On Thursday night while I was out walking a few miles, I passed children playing flag football at the nearby school. It was apparently sanctioned and official-ish looking game (relatively, it was flag football, after all) which was only clear because there were actual sidelines marked on the grass and there were parent-type people on the sidelines and a guy with a whistle. The kids were just out there to play. They largely ignored the coaches and the whistle, and basically chased whoever had the ball until it was lost, and then chased whoever picked it up. The group flowed around the field looking like a fleece-and-denim-clad school of minnows. And their laughter was like music.
It is not typical for me to walk or exercise without my iPod. I need something to distract me from the sounds of my feet or my bike tire on the pavement. I would have missed that sweet and lovely sound entirely, had I been wearing headphones.
The moment has stuck with me. I keep hearing that laughter, and watching the effortless turns and spins and reversals of course on that field, seeing the laughter that accompanied the change in direction. It made me wonder when we lose that. When do we stop seeing changes in course as the inevitable result of playing the game, or of living our lives, and become so focused on the original course that deviations to it are seen as failures, or irritants? How many times do we use the phrase "get back on track" (or some variation) in a week? Do we ever consider whether the new course is simply the one that was intended all along? That we might have stumbled over the right course by some magic of alchemy and gravity and pure dumb luck?
It's about goals, I think. The inflexibility of our goals. But it is also about having a rigid expectation of what it means to do the right thing. It is being unable to acknowledge that being on the right path, the one that leads to joy, is every bit as important as meeting our original goals or our personal expectations. For some, it is easy to walk away from a responsibility.
For others, it seems nearly impossible - and this post is for those people. Please remember - our lives are not either/or. Our options are not merely "stay the original course with your teeth gritted against how much it hurts and feel wrong" or "walk away and start a new life." There are a million options between those poles, and our hard work is to find the one that is most fulfilling without losing our integrity.
When you are in the middle of a trial in life, it is not easy to do the thing that we have not done before, to make the choice that is not the familiar one. But it's the only way to see what new joy might come, what measure of happiness might be returned if we try another tack.
I'm working hard at finding my joy these days. This week I'm going to try to see changes in course like I'm 7 years old and running after a ball carrier on a flag football field. Feel the joy of being able to run and turn, be mindful of the lumpy turf under my feet and keep my eyes on the ball, but laugh with abandon when my plan is foiled by a turnover.
Be well and happy!