Slippery Slope

We took the kids to this natural spring swimming area located in a national park. Overall, it was delightful experience. But there’s a couple of things about these parks that aren’t ideal. Specifically, I’m talking the slick algae and moss growing on all the rocks and steps and ladders. I always feel like I’m gonna slip and bust my head open while trying to get in the water.

But the real kicker is this: the park had installed these railings around the entire swimming area. They looked as if they would function both as safety rails (to prevent people from accidently falling in the water) and as hand rails (to help people safely enter and exit the water).

But if you thought that these rails were for helping people to not slide and tumble while getting in and out of the pool, then you would be so very wrong, and the livid lifeguards perched atop their judgment nests would surely let you know of your transgressions with the blowing of trumpets blasting forth from the clouds and with cups of wrath flooded out onto the earth as fire and brimstone from the grave.

“Stay off the rails!!!”

The shouts of condemnation would pierce into a person’s soul and then some would inevitably fall like lemmings to their demise (actually, the lemmings jumping off cliffs thing is a total myth).

One friendlier lifeguard approached us and said, “Hey guys, you can climb and jump off the rocks all you want, but you’ve got to stay off the rails please.”

And I’m thinking… wait, wait, wait a second here… First of all, there are no signs about staying off the rails. Maybe if there were signs, you wouldn’t have to scare people half to death with your four horses of the apocalypse war cries.

Secondly, maybe there were signs, but I don’t know because I wasn’t paying attention. Who has time to read when you’re too busy trying not to die while algae figure-skating?

But thirdly, seriously? We need to stay away from these securely mounted railings, but those super slippery, goo-covered rocks are fine‽ These rocks are by far the most dangerous thing out here! And what’s the point of all these rails in the first place if not to use them?

Sometimes, life doesn’t quite make sense. Like pineapple on pizza or pickles on peanut butter or hot sauce on mango… it can be difficult to rationalize the sanity of the world. But take heart, and do not lose hope! For to hope is to be human. That we can continue to imagine a better world and believe in a better future is a testament to the divine nature in all of us. At times I start to lose faith in humanity like I’ve lost faith in Sony’s ability to produce good a Spider-Man movie. But then I remember: Hey, chicken and waffles are delicious! What an unexpectedly great idea‽ Perhaps, truly, there is hope after all.

(By the way, if you happen to know why these park rail rules exist, then please don’t bother letting me know why; you can feel free to not email me at MySpace… is that still a thing? Don’t let me know. Not really interested.)

You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty. – Mahatma Gandhi

Falling with Style

The first time I went skiing was also my last. It was a youth group ski trip. Cliché, I know. And yes, this is another story of me nearly dying in (West Virginia). I’ve never been very adept at those balance and coordination-type activities. Also, who came up with skiing in the first place? Oh, I know, here’s a great idea: why don’t we lock and strangle our ankles to these impractically large planks and then zoom down these snow-covered deathtrap hills while holding treacherous pointy spears?

I didn’t even own any snow gear, so I had to borrow a hodgepodge of items from several people. My outfit included the brightest-luminescent-yellow-green snow pants you’ve ever seen. I looked like some kind of road hazard sign out on the slopes. People actively avoided me—I assume because they thought I was letting visitors know which parts of the ski slope were closed for maintenance. Do they have slope maintenance? Do janitors mop hilltops?

One of my friends, who was far more experienced in this sadistic sport, graciously took me under his wing. He tried to teach me the ropes. Then he just left me to hang myself with the rope. Clearly, I was a lost cause. I guess they call it the bunny slope because a cluster of bunnies had all gathered around to watch in curiosity and delight at the giant lime puff flailing about in the snow. After practicing my face plants a few hundred times (my nose felt like the forgotten popsicle left in the back of the freezer after last summer’s cookout) we decided it was time for me to try skiing, or belly-sliding, down one of the actual slopes.

We navigated our way onto the lift, and then my friend told me where to descend. He explained that I was getting off on the easy, beginner slope, while he was going to go to a more advanced one. “Here Finley, this is a green circle slope so you should be fine.” I’m sure you can guess where this is going. It wasn’t a green circle. It was a black diamond. I must have gone down the wrong side or something. I don’t know why they put those mountains so close to each other. And I thought going down was supposed to be the easy part.

I quickly realized that this whole skiing thing wasn’t going to work. I wouldn’t survive. So I changed techniques and just allowed myself to roll down the mountainside like a neon cream puff which was discarded into the garbage after melting at the church potluck picnic. I felt the embarrassment of a snow owl turn its bulbous eyes away in shame at the sight as I bounced and thrashed and floundered my way to the bottom.

