The “Accidental” President, a Fish Ladder, and the Way Forward

grand

In the hotel room last Thursday morning, I felt ill knowing what lay before me at noon. An editing conference had sounded like a good idea, but only after registering did I notice that “network” was one of the events on the daily schedule. I’m not uncomfortable with conversation in general, but when it’s penciled in on my agenda I’m downright terrified.

To combat my fear, I googled “how to network.” The web articles said, “Act confident. Call names. Give business cards.” That I could do. The websites also advised, “Make sure you know what you want to get out of a conference before you go.”

This suggestion made me nervous because direction—knowing the way forward—has been hard to come by lately. Do I want to build a freelance business? Do I want to meet lots of people, win friends, influence people? Is it OK that I don’t have a five-year plan? Do I need to write a book? Do I need to just keep my blog? Is that enough?

Direction—knowing the way forward—has been hard to come by lately.

Networking, turns out, was easier than I’d expected. For the next two and a half days, I introduced myself dozens of times and wrote down details about the people I met so that I could remember their names.

For those days, I sat through lectures on copyediting, style sheets, fiction editing, marketing, Chicago Manual of Style, and building a freelance business. Through each lecture, I felt aimless because I’m an in-house editor while most of these people were talking about growing their freelance editing business. To be honest, I was a bit envious of their focused pursuits. At least they had a concrete goal to work toward. More clients. More income. More opportunities. I have a stable job.

Halfway through the conference, I had reached the sort of conclusion that you wouldn’t expect to reach in the middle of an editing conference. Though I was grateful to learn more about editing, I found myself wishing for more discussion about writing. At the end of each session, I returned to work on an essay in my room. And it became particularly clear to me that I’m not called to be an editor. I’m called to be a writer.

I was excited to have at least that much decided. It seemed like a step forward.

Grand Rapids

I like to stick my nose in corners of the world that other people might not think to snoop in. My guide is Atlas Obscura, a website that lists obscure landmarks across the country and around the world. When I typed in Grand Rapids, the pickin’s were slim for destinations. The world’s once-premiere fly paper factory. A gypsum mine. A hot dog hall of fame.

Two attractions seemed promising: the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum and the fish ladder.

The thought of watching fish jump their way upstream interested me even more than a museum dedicated to a forgotten president. Gerald Ford? What was Ford known for?

But when in Grand Rapids, do as the Grand Rapidians do, which is apparently—by the name of the airport, the highways, the government buildings—to revere Gerald Ford.

fmuseum

The Accidental President

From the first signs in the museum, I saw the story of a man whose life seemed to set him up for the great task that would be thrust upon him. Because his father was abusive, his mother divorced him when Ford was only a few months old. However, his mother and stepfather were principled people who instilled principles in Ford. He had a temper, which his mother helped him control by learning discipline, reading scripture, and memorizing the poem If by Rudyard Kipling.

During the Great Depression, his stepfather, who owned a hardware store, chose not to lay off his workers but simply to reduce their salaries, including his own. This taught Ford the importance of taking care of others even at sacrifice of his own. In high school, he had the choice to attend an elite school or a school with immigrants, minorities, and the working class. His parents chose the latter where he would “learn more about living.”

In Boy Scouts he earned the rank of Eagle Scout, and at the University of Michigan he balanced the books of his fraternity during the Depression. All this, to say nothing of his military and political service after college.

After Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew, resigned, Ford, who had only ever wanted to be speaker of the house, was appointed vice president. Only months later, after Nixon resigned, he found himself promoted to president. Ford is the only man in American history to have been appointed vice president and president without being voted in.

I know exactly how I would have handled the news that I’d just been appointed the most powerful political position in the world. “You’ve got the wrong person for the job,” I’d have squeaked. “Surely there’s someone else—anyone else—who could rise to this challenge better than me.”

I have not sought this enormous responsibility, but I will not shirk it. . . .

But that’s not what Gerald Ford said in his inauguration address. To a distrustful, bitter, divided nation, he confessed,

“I am acutely aware that you have not elected me as your President by your ballots, and so I ask you to confirm me as your President with your prayers. . . . I have not sought this enormous responsibility, but I will not shirk it. . . .

“I now solemnly reaffirm my promise I made to you . . . to uphold the Constitution, to do what is right as God gives me to see the right, and to do the very best I can for America.”

Some people called him the “accidental president.” But in his biography of Ford, James Cannon said, “He was the right man for this country at the right time at the most extraordinary crisis in our constitutional system since the civil war.” Gerald Ford had been prepared along the way, always taking the next right step until it, surprisingly, led him to the White House.

