Tuesday, August 26, 2008

footprint

Coffee at the beach holds a different meaning for me today. Usually I’m more concerned about the coffee than the beach. Not today. Today, the beach is more than a location. It’s a metaphor. Gazing at the footprints disappearing in the rising tide, I think that I am able to understand a comforting lesson about our recent life changes. We just returned last night from taking my daughter to college in the high desert of Boise, Idaho. The trip lived up to the destination. It was high and it was 100 degrees. Mountains and sage brush are the realities there. Personally I prefer mountains and beach front, but that’s me. It wasn’t just a change of scenery for us though. It was the beginning of something totally different and totally inevitable.
For my daughter, it’s a new life, with new friends, in a new room, with endless opportunities. For my wife and I, it’s a new life, with each other, with empty rooms, and a sense of loss and “where did it all go?”. We’ve already gone through this drill once with my son and that was difficult enough with all of its own challenges and sadness. I thought that this time would be different, with different meaning “easier”. It was different, but not in the way I had hoped and assumed. So in the midst of change, my wife and I seek what we all seek in times like these. We seek comfort and clarity. I’m not sure about the comfort, except that it only comes with time. Clarity, I may have glimpsed in the footprints.
Walking down the beach, everyone leaves footprints behind them. The universal truth is that, over time, through wind and waves, the footprints begin to fade until they are merely a faint imprint. Further along, over time, they disappear altogether. My daughter, like my son before her, has left distinct footprints of her life as she has passed through. I was putting some things in her room last night and it occurred to me that her room still had her mark. It had her colors, her curtains, her imprint left behind, but without the personality behind it all. A wave has washed over and the imprint had already begun to fade.
Like I said, we’ve gone through this all before. It took a week or so before I could go into my son’s room, as the footprints were so fresh. It also may have been because the trash was so deep, who knows really. Anyway, as he’s continued on through schooling and jobs and now marriage, the original prints left behind have faded significantly. It could all be so depressing, except for the insight I found this morning in the gentle waves. I can choose to stand here feeling all lost and nostalgic while the old ones fade to something quite indistinguishable, or I can pursue the one making the footprints. Sure the old ones are fading in the surf, but as long as the one making them keeps walking, new ones appear with every step. I don’t need the same old footprints when I can follow along with new ones into a new place for all of us. We’ve all followed my son joyfully through all that has come since his initial leaving home and the paths that he has walked. He’s still central in our lives. It’s different to be sure, but it’s clear. Now it’s her turn.
It is still painful to watch them fade. Tears will come easily for awhile, like right now. I don’t imagine that it’s much less painful to be the print that’s fading as life’s surf is washing over. I look forward though to her new paths and the new prints. That is, as long as it doesn’t include boys and marriage anytime soon. I’m thinking of buying a gun, just to have something to be cleaning when the first one comes calling. For now, the tide is coming in so I’d better get walking.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

24

You’ll have to excuse me from missing my Monday morning appointed blog time. Yesterday was 24 years for us. If you’ve been with me over the years you know that, as long as I’m here in Seattle, there’s not much that would keep me from Monday mornings at the beach. Even my birthday wouldn’t keep me away. My anniversary would though, and it did. No particular reason except that on this particular day of the year we choose to spend every minute of it together. We don’t work on that day. We aren’t apart on it either. This is non-negotiable. Neither of us would even consider being separated on that day. It has meant that we have spent the day together in some pretty unusual and interesting places. That wasn’t the case yesterday.
24 for us was a bit unusual though. We’ve been talking about it all year and yet it really took us by surprise. I spent last week beginning the new phase of my educational journey and this week my daughter begins the new phase in hers. Between those two consuming events and my wife in a walking boot, we really didn’t have the planning time in place to compensate and create some elaborate experience like past years have seen. We settled for doing what we know and do best, just spending time together. I’m not going to elaborate much at the risk of underwhelming you. Let’s just say the day involved some good coffee, a decent movie, a great dinner, a purchase for our kitchen and as much kissing and hand holding as we could tastefully fit in. We just spent the day centered only around us.
Now those of you who know that we already work together very closely might not find this all that unusual. I’m finding in year 24 that some of the secret to why we still rival couples on their honeymoon is that we are comfortable in our unstructured time together. Unfortunate for many that I know is the fact that their identities revolve around structured time. Life together has become all ballgames, recitals, holidays and family vacations. When the activity is over and the house is quiet, two strangers remain. Hopefully they are reintroduced and fall in love once again, but that’s not always the case. We’ve passed those years and unlike many of our contemporaries are excited about an empty nest, two people and an annoying cat in a four bedroom house, kind of life. I’m excited for our kids. They have new lives. They have new adventures. We are not “helicopter parents”, hovering over our children, forgetting that we ourselves have lives. We get to be stadium parents, and cheer them on, offering them encouragement and advice when they want it, but knowing that it’s their game now. 24 years ago we were on the same journey that they are now in the midst of. I miss it. I remember it. I wouldn’t want it back though for anything. What has happened during these past 24 years has shaped what we’ve become and enjoyed during these past 24 hours.
As part of my role in my community o’ faith, I have the honor of celebrating the beginnings of many journeys. Many that I encounter are amazed at the possibility of 24 years. I am saddened by this a bit. I don’t know what they’re thinking. Actually I do know. They are, in all probability, more consumed with the event of the wedding that they are with the lifestyle of the marriage. Call me ignorant, but I never entered in to this covenant wondering how long we could last. I went into it with an “Apollo 13” attitude of “failure is not an option”. I didn’t spend yesterday amazed that we had scaled some imposing summit that few have scaled before us. We just enjoyed each other and another day together. I do wish they’d slow just a bit though. 25 is just around the corner.

