A Swim Instructor’s Prayer

O Lord,

You spread out Your hands, as a swimmer spreads his hands in the water, (Isaiah 25:11)

— Yes, You understand swimming, and that delights me.

Let me delight in You as I work with children in the water.

And may You delight in me as I seek to honor You in word, and thought, and deed at swim lessons.

May I see each child with Your eyes, and love them with Your heart —

Even the ones who won’t cooperate,
who splash water in other people’s faces,
who refuse to even attempt the simple things I ask them to do,
who put their heads underwater when I am talking to them so that they can’t hear what I have to say,
who are rude and pouty and unkind —

Because I have been and done all that to You and more.

Help me, Lord, to teach them to spread their hands in the water to swim.

For Your glory.

Amen

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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.

The Bump-a-Day Club

cruisingLearning to walk is a scary and dangerous thing.

I remember watching my toddlers cruise along the relative safety of the couch.  Standing on unsturdy and pudgy little legs, they got the feel for walking while holding on to something big and soft.

When it came time to walk away from the couch, to take those first steps, a look that expressed both fear and delight covered their round little faces.  First steps were often short – to me, to the coffee table, to another chair, to a sibling, to their father.

This time of life was one we called “The Bump-a-Day Club.”  My children often bore head bruises, arm bruises, leg bruises, scrapes, and cuts.  Learning to walk is not without risks and hurts.

But, oh, the vistas that open to the one who can walk upright without the aid of a couch!  There were Christmas trees to pull over and ever higher heights to which they could climb.

I never did a bang-up job of child-proofing my home, as my children’s little bodies would attest to.

But they learned.  And they walked.  And they ran. And they climbed and swam and biked.  They did all those wonderful things that children are supposed to do, all because they let go of the safety of the couch.  All because they were willing to join the Bump-a-Day Club.

A friend of mine posted yesterday about a major life change her family was entering.

It wasn’t the life change that comes from a broken and dying world.  Another friend of ours is going through that.  His wife of over thirty years abruptly left and moved in with someone else.  That’s a broken world.  My brother is celebrating his 55th birthday with chemotherapy and radiation treatments.  That’s a dying world.

My friend and her family are taken some new steps.  This will be an exciting new vista that is opening for them.  It’s not without some pain.  It isn’t called the Bump-a-Day Club for nothing.

I’m sure their hearts are filled with both fear and delight.

Learning to walk is a scary and dangerous thing, but, to quote Dr. Seuss, “oh, the places you’ll go!”

I love to picture the heavenly Father, watching them take that first step, delighted with His children, and excited for the new adventures they will enjoy.

And when they bump their heads or arms or legs or hearts, He’ll gather them gently in His arms, just like we do with our toddlers.  He’ll hug them and hold them, and then let them try again.

Hearts, Faces, the Law, and Grace

heartGod looks at hearts the way that we look at faces.

I wish I knew where I first heard that but I don’t.  I only know that it is a truth.

A story that illustrates that is when Samuel goes to Jesse to anoint one of his sons as king.  Immediately Jesse knows which of his sons is king material.

Eliab is the oldest.  He is strong, tall, and handsome..

Samuel thought, This has got to be the guy.

But he’s not.  God speaks to Samuel words that go so against the grain of our human understanding that we can read them a thousand times and still not understand them.

He says,  “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him.  For the Lord sees not as man sees;  man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

“The Lord looks on the heart…”  What a mystery!

You mean He doesn’t look at all the great things I do?  You mean He doesn’t look at the way I’m nice to someone, even though I feel like calling them out or yelling at them.  You mean He doesn’t see my self-control — which is something I can be quite proud of –and He doesn’t think I’m pretty special because of it?

No, He’s looking at my heart.

So when I put a large check in the offering, and the lady next to me puts a five dollar bill in the offering plate, He doesn’t care about the dollar amount?  No, He’s looking at my heart.  And her heart.  Which I can’t see or even guess about.