Ford faced the opposite struggle that I face. He had his way laid before him, not necessarily a way he wanted, but he took it—though not without fear and doubt. In the book The Right Words at the Right Time, Betty Ford said, “There had never been a time in our lives when we so much needed a source of strength beyond ourselves.” During that time her husband reminded her of Proverbs 3:5–6, verses that she said “became our prayer.”

I glimpsed this passage on a plaque near the Fords’ tombs as we headed to the fish ladder down the street.

fverse

The Fish Ladder

In 1974, Grand Rapids built the series of concrete steps with water flowing over them, as a sort of apology for constructing the Sixth Street Dam and thereby inhibiting salmon and other fish from making their fabled trek upstream.

fish ladderThe ladder simultaneously created a popular destination where people can peer over the concrete wall surrounding the ladder, keen to see the dark splashes of breaching fish, fighting their way against the current.

Watching their struggle felt like inspecting a metaphor under a microscope. Why do fish do it, do you suppose? Why swim upstream? Why flap against rocks? Why fight the current, the natural flow of things, simply to return to where they started?

I guess that if we could ask them, if they were very articulate fish, they might say, “I don’t know. There is something inside me, like a magnet, pulling me toward the old place. I move forward until I come to a wall and press against it, unsure for a moment how to proceed. But here is a ladder the city has built for me. Here is a way forward. And so I splash and jump and beat myself against the concrete.”

The Way Forward

Passing Ford’s museum on our way back to the hotel, I thought of all I’d learned about this president that only hours ago I had hardly known of.

And I recalled one of the most poignant signs in the whole museum. “[Ford] began his first day as president in his usual manner. Following a morning swim, he gathered his newspaper and made his own breakfast. Then his motorcade drove him the eight miles from his Virginia home to the White House.”

Time buries some of history’s best men and women who, with no promise of renown or regard, occupy their space, fill holes left by the unfaithful, match responsibility with love, and, when there is no joy, eke by on duty. They are people who get up to make their own breakfast on both the ordinary days and days of note. And with no direction but forward, they press on an unlit path to a chartless destination. They just do the next thing as well as they can.

Sometimes the way forward means looking for the next thing and being ready to embrace it when it comes. For now, for me, it’s overcoming my fear of networking, it’s listening to my intuition, it’s writing every chance I get, it’s pressing against the obstacles and looking for a ladder. It’s trusting and leaning and acknowledging and waiting for God to direct my path—the way forward.

Advertisements

Lessons from an Old House

move-2481718_1920

Guest Post by Kathleen Herald

Saying goodbye is hard.

So hard that, as I pack up boxes in my old house, I try not to think about the fact that I’m leaving the place I grew up. I prefer to think about how much I won’t miss the cat-scratched drywall or the blue-paint-stained carpet or the chronically clogged shower drain. I’ve honestly all but given up dusting corners and trying not to run my tire through the yard because, as I keep saying to my mom, pretty soon it won’t be my problem anymore.

But one of the last times I said this, she responded, “You know my counselor and I have been working on ways to say goodbye, especially to the house.”

I’m smart enough to realize that this is code for “Hey, kid, saying goodbye is healthy. Maybe you should try it.”

Of course, she’s right. She’s a mom. So instead of listing out all the things I don’t like about the old place to make myself feel better, I’m choosing to say goodbye by remembering some things I’ve learned from it, because I’ve realized that everything I take with me won’t be in boxes.

1. Appreciating the little things doesn’t have to wait.

The crimson flowers on the front yard tree seem more fascinating this year than ever before, because I know I won’t be here next spring­—or any other spring­—to see them bloom. Almost every evening when I pull into the driveway, I go out of my way to walk past the tree and touch a low-hanging branch. I’m trying to press the flowers in my mind like it’s a book.

I always knew I liked this crimson tree and my fireplace and the swing out back and the big windows in the front room. But I’ve just begun to appreciate them, which I think is to have a deeper sense of gratefulness and joy than simply liking something. Be appreciative with your time instead of flippantly taking the loveliness around you for granted. “Goodbye” and “thank you” don’t have to come in the same breath.

2. Painting over something doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

When we were in high school, my sister and I taped a piece of paper in the corner of the living room that said, “I heart John Cena.” Our mom didn’t see it for days. When she finally did, she just rolled her eyes, but we thought we were hilarious for hanging it out of her notice for so long. A few days later when we took it down, the tape tore the wall paint. We didn’t mind, because it kept the joke alive.

