We saw the good side of Fall this week in Murray. The temps were in the 70s. It was dry and breezy, and the fall colors are really starting to pop on Murray’s many maple trees. From my perch on the 8th floor of the Fine Arts Building, I can see a beautiful blend of yellows, reds, oranges, and browns. If you don’t stop yourself during this time to look around and take it in, you’re really passing up an opportunity to improve your day. I love sitting on the porch and watching the leaves fall and swirl around as they sink towards the Earth. I love hearing them fall like a soft, crisp rain.
On Tuesday, I got to go back to Lakeshore to help lead a group through the High Ropes Course. I manned the second platform and hooked participants up to the zip line. I served as a demo for the group, by being the first person to go. Returning to the course on a warm Fall day brought back memories of weekends I spent there, sitting on a platform,surrounded by tall trees dropping their leaves, the sounds of acorns falling on roofs and hard ground all around us.
The first person to go through the ropes course has a huge impact on the rest of the group in ways that would make an interesting sociological/psychological study. The course has several different routes, for instance at one point you can take the beam, a large wooden pole you walk across with nothing to hold onto, or the buckets, a series of rope swings with less sturdy grounding but more to hold onto. The decision the first person makes here will weigh heavy on most everyone else. If the person excels on element he/she chooses, no matter which one, that is the element most everyone else will want to take. If the first person has difficulty on on the element he/she chooses, no matter which one, most will lean towards choosing the other.
I chose the beam, because it is a direct, quick route to my station, and so I could play on it. I handled it comfortably (I’ve done it hundreds of times). Afterwards, nearly everyone in the group took the beam, even though some were very afraid of having nothing to hold onto. On a different day, I’ve seen most want to take the buckets just because of what the first person did. We base so many of our choices on other people and very often don’t realize it. I guess it’s wise in many ways, but we often don’t think about why we make those choices and if they are really suited for us like they seem to be for the other person. We do this to the point that we don’t trust the person who’s done it many times before, trying to offer his wisdom from the platform at the end. We go with what we see in front of our eyes.
This weekend, I lead a group of college kids from the MSU Wesley Foundation on a trip to Garden of the Gods in the Shawnee National Forest. I themed the retreat as a sort of “be still and know that I am God,” focus. I’m not real big on evangelizing–it makes me uncomfortable, and not in the this-is-tough-to-do way but in the I-don’t-think-this-works way. I feel like if you see something huge and beautiful and life-changing, you’ll know much more about God than I can tell you. So, my goal with these students was to get them to open up their senses, so they didn’t miss something and see that might discover what God looks like to them.
Outside of one student who had been as a girl scout at age 10, no one had been to Garden of the Gods before, so I knew they were in for some awe-inspired looks and moments of reflection on the edge of cliffs. Two Indian students joined us on the trip who have hardly done any traveling in the States away from Murray. It was great to see them climbing on these rocks like children and join them and feels that spirit of adventure well up inside me. We sat on the edge of a cliff and cooked our dinner as the sun sat. The sky turned orange and purple, and we could see thousands of trees in the midst of their changes. As it got dark, the crescent moon emerged on the Western horizon and turned red just before it disappeared below the Earth. Cleaning our pots and silverware under that night sky, Sumanth said to us, “I have never seen this many stars in my life.”
I am two years into this move from camp to Murray and a life pursuing new things. I had a huge moment Thursday when I received an email that one of my poems will be published. It is a poem I wrote years ago when Allyson and I were still at camp, about an ant infestation. It is the first, I hope of many, signs that I might be successful as an artist and a writer. We went out with friends to celebrate. It is exciting and reassuring–a moment I may look back on years from now like I remember the night I was driving from Jackson to my parents’ house on a December night and I got the phone call from Gary Lawson offering me the job of Program Director at Lakeshore. I would go on to work there for 12 years.
In that time, I worked so hard to figure out ways to make the camp even better than it was. To increase the quality of our staff, to teach, to grow programs, to pass it on and spread it. In that time, I grew to know the land, the buildings, the people–it became second nature to be a host, to welcome people to something like home. We set out two years ago, because I knew someday I would need another challenge, and it seemed like right for Allyson and me. It is an exciting time, and I look at how much I’ve learned and how much I’ve done and experienced, and it seems like the beginning of a new era. Still, there are moments when it is difficult to be a novice again after finding so much mastery. I am cultivating new relationships, figuring out new ways to live a fulfilling life and share that with others. It was set up for me before, and I knew it. Now, I’m figuring it out all over again. It produces these lonely feelings inside me out of the blue, because I’m having to establish so many new connections with people, with my profession, even with the way I encounter and understand God. There are days it is wonderful, and days it seems invisible.
After returning from Garden of the Gods, I washed Allyson and my clothes and the equipment from the trip. As I put up the laundry, I listened to a podcast called “State of the Re:Union,” which is an amazing study of cities and states in the U.S. and how they are changing. It was a “greatest hits,” episode, and I heard an entry from nearly a year ago that is one of my favorite bits of audio storytelling ever. It’s called the “Possibilities of the Stars,” and I first heard it putting up laundry in January. As I was putting up laundry this time, I knew something similar would happen. Please click here and listen to this right now, before you go farther even if it means you won’t finish the blog. It will make the rest make more sense, and it’s way better than anything I’ll write in this blog post.
As I heard Al Letson talk about his search for meaning, maybe for God in the stars, in the voices of singing prisoners, when I heard him talk about how these moments rocked him emotionally, how he described feeling this great connection to so many things and this feeling of some power offering comfort, I felt such a resonance, such a connection to what he was saying. I sat down on my bed, brought my knees up to my chest and started sobbing, because I had felt exactly what he was talking about, and it made me feel sadness and happiness all at once. I had felt the power, the questions, the unworthiness, the comfort, the awe of the beauty. I am baffled by how someone I may never meet, going to a place I may never go, could feel something the same way I do.
I have seen how people get so caught up in the names and definitions of things, their own opinions or the ease of something that seems comfortable. I feel like I’m out there in a wild place right now, looking for the next path. I seek this newness, but there are tired days when I long to skip steps and get to some sort of mastery. Excitement is always laced with something humbling. I’m learning that most times we’re just under an illusion that we know very much. The only times we are whole are these times of great connection with someone or some place or some realization. I hope these moments when I know I’m a piece of something bigger than me, something beautiful, wise, and ancient, I will learn about much more, things I cannot see, but that something in my body knows.