On a beautiful Sunday summer afternoon, I spend hours watching a lengthy documentary about a trial in North Carolina. A man stands accused of murdering his wife. From the beginning, the police decide he is guilty and assemble “evidence” based on this premise. Forensic tests also betray this bias. The tests are devised to prove their theory. They are not open-ended. There is no room for them to be wrong. The man is found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. The remaining family is fractured by the ordeal. Members taking opposing sides. The accused maintains his innocence.
The air is damp and heavy. It feels thick and moist with each breath. Walking the trail is a challenge today. I want to turn around and go back home. Something doesn’t feel right. Maybe its the wet warmth that presses down on my shoulders. Maybe its the battleship gray of the sky. Maybe. it’s the invisible suitcase I drag behind me. This morning it is full of rocks. I pretend it isn’t there and keep walking.
(This clip shows my favorite song from my favorite episode of Spongebob Squarepants. It’s the perfect contrast in opposing perspectives.)
Defining what I want has been a big challenge. My life has felt like a puzzle with lots of missing pieces. I’ve crawled around the nooks and cranks in my mind filled with angst determined to find a way to define myself and what I want from life. The search became a “have to”, a job, that nasty four-letter word: “work.” Isn’t it supposed to be easier than this?
Time for my walk. I head out the door, taking my concerns with me.
Inside my head, I see an image. It’s me in a race car. I’m a passenger without a seat belt. Racing through life, I lurch and tumble over every bump every swerve in the road. I’m not having a good time. I want to feel like the driver. I want to see where I’m going and be the one to steer toward it. I’m supposed to be the driver, aren’t I? I walk with this image in my mind. I feel the road under my wheels. I tumble, I bounce.
Then I remember the lesson from last weekend. Visiting a senior community garage sale, I finally discovered what I want to be when I grow up: Retired. These seniors were having a great time. They were relaxed, enjoying each other’s company, chatting with strangers, having fun. Simple, good, clean fun. That’s what I want, what I’ve always wanted: fun.
It’s not deep or altruistic. It won’t earn me fame or fortune. I won’t go down in any history book. It doesn’t matter. I just want to have fun.
At first the bits and pieces of internalized voices, challenge this dream. “You can’t always have fun.”
“How childish!” says another.
“Life isn’t supposed to be fun. It’s work, hard work, and then you die,” whines another.
I smile at my joy killers. I do not argue. I can see that having fun isn’t their objective. They cling to their own special brand of misery. It’s a misery that I understand well. I’ve just decided I don’t want it. I give myself permission to have a dream of my own. I give myself permission to be a passenger in the race car called life. It’s OK to enjoy the ride. It’s OK to have FUN!
I say, “Whee!”
Now that I understand what I want from life, I know that I won’t always feel it. Fun, often requires some preliminary ground work that doesn’t look or feel like fun. Fun is often hard work. Most of that hard work takes place between the ears. It requires a constant commitment and renewal of perspective. Misery is easy. Fun, on the other hand, often requires effort. It needs a stage built, a set designed, a cast of eager characters and the courage not to tamper with the result. It’s sort of like, “If you build it, they will come.” Building something requires effort and an effort I won’t always feel like making. When the bleachers are full and the game is on, the effort it took to get there will be so worth it.
FUN! IT’S WHAT I WANT AND I CAN FIND IT ALMOST ANYWHERE.
Insert: Giddy laugh, lively dancing and general celebratory spirit. I’ve left the building. I’m having fun.
Yesterday, we went fishing. No one caught a fish but I think the idea of fishing caught me. I like the idea of casting a line out into the river of life to see what we might hook. I carried this thought with me as I headed out the door for my walk but I had yet to really make peace with it.
Random thoughts float around my head. I cast but do not catch anything. Frustration flashes across the surface. My walks are usually full of inspiration. Maybe I’m trying too hard. Random runners and walkers meet me. I decide to smile at each of them or at least offer a friendly nod. It’s hard to be frustrated and smile at the same time. I think of smiling at everyone I meet today. It’s hard to smile and be afraid.
Some times, the sky glows. Some times, it doesn’t. Last week did not glow. It was a week touched by rejection. It wasn’t a bad week. It just didn’t glow.
So when I leave for my walk this morning, I’m looking for the glow.
The trail stretches before me like a ribbon of asphalt cutting its way between the carefully planted shrubs and the careless weeds. Shrubs and weeds are married in a union that can not be separated. The gardener in me wants to complain about the weeds. The traveler in me knows they are inevitable. Could there be a message here in between the trail, weeds, sky and shrubs?
Not long ago, I wrote about looking for one great thing each day. For me that great thing is often something quirky and out of place that delights me, i.e. an adult male in a Spiderman suit reading a newspaper and sipping a latte outside Starbucks, or a bizarrely decorated car, or a woman dressed like a Star Trek alien looking through the bins at the Goodwill Outlet. These are the kinds of things that have me squealing with delight and clapping my hands with glee like a super-charged two-year old. I try to cloak my reaction from the source of my delight if there is a chance I would hurt their feelings or their finer sensibilities. I am delighted nonetheless. The more I look for the out-of-place the more I find it.
As I leave for my walk this morning, I notice how sore my hips feel. I want to turn back but forge ahead. Thoughts slosh around my head like patches of oil atop vinegar. The pieces aren’t fitting. I am a tangle of opposites. I push the varied thoughts aside and keep going, saying to myself “I can do this, I can do this.” I am the “engine that could.”
And then, I notice a huge mess on the trail. A dog responded to the call of nature and left the evidence in a wide swath directly in front of me. I didn’t know there was a dog this large. This mess is of epic proportion. This dog must have been as large as a Trojan horse and full of enemies just as undesirable to the troublesome Trojans. My first thoughts are not positive. In my head, I scold the dogs owner for his lack of respect and irresponsible behavior. But those patches of oil atop vinegar have me question myself. Do I really know the circumstances? Did I step in it?
Listening or reading to people talk about politics when they are full of anger is upsetting to me. It upsets my peace. Then I remember what a problem I have with conflict and having people upset about one thing or another. I’m amazed at how upset I can get over things that haven’t happened yet, or things I imagine will happen, or things that I think are happening. My perception makes all the difference.
This morning I let my anxiety about imagined future events affect how I acted in the present. I made a major case out of Nutella on a dish towel. On a chart outlining crimes against humanity, this infraction would never be included. Yet, this morning, I acted as if it was a much bigger deal than it is. It came with a great cost. I robbed my children of a pleasant morning because I was hell-bent on receiving justice and a confession.