Trail Love

Before I knew about mountain biking or the term singletrack, when BMX was all the rage and I wanted the skills of the kids in RAD, I was building bike trails in the small wooded sections on our property. The trails were short no more than a couple hundred feet in length, and I would connect by riding across the yard or the road. Building the trail involved little more than raking, clipping and hand sawing, perhaps moving a rock or two. I’d ride laps dreaming I was on a grand adventure or racing around a track.

The mid-July sun beats down on our backs—we are dressed for battle in full military fatigues crawling on our forearms and knees through the field, moving our arms like the feet of an old windup toy to pack down trails in the tall grass. We are creating a labyrinth that will become our base for a week or so before the farmer comes to hay.

A few decades on, I am past Army costumes and my tools now have engines, but I still love to build trails. Which is why, back in 2012, freshly returned to Vermont from the urban west, Erin often found me under my large-brimmed straw hat pushing our mower through the high grass of the field of our rental property or clipping branches in the woods. I was building trails for the boys, I’d tell her. Though perhaps I was just grasping at childhood memories, trying to dull the pain of my father’s death.

For me, building a trail is a creative release. It is a meditation that has meaning beyond the dopamine hit of physical exertion. The creativity and feeling of accomplishment is another way for me to lead the tango with my depression. It is a way to give me something tangible that can break the cycle of the negative self talk.

My favorite trails are narrow and meandering, leading through forests of any kind. The journey is far more important than the destinationa horrid cliché, I know. Trails bring me peace, comfort and challenge; they spark that bottomless wonder that we have as children but seem to lose as we gain in agesociety having subtly beaten it out of us. Each footfall on a trail is a new experience, a chance to reveal something, a mystery to be solved, a new sight to see, an old relic to find, a burbling stream to sit beside or an enchanted land to discover. Trails are all the stories and dreams of my childhood stretching out before me. Here the world comes into sharper focus, thoughts clear, a bird serenades me as I come to the conclusion of a problem, an interesting mushroom or the most brilliant fallen leaf, stopping me mid-stride. On days when the darkness wallops me and on the days when everything is good, a saunter on the meandering trails near our home clears my mind and helps me refocus, allowing me to see what the Lord has given us, a place filled with beauty and wonder–if only we take the time to see it.

Secret Superpower

You are out running errands, feeling overwhelmed and short on time.  You are standing in yet another line that seems to be taking forever, tapping your foot with impatience when you hear it, laughter.  Not a quick chortle or a nervous titter but that continuous infectious beautiful laugh that can crack the veneer of even the crankiest among us.

I was having one of those days, my mind swirling with all that I had to get done when this happened to me. The woman’s laugh was so wonderful and she seemed to have such a joyous zest for life that I immediately broke into a smile and was filled with joy, so much so that I caught up to her in the parking lot to tell her how wonderful her laugh was.

On a family trip this past spring my morning run took me around a wide gravel path.  As I plodded along a gangly oriental man came loping towards me. In the moments before we passed each other, his face formed into a gigantic smile, his eyes sparkled with energy and pure joy, and he gave a zealous and animated thumb up.  I rode that wave of wordless encouragement through the rest of my run and even now, months later, the image of that encounter brings a smile to my face.

I am not one to laugh infectiously in public. Honestly, I don’t think I laugh enough. Likewise, my coordination is such that if I were to try to emulate the man I passed on that gravel path I would likely trip over my own feet, my body and face contouring strangely before I stumbled to the ground.  The wonderful thing is we don’t have to emulate these folks to spread joy and encouragement to others. We can do this by simply being who we are on a regular basis. You may not even realize that you are doing this. It is like a hidden superpower we all have.

One of Luke’s classmates wears a trebly to school. As a man who loves hats and who as a boy desperately wanted to wear a fedora but was always afraid what people would say because people said a lot where I grew up, every time I see this boy walking into school I get a flutter of joy because he is being who he is.  The same thing was true when Luke insisted on getting a mohawk when he was in preschool. To see others individuality shine brings me great joy

We all have the superpower to bring joy and encouragement to others even when we do not realize we are doing it.  If we deploy our barbaric yawp over the rooftops of the world, whatever that may sound or look like then we can and will bring joy and encouragement to others. Just as important, when someone brings joy or encouragement to us, as much as we are able we should let that person know for joy begets joy and in that we all win.

