Friday, August 12, 2011

The Richness of Life or Lessons in Sailing

The last year of grad school I learned how to sail a Capri.  For those land lubbers out there, a Capri is a small boat that can seat up to three (very uncomfortably) with two sails.  My instructor always laughed at me because I was so ridged on the boat, I hated when there were strong winds, and I seldom liked the obstacle courses we had to pursue.  She thought it was particularly interesting that my classes were afternoon (in Southern California that is when the wind is usually at its peak).

I had enrolled in the class in hopes of learning a new hobby, and believed it would be more along the lines of the larger sail boats I had been on and worked in the past.  I found out I was wrong.  But, certified sailor that I am now, I learned a lot about life on that small boat.  I learned the basic understanding of how you need to trust your shipmates (both in putting a boat together and once you are on the high seas), the simple courtesy of others in the water, rules of the water ways, etc.  But I also learned something about life.  Life is not the harbor, life is the boat, and in that boat you learn about yourself and others.  You live. You are. You become. 

The first time I had to jibe on a boat it was horrendously blustery outside.  I am an excellent skipper, but captaining had always been a difficult task for me.  I had not been very good at other maneuvers as a captain and by this time in the class (a few months in) had lost faith in my ability. By this point I had actually crashed a Capri into another Capri and, well, let’s just say I had not gotten back on the bike yet mentally speaking. 

I bring this up because this week reminded me of those fateful spring days on the boat.  Work, as usual, was filled with surprising twists and turns that made me feel…well, under appreciated and stuck.  I received the small envelope in regards to a job that I am not only well qualified for, but also really wanted.  I had a friend of mine continue to give the cold shoulder while an old friend tried to reconnect with me (which I am SO excited about).  And my car decided to have a problem with its engine, what is probably oil in the coolant (let’s hope it won’t cost and arm and a leg).  All this happened while I am helping one of my greatest friends prepare for her marriage next week (wedding coordinator to best friend…priceless!)

This week was more than a roller coaster ride for me.  I felt like I had capsized my boat in the middle of the freezing Pacific (which was my final test to be certified), but then my asthma started and I was unable to breath.   My brother asked how I was doing and I told him and his response was, “Things could always be worse.”  What a cliché I thought, until he said, “Did you hear about Somalia?  The Sahara?”  Leave it to big brother to put things in perspective. 

All this, plus one simple statement from an old friend told me something I don’t think I have come to grips with yet, but believe to be true.  I have lost faith in me.  She reminded me, unbeknownst to her, of something Helen Keller once said:

“The richness of human experience would lose something of rewarding joy if there were no limitations to overcome.” 

What this translated to for me, all these seemingly unconnected antidotes, is that sometimes we can be our own limitations.  When I look back at the past ten years I know for certain two things.  First, I know that they have been difficult for many reasons; and second, that I have overcome a lot of which I am proud.  But, I also know that much like capsizing a boat, all you see is the mass before you sometimes. 

Lately, I have found myself in the water, asthma started, looking at a large mass of wood praying the only hope for safety does not turtle on me (when the boat goes completely upside down and the mast gets caught in the surface below).  But I have forgotten that on the other side of the wooden mass is someone who can help.  With simple communication, tapping on that wood, I can get the help I need to climb back on the life boat.  This week, my friend in New York, my “bestie” getting married, and my brother have all been that ship mate. 

So, the challenge this week:

Step out of yourself.  You heard right, get out of your own way.  Thank God for the blessings of limitations…even if those limitations are you.  Thank Him that your life is rich because you have limitations to overcome, hurdles to jump, or boat to put right.  Give thanks to those He has given to help you through those limitations, be it with tough or soft love.  I challenge you to renew your strength and rise up on wings like eagles to peruse the purpose and plan that is designed solely for you.  And lastly, I urge you to hold yourself and those in your circle of friends, family, and acquaintances to do the same. 

Salut and Cheers!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Life I Lead

As the old song goes: “I was dreaming when I wrote this, so sue me if it goes astray.”  I went to see the musical Mary Poppins this past week with my little niece and sister-in-law.  It was a welcome distraction in my crazy life, and I thoroughly enjoyed the time I got to spend with them.  It has become harder and harder to see them as my life gets busier and busier.  I was surprised by some of the show (definitely not like the movie, just a heads up for those of you considering seeing it…the second half is much better than the first).  But I found, as I often do when I watch the movie, I was more entertained by the somber parts of the show. 

Those who know me the closest tend to think I am drawn to the somber, and perhaps part of that is true.  However, in this particular case, I believe the somber in Mary Poppins actually is where the heart of the show is located.  Sure, a spoonful of sugar is fun and tasty, and I love to laugh just as much as the next person, but something about giving topins to an old bird lady or discovering the true meaning behind the life I lead just seems to be a bit more…well, compelling to this chaotically contemplating heart. 

I noticed something in the reprise of Mr. Bank’s Life I Lead piece that I have never noticed before (or perhaps, more accurately, never really had the opportunity to connect to before).  He finds himself summoned to the bank to discover if he is fired or not just as a bunch of strange chimneysweep men dance out of his house.  He opens his contemplations stating:

“A man has dreams of walking with giants
To carve his niche in the edifice of time
Before the mortar of his zeal
Has a chance to congeal
The cup is dashed from his lips
The flame is snuffed aborning
He's brought to rack and ruin in his prime”

I heard this and for the first time connected to it.  I understood the desire to make an impact in the world and feel like the chances you had to do so have been snatched from your hands, now like a broken dream.  I thought of all those unemployed people, all those graduates looking to start a new adventure in the “real world” and finding themselves stuck on a path they neither sought nor wish to remain upon. 

As the actor sang and the orchestra swelled with emotion, I empathized with Mr. Banks.  I couldn’t help but feel that I, too, had my fire snuffed out by the frivolities and trivialities of this world, only to be brought to rack and ruin in my prime.  I thought on this as I drove home, with countless evidence as to why it was an accurate depiction of my life.  Truly, I am Mr. Banks. 

Until a very old and dear friend commented to me in a conversation after the show that I really did make a difference in his life.  He had no idea what I had been contemplating, but what he said struck home.  He had, unwittingly, become my Burt:

“You've got to grind, grind, grind
At that grindstone
Though child'ood slips like sand through a sieve
And all too soon they've up grown
And then they've flown
And it's too late for you to give
Just that spoonful of sugar
To 'elp the medicine go down
The medicine go down, the medicine go down.”

Wasn’t only a few weeks ago I spoke about not living in vain?  That all it takes is to keep one person from pain?  How quickly I forget my own words.  I have been so focused on grinding at that grindstone I had forgotten how quickly children grow up while we are not looking, how much a person’s “hello” or “glad to see you today” can really make more of an impression in the rocks of someone’s heart, can be more of that slow melting a river can make on the most stubborn of granite. 

Why is it so hard for us to keep focused on the bigger picture?  Why is it so easy for us to focus on our own problems and desires?  I had the most amazing night with my niece (one I will treasure until the day I die), and yet I allowed some thought to damper a part of the night.  For that I am truly sorry.  I wish with every fiber of my being I could turn off my brain sometimes and stop contemplating, just enjoy the moment.  For that I ask for your encouragement and accountability.  But I am thoroughly grateful that I have small reminders and a lot of Burt’s in my life to keep me focused on what matters. 

This week I challenge you to stop worrying about the grindstone and start enjoying the moment.  Seize the day! Seize whatever you can!