and families work through major life changes with confidence and dignity. Her expertise in psychotherapy, care management, and facilitating tough conversations with family members will give you confidence and peace of mind no matter how tough life gets.

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