In my life, there are few things that have given me more joy than a really excellent swing. A swing is the surest way for me to work myself out of a foul mood. It’s also my favorite way to celebrate a happy mood, and the best method I’ve found of isolating myself from others while still being surrounded by them. If I really need to think my way through a problem, I hop onto a swing, and leave my worries behind my on the ground. One of my most treasured memories with my best friends occurred on a swing, right beside one of their houses. Some of my favorite memories of my dad involve him pushing me on a swing. My best times with children I have loved have involved me pushing to greater and greater heights.
Even in the years when I wasn’t allowed to go the park alone, I would frequently sneak off to do just that, just for a few moments on the swing (this is basically the type of child I was; disobedient, unaware of danger, and strangely easy to please).
To my way of thinking, there are few sights more relaxing than that of your shoes framed by sky and leaves of trees, and few moments better than the one as you swoop back towards the earth, feeling your heart dance inside of you. And that moment when you’re at the top. Whoa baby.
In Friends, when Ross wants to take Emma to the swings (for those of you who are not Friends fanatics like myself, Ross and Rachel have a child named Emma. That is the only important thing you need to know to understand this story.), Rachel is terrified. Due to a childhood experience with a swing, she’s convinced that they’re dangerous and says “[T]hose things go like 40 miles an hour! Ok? And there is that moment when you are at the top, when you just don’t know if you’re gonna return back to earth!” And of course, Ross makes fun of her for her neurosis (saying: “Space if filled with orbiting children”) and then the audience laughs and they go to the park.
But the thing is, Rachel is right. The swing does go really fast. And there really is a moment, when you’re at the very top, and you’re just not sure if you’re coming back. You feel like if you jumped out of your seat at that moment, you could jump out and just fly, forever. You feel like nothing is holding you down, all these strings and tethers tying you to the earth have been cut, and you have this glorious moment of freedom. This is the sort of freedom eagles felt in the years before DDT. This is the freedom that dinosaurs experienced prior to extinction.
There’s nothing holding you down, and nothing holding you back. You’re just a collection of parts; your feet framed by sky, hands rubbed raw by the chains, your legs still for a moment between pumps. And at this moment, more than at any other, you are truly greater than the sum of your parts.
The only problem with swings is that you can never quite get enough of them. As a child, no one will push you quite as high as you want to go. They’re all certain that you can’t hold on tight enough (even though you know you CAN), and give you small gentle pushes, barely letting you feel the sky. And then, you get a little bit older, and you’re banned from going to parks alone, due to the dangers of large open spaces where any person could come and do bad things without witnesses. And then suddenly you’re an adult, and while your feelings haven’t changed, the swings have; they aren’t really yours any more.
You’ll find yourself being watched by parents suspiciously as you start swinging, and just as you reach the top you’ll see a child watching you enviously. You are no longer a simple swing lover – suddenly, you’re an interloper, an adult without an accompanying child in an area reserved for children. You’re both a little creepy, and the thief of children’s’ enjoyment. And you realize that it is your responsibility to let go of this swing, to get off of it and walk away, so that this child may use it. And you do, but every time you consider ignoring the children, because it’s hard to let go.
So I love the swings. And I may get off of them every so often for one child or the other; I may even be conscious of the fact that adults aren’t supposed to love swings quite as much as I do. But I can’t stop myself from loving them. I still love to sit on a swing, letting the plastic cradle my butt tightly (because let’s face it, swings aren’t built for adult women with more hip than strictly necessary), getting buffeted slightly by the wind as I get higher and higher, my heart filling with half remembered tunes and poetry.
I feel my stomach swooping as I drop towards the earth, and if I close my eyes I can imagine myself flying off. For just an instant, I am a small child orbiting through space, having wild adventures and leaping from satellite to satellite. I am untethered, a balloon let loose in the wind, and I float up and up until the clouds obscure me from sight.
For that one moment, I feel pure and I feel as the sun must, shining, burning, and brilliant.