Summer of Something More

Has someone ever placed a burning birthday candle in front of you and said, “Make a wish!” leaving you to realize you don’t know what you want? Have you ever stood in front of a wishing well with a pocket full of change and a mind gone blank? Maybe your eyes rested on a clock as it flicked to 11:11 and your momentary excitement (“I can make a wish!”) was immediately dampened by an inner voice whispering, “Why bother?” Perhaps the neon lights framing our hopes and dreams are dimmed a bit by nagging pessimism, overriding practicality or just a plain lack of imagination. Our world is full of paralyzing stings: the fear of failure, the restraints of time, the cost of taking a chance, the act of walking away, the risk of abandonment, the prospect of starting over and so on. The trick is learning how to deal with these poisonous barbs before they shut us down forever. Will we avoid them altogether, pry them out of our skin or leave them in and develop immunity to their sting? 

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A life without risk, reach, hunger and drive would be terrible. Living in constant fear of stepping into the great unknown would be a stagnant, solitary and meager existence. Certain aspects of my life are frozen in fear. For example I have always loved marine life but I am terrified of going into the ocean. Shark attacks make up a large part of this fear but the realist side of me knows that my chances of being stung by a jellyfish are much greater. My fear of jellyfish began when my kindergarten teacher came back to school after going on vacation to Hawaii. She had been stung by a jellyfish and she showed us her wound. Her leg looked torn and raw – like she had crashed on a bicycle. The thought of stepping into dark water and being stung by a silent, invisible predator terrified me. I am willing to take risks but I always need to know the potential consequences of my actions. There always has to be a warning signal that I’m about to get stung. Then I need to know how to treat the wound. 

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 Leading your life with a healthy anticipation of disappointment, shake-ups and break-ups is probably a wise decision. If you “put yourself out there” you’re bound to get hurt, but you’re also bound to grow. Build yourself an emotional first aid kit. It can consist of phone numbers of loved ones whom you can always fall back on. It might be a slush fund for “retail therapy” sessions at Nordstrom. Maybe it’s a couple of airline vouchers for a quick getaway to clear your mind and gain perspective. It could just be a tennis racket and a bag of tennis balls that you’ll smash the crap out of as soon as you can get out onto a court. Always keep your tools of choice at your disposal. Make sure your kit includes a map home and a pair of binoculars for the road ahead. I recently “escaped” to the east coast (positive that a week away was what I needed to reset a few uncomfortable situations at home) but I couldn’t get my mind off of the problems that awaited me in Utah. What really did the trick was opening up to friends and admitting that I was struggling even though I was “supposed” to be having fun on vacation. Acknowledging my struggle caused a few of the stinging barbs to dislodge from my skin. The problem was I still had a few left in my heart. 

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 I’ve been home from my east coast trip for two and a half weeks. Last week I thought I made leaps and bounds of progress with one of the problems I’ve been having. This week I have experienced a major relapse. This situation began two months ago with a few stings on my skin but the effect has traveled through me and lodged internally. I can’t reach these barbs and I can’t pull them out. They are pushed deeper multiple times per week. I have asked God to take them away but instead they stay. Last night I thought, “This is ridiculous. It’s like trying to become immune to poison.” This morning it hit me: Maybe this situation is my “iocane powder.” In “The Princess Bride” Westley wins the freedom of his true love by playing a game of wits with her captor, Vizzini. He poisons two goblets of wine out of Vizzini’s sight and allows Vizzini to decide which cup is poisoned. When Vizzini finally makes up his mind both men drink from their respective cups and Vizzini drops dead. Why did Westley survive? He had developed immunity to iocane powder. I have no idea what might have inspired him to purposefully ingest poison in increasing doses over the course of a few years and to keep a vial with him at all times. Maybe he knew he’d need it one day. As much as I want this problem to go away it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere fast. As the pain and discomfort continue maybe I can become tolerant of it. Then I’ll lock it away in my internal arsenal for future use. Venom is required to make anti-venom, after all. 

So far this summer I have been lucky to spend time doing wonderful things with great friends. If I were to look up at the stars tonight to make a wish I wouldn’t be able to put a finger on what I want. I just want something “more.” I can already feel summer slipping away like sand through an hourglass. Soon it will be fall, and in October I’ll be facing a birthday cake that will probably resemble a flaming porcupine more than a fine pastry. What courage can we summon when facing a flickering candle, a pool full of coins or a constantly ticking clock? I suppose the greatest comfort we can take is in knowing that we have been through tough things and we can get through much harder things. Close your eyes, take a breath, and make a wish. There is no shame in wanting “more.”