And when I dress modestly, so people will see my modesty, and think what a wonderful Christian woman I am, doesn’t He think so too?  No, I’m really no better than the woman who dresses immodestly, but who has put on her best clothes for the Lord.  In fact, I’m worse.  Pride is written all over my heart, and purity — yes, purity –is written on hers.  Or, at least it could be.  I don’t know, because I can’t see.

I’m blind, blind, blind.  I’m blind to everything, except what God has revealed to me.

I’ve been studying the land of Samaria.  The Samaritans are an interesting lot. Their land was part of the Promised Land.  It became the Northern Kingdom of Israel — and, with its very first king, Jeroboam, took a nose-dive into idolatry.  The people of Samaria worshiped golden calves and shunned Jerusalem.

Then, when the Northern Kingdom fell to Assyria, all the Israelites there were taken captive and shipped off to other lands.  Assyria plopped other people that they had taken captive in Samaria — to live in the cities built by Israel, to farm the land cleared by Israel, to drink water from the wells dug by Israel.  When lions came to eat the newcomers, the Assyrian king figured that he wasn’t doing enough to appease “the god of the land.”  He didn’t understand that it wasn’t just the god of the land, but the Maker of heaven and earth Himself.

Anyway, the Assyrian king said, “Round up a priest and sent him back to Samaria so he can teach them how to keep this god-who-sends-lions happy.”

So they did.  And the Samaritans were born.  People who took a smattering of this religion and a dabble of that one, and made up their own mongrel religion, which, of course, everyone despised because there was nothing pure about it all.  Judah especially despised it.

And, in turn, the Samaritans despised the Jews.

A mutual lack-of-admiration society.

It was these awful Samaritans, who worshiped in every wrong way possible, that Jesus used as an example of a neighbor in his story of the Good Samaritan.

It was one of these women that Jesus met at the well.  And talked to.  And told about the living water.

If the Samaritans were that awful, why did Jesus bother at all with them?

It’s because He sees the heart.  He can see hearts that are truly seeking Him.  It doesn’t matter if the outer shell of a person is Samaritan or Catholic or evangelical or Methodist or charismatic or a murderer or an immoral woman or a dirty scruffy homeless person who used the last few dollars he was given to buy a bottle of the cheap stuff.

When God looks at us, He sees our hearts.

And that, my friend, is the ultimate Grace.

The law guides us, but it also condemns us.  Jesus came not to condemn the world, but that the world, through Him, might be saved.

Grace.  God looking at our hearts.  And loving us.

Fools and Jokers, Freaks and Simpletons

Jeffrey Overstreet uses the term “Fools and Jokers” to describe those who behave in unconventional ways.  The madmen, the visionaries, the crazies.  He says,

The characters that have meant the most to me have often been downright foolish.  In fact, some of them seem to be out of their minds.  These characters serve a similar purpose — they inspire us, they reveal things to us, they expose our lack and our need.  But they do so through aberrant behavior, making us uncomfortable, demanding that we attempt to understand the way they see the world.

When asked what character comes to my mind when I think of “the fool,” two people immediately came to mind, neither of them characters, both of them flesh-and-blood people with whom I have attended church.  I have learned so much from both of them.

The first person that came to mind was a man I’ll call Leonard.  I haven’t seen much of Leonard these past few weeks since his last stay on a psychiatric ward.  Yes, he’s mentally ill.  He walks the streets of our little talking to imaginary beings.  He’s a total conspiracy theorist.  The first time I met him, he struck up a conversation with me about how the government was poisoning the ocean and aliens were coming, or something like that.  People cross the street when they see him coming.  He waves his arms in the air a lot, as if fending off something.  His world is an unseen world.

But when he worships in church, I want to be just like him.  In church, when we’re singing, I love to look at Leonard.  He closes his eyes, puts his hands over his face, and rocks back and forth.  Then, he’ll throw his hands up in the air and his head back, with his eyes squeezed tightly shut.  He’s murmuring something in an unknown language, which would fit right in if we were a charismatic church, but the elderly staid Methodists in the room shrink back just a little from it.

I watch in wonder.  And I think of the verses in Isaiah 6

And he said, “Go, and say to this people:“‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
10 Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”

Leonard hears what I cannot understand;  he sees what I cannot perceive.  It torments him through the week, but in church, it blesses him.  He may be a freak to some, but on Sundays, I see him as blessed.

