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Column: How I lost my kite and learned the futility of holding on to things

Fabi Sandoval and Erick Gasca try to launch their kite on a windless evening on the shoreline of Long Beach.
Fabi Sandoval and Erick Gasca try to launch their kite on a windless evening on the shoreline of Long Beach. There is a sense of calm here. No waves. No surfers. A breakwater that was built years ago blocks the swells.
(Mark Boster / For The Times)

A few months and approximately three variants ago, I was flying a kite at Venice Beach when a powerful gust of wind ripped the handle from my hands.

The kite tore off across the beach, the handle bouncing in its wake. I ran after it as hard as I could, throwing up sprays of sand with my feet, but I never even got close. The kite was free.

And having outrun me, the kite suddenly seemed to be in no hurry. It dipped, swirled and pinwheeled and began to perform tricks it never could in my hands. It hovered, as if enjoying the view, tracing a few languid loops left, then right.

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Pretty soon I decided to stop running (full disclosure: I was out of breath). I just watched the kite sign its taunting purple signature in the flinty blue sky.

I don’t normally fly kites at the beach, but it’s one of the more whimsical ways I’ve tried to beat back the bleakness of the pandemic. A lot of us are doing that these days, clinging to the familiar and the quotidian. We are watching TV shows we have already seen, taking up childhood hobbies, playing old video games with old friends. Each of us mounts our own small rebellion of normalcy — at least, what we can remember of it, nearly two years into the pandemic.

I glared at the shrinking purple speck and shook my head, disgusted that the wind had stolen even this tiny protest against the gloom.

Then the kite jerked to a halt. The handle had become entangled in the fronds of a palm tree overlooking the Venice Boardwalk. A few yards back, sweaty and defeated, hands on my knees, I started to laugh uncontrollably.

My kite and I started to draw a crowd.

Some people laughed with me, and others at me. A couple of guys started making fun of me, and others offered to help me get it down. Kids pointed with wide, wondrous eyes. A couple of people just stared. People walking by saw the stares and followed them to the kite, and the crowd grew.

I’m not sure why I found it so funny. I guess in that moment, I saw the futility of both my chase and the kite’s fleeing. The kite freed itself from me only to be trapped by a tree. I ran myself ragged when I could have strolled leisurely.

My anger was forgotten. I joined the crowd, still laughing weakly.

Venice was quiet that day, no drum circles or street performers or boom bap rap music from hoisted boomboxes. It was so silent you could hear the kite’s wings flapping, all the way up at the full extension of its line. I tried to film it and so did a few other people, but it was one of those precious few things our eyes can experience better than our smartphones.

We were a small semicircle around the tree, cautiously spaced, reverently silent, phones down, eyes up.

It was one of those rare moments that wiped away everything but the present. I forgot about the pandemic, about loss and heartbreak and pain. I let slip all the things I was holding so tightly to. I felt light enough to join the kite up in the sky.

I’ve been thinking about that day a lot, especially during this second holiday season interrupted by lockdowns, cancellations and rising case counts. It now seems unwise to expect an end to the pandemic. And even if this virus is eradicated, we can expect another virus or equivalent crisis close behind. As a member of the generation that came of age in the disordered aftermath of 9/11, I’ve come to see life as a series of linked crises with no true end.

I have no advice on how to navigate this state of permanent emergency. I can only tell you that I am as battered and bruised by it as the rest of you. I have no sage lessons to share in this last column of the year. I can only share with you the futility of chasing something that wants to be free. I can’t tell you how we will all make it through this, or if we will. I can only relate to you the folly of trying to run away from your problems.

In the end, you can hold as tightly as you want to things, but they won’t last. Whether it’s time, a powerful gust of wind or a society transformed by pandemic, there will always be a factor you cannot control. When the future is clouded and the past cannot be regained, what’s left to us are the moments and what meaning we can find in them.

I decided not to embarrass myself further by trying to get the kite down. The crowd broke up after a few minutes, and eventually I headed for the parking lot too.

When I got to my car, I looked back.

The kite was still flying.


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