Friday, July 25, 2014

Relaxation in the Valley

“The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” Bertrand Russell

One of the wonderful, but unexpected, benefits of holidays and vacations is learning to relax. I’m not exactly a type-A personality. I know how to pace myself, for the most part. I enjoy my days off and time away from church and office. I’m not much of a work-a-holic, but still, relaxing takes a bit of doing for me.

When I need to go somewhere, there is no “enjoying the journey” as such. I set my sights on the destination and then plow ahead come hail or high water. It doesn’t bother me to stop for fuel or food, but there are few roadside attractions for which I’ll slow down and gawk, let alone visit.

Part of this is my Scottish ancestry. Now, admittedly, it only accounts for about 1/16th of my blood, but when it comes to thrift, I could pass for 100% Highlander. Some roadside attractions are a perversion of that wonderful Bible passage: You were a stranger, so I took you in. Hospitality is fine, but no one likes to be “taken in” – right?

Oh sure, when our children were growing up, we made sure to stop and enjoy the world’s “Mystery Spots” where the laws of gravity are suspended through the creative use of optical illusions. We enjoyed visiting the amusement parks with their roller coasters and fun houses. We bought our fair share of tee-shirts confirming where we’d been and what we’d done and seen. But as adults, with our kids out of the house, my tastes have changed; my desires have changed; my interests have changed.

I enjoy going places and doing things, but I don’t much care for the roadside attractions anymore. They hold a “been there, done that” quality to them that simply doesn’t appeal to me anymore. My preference has always been people. I like visiting family and friends and catching up with them. For me, it is the people that matter, not the sights.

I can be a bit fussy regards what I consider entertaining or fun, but we did change things up a bit. We decided to visit family in the Seattle area this year, but rather than taking the Interstate, as we normally would, we chose to make the journey via some old black-top highways instead. While the trip was slower, we came to discover that it was much more enjoyable.

Part of the pleasure was to be had in actually having to drive the car. We have gotten so used to zipping along freeways non-stop that we have forgotten the actual delights of driving. The old roads are narrower, curvier, and much more scenic. One must slow down, speed up, and pass through towns (rather than around them or past them via segregated corridors).

The trip that, by freeway, would have run about eleven hours took about sixteen to eighteen hours, but it was broken up into several overnight layovers. That made the expedition much more relaxing and gave us a chance to see parts of the world we had not seen before. We got to stop for meals at local diners, rather than at the tried-and-true chain restaurants we’re more used to. In short, we got to spend time IN America, rather than in passing THROUGH America, and that made all the difference for me.

Until now, most of my life has been focused outward – school, work, projects, obligations, meeting the needs, desires, and expectations of others. Keeping busy and “doing unto others” certainly has its own profits and rewards, but I think I am finally wising up and discovering the benefits to be gained by slowing down and turning inward.

By easing up on the accelerator, I find it has been easier for God to catch up and replenish my soul. In our jet-paced, turbo-charged world, we sometimes forget that God tends to be a walker. He walked in the cool of the evening in the Garden, and he walked the dusty trails of Galilee. He’s certainly got a long stride, but I’m beginning to think God prefers the sound of footsteps to the monotonous drone of a highway life.

As a follower of The Way, perhaps I don’t need to be so “driven” in this, our valley. It’s time, I think, to get some walking shoes, instead.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Slip in the Valley

“Do not look where you fell, but where you slipped.” Liberian Proverb

It was the fourth of July. It was not hot, but it was more than warm. The sun was shining brightly as my wife and I set up our chairs on Main Street just east of “The Fisherman.” We were about an hour ahead of the parade, but that’s OK. We weren’t in a hurry exactly, but we did want a decent place in which to sit and watch the spectacle unfold before us.

The sun dipped in and out of the clouds as we enjoyed the wait, which wasn’t long as we exchanged pleasantries with folks who came from near and far to experience a bit of small-town charm.

The parade was nice, and when it was finished, folks remarked on how much better (or worse) is was than last year’s event (depending on who one was listening to).

It was fun eavesdropping, listening in on the smattering of opinions offered by the roadside critics. I wondered how many of the complainers would join the Chamber to improve the event for next year. Without doing a survey, my gut tells me the answer is somewhere between none and zilch. Still, maybe a grump will come forward. You never know.

Years ago, we lived near a very small town called Kettle Falls on the Columbia River. They have no parade, but there is a town picnic every year at which contestants vie for the most prestigious position of all: Town Grouch. Travelers entering town are greeted by signs saying, “Welcome to Kettle Falls, Home to 1,550 Friendly People and 1 Grouch. It is the highlight of one’s life to be recognized as the Town Grouch for a year.

One of the keys to being an effective Grouch isn’t just having a grumpy attitude, but having solutions to offer.

While there are things that irritate me, I like to think I am open to considering solutions. “It is easy to curse the darkness,” they say, “but better to light a candle.”

One day I was helping to gather trash at a summer-time festival in a small town in which I was serving. As I bent down to pick up a bag of garbage I nicked my head on the corner of the open louvered window on the back of the trailer from which our fellowship group was selling hot buttered corn and nachos. I made a mental note to be more careful, and yet on each ensuing trip to the trash, I continually banged my head on the open window until, finally, I drew blood.

At that point I’d had quite enough. I did not blame the window or the trailer. They hadn’t done anything to me. Neither did I curse my own stupidity or carelessness. Instead, I grabbed some paper towels and duct tape and padded the corner of that window for the rest of the fair. Ironically, once it was padded, I never hit it again.

Grumps sometimes complain that no one ever listens to them, but if they can learn to offer solutions to their litany of complaints, I wonder if they won’t discover that people will not only start listening, but might even start implementing some of those ideas over time.

In any case, I enjoyed the parade. It was fun watching the crowd gather; chatting with friends and neighbors, honoring our veterans as they marched past; waving at the dignitaries (but avoiding the clowns), and realizing yet once again why people from every place and nation under heaven yearn to make this their home.

The Colors led the parade when it began. Hats off, hands over hearts, America stood at attention on thousands of Main Streets across small-town America. Young and old, rich and poor, male and female, firm and infirm – all rose to salute the flag in honor of all those who sacrificed life and limb to give it birth, raise it up, and pass it on to us.

America is a work in progress. Like an old Model-T, it needs constant attention and tinkering and is never all it could be, but it’ll get us there if we just hang on, hold on, and refuse to ever let go in this, our valley. If you’re grumpy, though, be sure to bring towels and duct tape!