Friday, February 24, 2017

Skating On Thin Ice

It never occurred to me that you had to really check the pond before strapping on your skates!

There was a huge amount of rain that fall and the low spots in the fields, the swamps surrounding some nearby streams, and of course all of the ponds, were filled to overflowing. The level of water never seemed to diminish and we all looked forward to the cold chill of winter turning all the water surfaces into ice so that we could strap on our skates and begin a new hockey season… or at least pretend that we were playing in the big leagues. It is hard to imagine the lengths that we took to find ice back in those days.

My youth was filled with an urgent desire to play sports and whatever the elements, there seemed to be a sport that could accommodate my desires. Back then I loved winter. We pulled out our toboggans and sleds, along with the most feared snow transport of its time, the homemade bobsled. We tackled every hill that had any amount of snow, until the steeper paths or lanes were packed down and began to have an undercoating of ice; then the challenges began. The regular sleds and toboggans brought satisfaction, but the homemade bobsled provided that extra level of skill laced with danger. Many of the riders found out just how challenging and dangerous the bobsled could become, as they lay entangled in the mass of wood, rope/chain and bodies, often only halfway down a winding run through the trees.
No matter the joy we found in those first snows, the true passion for winter, for many of us, was that moment when you first strapped on your skates, in order to strengthen your ankles for the challenge of ice hockey on a nearby pond. My first memories of skating, while still in my early years, were on the dirt road in front of our home. Too young to go very far, we were given permission to skate on the road. Yes, you read correctly, we skated on the road. Quite often, after the first snows which were accompanied most times with some rain, the road gained a slick surface of ice…. with ruts. It might be hard to imagine the possibility of skating amidst the ruts on a dirt road, but we soon became adept at managing the unevenness of the surface and we found that doing so added an extra level of agility to our skills as well.

The greatest challenge after that was waiting for the ponds to freeze over. We skated on anything that had ice, even the local brooks, once the temperatures dropped far enough to create a hard enough surface to hold us up. One such potential was found in a large pond that formed in our field next to the family home. All that fall the low spot, that once was the location of a huge barn, continued to fill up and held a level of water that created a perfect child sized rink, in our minds. Soon the temperatures dropped, and after about a week we ventured out on the ice, with visions of hours of enjoyment right in our yard, skating through our imaginations. All seemed well, but we were told that we should wait a few more days before giving it a try again, as it seemed too thin around the edges and we hadn’t really given it enough time to freeze properly. But temptation got the best of me and as I scrambled to get my skates on and get on the ice, the only thing on my mind, was the joy of trying out my new hockey stick, and the hours of pleasure to follow.

Looking back for most of us I pray, is always a joy, as it brings fond memories of the challenges that confronted us, while reminding us that we somehow both survived and overcame the worst of scenarios. Well, I was about to experience one of the worst, not in terms of danger per se, but one of disaster and embarrassment to say the least.  Along with the dropping of the temperatures, as winter approached, that caused the small pond to freeze over, was the receding of the level of water beneath the surface of the ice in that pond. What I thought was a perfect rink, was actually just a layer of shell-ice that remained, as the water was absorbed into the soft earth, where once the barn had stood. What I had thought was a solid surface, was soon found to be nothing more than just a “lick of a promise”. You can imagine my surprise when after my first glide I ended up crashing through the shell ice and into what was left of the water, that had not yet soaked into the ground. My joy, short lived, ended with two wet feet and a badly damaged pride, which also included some badly scraped shins. Oh the joy of childhood!

Yet, as often happens, those experiences are not the only thin ice that most of us skate on through life. There is a daily hazard that many face, as we forget to check the potentials, before walking out on that proverbial ice. It is hard to imagine that lessons learned in our childhood can soon be forgotten, or ignored, in the face of what should be a more mature sense of self and self-awareness. It seems many of the lessons learned are either not retained, or they are outgrown in our minds perception of how life is now lived in adulthood, with all its keen sense of worldly prowess. There remains though, that passion for forging ahead, likened to jumping the gun without properly testing the ice before strapping on the skates; only to find that thin ice has a modicum of folly attached to its surface tension.

It is bothersome in some respects to always be checking our steps. There can be moments when spontaneous decisions must be made, and that is life. On the other hand the school of hard knocks should tune us to the point where we acknowledge that it would be better to take our time, and test situations before we jump headlong into what may turn into a shin buster of an event. I wish I could list all of the times that I have leapt spontaneously into the unknown and asked myself afterward, “Just what was I thinking!” I have been fortunate that I have survived all those forays with danger, but I cannot brag that I have come out completely unscathed. Life has taught me that there are prices to pay, as well as those bonuses received, to most actions in life. Not all decisions are good decisions, just like my poor judgement in getting on that shell ice in our field, those many years ago.

That is where the joy and comfort of not being alone is beneficial. Many of the times in life that I had decisions to make, I had someone there to talk through the possibilities with. Not all of my confidants were mentors. It is great to have a person who you can share moments with, sometimes pour out your heart to, in confidence that what you share is likened to a sacred trust. There is many a slip between the cup and the lip. Things can still go wrong, without good solid advice, when simply choosing perhaps some then present unqualified listening ear. I have found that in some respects my heart still longs for total security in human form, when it comes to having that someone who will listen and not judge, rebut, or reprimand without first hearing the whole story. I am blessed by having a wonderful wife, who after more than 43 years knows me better than I know myself most days, but as the old saying states, “familiarity breeds contempt” and I can’t always trust just her judgement alone.

Ok, before you run to the internet to look me up on Facebook, with the intent of giving me an earful, there is more to the story. Because we know so much about each other, we can oft times too quickly presuppose or prejudge a conversation or proposal. We can, due to the complexity of our human design, chase the proverbial rabbit, as we get caught up in parts of conversations and our minds drift to “other” factors or stored arguments. It is part of the basic fact of relational cohabitation and sharing. Does it make it easy…. of course not! But we learn to adapt and find a path through it all, with love guiding the way. What is the problem here then you ask.

I live in faith! I live by faith! I survive by my faith that God has a greater plan, even when I fall far short in the plan that seems to be where He wanted me to be sometimes. I don’t live a charmed life. The truth is, none of us do. We skate along and sometimes while not paying any attention to the forward surfaces, can skate off onto thin ice. That is like living on or near the edge… It can get scary at times.  It is there that I reach out to the God of Love and Grace, and am reminded that He not only picks me back up, as I crash through the ice, but He, when I stop to listen, is telling me when the ice is thin. I have learned that I can go to Him, pour out my heart, and when I have emptied myself, it is then that in the stillness of my exhaustion I hear Him say, “Are you listening yet?”, and He reminds me that it is far better to ask first and then wait for His answer.

I pray that as you skate along through life that you will remember that not all ice is safe, not all water is calm, and also not all relationships are perfectly reliable, for all facets of life’s journey. I pray that you can see the progression here. The only perfect relationship I have is with God, though I wouldn’t want to lose those blessings of His favour, in granting me a wonderful wife and loving family, along with some of those good friends who count me as a friend in return. Why not take time to check the plan that God has for you; you may just find it comforting to not always be on thin ice.