The second person that I thought of was an older woman I attended church with years ago.  I’ll call her Catherine.  She was what I consider simple. She was pushing 70 and still working on getting her GED.  Studying, taking the test, failing, and studying some more.  It was almost as if she didn’t know enough to give up.  But that’s not what I admire her about her.  She was short, overweight, missing teeth, and a little hard of hearing.  The hard-of-hearing part always caused her to speak in a loud voice.  The speaking-in-a-loud-voice part made her someone I didn’t always want to go talk with because everybody in the sanctuary would hear our whole conversation.

Catherine had two responses.  If what was shared with her was happy, she shouted boisterously, “Thank God!” loud enough for anyone in the whole county to hear.  If what was shared was not, she said equally loudly, “Let’s pray!”

When Jason Gray sings his song, “Help Me, Thank You,”  I always think that he must have met a Catherine at some point in his journeys. A simpleton with a heart for the Lord.

Fools and jokers, freaks and simpletons.  May I be one.

A Lot of Water

preschoolIt was the first day of preschool swim lessons.  I looked at the little group of children splashing around on the yellow platform.  One boy stood apart, shivering.

“How are you doing, Schuyler?” I asked him.

He turned his eyes on me.  They matched the color of the pool, and were overflowing with wonder and fear. “It’s just a lot of water,” he whispered.

“Yes, it’s a big pool,” I agreed. “Are you ready for your lesson?”

“It’s just a lot of water,” he repeated. “Nothing to be scared of.”  But his big round eyes belied his words.

I helped get the other children onto the platform, and watched as Schuyler repeated his mantra. “It’s just a lot of water.  It’s just a lot of water.”

When we started the class, he was a willing participant, bouncing on the platform to get his shoulders wet, then his chin wet, and finally blow bubbles.  He brought his mouth right down into the water to blow out the birthday candle that my finger had transformed into.  He giggled and splashed with the rest of the children.

Then it was time to leave the platform.  One by one, an instructor took each child off the platform and out into the deeper water.  When it was Schuyler’s turn, he put me in a death grip, strong little arms locked around my neck.

“It’s just a lot of water,” he chanted again directly into my ear, but I had to stop him.

“Schuyler, you can’t hold me like that,” I said to him, pulling him off of me.  His eyes were wild with fear now, looking at the big pool behind me. “Look at me, Schuyler,” I said, and repeated it until he did. “Put your hands here, on my arms,” I said, “and just keep looking at me.”

Obediently, he put his hands on my upper arms, squishing my puny biceps in his fear-strengthened grasp. “Look at me, Schuyler,” I said, and our eyes locked.   I backed away from the platform, and when his feet left its safety, his head whipped around in panic. “Look at me, Schuyler,” I reminded, and again he was mine.

I felt like a swim whisperer, murmuring a mix of soothing words and simple instructions. “It’s alright.  You’re safe.  I’ve got you.  Look at me. Stretch your legs. It’s alright.  You’re safe.  Let’s blow some bubbles. It’s alright.”

We walked around the shallow end of the pool, his bright blue eyes locked on mine.  When we got back to the platform, he stood proudly up. “It’s just a lot of water,” he said, a smile breaking over his whole face.

At the end of the lesson, I watched Schuyler go over to his father.  The little boy was bubbling over with his accomplishments. “You were right,” he said excitedly. “It’s just a lot of water.”

As his father toweled him off, his eyes met mine. “Thank you,” he mouthed, before he turned attention again to the excited little boy.

That 30 minute lesson stayed with me the rest of the day.  There were so many things I learned in it.  Here are a few:

  1. In times of stress, find comforting words and repeat them often .
  2. There are ways to hold on that are crippling, and there are ways to hold on that are empowering.  Find the right way to hold on to something stronger than you, and do it.
  3. Keep focused on strength, not fear.

What a privilege to be a swim instructor! I think that I am the one who learns the most from swim lessons.

