I can remember vividly that first dare. My father smoked when I was small. His ashtray was beside his favourite chair and was generally not cleaned out until later in the day. I have often wondered if the words were ever truly verbal or just implied, but the pressure to conform was great upon my young heart. I had no desire to smoke, no desire to be caught, bringing on myself any indication that my intention was to smoke, but the need to rise to a level of competence is heavy on a child’s heart. I took a butt and shoved it into my pocket. If I ever showed it to anyone or not I cannot remember; it was the knowledge that I could walk the edge of that challenge and not shrink back that mattered at the time.
Sadly in life we soon learn that most dares are spoken, and often with derision and carry little or no concern for the impact that the pressure of both the reception of the cutting words and the inception of the process to fulfill the challenge, would stir within a person’s soul. It is part of the cruelty of youth that is most often carried forward through life by those who, within their nature, strive to exercise their power over others, to belittle and demean, in their feeble attempt to satiate their own thirst to be top dog, in a dog eat dog world.
The tree was no more than 30 feet tall. It was near our home, in a regrowth pasture that had been cut- over, perhaps a decade or two past. Being a young fir tree the limbs came all the way to the ground and it was easy to climb. There was never any doubt in my mind that I could do it; I loved to climb. The dare was to go all the way to the top. My neighbourhood nemesis was my age, but he loved to challenge, to chide and in some cases take his maliciousness to a higher level in either personal assaults or pressuring others to do it for him. It was all about control and nothing more. The worst part, as I look back through the years past, was that there had never been any consideration for the feelings of others, and there was never any way to know what affect all this had on those he chose to overwhelm, by his words or actions.
So, I climbed the tree… all the way to the top. When you are young, you just want to more than merely survive. The need to be accepted sometimes drives you forward, beyond good sense or even fear. On the way up I felt a sense of the accomplishment about to take place. Like so many things in life, the prize is quite often only one miss-step away. I did reach for the top, but by focusing only on the courage driving me upward, I placed my foot on one of the weaker upper branches and it snapped under my weight. Of course the slim uppermost branch of the tree, to which I attached my next hand grip, was not strong enough to bear my weight, and down I crashed to the ground through the forgiving limbs and landed in a heap at the bottom of the tree. I lay battered and cut amidst the rocks and moss near the tree's roots for a few minutes. The neighbourhood kids scattered after seeing me struggle to get to my feet and I staggered alone to the house, disoriented and bruised.
I wish the scars from that fall were the only ones I carry, but they aren’t. Not all scars are physical and I have learned that being bullied and demeaned in your childhood often leaves you with psychological scaring that is worse than any fleshly marks from mere mishaps in life. How we deal with those scars can make a great difference in the person we become. Not all scars, of the psychological type, are from bullies in either our childhood or early formational years. Scars may form when adversity beyond our expectations confronts us and takes its toll in daily living. It is the act of living, it is the journey that we all face. Some people are more capable of rolling with the punches, seemingly able to shrug off the moments, while others reel under the stresses, and like those who suffer with PTSD, may relapse into anxiety and depression, as triggers take place.
Many of us have grown up hearing in our childhood, nursery rhymes and lullabies. A popular North American rhyme turned lullaby is as follows.
Rock-a-bye baby, on the treetop, when the wind blows, the cradle will rock,
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall, and down will come baby, cradle and all.
There have been many offhand explanations, about both the origin and the meaning of the rhyme, but perhaps in this case it is better to exegete, or draw a few conclusions directly from the words themselves. In our youth, a babe perhaps, we are sheltered, secure in the comfort of a bird-like nest, protected as it were from the world’s devices and danger. But, oft times throughout life, things happen that are either out of our control, as mere infants in a complicated world, or are part of our personal folly, as we step upon unreliable ground and sink into the mire of life. Here we are reminded that from part of the happenstances of life, will come both storms and mishaps that can inevitably cause upheaval in our lives, often to the detriment of our health, both mental and physical. Every fibre of our security in life can crash around us.
Part of the hardship here is that we don’t always land fully back on our feet, even if the results of the fall seem minor. Years back, my wife and I lost our first child. We were young and felt that though the trauma of the loss was great at the moment, we could begin to start again and be blessed with family. We were blessed, but not with full deliverance from further tragic loss in our lives; we still had to face the momentary storms.There were formidable moments of confusion and despair, as the hardships of that generation’s struggling to make ends meet became an almost daily battle.
Hardships and disappointments do add up; they accumulate like flakes of snow, seemingly independent, but soon forming a blanket of white that can cover the green of the grass and trees. While it holds a beauty in some respects, untouched by the movement of traffic, it also brings stress, hard work and fear to the lives of many. My life was momentarily shattered one day, 20 plus years after our first son’s death, as I was confronted by the horror of a prenatal child’s struggle, while I sat in a University lecture… the pain of loss and sorrow, overwhelming my very soul, I asked myself then, “Why am I feeling these emotions now, after so many years?” Scars of former battles can lay dormant until something triggers the response, often hidden for years, yet constantly directing our thoughts and decisions, as we forge on in life.
The question has been asked, "does everyone react the same way to tribulation in life?" Perhaps some are conditioned by environment and react differently, maybe there is a mix in the gene pool that makes the difference, or perhaps one’s faith walk can lead them on a different path, seeming to shelter them from all harm. I was told as a child, "don’t go near the stove or you will get burned." I had no realization of the idea or sensation of being burned. I could watch the flame, seeing it eating up the wood or paper, as the fire licked up the fuel. I could even feel the warmth when I stood near it, but the sensation of being burned was beyond my comprehension. I was being prepared for life! We walk near the edge of so many dangers; we ply the waters of various dangers in life and quite often don’t wear the lifejackets provided, wanting to feel the rush of excitement, or even danger, as we throw off the securities of experiential warnings against doing just that. How do we find some level of justification for folly in doing so? Perhaps it can be the desire to break down the barriers of limitation and cast off into the deeper waters of the far end of life’s pool. Others are there, why not me? It seems that some tread the path of exploration and resistance to conformity, while others seek calm and security allowing a stronger sense of the tried and true.... the path most often taken... the safer path!
Each day we make choices, and not all of life’s choices are simple to make. The complexity of life brings things to the table that can create storms, both personal and corporate, affecting ourselves, our families, and our community. You see, walking near the edge is not ALWAYS the safe path. It seems hard to think that after years of writing about being near the edge, and its positive effect on our lives, that I could now inject such a statement into the equation, but today I am. You see walking or living near the edge has its dangers; without paying close attention to our footing we can easily step over and be lost, or badly damaged.
I personally choose to not walk alone. I have tried never to find myself in that situation, but as cautious as I have tried to be in life, I have on occasion climbed some more “proverbial” trees, reaching for the top, only to find myself crashing to the ground, badly bruised and disoriented. There is a difference between being alone and acting alone. For example, unsecured and out of a parent’s grasp along a sidewalk, a child can rush headlong into oncoming traffic and be struck by a vehicle. Another being that one can be united in marriage, for perhaps even 70 years, but never bothering to communicate the true basics of the caring and sharing that were meant to be, just because words seemed redundant, once the vows were spoken. Being alone can be subject to both definition and practice. So, who we share with, and how we share, becomes the foundation upon which our quest near the edge, finds its best and most reliable security.
A walk of faith in God, the Great Redeemer and Friend, means for me a sure footing, a light unto my path and a hand of security and healing, should I fall and damage both my pride and my physical being. I pray for you today, that you will not lose touch with your faith. By putting your life in the hand of God, He will keep you safe, or should you fall, you will have both strength and courage to rise again. Keep your footing strong near the edge, for the bough can break!