We spent a couple of days with friends at Lake Norman two weeks ago. We only see them maybe twice a year, but they are the sort of friends who, even when several months have passed, fall in step with us like we’d seen each other only the day before. Their love of adventure and wildness and water is part of what draws the children together. The adults have known each other since college– perhaps our love of adventure, wildness and beer is what continues to draw us together. Every time we see one another, we say, “We have to get together more often,” and every year, life gets in the way. But it’s nice to know that there are those friends who fit in seamlessly to the times in between and who are there even when they’re not.
The next week, we loaded up and headed to Topsail Island. But not before Harper Lee and I participated in the Trout Tattoo, a sort of trail run that involved way more river crossings, rock hopping, and “I think I’ll just give up and float” moments than it did last year. Overall, we did pretty well though the morning did result in bruised and bloody shins for me and a wrong turn and extra mile for Harper Lee. But there were fish necklaces, cookies and good friends at the finish line, so it was all good. It was not a typical trail race, but I love the adventurous quality of a race like the Tattoo simply because you never know what the heck might happen.
There seems to be a “gather ye rosebuds while ye may” theme emerging this summer. One of Rob’s bucket list items was to own a surfboard and learn to surf. Every year, he rents a board and piddles around a bit, but he’s never had quite enough time to master the skill. This year, he found a used board in Wilmington and drove up to see it. The guy had several for sale, and Rob got a good deal, so he brought it home. He and the kids spent the rest of the week learning to surf.
He also met a couple of local guys who loaned him a smaller board for the kids to use during our week and who expounded on the joys of building your own boat. Now our garage is a boat-building shop, much to Isaac’s delight.
This also delights me. There’s nothing I love more than seeing Rob, or anyone for that matter, do something that really lights his fire. That’s what life is all about, and it’s something I’m practicing more and more. The best thing about this new project is that the only thing Rob likes more than having a boat is messing around with a boat (or a bike)– building, tinkering, tweaking. It brings him joy. I like to see people doing the things that bring them real joy. It’s not as common as you might think.
As Charles Kingsley said, “All we need to make us really happy is something to be enthusiastic about.” Passion– it’s all about excitement and enthusiasm. Maybe that’s what I like about Harper Lee and Isaac so much. They make excitement and enthusiasm a daily practice.
The photo below is Isaac on the USS North Carolina in Wilmington. He’s standing in front of the pharmacy and medical lab on the ship. This discovery opened up entirely new possibilities. I could almost see the wheels turning in his mind. Suddenly, the Navy had become a new and interesting career choice.
Children have such a wonderful way of making all things seems possible. What do I want to be when I grow up? Invariably, they choose the thing that makes them light up inside. They choose passion over practicality every time. For a while, Harper Lee wanted to be the person who mixed up the colored soap at the car wash. She was three and has since changed her mind, but I have always loved that story. It illustrates such a straight-forward answer to the question, What do you want? She wanted sweet-smelling, brightly colored soap bubbles. All day long. And to get paid for it? Well, even better.
It’s only as we get older, that we begin to question things. Being practical becomes more important. More practical.
Kickin’ it old skool
During our stay, we also busted a move at a local landmark, the Topsail Island Skating Rink. It was straight out of the 1960’s with fans in each window (no AC), huge wood planks on the floor, a disco ball, and 45’s on the record player.
It is run by Doris Jenkins who, along with her husband, built the place in the old Marine Recreational Building in 1964. It sits on the second floor, above the post office, and Doris, in her shorts and white roller skates, still collects the money ($5 for all night skating), hands out the skates and cold Coca-Cola’s and changes the records on the turntable.
She learned to skate on her front porch when she was a little girl and hasn’t stopped since. What makes a nearly 80 year-old woman lace up her skates every night (besides amazingly good health)? Could it be a passion for what she does?
This has me thinking about all the things we say, “I would love to… (you can fill in the blank)” but that we so seldom get around to doing. If we’re not careful, practical living and everyday life can lull us into a bit of a stupor. We can become unaware of all the things that used to light us up, that we used to feel great enthusiasm for. We can forget those things in the face of all the things we feel need to be done, that we should do, that we have to do.