But to anybody else, our memory looks like a flaw, so I’ll paint over it in the name of home improvement. And I’ll caulk the holes in the ceiling where my grandpa hung a gauzy canopy over my bed when I was kid, and I’ll take down the picture frame that I tried to stack my Christmas presents high enough to reach every year, and I’ll feel like I’m erasing my memories.

But I’m learning that painting over something doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Even if after we patch up this poor old house, all the scars that proved we were here are gone, we were still here. Physical evidence is not a requirement of memory.

3. Letting somebody else in doesn’t mean you were never there.

Letting somebody else buy this house feels like a betrayal. I can’t imagine not being able to walk in the front door again or seeing anyone else’s cars in the driveway. But I’ve already gotten everything I really need from this house. And it’s time to let somebody else learn here—to let somebody else slide in their socks on the hardwood floors and get freaked out when the upstairs water switches on by itself.

Somebody else needs this place now. They need the love, safety, and wisdom it has to offer. Why would I want to stand in the way of that?

Although it may be a long time before somebody else has run up and down these stairs more than I have, that day will come. And that’s OK. I’m not meant to be in one place forever. And being in a new place won’t mean I wasn’t once here. As much as I need (but don’t really want) to walk out into something new, someone else needs to come in.

And I am delighted to open the door for them.

 

. . . . . . . .

KathleenHerald

Kathleen Herald is a marketing assistant, donut connoisseur, and used bookstore enthusiast. In her spare time, she pursues her love of literature by writing essays and poetry. She is a Kentucky native who will always stop to pick a golden rod or pick up a stray dog.

Don’t Eat the Cake: The Unrivaled Joy of Discipline

will-echols-540490-unsplash
Photo by Will Echols on Unsplash

You only live once, but if you do it right, one is enough.—Mae West

I keep lots of lists: things I’m thankful for, goals to meet, movies to watch, adventures to take, gifts to give. Most recently, after watching The Golden Girls, I made a list of things I will regret when I get to the end of my life—whenever that may be.

I recently thought of this list when I saw a meme making its rounds on Facebook:

Never forget that time passes so quickly, you don’t even notice. So use the good china, go on the trip, eat the cake, buy the shoes, watch the late movie. Tomorrow is promised for no one.

It’s an old sentiment that I’ve seen on wall hangings and T-shirts my entire life, meant, of course, to make people smile, to urge folks to slow down and enjoy life. But as memes typically do, it boils a truthful concept down to a sugary compote and reflects a common worldview by which we live our lives.

The basis for this meme borrows a biblical truth from James 4:

Whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.

Ironically, this verse comes in a chapter that begins by decrying lust for pleasures. And I’m afraid that in trying to get the world to enjoy a life we aren’t promised to have tomorrow, we often forget to make today count—in ways that really count.

What if, on the off chance, tomorrow shows up?

You know what scares me more than tomorrow not coming? Tomorrow showing up and me not being prepared. What if, on the off chance, tomorrow shows up? If we live by this philosophy and eat the cake and stay up late and bleed money today, we’ll end up tired and fat and broke tomorrow (though good china and a trip are always a good idea) (1).

I’m really not down on cake or new shoes. Little pleasures like a macaron on a Saturday afternoon or a new pair of comfy Sketchers now and then drum up endorphins.

I guess my concern is that this kind of mentality—the eat-drink-and-be-merry-for-tomorrow-we-might-die-or-be-raptured-away philosophy—doesn’t encourage a treat every once in a while but every day! As another meme said:

treat

And if other memes about cake are any indication, we have started making fun of our own indulgence. (The more you weigh, the heavier you are to kidnap. Stay safe. Eat Cake. Or You never know when the rapture will happen—eat dessert first.)

Can I be honest? I don’t need anymore encouragement to be indulgent. I want to be healthy, wealthy, and wise, but I get stressed, busy, and discouraged, so I tell myself, “I deserve this.” And I sometimes even encourage others to go easy on themselves.

That meme seems to be talking to a straight-laced world—a world that deprives itself of things like cake and shoes. But what world exactly is it addressing? If store windows, TV commercials, and debt stats are any indication, I’m not alone in my inability to say, “No.”

When I had blood work done this February, the results weren’t good. In what sounded terribly like a threat, the doctor told me that my HDL cholesterol was so high that if I didn’t lower it in the next six months she would put me on a statin.

Going on cholesterol meds at 32 doesn’t compute as an option in my mind. So the diagnosis served as a greater motivation for being more committed to a healthy diet and physical activity. It was as if my life depended on gaining more discipline—because it did. Or at least the quality of my life.

