The trouble with getting older is you end up confronting death with more frequency. Obviously, many of us experience the loss of a grandparent or similar figure at a relatively young age, and we all learn to deal with our grief at different rates, but sometimes a person's passing sticks with us more than others.
I just learned one of my high school classmates passed away this week, and it's been hard to shake. Carina Ellickson is now the fourth member of my graduating class — 2005 by the way — to have passed. Now, I'll admit I wasn't close friends with her. To be honest, it's been more than a decade since I spoke to her. But we were both part of the school system's ExCEL program — our version of a talented and gifted class — during our formative years. She and the handful of my other classmates were among my first caricatures when I chose the art form as my independent study topic. We each read, discussed and analyzed classic works from Dickens and Shakespeare. One of the first projects she and I ever worked on together was a video interview of historical figures. She played Amelia Earhart. I played John Dillinger. Neither of us bore much resemblance to our roles.
And while commencement marked the end of my days as a performer, Carina would go on to do even more. She eventually worked her way into a position writing and performing for The Second City in Chicago. Local readers will of course recognize that name as the traveling improv group which is an annual favorite at the Pearson Lakes Art Center. I don't know if any of her work ever had it's time in the spotlight here in the Lauridsen Performing Arts wing, but I like to think so.
Yet, it's not her work in Chicago I kept coming back to this week. It was a piece she wrote about a turkey on a farm. We might have been freshman. We might have been younger. Few heard her read it. Probably even fewer remember it, but for some reason I do. If I recall, the turkey's name was George or something equally unassuming, and he had a dream.
He wanted to fly.
It was a short and simple tale. Carina, the girl who had played the most famous female pilot in history, penned a story about an oddball bird whom everyone said dreamed the impossible. More over, if I recall, he was sure he could fly because that turkey was convinced he was in fact an eagle. In the end, despite all the taunts and attempts to bring his high-flying fancies back to earth, George — through a great deal of perseverance — vaulted the fence line and took to the skies. To this day, I can still remember her inflection and cadence as she read the final words of her story.
"He had been an eagle all along."
Value rarely lies in the destination so much as it lies in the journey, as the saying goes. It lies in getting up after each fall. It lies in pressing on even when others don't believe in you. It lies in daring to pursue something greater than what our muddled feathers tell us we are capable of achieving.
I won't claim to know all or even most of Carina's journey at this point but, while I grieve the fact her flight came to an early end, I'm thankful for the part of the journey I was able to see before she vaulted that barnyard fence and took to the skies – be it as the oddball turkey or the intrepid Amelia Earhart. Likely a little bit of both.