I was a cold, lonely tumbleweed blowing in the wind.

Later, my friend confessed that he realized his mistake and was genuinely worried about me. He thought I died and was asking everyone if they had seen a guy who looked like an intoxicated Elton John impersonator hanging off a cliff.

Sometimes, life can be unexpectedly challenging. Perhaps you too have found yourself standing on the precipice of a black diamond slope and staring into the belly of the beast. You didn’t choose these circumstances, but here you are, and now you must decide: do I take a leap of faith and venture out into the abyss, or do I plop down on my bum and make snow angels until I die of exposure to the elements?

Choices. All you can do is choose how to respond to life. If you can’t ski down the mountain, then slide. If you can’t slide, then stroll. If you can’t stroll, then roll and tumble. Just keep going. You’ll make it, and you’ll be better for it.

As for me, next time I’m going tubing. Sounds more my speed since I can sit the whole time. I have this life dream of eating a donut while sitting in a rubber donut tube and being pulled around by a snowmobile doing donuts. Dream big.

If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl; but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward. – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

My Delightful Joyride Trailblazing John Denver’s Country Road

So, we saw the new Marvel movie this weekend: Avengers Endgame. And it got me thinking… Wow, what an accomplishment for all those involved—this whole interconnected, cinematic phenomenon all started elevenish years ago. What was I doing eleven years ago? What do I have to show for the past decade?

Well, I was in college. And I suppose that when I wasn’t goofing off, I was probably in a class or something. But more specifically, for some odd reason, superheroes punching aliens made me recall a particular incident from a particular adventure that I went on during my Freshman year.

A friend from my dorm and I decided to go on a road trip during a school break: up through the Midwest to Canada and then back down through New England. We were driving my car, and I didn’t own a GPS. This is also before the whole smartphone revolution. So we were doing old school MapQuest printouts and even older school actual road maps to navigate our way across the northeastern region of the United States.

One night, late—like approaching midnight—we were lost. Well, I won’t say lost. I’ll say we simply didn’t know where we were or where we were going. Anyways, somehow we ended up on this backroad in the middle of must have been nowhere, driving through the thick, dark mountain forest of a state that perhaps doesn’t always have the best reputation for being a safe place to get lost in. But so as not to offend anyone, let’s use an alias and call it the Back Woods of the Smaller Skintag Version of Virginia Located Westerly.

All of a sudden, a dim light appeared in the distance: a partially lit motel sign with forbidding dead branches hanging around the property like a cloud of spikes and splinters. Yes, whatever you’re imagining right now, that’s about right. This was the Bates Motel, the Hotel California, the opposite of the light at the end of the tunnel. Look, I cannot possibly express how eerie the atmosphere and just plain creepy the building was.

The parking lot was absent of cars, but the open sign was flickering on. I looked at my friend. He was known as a military, survivor-type on our hall. He wore an army-issued jacket, combat boots, and in his pockets were knives. Why someone needed to carry so many knives with them, I’ll never know (actually, in retrospect, perhaps the greater danger was sitting beside me the whole time). But as I parked, I looked at my friend with bewilderment and trepidation, and he spoke up first, “I’m not going in there.”

As I stood in front of the door, I weighed my options: is it better to die from exposure, lost in the woods, or to be murdered by some motel manager maniac? Before I could really think it through, I was turning the doorknob. The door creaked open, and inside I could see shadows crawling on the walls as just the vaguest sense of any light source penetrated through the bleak darkness. Seriously, no lights were turned on. Sitting by a bar counter, a gruff voice behind a burning cigarette asked if he could help me. I thought, “probably not, I’m just fine, thank you and good day sir, I’ll be going now…”

I could go on, but not to make things overly dramatic, I did eventually get some semblance of directions to navigate back to the highway. Obviously, I’m still alive. Anticlimactic much?

I guess the point of me telling this story is that sometimes the journey of life can take unexpected turns. Sometimes we lose our way. Sometimes we’re surrounded by what seems like infinite darkness. Sometimes, we come face to face with our nightmares.

But don’t let those realities stop you from taking the journey, from living life. We can never prevent all dangers and disasters. Trouble is inevitable. Safety is never guaranteed. But if we let fear consume and control us, then what’s the point of being alive at all? Don’t just exist. Live. And maybe carry a pocketknife or two.

The movie was pretty good by the way (especially for fans). You should go see it—and think about where the last eleven years have brought you.