Discipline isn’t as fun as cake, but in the long run it beats sugar flat.

You know what is tremendously more rewarding than indulgence? Discipline. It’s not as fun as cake, but in the long run it beats sugar flat. And it’s something that I just can’t seem to get enough of. But I’m trying.

When you start trying, lots of things seem possible because your perspective of things change. You start thinking of how much money you’re saving rather than what you aren’t able to buy. You start considering just how addicted our society is to sugar and nonfood when you start reading labels. (Need help figuring out how to read labels and figure out what is and isn’t good to eat? I highly suggest a book that is both informative and enjoyable, What the Heck Should I Eat? by Mark Hyman. He gives it to you straight, the good and bad, about every food you can imagine and then leaves it to you to decide how to plan your nutrition. I love his balanced approach, and I think you will too!)

As your waistline shrinks and bank account grows, you find that discipline isn’t here to kill your joy—it is here to exponentially increase it by changing your mind about what makes you happy and fulfilled.

That meme got one thing right: time passes very quickly.

What do you choose to enjoy today in the shadow of an unpromised tomorrow? Rather than what you might indulge in, perhaps think in terms of what you might deny to make your days count. What can you decline today that might bring you delayed joy down the road?

Make your list of things that you will regret one day . . .

Then maybe go to bed earlier. Say no to the shoes.

And don’t eat the cake.

. . . . . . . .

1. A part of the Christian community is known for using the imminent return of Christ as a crutch for letting the world go to pot spiritually and physically, despite what Jesus said about doing business until he comes (Luke 19:13). It’s an insidious mindset that I doubt we even realize we have.

In the Air

planeIf we can believe tree rings, the plaque says that the giant redwood, from which this cross section was taken, germinated in AD 528, a thoroughly unremarkable year, according to Wikipedia, except for marking the birthday of this rather remarkable tree.

The relic slab is standing on its side along the way to my terminal, as if it rolled from Scotia, California, to the second floor of the Cincinnati airport (CVG)—a traveler like me, but stranded in the middle of a station connecting people from all points of the globe. I’m not sure why it’s here, except perhaps to remind us.

The circles start at the center where a pebble of time dropped onto the wood. Extending outward, century by century, the ripples run together, less individual years and more the tree’s sum of life. Shown here in polished wood are generations, millions of lives building civilizations, decimating foreign lands, facing new frontiers, warring among themselves, working together in peace, falling beneath division, rising to new heights together—cycles as round as the rings on this tree.

*

Over the revving engines, I can barely hear the flight attendant’s safety speech. But I’m sure she will say, “Be sure to secure your oxygen mask before helping children or other passengers with theirs.” I remember this instruction from previous flights because it remarkably reconciles everything mean and noble in our society.

“Save yourself,” says the narcissist.

“Save others,” says the saint.

“Save yourself so you can save others,” says the flight attendant.

*

We’re rising. The sky, it seems, has no history, more or less the same from age to age. Though my ETA in Orlando is 2 p.m., for now, I am a woman without a past, without a future—suspended in a timeless space.

When houses become game pieces, and the blood returns to my knuckles, the pilot takes us higher.

The Big Sky theory assumes that the sky is so large that no two planes could collide. Have you looked out a plane window at 40,000 feet and seen another aircraft? Ever spotted anything but the wispy sea and your reflection on the thin layers of plastic? Ever gazed into the somber vastness of the heavens, forgetting the earth and all that therein is?

Now we can see nothing through a haze of vapors. There is nothing above me but more clouds, beneath me no earth, around me no landmarks. Nowhere to land and nothing to do but fall.

Is this what the Creator saw when He divided the waters from the sky, holding the planet of swirled vapor like a marble in his hand? I am here before Adam, before Eve, before the first breath of life—in the beginning with cosmic silence throbbing in my ears while God decides what’s next.

*

In a moment, I’m launched through time, millennia streaking by my window, brought back to this plane cabin to be with the company God chose to keep.

The baby four rows behind me cries. The man in front of me coughs. The woman beside me yawns. Two pilots I’ve never seen set us back on earth, heaving a sigh of relief.

Together we rose in the air, together we’ll land, together we’ll disembark and breathe.

I had almost forgotten.

*

How much did the redwood give in its life, year by year taking in carbon dioxide, giving out oxygen. Taking and giving. Taking to give.

This is life, to breathe and give breath.

The circles remind me, I am not alone.

. . . . . . . . .

