Monday, September 14, 2015

Time Heals All Wounds

….or at least makes them interesting in different ways.

As a parent and generally curious person, when I stumble upon a good example to illustrate a point, I hold fast.

This afternoon, and this is all hypothetical pending police and archeological reports, my buddy who may or may not be a civil engineer called me and told me "they" dug up a body wrapped in plastic in a shallow grave on one of his jobs. My thoughts immediately wandered to the coverage I would be reading in the local news. The corpse was reportedly less than eighteen inches below the soil, so I imagined a macabre chuckle at the murderers soon to be exposed laziness. But no! I then, allegedly, received an update call, and it turns out the corpse was not wrapped in plastic, and may, in fact, be a mummy. Aged several hundred years! What was potentially scandalous and salacious became interesting and fascinating, on a more sophisticated level; moving all the same, but in a different way.

And as my daughter has begun Kindergarten and entered the world of potentially hurtful "friends" and circumstances, I've wondered how to tell her that, "this too shall pass," and not sound like a trite asshole. The undeniable truth though is that, while reality never changes, time just makes us see it differently. I am the proud parent of a girl four weeks into Kindergarten and she already has two on-again off-again boyfriends. I need this stuff!

I don't know what we will find out about this deceased individual. Circumstances of the burial point in interesting directions. But I'll remember my sense of things as I shifted from being concerned about some vindictive meth head murderer (yes I jump to conclusions quickly), to pondering an unearthed piece of our collective history. It's all in how you look at something, the perspective. And a lot of what we call perspective just develops with time passed. And while it's true that you can't change time, you can change your perspective.

So when true adolescent disaster strikes, whatever form it takes, I may not be able to change my child's perspective. But, I will have an interesting story to tell, and if she has the where with all to substitute perspective for time, she might be able to see a way to accept an adolescent set-back, in what looked like disaster in the moment.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Ocean is the Only Wilderness I Have to Share

I've been reading David Brooks's book The Road To Character. The book is excellent, and compelling, but one passage sticks with me: "We don't become better because we acquire new information. We become better because we acquire higher loves." My daughter immediately floods my mind, and how my devotion to my daughter informed my love for my wife--and how that transformation is the foundation for Family, as it has developed in my consciousness.

I also constantly reread Myron Arms's collection of essays Cathedral of the World, in which he probes the challenge of finding a way to, "learn the lessons nature has to teach." That is so easily said, but so difficult to do. For one thing, wilderness is hard to find these days, and for another finding any value in it, in my experience requires honed skills. I've spent many a tent night on sweltering summer mountain trails to try and impart something to other people's children about the wonders of the natural world. I confess that in those moments, the discipline portion of character building was on full display, but I struggled to find any transcendence in it. The problem was that though the views were stellar, and the effort significant; any reasonably healthy person could have done it. No honed skill was required. Perseverance is something, but it's something anyone can find most anywhere, if they look hard enough.

In the ocean though, and in rivers, I've been put in my place, and I've put in the time. I've learned to sail a boat, and when that boat fails, manage to carry on. Some of my most intense moments of concentration and transcendence have occurred in swirling surf cresting taller than houses, or, at times, no taller than a man. Surely others have experienced far more in the same medium and been challenged more intensely there. But, I have put in my time, and honed some skills unique to the sea. It has been a higher love. A relationship that I've forsaken the immediate pleasures of my terrestrial life to maintain.

Recently my higher loves have collided, or at least, I've felt the need to meld them. My daughter has a powerful personality, and I struggle to find any compelling way to help her see humbleness as a virtue. I'd been out of the water for most of the last year . . . doing other things. Any interaction had been on only the easiest terms. Last weekend though I went with some friends offshore to spearfish on an abandoned tower about twenty miles out. I'd been before, and harvested reef fish, none more than five pounds probably. And while jumping in the ocean twenty miles from land indicates some entrance into the food chain, until this last visit, I'd played it safe. This time I borrowed a friend's spear gun and went after some big fish.

Spear fishing is barbaric, I do not disagree. I will however contend that it is no more barbaric than eating a hamburger. And while I could make a meal from a five pound spade fish, I had to know if I could take a thirty pound amber jack. The siting and selection process is the same for large and small schooling fish. Additionally, the strategy of schooling becomes abundantly clear as you try to single out an individual prey. The shot is placed, and chaos ensues briefly. Then as the line, that you know you will have to retrieve by hand, pays out, you gather your wits. You stop the line and are immediately drawn downward by the fish. You started at twelve feet or so below the surface, inverted. Now you are upright. . .or maybe not . . . but you are being pulled toward darkness. You begin to kick, and stay still. Instantly you decide to pay out more line and head for the surface. You gasp. Then put your head down start to work the line--you are pulled down. At some point, the power of your fins must overcome the propulsion system of a muscle missile designed perfectly for the medium in which you find yourself. As you bring the fish closer the thrashing becomes more violent, but less focused. The fish must be brought close enough to be dispatched with a knife. Then the spear can be removed, and the quarry passed to the boat.

What I want to impart to my daughter, but struggle with, is the sense of that moment when you feel the fish pulling you down. You've gotten yourself here with your skill and ability, but you are not in complete control. This is not the same lack of control you feel when you happen down the wrong street in a city and are held up for your wallet . . .or worse. In that instance you have no control, and you don't expect to. What I'm concentrating on is the moments when you are operating within your skill set, but find yourself pushed to your limits. Those are moments of growth.

As unrelated as it may sound, the conditions that were conducive to the spearfishing trip were also ideal for the evening my daughter and I shared on a paddle board in the ocean tonight. Before the big fish, I might have hedged my bet and practiced a few days before taking her into the ocean. But after the big fish, I was reminded that while I'm only a guest in the sea, I'm a familiar guest. And it's okay to bring a friend now and then. I don't think my daughter learned anything in particular tonight. I only think it was a night to continue her introduction to the wilderness in our backyard. The sea can be a teacher, but only to those who don't see it as a back alley, or the wrong street. You don't learn much form being terrified and unprepared. In my experience though, being prepared and terrified creates room for real growth. And so my task is to continue the introduction to the only wilderness I have to share.