Skirting Thoughts

On Friday I was walking home from work and had an awkward encounter that was really only remarkable in its triviality.  I suspect most of us have these: those moments when we aren’t quite sure what to do and find that uncertainty magnified by the pettiness, or petite-ness of the event.  Mine was extraordinarily ordinary.

 

I came upon an elderly couple walking toward me, taking up the bulk of the sidewalk.  In these sorts of situations I generally step to my right and nod as we cross paths.  This wasn’t going to work.  I could tell by their pace and mine that I would meet them precisely at that point where a giant elm tree and its root pressed up against the sidewalk.  I had a choice: I could sprint to beat them past the narrows of the walkway; I could slow down, or stop, and let them by; or I could skirt around the right side of the tree and pass them unawares.  I opted for the latter.  I’m not certain why; it meant that there would be no opportunity for niceties and perhaps I wasn’t in the mood for even a simple nod.  At any rate, I slipped behind the tree, and was surprised to discover that they weren’t past the tree as I passed them.  They were just in front of the tree (coming from their direction).  I returned to the sidewalk, and noticed out of the corner of my eye – as I forged forward – the gentleman bending down.  He was picking up a beer can that lay beside the walk: it was a Laker (a local brew) most famous for the tag line ‘Mak’er a Laker.”

 

I was well passed them before the event floated from my eyes to my mind.  I began to wonder: was he doing this in an effort to keep the street clean?  Or did he stoop, instead, for the 15 cents (or so) that this can would fetch at the bottle depot – maybe even glad to beat me to the treasure?  Tellingly, my curiousity about his motives brought my own motives for slipping behind the tree into relief.  Was he a good Samaritan to the planet while I was ignoring my neighbour?  Or was I making space for an elderly couple, one of whom was really an entrepreneur with a good sense for freebies? 

 

My decision to step around the tree hardly seemed to be a decision; it was more of an instinctual act and so not readily available for analysis.  Nor, indeed, are the whys of the elderly gentleman ready at hand, so I can hardly make sense of his motives.  For that matter, they do not much matter.  He did a good thing – possibly for one of the two above reasons, or perhaps both, or maybe even something altogether different (it could be he collects Laker cans for a hobby).  But in retrospect, it struck me that we make so many decisions on the spur of the moment that have unintended consequences.  These split minute decisions are largely – and miraculously – safe, sensible and sound.  It is surely a mystery that this is so and more marvelous still is the gift given us from time to time to pause and ponder the wonder of these small encounters and they way they make our lives simply interesting.

Ridiculously Rich

Every now and then it strikes me that I am ridiculously rich.

 

I have a family that loves me.  I have work that is meaningful and colleagues whom I enjoy.  I have good health, and am oddly enamored with walking, which allows me to realize that the world is a strange and wondrous place.  I find myself believing in a God who is merciful; neither deterministic nor indifferent. 

 

My life isn’t perfect, but I don’t expect perfection and am okay with blips in my life.  Sometimes I even laugh at them, which brings me to a comment I heard at a youth event last night where I spoke on behalf of my school.  “How are things going?” I asked one of the leaders, wondering how things had evolved throughout the weekend.  “Good.  In fact too good!” was her reply.  “I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop, things just can’t go this well; I’m afraid something is around the corner.”

 

I understand her anxiety.  In fact I share it.  When things are going well, I too get nervous.  After all, I reason, nobody deserves ridiculous riches, including yours truly!  Why do we think this way?  Are we dealing with deeply hidden, yet powerfully prevailing expectations of corrections?  Do we imagine our lives to be like the stock market; hoping for a certain incline in fortune, yet recognizing that market corrections are inevitable?  Are we suspicious of ridiculous riches, and happy to settle for solid yet certain gains?  Do we expect the worst; and derive a softer satisfaction from skirting disappointments?

 

Perhaps there is too much self-analysis in the above?

 

Maybe, but probably not; in fact it seems that some analysis of sources of pleasure and pain is a fitting and salutary strategy.   It is good to know the why of our grins and whence of our tears.  And as I do precisely this, it seems to me that too often I expect a lot from tomorrow and never cash in on today; where I find joy in a flower’ s fragrance, in a wine’s bouquet, in a word well turned.

 

In the end it seems that what most matters is a return to life’s simplicity in the midst of the chaos that simply is.  Such a return enables us to see “riches” differently; neither a question of desert nor destiny but attention. This attention comes as both gift and discipline; sometimes together, sometimes apart, but always with the startling realization that there is more:  more than we can ask or imagine. 

If I Look

On June 19th, I join 5 fellow pilgrims on the Dovre to Trondheim portion of St. Olaf’s Way.  In preparation for this twofold journey the following came my way and so I share it with you.

If I look deep

enough,

will I find traces

of those northern winds – that  drove

this Norseman’s kin

far from home?

Will I see the roots of

this ‘destiny’ – no longer

flailing against misfortune;

too little for too many?

Will I divine

winds petrified – stories

etched as stone – deep,

deep down?

Will I see coal veins, where

trees once swayed from a spirited wind?

Will I see a daring to best

death by a kind of dying?

If I look?