Previously published in Borrowed Solace journal v. 2.

 

Letting Others Hold Up Our Hands

brooke-cagle-32431-unsplash
Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Guest post by Richelle Allen

My mother claims that as a small child my most oft-used phrase was, “I do it myself.” I refused to accept help from anyone. I was determined to feed myself, dress myself, brush my own teeth. In other words, I was a toddler with something to prove.

This relentless independent streak only intensified as I grew older. When I was six, I began riding the school bus. Before walking us to the bus stop that first morning, much to my chagrin, my mother admonished my older brother to watch out for me. I was the baby of the family, and he had several years of bus-riding experience. She told him it was his job to protect me. That afternoon when we got home, my mother was waiting, and my brother couldn’t wait to complain about my behavior on the bus that morning.

I may as well have placed a kick-me sign on his back.

According to him, I climbed the steps, planted my feet, put my hands on my first- grade hips, and announced to the entire bus that if anyone wanted to mess with my brother, they would have to get through me first. I may as well have placed a kick-me sign on his back. He was mortified. I was triumphant. And my mother was certain at that point that I was quite capable of looking out for myself.

And so it went—through school years and college, through married life and motherhood, my feet planted, hands on hips. I would take care of myself and all who belonged to me.

In 2003 my husband’s National Guard unit deployed, driving out of town in a flurry of yellow ribbons. Hubby left knowing I would have the support of the community, but inwardly, my feet were planted. After all, it was only supposed to be a six-month deployment, and I could handle anything, including our two teenagers, for six months.

He was right. The town did rally around us. I would come home to find a basket of fresh vegetables or homemade pies on my front porch. Church members offered to cut my grass, to take my son to the racetrack, or to buy us dinner. Our phone rang constantly with people asking what we needed or if we wanted to go out or come over. I won’t lie. At first, it was nice. I didn’t have to feel guilty about not cooking. However, as their goodwill continued to pour over us, I began to doubt myself. Did they think I couldn’t handle things? I began to feel like the town’s favorite charity case and that did not sit well with me.

As their goodwill continued, I began to doubt myself.

But one day Hubby’s unit was no longer in Kuwait. They were in places like Fallujah and Ramadi, places like Al-Asad and Baghdadi. They were involved in heavy fighting, and I slept with the television on at night, listening for any mention of the 122nd Engineering Battalion. Families were notified that the unit’s orders had been extended and the Army would keep them as long as the Army needed them, and still the vegetables appeared on the porch, and the telephone continued to ring, and I was overwhelmed.

Then I was asked to speak in church one Sunday. As I was preparing my remarks, I came across the story of Moses and the defeat of Amalek in the Bible. In this story, Joshua selected men to go out and fight while Moses positioned himself on a hilltop to watch.

“And so it came about when Moses held his hand up, that Israel prevailed, and when he let his hand down, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands were heavy. Then they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it; and Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other. Thus his hands were steady until the sun set. So Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword” (Exodus 17: 11–13 NASB).

As I read this passage, I was struck by two life-changing truths. One, if Moses, the man God had chosen to lead His people out of Egypt, could accept help, then so could I. Accepting help didn’t mean I was weak or incapable. It means that I am human.

Second, maybe this was about more than Moses needing help. Maybe it was about Aaron and Hur needing to have a part in the battle. And maybe my little South Carolina town was my Aaron and Hur. And just maybe this was about my community needing to play a role in my battles every bit as much as it was about me needing to accept help.

. . . . . . . . .

RichelleRichelle Allen is a graduate of Wofford College and holds an MFA from Converse College (where we shared classes and mentors and stress). She and her husband live at Sanctuary Farms in Spartanburg SC, where they tend their garden, goats, and grandchildren. When she grows up, she wants to be a blogger for Mother Earth News.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resisting the Rest: A Lesson from the Thin Blue Line Family

handcuffs

When my brother Uriah finished state trooper academy last July, my family’s worries began. At his graduation party, my dad looked across the room at Uriah, a wiry bean pole, and shook his head. “I just wish he was bigger.”

On the day of Uriah’s graduation, my coworker, Kelli, whose husband is a police officer, texted me, “Welcome to the Thin Blue Line family!”

“Welcome to the Thin Blue Line family!”

I’m new to this family, but I already understand that it means each time you hear a siren at night and see the blue lights swirling along the interstate, you crane your head to look for a familiar face. Each time you see two police cars at the same traffic stop, you feel relieved that they have backup. Each time you see on the news that an officer has been shot in your area, you feel your stomach clinch until you hear the name. In some ways, at least how I see it so far, being a member of the Thin Blue Line family is equal parts dread and pride.