The Story of the Weeping Camel

In the quiet of the morning this morning, between waves of family – one group up and out the door to work and school, the others still snug in their beds – I watched a movie all by myself.  For the first hour, I had the leisure of no interruptions except my own thoughts.  Then the second wave of family started coming downstairs.

Laurel stood behind me for a few minutes, then asked, “What are you watching?” as we saw a mother laying her sleeping child down to bed.  I looked at my little girl and remembered the many times I had participated in that very scene.

“It’s a movie about a camel,” I told her, but it sounded so lame.  She kind of shrugged at me and got her bowl for cereal.

I should have called her back to me and told her that it was a movie about parenting and family and the things that draw us together and the things that push us apart.  “A movie about a camel” — the words barely scratched the surface of what it was about.

Recently one of my friends posted on Facebook about the push-pull relationship parents have.  Sometimes, parents say things about dreading the summer vacation because their children will be underfoot.  Probably because I homeschool, I’ve never really felt that way.  Season blends into season, waves washing in and out on an unseen shore, the ebb and flow of time that happens even in Mongolia.  With camels.

The camel for whom the movie was named experienced a difficult birth with her first calf.  It was painful.  I could relate.  Giving birth is painful. With one of the other camels, the people had noted that her nostrils were flaring and therefore her time must be soon.  I don’t know if my nostrils flared, but I do know that I felt like kicking at people when I was feeling the pushing pains.  This leading lady camel also kicked at people.

When her calf was finally born, they began circling each other warily.  The beautiful white calf wanted milk; the hurting mother wanted nothing to do with it.

Thus began a parenting dance — young and old circling each other, one wanting the other near, the other pushing away.

The parenting dance of the camels was primal.  It had to do with survival. I’m not going to anthropomorphize the camels and say that they had human feelings.  The mother battled pain.  The calf battled hunger.  In so doing, they were at odds with each other.

In the film, however, there was another parenting dance going on, a multi-generational one, in the little huddle of yurts.  Great-grandfather kept the stories alive by telling them to the young ones.  Grandmother bribed the baby with sweets when her mother went out to help with the herds.  The older brother guided the younger brother on his first big trek to the town.  Mother and father together kept the herds. From the outside came the push and pull with civilization/modernization in the form of television and video games.

I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say that technology came to the human family, but it is not what saved the camel family.  This is a movie worth watching.  In the quiet. Alone. In the morning.

Learning How

My husband and I have fairly different backgrounds.  Yes, we both grew up in upstate New York in rural towns.  We both had dairy farmers for neighbors.  We grew up in variations of the large family — mine with five children total, and his with thirteen and a cousin who came to live with them when her mother died.  Both of our mothers stayed home and did the work of a housewife.

But our differences are also many.  My father was a physician, his a high school teacher.  While my parents did not live lavishly – it’s that Scottish influence – we did do things like go on family vacations and occasionally go out to eat.  His family did neither.  Vacations were only done with a few children at a time, and those happened in later years.  Eating out at a restaurant was almost unheard of.

ponderosaI can’t remember if we were dating or newly married, but I suggested we enjoy the fine dining experience of Ponderosa.  If you’re not familiar with Ponderosa, it’s a buffet-style steak house. Bud was not sold on the idea.  I convinced him that we had enough money (and coupons), but he still was somewhat hesitant.

We had gone out to dinner before, once to a fancy restaurant where we had seen a waiter drop a tray of food down the stairs, and often to little sandwich shops and other college student fare.  Why the reluctance to go to Ponderosa?  Bud finally confessed that he didn’t know how.  He didn’t know how things worked in restaurant like that.  How would we order?  How would we get our food?  What if he did it wrong?

Once I convinced him to go, he found it really wasn’t that hard.  Although I haven’t been back to a Ponderosa in years, we did go back a number of times, mostly because it fit our budget at the time.

I tell you all this to tell you that I envy Jeffrey Overstreet (author of Through a Screen Darkly) having a teacher like259 Mr. Demkowicz.  Mr. D. taught his high school class how to watch a movie.  He taught them to regard the cinema as an art form, not just a form of entertainment. The movie used to introduce this concept was Babette’s Feast.  Overstreet says,

Most entertainment is assembled for the purpose of satisfying common audience appetites.  A lot of these movies have been commissioned and assembled by a committee, not an artist, with more than a little thought invested in what will sell the most tickets….

