Life is like a Boondoggle Keychain

This was first published in August 2011 in my now defunct blog “Hot Dogs and Marmalade.”  When my friend, Julie Silander, wrote a post called “The Lanyard” for her Greener Trees blog, it reminded me of this and I dug it out of the ash heap.

Boondoggle keychains — a must have for this season’s fashion. I know some of you already made infinity of these at scout camp, but here goes with a boondoggle keychain post…

Laurel tried making a boondoggle keychain this summer. I never was very good at crafts involving plastic, so I wasn’t much help to her. Still she completed a good inch.

I was thinking about her boondoggle keychain and how life is like a boondoggle key chain.  Some many different strands come together to form our thoughts, our ideas, our intentions, our lives.  I have four strands to share with you from different times in my life, seemingly unrelated, but oh-so-related.

Strand #1 —  In the Fall of 1980, I took General Biology from Professor Marvin Druger at Syracuse University.  He began our first class with words I have never forgotten — “I hope that by the end of the year taking this class you will know less than you do today.”  It was an arrow shot straight at the heart of every know-it-all in the auditorium, and I doubt that they even understood what he was saying.  He was addressing the paradox of the more you know, the less you know;  the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know.  I, for one, knew far less by the end of General Biology than I knew going in, even though I did win the coveted “Fetal Pig Award” and carried the card signifying this recognition for years in my wallet.  If I was ever to be in a car accident, I wanted the paramedics to know that I had won the Fetal Pig Award.

Strand #2 —  Sometime in the late 80s, I met Bud’s one and only uncle.  They called him Unkie Joe.  Unkie Joe taught architecture, but he was also an artist.  We had a very interesting discussion one evening about his art.  I should just preface this by saying that the more modern the art, the less I understand it.  His art is made up of black panels that he covers with layers and layers of graphite.  He explained it all to me (of course, I still didn’t get it) and,  quite honestly, I’ve been pondering it ever since.  Somehow the layers of graphite represented the unseen world around us.  He said that he believed that there were beings and battles that we can’t see, but they’re right there.  While this is a Christian concept (Ephesians 6:12), Unkie Joe had been studying eastern mysticism and that’s what he was drawing on — literally.

Strand #3 — One of my readers recently sent me a book that I have been enjoying immensely, A Diary of Private Prayer by John Baillie.  Written over 60 years ago, it contain morning and evening prayers for 31 days.  One morning, this was part of the prayer —

O Eternal God, though Thou art not such as I can see with my eyes or touch with my hands, yet grant me this day a clear conviction of Thy reality and power.  Let me not go forth to my work believing only in the world of sense and time, but give me grace to understand that the world I cannot see or touch is the most real world of all...

Strand #4 — The other day I picked up a book at Willis Monie’s.  Actually, I walked past it several times trying to pretend I didn’t see it.  The cover was so intriguing that I finally gave in.   Haunts of the Black Masseur:  The Swimmer as Hero by Charles Sprawson chronicles a history of swimming in a way I’ve never seen before.  It understands the strange powerful pull the water has on some us.  One little section, however, illustrated to me the fact that sometimes we think we know something or are being smart about something, when in fact we know nothing and are quite foolish in what we do.

For years swimmers had adopted as the model for style the actions of the frog…  Frogs were kept in tubs by the sides of pools as a mean of instruction.   People admired the wonderful screwlike motions of their legs below the knees…   The Boys Own Paper of 1879 recommends the learner place a basin half-full of water on the floor, put a frog in it, lie face downwards over a stool and try and imitate its movements.

In my life as a boondoggle keychain, I hold these four strands in my hands these days:  the more I know, the more I realize I don’t know; there is an unseen world all around us;  the world I cannot see is the most real world of all;  what we think we know, we may not know at all.

As I weave and intertwine them, I see potential for something beautiful — that unseen world being the most real world. We may not know what we think we know and the more we learn, the less we know.  It’s all such a paradox.  It’s all such a boondoggle.

The dictionary definition of boondoggle is “an unnecessary or wasteful project or activity” — and yet I find that the boondoggles of my life are paradoxes too.  The years spent raising babies and toddlers, which may be viewed by some as wasted years — after all, I could have been pursuing a career or earning money — the repetitive nature of reading the same book over and over, telling people what’s for dinner over and over,  — these are the very things that prepare me for helping with my aging parents.  Is it possible that these things which seem so mundane are really the most important?

Some simple instructions for making a boondoggle keychain highlighted these words — Under, Around, Over

Under — the more I know, the less I know

Around — there is an unseen world all around us

Over — the world I cannot see is the most real world of all

Under — what I think I know, I may not know

And so we weave this spiral braid of life, of knowledge, of the Almighty… a boondoggle keychain.

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