Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Headlong into Today

The wires hanging from the telephone polls rolled by like long, slow deep ocean waves. My whole body throbbed as my head bounced against the floor of the red wagon I'd been pushing in our 100-yard race. I could hear the other kids talking, "Do you think he's gonna die?"

As we turned the corner and headed up the driveway, a few of the kids ran ahead to get my mom shouting loudly, "Mrs. Tuomenoksa, come out! Mark fell down and he's really hurt bad!"

The pace of the wagon pullers quickened as my mom emerged calmly from the house drying her hands with a dish towel. She took one look to see what was happening and then ran.

The doctor set my collar bone with a cast that ran all around my chest and shoulders like a tanktop cut off at the base of my ribcage. I was the first six-year-old in my school to have broken something and suddenly I was cool. For me the cast hidden under my shirt was like a bullet proof vest or armor; I was Superman taunting the crooks to hit me in the chest, knowing that nothing could harm me.

Back in Business
Our neighborhood was full of kids who played outside every day after school, racing wagons, climbing over the remains of large trees fallen in the woods that surrounded our homes, riding bikes, or chasing each other in a game of tag. For six weeks, I couldn't do any of that.

The day my cast came off, I couldn't wait to go find the other kids. My mom pulled into the driveway and I was half-way out the door of our 1961 pontiac before she'd cut the engine.

I ran into the garage and grabbed my bicycle ready to fly away and find my pals. And then I stopped, afraid to get on my bike and ride, certain that I was gonna fall and hurt myself.

Walking into the garage, mom asked me, "What's wrong?"

I told her that I'd forgotten how to ride my bike. My desire to join my friends and my fear of riding played tug-of-war with emotions and I finally pleaded, "Mom, can you pleeease put the training wheels back on?"

Long Term Strategy
For weeks, I rode around with the training wheels extended so low to the ground that there was absolutely no play in the balance. They weren't training wheels, they were rotary crutches. Every time my dad would adjust them so that I would have to balance a bit, I would stop, jump off the bike and beg him to lower the wheels again. I would tell myself how training wheels weren't so bad, that I might just use them forever.

One Saturday afternoon, my dad walked down to the street and told me he wanted to adjust my training wheels. He loosened the bolts that held them to the frame and then asked me to sit on the seat while he held the bike upright and fine tuned the height. As soon as I'd mounted my four-wheel machine, he made a couple of twists with his fingers that let the training wheels fall to the ground. Amidst my loud protests, he ran forward pushing the bike, one hand on the handle bar, the other on the seat.

And then he let go.

It was one of those moments that you hear about where a thousand scenarios flash through your mind: falling down... running over a curb and crash-landing on someone's lawn... jumping... braking... and then... riding. I emerged from my fugue to find myself pedaling as fast as I could, past the Wilcox's house, past the Underwood's house, past the Jacoby's house gaining speed and much to my surprise, gaining balance.

Forgetting all my fears, I turned the corner into the Cagle's driveway and raced across the lawn to the backyard where all the kids were playing Army. I hit the coaster brake that spun my back wheel around in a skid, let my bike fall to the ground, and ran to join them shouting, "Hey, I remembered how to ride my bike!"

Inching Your Way Across a Chasm
I'm a big fan of learning things slowly. When it comes to subjects like math or music or science or language, going slow can be the fastest way to get there. However, there are other areas where you just can't get there slowly. You can't inch your way across a chasm, you have to leap. Yet so often we rush that which is best accomplished slowly, and creep through that which can only be accomplished quickly, with a leap of faith and a belief that it will all work out.

Rather than a clean split, we inch our ways through breakups and divorces. Rather than putting all we have into establishing a new company, we hang on to our current jobs doing a little here and a little there. Rather than supporting our kids in the pursuit of their dreams, we teach them to hedge and play it safe. Rather than walking boldly into the boss's office with a clear statement of what we want and why it will benefit her to give it to us, we drop hints hoping that someone will notice how well we work.

We live our lives with one foot on the log of circumstances and the other on the log of dreams, straining in a losing battle to pull them together, knowing in our hearts of hearts that they will inevitably drift apart, leaving us to choose one or the other, or to simply fall into the unknown.

We all can easily spot it when others do it. We all do it. We even encourage people to do it. But there's no future in it.

There are times when someone will take the choice out of your hands, grab your bicycle and send it flying. There are times when there's no one but you. In the end, there are some things in life that can only be achieved when you leap headlong into the abyss of your dreams and of your fears.

Happy Wednesday,

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