Mr. D. presented Babette’s Feast in a way that told us this was not just a centerpiece for a class party.  It was going to be more than entertainment.  It was an experience to share.  We would be invited to share our impressions of it… There was a sense that we would learn from the experience.

How have I reached 53 years of age and never seen that many movies are meant to be far more than entertainment?  The answer is that, just like my husband didn’t know how to eat at Ponderosa, I didn’t know how to watch a movie. No one ever told me.

And I kept doing it all wrong.  It would be like to going to Ponderosa and not understanding that the meal was more than the strip steak they brought to the table.  It included the salads and sides and fried chicken and ice cream machine.

I can’t believe I’m comparing Ponderosa to fine art.

But then, when Overstreet talked about repeated viewings of movies because of the layers and layers of meaning, the movie that came to my mind was Napoleon Dynamite.  Don’t you think that, in a way, that fits with the Ponderosa analogy?

Yet, I love Napoleon Dynamite, and every time I watch it I see something new that makes me laugh.  I just never thought of it as great art, but I suppose there is something great about it.

So I’m learning how to watch a movie.  Finally.

And I’m only three chapters into Overstreet’s book.

Won’t you join me in this feast?

Confessions of a Non-Movie Goer

I rarely go to the movies.  By rarely I mean less than once a year.  Sometimes years will pass between one movie and the next.  Usually, when I go, it’s at the behest of my children.

Sometime in the 1990s, around Silence of the Lambs and Schindler’s List, I reached my fill of movie violence.  Both of those were movies I chose not to see despite the rave reviews they received.  I think it was about the same time, in my living room, when I saw bodies floating down the Kigali River courtesy of the nightly news.  I turned the television off, too.  The world is an ugly place and I needed beauty in my life.

Oh, I went to the occasional movie, testing the waters periodically.  I saw Tom Hanks in Castaway, which I found insipid.  It had been promoted as the new Robinson Crusoe, but in reality bore little resemblance to Daniel DeFoe’s book.   When some of the girls I coached told me they were seeing Titanic for the sixth, seventh, or eighth time, I decided I had better see it.  Once was more than enough for me. I saw the Keira Knightley version of Pride and Prejudice in the theater, but it felt flat to me after watching the BBC version at home.  I went to The Lord of the Rings movies, but watched most of the last film through my fingers. I don’t do well with violence.

I decided that I was pretty much done with the movies.  I would go for my kids, but little else would oblige me to go.

Coffee, Bible, and Through a Screen Darkly -- how I started my day

Coffee, Bible, and Through a Screen Darkly — how I started my day

Then I started to read Jeffrey Overstreet’s book, Through a Screen Darkly.  After the first chapter, I felt like King Agrippa before Paul.  Paul had boldly spoken to King Agrippa of his conversion to Christianity.  While  Festus pronounced Paul a lunatic, King Agrippa said, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?”

After the first chapter of Overstreet’s book, I wanted to say, “In a few pages would you persuade me to be a movie-goer?”

And yet, he would.  In paragraphs like this,

I’ve always had a sense that there is another language I once knew, a joy that was mine before I was born.  When I get a glimpse of that glory through art, I can feel the memory of it pressing against the back of my mind, and the longing for that peace and resolution wells up inside me….

And in statements like these,

Transforming moments at the movies differ substantially from person to person…

The things that move you will depend, in part, on your own experiences as well as the artist’s own history and personality….

Overstreet reminded me that there were times when I was deeply touched by a movie. I felt like I was being given permission to not necessarily buy into every review and popular opinion of a movie, but to form my own opinions, good or bad, of movies.  In the past, when I viewed box office hits like Castaway and Titanic and found them banal, I felt that maybe movie-going wasn’t really for me.  The truth is, however, I have had transforming moments via cinema.

