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Magical Moments on a Park Swing, or Why My Memoir is a Coming-of-age Story

Swings at the Park
Do you remember adolescence?

You remember the angst, probably. You remember the awkwardness, the unrequited love, the rage you felt toward your parents, the acne.

But do you remember those crazy beautiful moments? How all it took to feel like you were at the edge of the world was the right song on the radio, your foot on the gas and your hand out the window? How all the powerlessness you felt day-to-day melted away and all of a sudden you felt like you could do anything?

Remember how you’d read a poem, or watch a movie, and there’d be a single line that cut into you so deep that you felt like there wasn’t room in your heart to hold all the beauty?

Remember how you’d kick your feet up on a park swing and pierce the air in front of you? You were already feeling nostalgic because park swings are for children, and you decidedly weren’t a child anymore. Yet in that moment you were suspended in the air before gravity pulled you back, you felt like you could fly. For that split second, you could.

Those years were intense and electric. Everything felt so Big, didn’t it?

***

Danny kicks his heel in the sand beneath us to stop his swing, and I do the same. He holds up one large freckled hand in an invitation to a high five. I meet his hand with mine, but instead of slapping and moving away, I let it linger. We sit on our swings, which are still reverberating motion and squeaking, our palms pressing against each other’s. He smiles at me, his pointy chin jutting out from his ruddy face. There, on the swings, our palms touching, I am overwhelmed with this sense that we are sitting on the cusp of revival. 

We believe it will happen, this revival, and although we don’t know what it might look like, we have faith beyond sight. We believe if we pray a little longer, or worship a little louder, we will see the revival enkindle in our desert land, in our generation. This promise illuminates everything. 

Tonight, we aren’t just a boy and a girl on swings; we are two souls on the verge of something Big.

I imagine this revival, whatever it is, should begin on a summer evening just like this one, where frogs croak, and the air is cool but the sand beneath us still warm, and a boy is almost holding my hand.

***

That’s an excerpt from my memoir, which may or may not be a Young Adult memoir. I used to frown on the genre, and say that good books shouldn’t be marketed to a specific age demographic, and maybe I still think that. But as a writer, my heart is to capture the adolescent experience. Coming-of-age is perhaps the literary term. I don’t care what it’s called. I write about it because I haven’t forgotten how it felt.

I still have moments like the ones on the park swing, or when the perfect song comes on, but they are fewer and farther between the older I get. Life has eroded that youthful intensity.

I never saw the revival I believed in those days on the park swings with Danny. I don’t believe in that kind of revival anymore. The electricity of my own teen years was powered by my faith, but it could have been powered by anything. I laugh at my delusions of grandeur. Of course we were just a boy and a girl on a swing. We may have been alone in our small town park, but around the world there were thousands of other boys and girls on swings just like us. And there are more boys and girls on swings today, boys and girls who are fifteen years younger than me, who think they are falling in love, or that they are going to change the world, and it’s not Big or special or magical.

And yet it is. Those Big Feelings were an illusion, but they were also real. The actual moments that held them were small, but they were big and magical in our minds, and that’s what made them so. We weren’t just a boy and a girl on a park swing. We were children opening our hearts to the vast, uncharted territory of adulthood. We were on the cusp of something incredible–growing up. And that is huge and important and should never be made small. Do you remember how it felt?

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1 Comment

  1. Paula Willems on February 26, 2016 at 8:47 am

    This is beautiful Carly! You’re words really took me back and got me thinking of my own adolescent years.

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