Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Long View

It had been over a month since I'd been to the Fulford Bowls Club--a collection of men over 65 who play indoor lawn bowling. (And one 30-year old American.) Life has been pretty hectic lately, with Tyler fighting cold after cold, sleeping through the night a thing of legend and lore, and allergy attacks gathering around me like I'm a never-ending supply of sticky notes for a highly organized person.

So attending the Thursday night bowling just didn't make the list of Must Do in Order to Survive.

But this past Thursday, I attended again.

Ten years ago, I ran the London Marathon with my oldest brother, Christopher. By mile 20, the two of us were Jell-O men, stumbling forward under the weight of gravity and lunacy, in equal parts. Walking into Bowls last Thursday, my legs felt similarly. I wanted to keel over a few times--or at least just bowl from a chair.

But as I looked around, I felt heartened. So many older men welcomed me back. Told me they missed me. We shook hands. Talked about the weather. Talked about the wars they had fought in fifty, sixty years ago. Talked about bowls.

Always about bowls.

Ah, good wood there, mate!

Just ease up to the Jack. Bring it straight round there.

Oh, ay! That's a Yorkshireman's delight right there.

Every time down the green fake-lawn mat, these older men smiled with joy at the smallest attempt, the closest call, the possible point.

The thrill. Even of indoor lawn bowling.

And I was struck by something my soul was in desperate need of: the long view.

I talked with Ken, one of the men who landed on the beaches at Normandy when he was only 18 years old as a conscript of the British Army. He was paid twelve pence a day. By contrast, American soldiers during World War II were paid the equivalent of four pounds a week. Ken was making 84 pence a week. And he served at the invasion, then for two years in Palestine during terrible battles there. In both places, he was wounded.

Now, Ken smiles with ease. He jokes. He laughs.

Ken has survived. He has taken the long view of life, realizing that we pass through immeasurable difficulty and confusion and fear and sometimes horror, but somehow, we survive. And when we do, we keep on walking the path that falls before our feet.

I talked with Tony, who described how his four-year old daughter (now 39) would wake up screaming night after night after night. For six months. He and his wife had just had another baby, and between the four-year old screaming, the newborn with terrible colic, Tony and his wife had zero sleep. Literally. I watched Tony's face as he recalled the time.

"How did you make it through?" I ask, wanting to glean some kind of wisdom for our own sleep trouble with Tyler of late.

Tony shook his head, looked at me, and smiled. "The thing is, our daughters are beautiful human beings. You just have to love them through the hard stages and remember that you might always know what the hard stages are about, but they pass." Then, Tony smiled and patted me on the back.

The long view.

During the eight o' clock tea break, I talked with Henry, who lives and breathes bowls now, as a seventy-year old man. His face rose and fell like an ocean of glee as he described the five Bowling Clubs of which he is a part. The different match-ups, the visiting teams, what bowls means to him and how it gives him a place to belong.

And I couldn't help but think, here's a seventy-year old man, and he has passion and joy. He looks forward to waking up each day, playing bowls almost every night. He;s not mourning his past, regretting the past 69 years. He's living his 70th.

The long view.

Walking back from St. Oswald's Church Hall at nine o' clock with the wind whipping cold across my ears, hands, all I could think, over and over, was the long view.

I am often so accustomed to contemplating the short view. What is happening now? What if this or that circumstance doesn't work out? What if this hard stage lasts forever?

Such are questions that the vocabulary of the Long View doesn't know or acknowledge.

In bowls, you might have an incredible turn: your ball might land square next to the Jack, lean against it like there's nothing in the world that will take that point away from you. But then another player gets up and knocks your ball completely off the mat. Your point is gone. Lost.

Alternately, you may bowl a ball that is as far away from the Jack as ice from fire. But then another player takes a turn and inadvertently slices your ball, knocks it square next to the Jack. One point.

You never know. The game changes moment by moment. Like life. And you can't play by giving so much power to each turn that you lose the thread of the game.

You can't live by lending so much significance to every circumstance that you lose the narrative of your own arc.

It's what the men at Bowls are teaching me. It's what I am slowly learning to do--slowly learning how to see. The Long View doesn't throw away the moments, nor does it anxiously plan and prepare for the future. Instead, it simply approaches the present with open hands, receives it, but does not allow any present moment to crush or signify the worth of existence. The worth of a life is much more valuable than any one thing, much more authentic than any sound bit, no matter how treacherous or beautiful.

Because what is most miraculous about our lives of it all is this: the story. It's not the sentence that decides our fate, nor the chapter. These are but a part of the narrative. The story as a whole is what matters. The mistakes I have made before, the patterns of fear I may have allowed to beat in unison with my heart--these do not signify the substance of the novel of my life. Nor yours.

The Long View tells us to wait and see. Keep living. Keep going. Keep bowling. The next time down the lawn mat, we may just end up with an incredible bowl, one that we would have missed had we been caught lamenting our last turn.