Those in law enforcement are under close scrutiny right now. To many people trapped in a simple, binary mindset, cops are either all good or all bad, heroes or villains.

You hear the worst on the news, and sometimes the worst is pretty bad. There are trigger-happy cops who shoot yoga instructors and people at traffic stops, and there are power-tripping maniacs who threaten to take children from the backseat of a homeschool mom’s minivan because she was going five miles over the speed limit. But most officers want just two things: to keep peace and to make it home safe at night. This is what my brother wants. 

For all you hear about the police on the news or social media, negative or positive, you probably don’t hear the stories that my brother recounts around the Sunday dinner table, of the violence and obscenities, verbal abuse on his family from those with drugs in their systems, guns under their seats, and wild looks in their eyes as they resist arrest. Stories about livid people going 100 mph who try to talk their way out of getting points because they just “can’t afford to lose their license.” Stories of cleaning up the body parts of a drunk who stepped out in traffic. Stories of late-night highway assistance and early morning arrests. Stories of situations that might have been fatal had just one detail been different.

“How do you do it?” I asked Kelli after hearing my brother’s chilling stories for the first time. “How have you done it for so many years?”

“You just learn to let a lot of things go.”

“You just learn to let him go in God’s hands. You learn to keep things right between you, because you know when he leaves on his shift, he might not come home. You just learn to let a lot of things go.” Her eyes told me that it hadn’t been an easy lesson to learn.

Uriah usually patrols at night, spending shifts on the highways and roads. But a few months ago his job had him serving as honorary pall bearer for fellow officer Trooper Daniel Rebman, who was killed when someone hit his patrol car as he ran radar by the highway.

After Trooper Rebman’s death and and after I opened my news browser recently to the headline “4 South Carolina Cops Shot in the Night,” I wished more than ever that Uriah had chosen a field other than law enforcement. Subconsciously, I guess, I’m resisting the harsh reality of the profession’s peril.

But it’s a futile wish for merely a perceived alternate reality in which he’d be safe in a different profession. I never worried about him when he worked as a butcher at our local grocery store or when he ran electric lines at the airport or when he worked for the city water company. 

You probably don’t worry about your loved one on each shift either. Teachers going to class, store managers keeping aisles orderly, office workers shuffling papers, factory workers punching the clock. It’s true that most jobs are not innately dangerous—except that no one is completely safe from the hazards of an unstable world and the million deadly factors we can’t see or control.

We must resist being arrested by emotion and stress and petty things.

In that way, we’re really not that different, the Thin Blue Line family and yours. Our loved ones are always one moment away from being taken, our lives one phone call away from changing. 

We can’t afford to evade this devastating truth by complacently trusting in a misplaced assurance that our loved one will return at day’s end. We don’t have the luxury to let small things come between us, to let a fight fester during a work shift or a tiff linger one day longer. 

The Thin Blue Line family has taught me about knowing what you have and how quickly it can be taken. And though the fear and dread can drain us from shift to shift, we must resist being arrested by emotion and stress and petty things, and instead focus on staying free and lucid to live in each uncertain moment. 

When we surrender to reality and place our loved ones—and our fears—in God’s hands, we can gratefully embrace what time we have and face whatever comes with courage.

And we can resist the rest.

. . . . . . . .

For more about life in the Thin Blue Line family, read this lovely post by Katrina Eichner, “What It’s Like Being a Police Wife.”  Should clear up any questions you have.

How This Unathletic, Chunky Girl Took Home Gold from the Olympics

 

charles-deluvio-456802-unsplash.jpg
When Laura said she wanted to watch the Winter Olympics, I didn’t eagerly give up my evening of writing and reading. I had never really watched the Olympics because, quite frankly, I have zero interest in sports and the athletic ability of a spoon (of which my physique will testify.)

But as we watched such odd events as half pipe, curling, and luge along with familiar categories like ice skating and bobsledding, I realized that—who knew?—the principles of Olympic triumphs and efforts translate universally, even to the unathletic, chunky, stay-at-home-and-read sort like me!

Check out these gold principles I carried away from the Olympics.

1. Be satisfied with running—even without results.

I was only halfway listening on February 11 when Chris Mazdzer gave an interview after his silver medal win for men’s luge. To tell the truth, I think luge is a goofy word and a goofy sport. But he said something that really resonated with me.

“[This win was] 16 years in the making. I’ve had a rough last two years. And it just shows, don’t ever give up. Whenever you’re at your lowest, you can keep fighting it.”