Monday, August 11, 2008

plans

So let me start this morning by telling you that I believe that there is a plan for my life. In fact I believe that there is a plan for every life, just as there is for mine. You may not believe this way and that’s okay, we can still be friends. I don’t think that the plan is an all inclusive set of detailed blueprints like you’d find at a Donald Trump construction site. In my way of thinking, it’s more like an IKEA set . You know, the big picture, I’m not really sure what this is saying in Swedish, kind of plan where you can get a general idea of what is being communicated and a general idea when it’s all done whether or not you got the chairs or the table in this box. There are two reasons why I feel strongly about the existence of these plans. The first one centers around my faith and the words that have been recorded for me in the “Book of Books”. In the grander story of the grander plan, I can picture my own story intertwined, and just as an author develops an intentional course for every character in their own books, The Author has developed one for my character…hero or villain I’m not yet sure. I’m just sure that a plan exists.
The second reason is by my own personal experience and observation. Whenever I am blessed with an IKEA project, about the only thing clear to me is the picture of the finished product. I can stumble my way along towards what I think will lead me to the end. Sometimes, it is way too easy to wander off target, and then I feel the frustration begin to build. At times, to be honest, I need to invest in a complete “do-over” . I consider myself to be fairly mechanically competent. I can just imagine the frustration level of those who are not. Most of the time, I just wish they could have, by mistake, sent me directions with words that are in English and make sense. One without the other is of no use either. Or better yet, if I could just get some intelligent direction from that Swede who designed the thing in the first place, then maybe I could make some progress. I see the same thing going on in real life for me and every other person I encounter. We’re all trying to figure it out. We all get frustrated. Sometimes we get desperate and do desperate things to try and achieve the picture on the box. It doesn’t really matter whether or not you believe that there’s a picture on your box and that the inner parts should resemble this picture when they’re all assembled. Our intellect can’t forever deny what our conscience has already determined. Some things are just true whether we believe them or not.
These particular plans are often accompanied by packages of various assorted hardware. Usually there is more than one package. This is where the difficulty lies and interpretation is the key. Careful scrutiny of the hardware and comparing it to the drawing is absolutely essential, otherwise a trip to customer service is almost guaranteed. Looking at my life, the realities and possibilities, in light of the grander picture, can ensure some measure of success. Sometimes I have a tendency to guess, and this has a tendency to lead to mistake, which in turn leads to frustration, then desperation, and sometimes disaster. When I wanted a chair, it seems that I’ve constructed a sofa sleeper, and I don’t have to tell you how worthless those things can be.
So I have some choices. I can do some good picture comparison and see where it leads. I could learn Swedish, but I’m not really sure that those plans are really accurate uses of the actual language. I could also get to know the designer himself and have him assemble it with me, obviously the most inconvenient, but the most likely to lead me to the finished project. The only other option available is to take my chances and see what turns out in the end, but I’ve already been to customer service more times than I care to remember.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

demand

I wonder if Mick Jagger still thinks that “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”? Didn’t we all try to teach that concept to our children? I’m pretty sure that we’ve stopped teaching it, singing about it and even believing it somewhere during my lifetime. This morning as I wandered in, a bit later than usual (I’m on vacation), I ordered my usual for a Monday morning… a grande` drip. Well, there happened to be about three sips less in the pot than a true grande` size. It was fine by me, but not by the Starbucks barista code. She apologized profusely and if I could wait 3 minutes I could have a fresh one. If I couldn’t wait, they’d whip me up an Americano. Either way, my drink was “on the house”. Apparently, the code is “on demand” or it’s free.
Last night we enjoyed a great family meal out. My son ordered an enormous sandwich, hold the tomatoes. Well, they forgot to hold the tomatoes. It was no huge issue to him, but to our server and the manager it was at least a misdemeanor offense and the meal came free of charge, which was fairly significant at this place. Once again the code is “on demand” or it’s free.
So I’m wondering again on a Monday morning, what have we become? Are businesses so afraid of the high brow, high maintenance public that no measure of inconvenience or incompetence is to be accepted. We’re pursuing the “super race” of humanity, just not on a genetic scale. No grace is given and no trouble is tolerated. Are we on schedules strung so tightly that 3 minutes would destroy our life’s mission? If my schedule can be detained for 3 minutes for the sake of a fresh pot, then anyone’s can. I know that the customer is always right and poor service should probably not be rewarded, but neither should self centeredness and self importance. Sometimes I wonder how “The Greatest Generation” ever saved the world from Hitler. I’m sure that conditions in the foxholes were less than stellar and I know that mess hall service left something to be desired. How did they ever get by? “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try….sometimes you get what you need.” Isn’t that what Mick sang? People used to live that way. Sadly though, some of the most demanding I’ve met lately have been older individuals who have begun to sing another song…. “Have it Your Way”. Thanks a bunch Burger King. My way would have meant that you didn’t change your fries way back when, but lets not open that wound.
Anyway, it’s easy for me to sit around here in my comfy chair by the beach with my free coffee and be critical. Until I remember my Friday evening dining experience at another place that shall remain nameless. Not only was my fairly simple “hold the ….” Order not accomplished. It was never even acknowledged. To be honest, I don’t care to go back anytime in the foreseeable future. What does that say about me when I can’t always get what I want? Maybe it was worth it for them to give me the coffee for free.