Friday, November 30, 2007

Covenanting with a life of actions

The world is full of curious animals. Capybaras. Meerkats. Flying Squirrels.

We can look at these creatures, and wonder at the step by step changes that befell them, in their long march towards their present state.

For the animal on two legs that is man, we can find within a single life a similar march, taken of similar steps, and see a life transformed by its actions.

We can look at a man’s present state of being, and wonder at all the steps undertaken to march them to this point. Some such steps would be ones which we are well familiar with ourselves, through shared personal experience; growing up with a family, pursuing personal interests, trying to start a career, maybe getting married, starting a family of our own, making ends meet.

Maybe a father is disappointed in us for not following in his footsteps, maybe a parent is relieved that we their children can be spared shouldering the weight they themselves had to carry as the required sacrifice that would lead to a lightened load for our generation.

We march alongside one another, but do we really all walk in the same footprints? Do you know what leads me to live my life, do I understand the steps you’ve taken in order to arrive at yours?

We can watch grown men engaging in actions such as those in this video, and wonder: what paths have they walked, to lead them to such acts? What has led them to become flying squirrels, rather than the dodgy ones we can meet in any public park?

To live is to act, to march off into the distance, where even the smallest of steps can be a leap of faith into an uncertain future. Just marching up to a stranger and saying hello, can lead to so many different future steps that the mere thought of it all could paralyze us into inaction. We can't imagine the whole future, and that makes us feel smaller and shorter in stride than we would prefer to be. We often prefer the vanity of presuming our present state of being is the result of a concluded march, the end of change, rather than humbly recognize we're still at the comparative beginning. So much more to do, to know... to be.

The temptation is to come to believe that by walking alone, we can march faster, further, across a vaster expanse, than we should were we walking hand in hand with another.

Would a man jump off a mountain, in the manner as these people do, if they were truly alone? Surely a good portion of the thrill comes afterwards, from comparing notes, by daring to exchange inadequate words for the sensations experienced during the action itself, and by talking a newly met stranger into participating the next time... building a deeper relationship of trust. Maybe at the start the action was undertaken alone, inspired by the hope that one day others would follow in the same footsteps, leap after leap. If we measure our steps so that our advance can be treasured by another, in addition to ourselves, we may find that by through such sharing we have enriched ourselves, added to ourselves, rather than brought about a penury of personal experience. Growth through sharing.

Pity the man who knows no other men, but himself; pity the lonely figure on his single trail, consumed only with his personal footsteps. Maybe it the tragedy of an only child without brothers or sisters, or of unconnected parents, leading a child too long to focus only upon themselves. When our life is lived only for ourselves, then our march becomes a short trek indeed, leading often enough to no changes at all. Life at twelve years of age remains unchanged from life lived at two:

When we see nature's flying squirrels, it enlarges our sense of space and time, and the opportunities we all have before us to change. How many small steps does it take to lead a squirrel to fly? How many steps in the scope of a man's life, how many lives in the life of a civilization?

It is good to meet people on our walk through life, it is helpful to interact with them, to compare notes of roads taken and untaken, to search for words to understand each other's experiences, having the faith to believe that while we may never reach a full understanding, we can nevertheless march towards a closer one. We can't march far and wide enough to pretend we could predict the result of every path, for who could imagine lives like those being led by this angry german kid, who can say why he's become what he is, not to mention whether he's cursed to remain that person for the rest of his journey on earth.
In meeting others sometimes the encounter shocks us, and in so doing helps us, to appreciate our own steps, giving us the gratitude to say: there but for the grace of God go I, and thank God for not being cursed with such little human interaction.

[Thanks to Flares into Darkness for the flying squirrels video, and thanks to my wife, the formidable Mrs Henry, for putting my frustrations over my work into perspective with that angry german kid video]

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