The sportscaster asked, “How were you able to stay so relaxed and have so much fun and still lay down those four strong runs?”

I had to go through those runs to be comfortable with who I am without results.

“Honestly, it’s all in the mentality. I was so comfortable with who I am,” Chris continued, grinning. “I had to go through those runs to be comfortable with who I am without results. So basically as a human I’m comfortable with where I am. I know what I can do, and I know what I can give to the world.”

It’s not hard to translate that to my writing pursuits—and whatever your pursuits may be. Keep going through the runs, even if you aren’t seeing results. Someday it will pay off.

2. What really matters is your performance, not your award. 

On the final night of figure skating, after Evgenia Medvedeva’s

Evgeniaperformance, sportscaster Terry Gannon said, “I don’t know if we watched gold, but we watched greatness.”

A lot of people wouldn’t believe that gold and greatness are mutually exclusive. It goes against all we believe to think that anything but first place is acceptable, let alone great. But sometimes the beauty of the performance, the act of an athlete giving her all, is more majestic than a perfect program.

One of the greatest female ski racers in Olympic history, Lindsey Vonn, sure knows that’s true. At 33 her body has already said “Enough!” to the one thing that she loves most. At this, her last Olympics, she took home the bronze for downhill skiing. In a post-race interview, Mike Tirico asked how she would describe her Olympic career.

She only paused for two beats before saying, “I’d say I was an Olympic champion, but I was someone who embodied the Olympic spirit more so than how many medals I got. . . . Of course we’re all athletes, we’re competitors. We all want to win and that’s a given, but at the same time . . . you can really show kids what it’s like to be a true sportsman, a true champion. Not just because you’re a winner, but because of how you conduct yourself.”

Mikaela Shiffrin, another American skier, said something similar, even after losing one of her runs. “I’m not lying when I tell you: It’s not about the medals, it’s not about winning races, but it’s about how I feel on my skis.”

And though there’s something to be said for being a true competitor and not just a participant (I’m looking at you, Elizabeth Swaney), all you can do is your best—the medals are just some extra bling.

3. You Are Your Biggest Competitor

I asked Laura on the last night of the Olympics, “How do you think these Olympians keep from comparing themselves to others? How do they keep that from rattling them?”

It seems to be a consistent understanding among Olympians and successful people in general: you are your greatest competition, the person to beat.

US half pipe snowboarder Chloe Kim didn’t have to do her final run—she had already won gold. But she did it anyway, saying, “I knew if I went home with a gold medal knowing I could do better, I wouldn’t be very satisfied. . . I wanted to go bigger. That third run was for me to prove to myself that I did it so I could go home and be happy with myself.”

They do it to beat themselves.

Olympians say a lot of cliche things—things that are no less true for circulating on memes and magnets. Yet it seems less hackneyed coming from these folks, less like a crutch—because they live it out on the screen before us. And in this case they perform even when they know they have no hope of beating Shaun White or Mikaela Shiffron or Virtue and Moir. They do it to beat themselves.

4. Those moments might be just around the corner.

Laura was crying when the Hungarian pulled ahead in the short track speed skating event to win the country’s first gold medal in history–and first medal since they received silver in figure skating 38 years ago. She doesn’t have special connection with Hungary or anything. She just said, “I always cry when the underdog wins.”

norway2Another one of those moments happened to the first-time Olympian Norwegian skier, Simen Krueger, who fell in the first lap of the 30-kilometer cross-country skiathlon. But far from down and out, Krueger, in the rear, stood and gathered his strength to pass 63 other skiers and win gold (with apologies to the two Russian competitors whose chances he wiped out with him when he fell.)

The point is that neither of these guys were expecting to pull ahead, especially not after a catastrophic spill. But a come back or a pull ahead might be around the corner for us at anytime—we’ve just got to keep at it or pick ourselves up and give it our all.

5. Know how to recognize—and accept—moments of your own greatness.

After the US Women’s hockey team beat Canada (after

Mirai

their four-year gold streak), one of the Canucks took off the silver medal faster than she could skate. It looked ungrateful, unsportsmanlike.

And then there is the puzzling case of Murai Nagusu, the American figure skater who was the first US woman (and only the third woman ever) to land a triple axel in her free skate program at the Olympics.

Among other bizarre things she mentioned in an interview, she said, “I thought of this as my audition for Dancing With the Stars. I would like to be on Dancing With the Stars because I am a star. . . . I made history here by landing the first triple axel for a U.S. lady at the Olympics, so I think that is a big deal.”