The movie that came immediately to mind was Fiddler on the Roof.  Maybe it’s that the story is so compelling, but I think it’s more than that.  Watching it today, the filming is so 1970s.  The filmmakers played with the zoom and telescoping features of the cameras, like new toys, zooming in on Tzeitel’s eyes and telescoping out from Chava as she told Tevye about Fyedka.  It didn’t bother me, though, because my heart was too busy breaking for Tevye.  I identified so strongly with Tevye, with his plodding life, with his intense love for his family, with his deep faith, that little else mattered in the movie.  At the risk of sounding trite, I felt Tevye’s pain.

I also thought of A River Runs Through It, a movie starring Brad Pitt and featuring fly-fishing.  Although I can’t tell you exactly what it was (I’ve never gone fly-fishing in my life), there was something about that movie that touched me in a deep place.

The same is true for a movie called A High Wind in Jamaica, from 1965, starring Anthony Quinn.  I watched it on television once when I was maybe 12 and got that kicked-in-the-gut feeling.  I sort of want to watch it again to figure out why, and I sort of don’t.

My brother once tried to teach me how to golf.  I was pretty terrible.  No, I was downright awful.  I hit the ball well only twice over the course of nine holes.  Each time he said to me, “That’s why people come back. That feeling of hitting the ball well is such a good feeling that they want to do it again.”

Not me.  I gave up on golf just like I gave up on the movies.

Jeffrey Overstreet reminded that I have experienced golden moments via the silver screen.  Maybe I’ll go back and try it again.

First I’ll finish his book.

On Winning

I just read a book about winning.

No, it wasn’t Dale Carnegie’s book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People” — that’s a book one of my children just read, and keeps quoting to my chagrin.  It’s not that I don’t like Dale Carnegie.  Honestly, I never read any Dale Carnegie other than the random quote.  It’s just that winning friends has never been my goal life.

And influencing people?  God placed eight of them right in my home and gave me great opportunity to influence without ever reading Dale Carnegie’s book.  Indeed, more than Dale Carnegie, I probably subscribe to William Rose Wallace‘s treatise on influence, summed up with the refrain —

For the hand that rocks the cradle
Is the hand that rules the world.

But winning, oh, winning is a funny business.  I’ve read and heard many coaches talk about winning.  I suppose, as a swim coach, it should be a higher priority to me.  Winning, however, is not always the first person who touches the wall.  I’ve seen that truth more times than I can count.

In fabric stores I’ve seen shirts and mugs that say “She Who Dies With the Most Fabric Wins.”  I smiled the first time I saw it, but cringed a little inside.  Accumulating stuff makes us a winner?  I don’t think so.

Back to the book on winning….

IMG_1094I just finished reading Leif Enger’s book,  So Brave, Young, and Handsome.  It’s all about winning.  Told as a winding journey from Minnesota to Mexico, a reader might think it’s the tale of a writer, or a boat-builder, or a fugitive, or a Pinkerton.  While those characters are part of the story, the story really is all about winning.

SPOILER ALERT:  If you’ve never read the book, I may reveal some things about the ending that you may want as a surprise.  Personally, I don’t like being surprised in books.  I read stories the way the ancient Greeks watched plays, not so much to know the ending, but rather to know how the author gets there.

In the book, Siringo, a crusty Pinkerton agent, captures his man.  The last words we hear Siringo say are, “You are not winning,” to his quarry.  It is pitiable.

Siringo thinks that he has won, just as so many people in the world think they have won when they achieve some long-sought goal.    It must be like getting to the top and finding no one there.  It’s not winning.

A turn of the page reveals the winner and what winning really is.

I don’t know that I ever saw a stranger event than Glendon’s surrender to Charles Siringo, for at the same time that he lost everything — the very direction of his own steps — he won the thing he’d held so precious he wouldn’t approach it in words.

He won Blue.

Winning is surrender.

I thought about the scene in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis, when Aslan slowly walks to the White Witch in surrender.  Her evil army shrieks with glee as they bind him and cut his mane.  She thinks that she has won.

It’s the deeper magic, however, that rules the day.  A magic of surrender.  A magic of love.

Love wins.

For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?…

Matthew 16:26