Thought I’d get your attention with that subject line! Have you ever walked through HELL? Or what you perceived to be HELL? HELL on Earth, anyways! That muck and mire of the craziness of life? When perceptions are skewed, realities are feeble, and hope seems a looming figment of our imaginations. When challenges grip us with clawing nails, and our feet slip on the ice of instability. We’ve all been there, I know.
While I was living in Vienna, Austria, the powerful and hurtful winters would always teach me something. Whether it be that I’m physically incapable of functioning in sub zero temperatures or that waddling the streets layered as thick as the Pillsbury Dough Boy is actually not as unattractive when everyone is doing the same thing, the frosty air does seem to conjure up some interesting thoughts. Something happened there in the snowy Winter-wonderland of Vienna, Austria, that made me
think of an interesting parallel.
I was leaving a store called IKEA, which is a home furnishing department store. Really cheap. Really huge. Really cool. I bought a large frame for a poster, and as a typical means of transportation, set to walking to the bus stop, lugging my frame along. During the first moments of my 7 minute walk to the stop, I entered into a new experience: walking through HAIL. Not the kind of hail storm us Southerners are familiar with. No, no. This was a driving, pain-in-the-face hail storm…the weirdest kind of weather I’d been privy to firsthand!
The natives on the sidewalk with me quickly picked up the pace, struggling to reach the oasis of the bus stop. I remained steadfast in my ambling, wanting to experience the full effect for fear I’d never have that oddly thrilling experience ever again. As I walked, the frame made things a bit challenging, acting as a sort of sail, knocking me off balance with the blustering wind. But, I finally reached the shelter with a smile on my face and the weight of Austrian stares. I’m sure they were experiencing something new, too, as they watched this weird American who didn’t know enough to get out of the HAIL. I was smiling at the experience…the thrill of a strange challenge…the excitement of a walk through HAIL. I was covered with tiny pellets of snow and ice, and I was enveloped in the aura of it all.
I will always remember dressing for days like that, donning my multi-layered clothing- my long-johns, my coat, my scarf, my gloves, my hat, my wool socks, and my boots to make the trek through the snow to school, as I did every day for that really long, gloomy winter. Now, in the warmth of the Georgia sun, I think back on those cold days in Austria and think to myself about what I can do now with that humorous experience, that walk through HAIL. To play on words for a bit as my English degree forces me to do, I relate walking through HAIL to walking through HELL. For the most part, when we walk through the trials we call HELL, we don’t or won’t or can’t smile at the experience, be thrilled at the challenge, or feel the excitement of the walk. We bend our knees to the difficulty, bow our heads to the struggle, and cover our eyes to the threat. Not that I have any room to talk or offer any morsel of insight, but I am reminded of two things by my walk through HAIL.
Like the Austrians, now I know enough to get out of the HAIL. Run to the shelter. Speed up until I reach the oasis from the storm. Pick up the pace until I’m safely at the bus stop. And parallel to my “utopia,” my safe shelter as the pellets of snow and ice were slapping me in the face, I press on. Maybe we can’t oddly relish the discomfort of the pangs of the storm like I did, but we can recognize the storm for what it is…a passing blip on the radar, and we can press on.
In a matter of moments, the HAIL ceased and the sky was clear. No remnants of the HAIL storm except little balls of ice in my shopping bag. These little reminders made it all the way back to my apartment. I was going to get some of them out and have a small snowball fight with Pinkey (my cat), but I decided to set them in the freezer to see how long they would last. Eventually they got lost and were probably used to cool a soda. Anyway, there will be little reminders, too, of your walk through HELL. That’s the paradoxical delight. Use the reminders for something beneficial.
So, be encouraged. Press on through your HELL until you reach the shelter where lessons are learned, pains cease, sodas are cooled, and the reminders teach and delight.
The cliché “an oldie but a goodie” conjures up many thoughts about things from our past. From cars made of actual metal that could run into many a pillar at the gas pumps and never leave a dent, to self-rising flour that actually rises, to being able to buy a gumball for a penny, most of us can identify with things from our past that make us smile and remind us of Sunday afternoons in our great grandmother’s kitchen as she prepares food from scratch and not from a box. They definitely don’t make things like they used to.
Most of us, I bet, can remember the smell of swing set hands. Kids these days who play on plastic play sets have no clue what I’m talking about, but us from an older generation can surely recall. You know… after your set sat in the yard for a few years, and you dangled from the cross bar, the paint would rub off onto your hands. A weird white sort of paint that you would try to rub off on your cut off jean shorts. And the plastic swings were cracked and would pinch your rear end when you swung. And the metal slide would burn the back of your legs in the heat of the summer, so you’d hook up the water hose to the top of it and improvise. Or you would throw the swings over the top bar to make them higher off the ground to show you’d graduated from sissy to daredevil. But my favorite was the contest you would have with the neighbor kids over who could swing the highest and them jump out the furthest. You disregarded the entire swing set coming off the ground when you pumped your legs as hard as you could to maximize your launch. We just didn’t think about it.