Though both of these ladies apologized later for their tasteless reactions, it didn’t remove the bitter taste left in our mouths by two athletes who couldn’t accept what they had earned or absorb the honor of where they were and hadn’t learned how to live in moments of their own greatness. After all, silver is nothing to cry over. And as for Murai who took a wrong turn somewhere on her way to reality television and wound up at the Olympics, well, she’s still young and can hopefully learn to reevaluate her priorities.

6. Admit your goals and don’t apologize for your ambition. 

shiffrin_flag1Mikaela Shiffrin didn’t want much from herself—just to win gold in every category—five to be exact. Or at least that’s what she hoped for this year. When she said as much at Sochi four years ago, people went crazy, calling her brash or overambitious.

So she backpedalled, blaming her extravagant proclamation on lack of sleep and youthful enthusiasm. But lately, she’s been rethinking her retractions.

She said, “If I leave any legacy behind, it’s just the idea, just the theory that you admit to your ambitions and you don’t let people tell you you’re wrong to have those ambitions. As long as you’re willing to work toward them—you can’t just expect it’s going to be given to you just because you had the dream. But if you’re willing to work toward them, then you have to admit to them first.”

7. Don’t Let Preconceived Boundaries Stop You

Alex and Maia Shibutani (affectionately known as the Shib Sibs) are a brother and sister shibsibsfigure skating team. If you’ve watched any amount of figure skating, you know that it can often border on the risqué—not the sort of scene appropriate for a sis and bro.

They said they’re frequently asked, “Can siblings really succeed in this sport? Should they? Aren’t they limited from the steamier showings of those who tend to climb the podium?”

But they’ve decided to cross boundaries and do things differently—and not just for themselves, but for the good of the sport.

Alex said, “If you’re sitting through an event full of ice dance teams and seeing the same story told over and over again, that’s not good for the growth of the sport. . . . Having a different point of view, which we naturally bring because we are coming from a different place, is something that we’ve embraced.”

Echoing that sentiment, US snowboarding gold winner Jamie Anderson said, “You have to do your own thing. If people are inspired, that’s awesome. If people want to judge [me], then that’s just not any of my business.”

Doing things differently is not easy, but it’s always worth proving that there’s more than one way to do things. And along the way, you just might inspire someone.

8. Learn how to be uncomfortable and enjoy it.

During the Olympics I saw my fill of people saying wedding vows to Big Macs and Diet Coke trying to convince me that it will make me feel good and Hershey prompting me to go for the gold . . . caramel bar. (Foods that Olympians don’t eat but are great for making sure us couch potatoes will never be Olympic contenders. By the way, if you want to see what Olympians actually eat, check out this article.)

I was, however, interested in two particular commercials. One was for Visa in which Mikaela Shiffrin soaks in a tub of ice while sipping a green smoothie and reading a book. I watched it over and over, fascinated by her seeming comfort in the frigid dip.

Another commercial for Comcast showed Olympians with sweat pouring down their bodies as they trained hard, struggling to make their elite physical feats look easy and effortless.

I’m not quite there yet—reveling in my discomfort.

Something I heard during the Olympic coverage tied these two behind-the-scenes snapshots together. In an interview before the much-anticipated 18-year-old US skater Nathan Chen’s first performance, his ballet coach said, “Nathan learned how to be uncomfortable and enjoy it.”

Not sure about you, but I’m not quite there yet—reveling in my discomfort, be it holding out a few more minutes on the treadmill or working on the 20th draft of an essay. But it’s a good reminder that no one ever got to the Olympics, or anywhere else noteworthy in life, without sweating and suffering. And even amateurs like you and me need to work on our endurance.

9. Always keep a grin on your face—in case you’re tossed into greatness.

Garfield2So stuffed animals were the thing this year, thrown to the contestants at the end of their programs. Can we all agree that one of the most inspiring moments of the Olympics was when Garfield showed up on the television screen with Evgenia Medvedeva and sat in her lap grinning even as the judges proclaimed Alina Zagitova the gold winner?

The tubby tabby looked proud of himself—probably pleased at how little effort he put in to being part of the Olympics. If some day life tosses you into greatness, just enjoy it.

. . . . . .

Now that they’re over, I find myself actually missing the games. I’m sleep deprived, I wrote nothing last week, and I feel fatter and lazier than ever. But I definitely carried away some golden inspiration and motivation.

So come 2020, if you need me, you’ll know where to find me—on the couch . . . with a snack . . . watching the Olympics.