Or we can wake up. We can ask ourselves the question,”What do I WANT to do?” You could apply this to career choices and vocations if you want, but I’m mostly thinking of the smaller things, the little things that make us come alive, and that, too often, get pushed further and further off the road until they’re completely obscured by weeds and left to sit unattended.
I’ve given this a lot of thought in regards to my own life. Much of my tendency toward practicality and level-headedness is rooted in fear. I’ve spent a large portion of my life listening to voices, either in my own head or from the outside, saying, “Don’t do that. That’s dangerous. That’s weird. That’s a risky choice. That doesn’t make sense.” And that’s nothing but fear. Yes, I know bad things happen– accidents and tragedies– but I don’t want to live my life (or NOT live my life) trying to hide from them.
Sometimes I cringe when I think about all the opportunities I let go out of fear– fear of “something bad happening” or fear that someone else might not approve or that they might give me a hard time about my decision. That’s just no way to live. Not if I want to live my own life in my own way. And why wouldn’t I? It’s the only one I’m going to get.
I say this as much (possibly more) to myself as anyone because this fear thing is a hard burden to carry, but it’s also super hard to put down once you’ve picked it up. And once you’ve carried it around as long as I have.
But I’m doing it. I’m putting it down. A little more every day. Bit by bit.
This one here is my main source of inspiration in the unloading.
For one thing, I don’t want to let her pick it up. It’s too heavy. It doubles you over eventually. It obscures your view. I don’t want that for her. I want her to always stand up straight, flexing those muscles and saying, “What’s next? What else ya got?”
And for another, I’m 42. Time is doing what it does best. Marching on. It’s not waiting. I don’t want to wait either.
If you know me at all, you know that I do not like deep water, even in a pool. I especially do not like water that does not allow me to see the bottom or that is a habitat for a variety of animals, some of whom might bite me. I run. I bike. I do not swim. Triathlons have never appealed. I CAN swim, but I’m pretty sure the heart attack is what would slow me down in open water.
I have always wanted to try stand-up paddle-boarding. And I’ve really wanted to try it in conjunction with yoga. Maybe I look at Title Nine catalogs too often, but it just seemed like something I had to try. I booked a class with Ohana Paddle Sports in Surf City.
By that afternoon, I was considering backing out. It was in the Intracoastal Waterway. Enough said.
But I went anyway. As Harper Lee chattered enthusiastically about how excited she was on the way to the surf shop, I tried to practice deep breathing. I talked nervously (OK– manically) to the instructor and other class participant as we got our boards and paddles ready, and for the first 15 minutes, my legs shook so badly, I could barely get into Warrior I, something that, on land, is generally not that difficult. Harper Lee, naturally, bounced around like a champ, completely unfazed by the school of fish jumping out of the water around her board.
First one person fell in and then another. Finally, I was the only one who was still on the board. My legs began to relax. I laughed. I got into Pigeon pose and Downward Dog. I did a tripod headstand, and while I did not actually get my legs up into a full headstand, it was more than I’d ever done on land. And it was fun. The sun was setting over the water, and it was more beautiful than I’d ever seen it. Maybe it was my vantage point.
Finally, I realized that the reason I was the only one left standing on the board was not my superior paddle-boarding skill; it was my fear. I was so afraid of falling, I dared not try some of the more difficult poses. I didn’t want to lose my balance. If, however, I just got it over with and fell in. Well, then… that part would be over, right?
I jumped in.
And I didn’t die. Nothing ate me. I didn’t get a sudden cramp and sink to the bottom like a stone. I didn’t struggle to get back on the board. I just came to the top, laughing and spitting out THE saltiest water I’ve ever had in my mouth, and popped back up on the board where I proceeded to try some harder poses. Because once the fear of falling was gone, what did I have to lose?
It’s a practice, which means I still worry. I still have that voice (or voices) that caution me at every turn, but each time I do something that I’m not entirely comfortable with (like singing a solo part in a play or signing up for a race I may or may not be able to complete all the way across the country), the voices get quieter. And when they do, I can hear MYSELF think. I can hear what it is that I want.