Sunday, May 23, 2010

Bows and Arrows

It's funny. As is probably not a secret to anyone who has followed my blog for very long I travel quite a bit. Different places where I've spent much time have often have a unique smell to them. I don't know that I use the term "smell" to mean simply odor, or aroma, or any number of other various synonyms that our language uses to articulate the sensation of experiencing "smell" through our nose. And I'm not saying that it's good or bad. It's just that I'm confident that, if I got off an airplane and didn't know what city I was in, I could differentiate Charleston from Austin from San Francisco from Phoenix.

Part of it is probably the proximity to the ocean. Some of it has to do with the humidity (or lack of it). But as a short add-on to my previous tome on Emotion, so too does the smell of each city to which I've developed a connection evoke different feelings.

In my adventures recently I had the joy of being able so spend a little time with my son. He lives in Austin, TX. He's 24 now. 24 friggin years old. Where has all the time gone??

Here's my little man holding one of the pups. He's gotten so big - both my son and the pup!

My son will always be my son. And I will always be his parent. Even though other life "stuff" comes and goes for both of us that bond is something that transcends words. During my talks I'll sometimes explain that my favorite "role" from life before transition was being my son's father. There are people who want to get wrapped up in words or definitions but I have no problem admitting that I still enjoy our bond, how it has changed, what it has become, and the fact that I continue to be my son's dad. When we're together we don't feel the need to explain it or quantify it - it's just found a comfortable place for us and that's all that's important. The complexities of relationships often transcend words and, certainly, in this case that is true.

Last year we did a couple of cross-country road trips together and he lived with me for a while but he has been on his own for a while now. He seems to have gotten his act together pretty well - looks good, seems strong, and he's wonderful parents to "our" pups. It was wonderful to see him again, and to be part of his world for a little while.

As a parent we always hope our kids will be OK. I don't know if that ever goes away no matter how old we or they get. There have been times when I've called my son to ask that he work through his own drama as my plate gets overly full at the time so I need to my energies on my own world sometimes. He always seems to be able to do it.

Somewhere buried in all of my writing I share a passage that my mom said was key to helping her come to a sense of Peace with my transition. I have found it to be helpful in my own life, as well, in terms of recognizing or at least articulating the unique relationship that we as parents have to our children. It's from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

I read and re-read that, chewing and savoring every word and phrase like a delicious piece of steak. Digesting it - but coming back again later so as not to forget.

I think one of the things my son has finally realized is that decisions he made earlier in life have come home to roost and have slowly impacted his life today, and his options for tomorrow. So too is he realizing that decisions he is making now will open doors for his future just as NOT making decisions may keep those doors closed. It's one of those things we try to teach our kids as they're growing up but that we all seem to need to learn the hard way.

I remember being his age. I remember how there were so many choices needing to be made and just hoping to be able to make the right ones. That's a lot of pressure to put onto a young adult - forcing them to make decisions about careers and relationships and other things that will likely be the foundation for the rest of their lives. So, too, is that a lot of pressure for an older adult facing many of those same choices.

At this stage of life I refuse to believe that all the foundational decisions in my life have already been made and I just need to live with them - whether they were good decisions or bad decisions, right decisions or wrong decisions, decisions made with the best information at the time, or simply decisions that fit at one point in time but which I've since outgrown. There are still big decisions to be made - like, what do I want to be when I grow up? - and I don't find those choices to be daunting or scary. In a way, they're exciting. I'll admit that they can be confusing sometimes, but the bottom line is that the day we stop making forward thinking decisions for our future is the day we admit that we really have no future.

The line from "The Prophet" that has the most meaning to me right now is one that, perhaps, is the least obvious: life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

I have been blessed with a couple of attributes that help me keep myself forward focused. One is that I'm OK making decisions, being comfortable with them, not second guessing them, and not constantly looking over my shoulder to question them. I have learned that that's a rarer quality than you'd think.

It's easy to re-think decisions at some future point and forget the the complex forces that come together to help you make decisions in the first place. For example, the decision that so many of us struggle with is whether or not to start to transition, and the tendency to continue to look over our shoulders once we've made that decision seems to be an ongoing one. I've come to recognize that - for me, anyways - that decision is simply one part of a broader life goal of not having regrets.

Secondly - thankfully - I'm not a worrier. I'm a thinker, and an analyzer, and I've got a very active mind but I'm tremendously thankful that the anxiety caused by worrying rarely creeps into my mind and when it goes I'm pretty good at forcing it aside. Worry is simply Fear in the guise of "What if?" I learned a long time ago that it serves no good purpose and simply saps energy needed for more positive pursuits.

Life is very much like a chess game. It's a series of moves that are made in response to other moves and at the same time it's forward thinking in terms of strategy of putting yourself in position to make future moves. I've learned that there are three dangers in that analogy, however.

One is that those making other moves (whether they be people, events, or whatever) - and they happen all the time - are "opponents". They're not. They're simply others doing their best to make moves in their own chess match of life.