Seems like when we were kids we were fearless. Never mind the ramps and makeshift jumps we would soar our BMX’s over helmetless. Never mind the crazy games of tackle football with no pads or the romps through the woods with no regard for scary spiders or snakes. Fearless. The undaunted attitude that we were invincible. Faith in the fact that we were always safe from injury or harm. That a kiss from mom or a band aid would make it all better. And that was even before Toy Story or Strawberry Short Cake band aids! It was a fearless faith that enabled us to have some great fun. Nowadays, I shudder at one of those little tiny house spiders in the corner or cringe at the fact that I gotta go out into the woods to cut down some branches. And riding my bike with no hands is a talent I no longer possess. When do things change? When do we lose our fearlessness?
Is it when we learn that spiders can bite or the woods are full of poison ivy? Is it when we learn that insurance doesn’t cover everything, and there’s always going to be a deductible? Knowledge can be powerful, for sure. But sometimes our head gets in the way of our hearts. Sometimes the more we know, the less we walk in that fearless, childlike faith. The more wrinkles in our brain, the less eager we are to run barefoot down the street or mix up all our food into one pile or cut flips on the trampoline. We shut our eyes and hold on tight, hoping our BMX doesn’t hit a rock and send us over the handlebars. Or even sometimes, we park our bikes in the garage and let the tires get flat and rot to the point where we can’t ride anymore. And sometimes we look at that plastic seat on our swing set and think to ourselves that it will never hold our apple pie bellies or twinkie thighs.
I think it is necessary somehow, someway to maintain our childlike fearlessness. Our kid faith. Our lack of inhibitions. Maintain our reckless abandon and simply ride and swing and dangle and run and climb trees and play tag in the dark. To stop rationalizing everything to the point where our learned fears and apprehensions prevent us from living our lives and taking chances. Not that we should be dumb and not pursue knowledge and use that knowledge to make sound decisions. And not that we should be crazy and make silly choices. But instead, that we should disallow our head to get in the way of our hearts and our childlike trust that indeed the swing will hold. Avoid losing our sense of wonder in the protection of His hand and cower at the site of life and the bumps and bruises it may have. Take a risk. Take a chance. Scrape your knees and smell the smell of swing set hands and swing high. Ultimately, “we are stuck on band aid brand ‘cuz band aid’s stuck on us,” and there’s nothing a little antiseptic spray or a kiss from mom or a good scrub with soap won’t fix.
On a recent sunny, warm Sunday afternoon, I was going to sit on the back porch and do a little reading. I opened the back door and was startled by this humongous spider right in front of my face. I assumed it to be a SHE, based on my readings of Charlotte’s Web, and I immediately shut the door in her face and watched her shimmy up her web and hide in the eaves. It was only then, behind the safety of my door, that I noticed the handiwork of the eight-legged wonder. A massive design of intricate patterns captivated me inside my home. I wasn’t about to disturb the scary spider, so I have allowed her to stay rent-free on my back porch for now what’s going on 2 weeks. Periodically, I’ll peer out the back door window and take a gander at her web. It’s growing. And every once in a lucky while, I’ll get to see her trap an unsuspecting insect, swaddle it in her silk, and save it for later.
I can’t quite put my finger on if she’s a poisonous spider or not, but I’m sort of enjoying watching the creepy creature, in a weird kind of way. That’s because I simply hate spiders. They creep me out, and to think that the hugest spider alive is hanging from the roof of my house is unnerving, yet captivating at the same time. As I’ve watched her, I’ve come to realize something. If I don’t mess with her, she won’t mess with me. Now, if she shows up INSIDE my house, then the gloves come off and the broom comes down. My initial reaction to seeing her and her huge lattice work, in all honesty, was to get a broom and knock her and it down, stomp her under my heavy sneaker, and forever be rid of the ghastly sight. The only thing stopping me was the fear that I’d miss and she’d land on my head. I’d dance around trying to shake her loose, but she’d grab on and hold tightly. I’d never find her, so the entire rest of the day, I’d feel squeamish and would constantly scratch at myself, wondering when she was going to crawl from her hiding place. Then, while I lay innocently asleep that night, she would bite me or lay little spider eggs on my cheek, which would hatch during the night, and I’d awake to thousands of eight-legged creepy creatures crawling all over me. You know you’ve had the same sort of thoughts…like the urban legends we’ve heard so often before.
So, I decided it would be best to let her exist free of my prowess. And she is teaching me a new appreciation for the wonder of creation. What we often drag down with our brooms is the culmination of a spider’s life’s mission. Her very means of existence. Her survival. And I think to myself, what right do I have to knock down someone else’s entire identity? Besides her eight legs and abdomen, her cephalothorax and spinnerets, what makes a spider a spider is the fact that she can do something not a lot of other creatures can do. And to move into English teacher mode, we can learn a great lesson from Gertie, which is what I’ve decided to call her since Charlotte was already taken. We each have our own design. Our own special, one-of-a-kind capability. Our own destiny to live out. We weave our webs of our own accord, and no one can duplicate what we have to offer. So, when we feel downtrodden or forgotten; when we feel chosen over or in last place; when we feel like we have nothing to offer, we can squirt some silk out of our butts and hang from the side of the house in full awareness that no one else can offer this world what we can. And that should bring us solace in a world full of brooms and heavy sneakers.