Still Fighting

In the land of sand
he slept with a gun
under his pillow
in a bunker of
cinder blocks and plywood

Safe at home
nothing feels right

Steering the car
across the center line
at high speeds
fearful of roadside trash
It could be a bomb

Unable to manage crowds
he can’t see everyone’s hands

Twenty-one years
of following orders
and sacrifice
they are unconcerned

Feeling alone
In an incomprehensible world
void of order and discipline

Still fighting
now for medical care

 

Words I’m Addicted To

Like a smoker who wants to quit but keeps going back, I have a handful of words I would like to strike from my vocabulary.

SO:
I simply use this word far too much both in speaking and in writing. It is my “um”, It is also a warning sign that I am about to talk about something that I think is important.

NEED:
My wife tells me this word provokes anxiety when used in commands such as “You need to pick up your clothes.”  We think we need stuff in our lives; the need for a bigger TV or a new pair of shoes is not a need but rather a want.  So, if we replace want with need then the problem should be solved. Perhaps not though. How am I going to convince my wife I need to get that new backpack if I replace it with want?  Using want–makes my argument far less convincing, and it is on shaky ground to begin with.

HURRY UP:
It is no secret that kids lollygag, a lot. But I lollygag a lot too, I just happen to be the one with the car keys so it makes it ok.  Sometimes my agenda, say at bedtime, dictates no lollygagging, I want to get the kitchen clean so I have some me-time before my lights out. But the boys are stalling and I’m getting frustrated, so I wander into the other room and stare at Instagram. Now I am stalling. It just occurred to me that I could be using this time to clean the kitchen.   Brilliant!

BE CAREFUL:
Really who do you know who is not careful?  In general, people, don’t set out to hurt themselves. Their assessment of risk to reward might seem skewed but this just gives you a teachable moment. But that does not mean they are not being careful. Instead of constantly telling the boys to be careful, I try to tell them to be mindful. It is a very trendy word at the moment and using it makes me sound like a hip and with-it dad.

DUDE:
We don’t own a ranch where city slickers come to play cowboy.  In general, we are not referring to the way a person dresses when using dude.  I dislike this word a great deal and yet I use it. I dislike being called dude, and yet I call people dude, something Luke has called me out on.  The only person who should be called dude is The Dude for he is the only cool dude.

 

No Approval Needed

It is a cold reality to face that I deeply care what peoples’ opinions of me are. I’ve cultivated this concern since childhood, when severe judgment was a regular occurrence. Not from my parents–in fact, I grew up in an extremely supportive household; one that taught tolerance, equality and love.  It was the world outside that was rampant with judgement and those who were not shy in vocalizing their thoughts about me. When my high school girlfriend became pregnant, the judgement intensified tenfold.  A few of my friends were even told not to hang out with me because I might get them pregnant.  Through osmosis, we presumed.  I couldn’t wait to get out of that cesspool of judgment.

My depressed mind is masterful at building scenarios that push irrational thoughts along, which in turn makes me shrink back and second guess myself.  This keeps me from speaking my mind and worse, cramming myself into a box of perceived acceptance in an attempt to feel like I am doing the right thing. The more fixated on this I become, the more rigid my thinking becomes, turning me into a dictator determined to force the boys into acting in ways I believe society feels is the right way to act.

When I step back and allow my rational mind to take the lead, I am ashamed and frustrated, because, with all this worry about being judged by others, I am disregarding all the love and encouragement my parents showed me as a child. They understood that I would stumble and I would make mistakes but as long as I gave it my all, respected others, was aware of the needs around me and lived each day with kindness everything would work out.  In trying so hard to win approval from others, whose approval does not matter I’ve, lost sight of this. I have also come to realize that since my father died, I have been trying to be him.  Yet, in doing so I’ve been working off only a few select memories, so afraid of being judged for my parenting I’ve never taken into account the full man my father was.   A man of sound moral character and good manners; a man who literally had a “bad jokes” folder. I am not my father, and that is ok. He would tell me as much if he were still alive. He would tell me I am doing a great job raising the boys. He would tell me to be me and to let the boys do the same.