And the second is that the goal of it all is to "win". I don't know what winning would look like.

And, the third is to take all of this out of context. What seems like losing at one moment is simply an opportunity at some later moment.

One of my favorite memories of my dad is when he was teaching me how to play chess. At the beginning he played me without his queen in order to make it more fair. And, he'd make "bad" moves to see if I'd notice, and take advantage of them. But as I got better at it he added his queen, and he got more serious in considering the moves.

One thing I've grown to appreciate is that when I'd make a move - I'd keep my hand on the piece considering whether it was a good move because the move doesn't become "official" until you take your hand off - he's sometimes question, "Are you sure you want to do that?" When he'd say that it was implying that this was probably not a wise move and that I'd probably missed something and, in fact, that there was an opportunity for a do-over. I'd re-think the move and sometimes I'd recognize danger that I somehow missed the first time around and sometimes not.

A word that my dad used in the context of chess - I can still hear him saying the word - is "blunder". Blunder is not a word I use all that much in everyday conversation but, as a concept, it still invokes thoughts of my dad. And whereas I suppose the true meaning of the word is "mistake" in my own vernacular it's a boo-boo. That's not as severe as a mistake. It's all part of this chess-game of life we play. And, it's something we all do. But something we perceive as a mistake today is actually an opportunity for tomorrow.

It's important to be comfortable with the fact that simply because we eventually outgrow a move we've made doesn't mean it was a blunder. I've outgrown a number of things in my life - careers, jobs, things I've done, relationships - and still refuse to acknowledge them as "blunders". Not every decision we made needs to be "right" for a lifetime. And, just because something changes doesn't mean it was a blunder.

This all brings me back to my son because that's the context of this line of thought. He's 24 years old now. When I look at him I see an adult with positive qualities and foibles, just like me. I see someone doing their best to work their way through the complexities of life but at the same time making blunders, just like me. I see someone with qualities that makes me tremendously proud, but at the same time with foibles that I recognize. So when I re-read that passage from The Prophet at this stage of our lives it has a meaning different than at other times.

He's done some things that, if we were playing chess and I were my dad, I would have asked, "Are you sure you want to do that?" But he did. And we've survived. I'd argue that we've more than survived - that we've thrived. Blunders - on his part and on mine - and all. I can't get away from the thought process of "How do you know what's right until you've tried what's wrong?" and that doesn't mean that what's wrong was a blunder. It was a learning experience. It was an opportunity for growth. It was a time of challenge. And, eventually, it simply becomes another move in this complex game we call "life".

That's probably a lot of rambling, but as far as I'm concerned that's what blogs are for. Blogs are outlets for thinking, emotion, and all the other "stuff" that any of us want to share. Recently I've done lots of reconnecting with things from my past - this particular missive is about my son - but at the same time I'm making plans for my future. I'm reminded that I'm still my mom's arrow, and my dad's arrow - that they gave life. I'm reminded that I'm still in flight, and perhaps most importantly, that I've still got a long way to go.

I'm going to close with a song I heard on the radio that I haven't heard in a long, long time. The cool thing about Austin is that you'll hear music that you generally wouldn't hear anywhere else. This particular song struck me because it connects with something I've been writing about lately.

Not everyone can carry the weight of the world.....

Good stuff.


Gwen said...

Sometimes it's not so much that life is a blunder, but the circumstances leading up to them. And given the same circumstances, you would decide on the same result or same direction, because, at the time, it was the correct decision.
Don't dwell on that past that might have been better, cause it could have been worse.

Samantha said...

"We were rolling through the Rockies,
We were up above the clouds,
When a station out of Jackson played that song...
The song remembers when..."

A wonderful song that Trisha Yearwood sings, and tugs away on my heart strings like so very many things.

Yes, smells, a quality to the light, the taste of the air, so many, many different things, all connected inside us, to other things.

I find it almost ironic that women are the ultimate in multi-dimensional, mutli-value databases around. Given that I spent years in my old life in IT, and a major chunk of that time as a Sr. DBA type, I find it almost ironic now.

Women are fundamentally relational at a level men will never be able to conceive of. Not that I'm knocking men, just that they have different strengths than we do.

Memory and the full sensory package that feeds our core, is so amazingly different between the genders. The thinks we just KNOW, would drive men folk to distraction and worse. I don't honestly know they'd be able to function.

Smells, tastes, sights, and for those of us who are photographers, a certain quality to the light even can tell us so much, and trigger deep involved memories. It's amazing, and something I can so relate to. I've not traveled as much, or as often as you have, but those places I know well are etched into my soul that so goes beyond names and places.

And life my dear? So not a dress rehearsal. It really is about learning, growing, the roads taken or not. And time, well that's just an illusion. Seems like you are, as you always have done before, seeing past the illusion to what is important and real. We can only do the best we can at any given time, and I'd say you are a wonderful example of growth Donna. You have been for as long as I've known you.

Rock on!