“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness”
– John Muir
A while back I heard a piece about the differences in the way Eastern cultures and Western cultures view their lives. It boils down to this. Eastern cultures tend to accept the ebb and flow – the natural process of destruction, cleansing and rebirth that often happens several times throughout the course of one’s life. Conversely, Western cultures (in this case, the US being the comparison) tend to see life as a linear process of sustained upward development. One in which we (those experiencing life) exert control over our position and outcomes. The first view is naturalistic or even perhaps fatalistic. The other, while vastly more egocentric, holds within it the promise of self-made progress, or Manifest Destiny. Also sometimes known as C-O-N-T-R-O-L. I suspect religion has a large influence here, but I won’t even go there.
It seems to me that we Western sorts have a rather dismal record of dealing with uncertainty. We have been conditioned to stand in judgement of ourselves (or others) when faced with setbacks or restarts. What I find perplexing is how we don’t see the silliness of it all. How we have been sold a bill of goods that keeps us weighed down rather than that life-affirming chance at a big flush of the toilet. We have been trained to think up is the only way and down is a dirty secret. Rather than seeing setbacks or natural cycles as grand opportunities for cleansing and renewal, instead we let our internal jury convict with little to no evidence – leading to shame, depression and despair. Then, when we are unable to live in the constant upside, we seek solace in our consumption – whether alcohol, IKEA, drugs, sex or the Kardashians, the numbing ensues and the Technicolor of life in either direction grows dim. For there is no true joy without true sorrow and by buffering one we also buffer the other.
What we are left with is a watered down and backed up mess.
But, nature has in her toolbox an infinite number of devices for resetting the stage. She uses them all constantly. From the extreme such as earthquakes, hurricanes and forest fires, to the twice daily rise and fall of the ocean tides. Today, I had the opportunity (or perhaps they had the misfortune) of explaining the concept of high and low tide to my small children. Remember these are seriously land-locked offspring, so this is not a concept with which they are intimately familiar. My explanation would have probably made my sixth grade science teacher wonder why she wasted her time, but to illustrate my Neanderthal explanation, we visited the same beach in British Columbia twice in one day.
Once in the morning during low tide.
And again in the afternoon during high tide.
The tide went out leaving colonies of mussels exposed, huge driftwood timbers tossed about like tidily winks and the floor of the sea to air dry. Only hours later, it came rushing back in all its power and filled it all in again. Rinse and repeat. Twice daily. This experience and my infantile attempt to explain the magnificence of the natural world reminded me once again of the notable difference between the Eastern and Western way of thinking.
My take is that nature is a bad ass bitch that creates and destroys on cue. It seems only reasonable that the human experience should be the same. There are forces at work so vastly out of our control, yet our control-obsessed culture teaches us nothing of surrender. It seems this tool doesn’t fit neatly into the contemporary American toolbox.
So why can’t we just let go and ride the tide?
Being from Texas, I am all for making my own way in this life. Hell this is me down to the molecular level. I bet if you were to view my blood under a microscope, it might look something like Wiley Coyote whistling Dixie. Obviously I am no scientist and anyway, perhaps this is too personal, but I have found an ounce of peace in the surrender. Now, hey there, don’t go crazy and think I won’t fight when a fight is called for, but I no longer try to fight the natural course of things. For inevitably, the tide will go out and the tide will come in twice daily – ebb and flow. As it is in nature, it is in human life.
At least that’s the way I see it.
Do you have a favorite pair of Christmas pajamas? Fancy, footed or fabulous – this seasonal attire is something most of us can get solidly behind, right? Maybe you like to get a jump on things by wearing them on the day after Thanksgiving or get the most out of your celebration by wearing them well into the first week of January. That seems totally reasonable and even quite festive.
But my 6YO daughter is a special character in the play of my life. One who plays by her own set of rules. A small example being her public display of Mrs. Claus well into the hot summer months. In Texas no less, where it is known to hit triple digits well before Memorial Day. This matters not to her, she’s the queen of her castle.
On a recent road trip across the featureless dust bowl of west Texas, she took this this nocturnal winter season costuming all the way to the blazing hot desert of New Mexico. We arose early to start the trip.
Surely she will want to change by mid-morning, I thought.
A few hours in and we are in the wind farms of west Texas.
The pajamas remain.
A little while later we stop for a picnic in some place called Seminole.
The pajamas remain.
Then we cross the state line and take an obligatory pose in front of a blazing hot sign in Hobbs, NM.
The pajamas remain.
We arrive to our first destination and hang out for a bit with some skinny wooden aliens.
It’s 105 degrees and the pajamas remain.
I wasn’t sure how much longer she was planning to continue.
Then, in an instant, those Christmas pajamas were tossed aside.
Had the 105 degree heat finally taken its toll? Had she finally realized it was silly to be wearing Christmas pajamas in June? Was she embarrassed to be wearing pajamas in public? No, none of these adult hangups entered her 6YO mind. It was simply time to swim.
Some may say I should have insisted that she put on “real” clothes. Or suggest that I give her too much lead on her rope. Or even that I should be more stern seeing as her appearance is a reflection upon me, right?
She can teach us all a few things. Just like she teaches me each and every day.
Such as if you love something enough, don’t over think why or worry about what others might think. Even if this something is a bit impractical for your current circumstances, you should love it out loud. Wear it. Picnic in it. Pose in it. Celebrate it. Proudly.
Each of us have our beloved Christmas pajamas. The question is – are we willing to take them out and display for all to see in the middle of June? I hope so because when we do, all those standing by and watching will love us even more for it.
I grew up a bit today. As I watched my first born walk away, passport in hand with the bags I packed just so, I felt my legs grow slightly. As he passed through airport security, my heart skipped a beat. As he turned the corner and went out of sight, I lost my breath.
For this adventure he goes solo, beyond the bounds of my watchful eye. This time, he will double bounce with others and hopefully remember to change his underwear. But as he walked towards his adventure and away from me, I saw him grow a mile. Or two. Or maybe three.
Me? Well, I just stood there and grew – inch by painful inch.
The day I met my first born marks a milestone in my life. A day after which, I was no longer the person I was before. An anniversary of my becoming conscious of complete and utter vulnerability. Upon meeting him, I would never again walk this Earth with the same sense of complete confidence. The physical scars have long since healed, but I remain tragically aware of how profoundly wounded I could be because of this most precious being.
My deep vulnerability is packaged neatly and poetically with the laughter – sometimes a chuckle, sometimes absurd, full-on, side-splitting belly laughs. Belly laughs like when we discovered that I pee (just) a little bit when he double bounces me on the trampoline. That’s right, I pee, just enough to make me laugh out loud.
So double bounce away, little man, ’cause the mixture of belly-filling laughter and slight humiliation is truly sublime.