A kite flying high in the wind
To celebrate Lineworker Appreciation Day on July 10, corporate communications is sharing the following article, which was written by Casey Seiler. It appeared at the Albany Times-Union website on April 20, 2020.
It’s easy to think that people react to hard times by becoming harder — by disappearing into self or tribe, and standing guard against threats real or just perceived. They shut down part of their humanity, thinking that everyone is doing the same.
This isn’t that kind of story.
It takes place at the home of Amy and Alan Witonsky in Albany’s Helderberg neighborhood on Thursday, which as I can tell you from watching the trees swaying outside my attic window was particularly blustery in the fashion of early April, pandemic or no.
Amy Witonsky has a genetic condition that leaves her immunosuppressed, which means her 8-year-old daughter, Abbey, has been home from school on lockdown longer than most other children in the Capital Region.
Because she faces a heightened risk of coronavirus infection, the family tries to space out their shopping trips as much as possible. On the most recent outing, Amy picked up a kite for her daughter from the Dollar Tree, blue with rainbows — there are a lot of rainbows decorating homes around the region these days.
On Thursday, Abbey took the kite out for its first flight — and within 10 minutes had it whipped out of her hands by a particularly nasty gust. It sailed up and became tangled on the power lines in back of the house, wrapping itself over and over again around the wire.
Worried less for the kite than the potential danger it might present to the lines, Amy called National Grid to report the incident.
Mid-afternoon, a worker from the power company arrived and carefully unwound the kite line from the wire. He presented it at the door to Alan Witonsky with what photos show to be fairly minimal damage, all things considered.
Which was kind enough all by itself, an adult’s version of a child’s burial of a fallen robin in a shoebox in the backyard.
About two hours later, Alan went out to get the mail and discovered a new kite — a SkyDelta 30 with illustrations of Minions — in the box along with an unsigned note written on the National Grid incident receipt.
“I felt bad for your daughter, so I hope this new kite makes her smile,” it read. “Stay safe and healthy!”
The note was unsigned.
Witonsky wrote about this on Facebook and sent the Times Union a note. By Friday, word had gotten back to National Grid, which quickly identified the service rep who had carefully dislodged the kite and felt bad about the damage he was unable to prevent.
His name is Mike Whaley, and he’s a 23-year-old from Wynantskill who last month marked the end of his second year with the utility.
Whaley told me that as he assessed the damage, he was thinking how his own 5-year-old twin sisters would react to seeing a treasured kite wrecked — “especially in these rough times.”
“They would be devastated,” he said.
Whaley left the Witonsky’s house for more service calls on Thursday afternoon, and stopped by Walmart to secure the new kite for “a couple bucks.”
“I didn’t expect to be recognized,” he said of the response on social media — more often known as a snake pit of anonymous malice — and the recognition he got from his co-workers at a Friday morning staff meeting. Witonsky’s post led to Whaley’s identity being revealed, which resulted in the story being shared and the general typing of comments that were positive, celebratory, thoughtful. You might call it a viral response.
Whaley said he probably would have done the same thing if he had been at the Witonskys’ house a month ago, before the world went behind closed doors and began thinking in terms of hospitalization rates and respirator deficits. He was brought up that way, he said.
I’m sure he’s right, but we should also recognize how much farther a thoughtful gesture carries when it’s put out into the world in rough times. “Today one must think like a hero to behave like a merely decent human being” is a line from a John le Carre novel (“The Russia House” — one of his most optimistic) and also fairly good motto to live by.
The imagination can be a lousy thing when the world is buckled by something like the coronavirus. We immediately leap to the worst possible outcomes for our health, careers and communities.
But imagination can also be a generous resource when it starts from a place of empathy. Mike Whaley hauls down a lacerated kite and thinks first of the owner and then of his young sisters — what you might call an act of triple sympathy.
But rather than just regret it and file it away in the brain’s stockpile of sad outcomes, he was moved to an act of kindness.
There’s plenty of heroism around these days to go with the lousy news. Much of it is big — carried out by the people on the front lines of the crisis — and some of it is smaller in scale, as fragile and maybe even inspiring as a kite battered by a high wind.
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