Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Back Spray

In surfing there’s no worse feeling than the back spray off a wave that has just passed. The refreshing mist that trails a wave and falls on those who watched it go by only adds insult to the surfer who misjudged its magnitude in the first place. More often than not, I have found myself on the other side of some of these amazing waves, asking myself whether the surfers who caught these waves judged correctly or just took a chance and got lucky.

Each time that I feel the back spray coming off the peak of the wave, I am but constantly reminded of many of life’s waves that I too did not paddle for when they came my way. Sometimes I did not make those leaps of faiths out of foresight and others because of fear. No matter what the various reasons or excuses that I may have conjured up, I have felt the weight of the decisions that I have made fall heavier on my shoulders.

There’s a point when you fully commit to a wave when you realize that there’s no turning back. As the wave rises and lifts you up, there is nobody that can help you except the preparation, skill and faith within you. In a sense there is a freedom of the unknown and exhilaration in not knowing whether you are going to ride it to the end or if you are going to wipe out entirely. As sure as I know that I am a mediocre surfer at best, I can say without question that I’d much rather wipe out than not try at all.

At 25, I can see many similarities between surfing and life. Sometimes when I am out there competing for waves and fighting my way for position, I can sense that cut throat competition that I wished to escape in the first place. Other times, I’ll look around and find that it’s only me paddling in the wide open waters. Both extremes comfort me. I can neither accept one or the other at all times just as I cannot have both simultaneously. I must choose my own path and look inward for what it is that I wish to achieve.

I often wonder about my missed opportunities when I see surfers riding a wave that I should have been on. There’s a certain kind of envy that goes along with watching a wave break towards the shore.

I can’t help but be jealous of my former classmates from High School and College whose accomplishments I also see from a distance. I hear that some are starting families, finishing up graduate school or putting a down payment on a new home. Part of me is taken back to that passive observer sitting on his board, watching the waves go by with other people on them.

Three years have passed since I have been in the military and I often wonder whether I made the right choice to join the service. I think of some of the personal and career sacrifices that I have made because of this lofty vision to follow the footsteps of great leaders. As I look back to that naïve 22 year old who raised his right hand, I wonder how much of that young man I have sacrificed at the expense of my own individual goals. I wonder how much of my principles I have compromised due to my own ambitions.

It'd be realtively easy to play the blame game and second guess every decision that I have made. As much as sometimes I'd just assume give up my place in the water, I know that there will always be more waves to come. When it comes down to it, I must take control of my own wave and ride it to the best of my ability. When the ride is over, I’ll make sure to stay on my board and paddle out like hell for the next one.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Scent of a Wallflower

He was ten minutes late as the verse to the second hymn was being sung by a sea of worshipers. He found his way through the groups of families in their Sunday‘s best and stood beside another insecure man, in myself. I initially smelled him as he made his way into my aisle and knew that our similarities ended there.

After the song was over our pastor asked us to extend a “good morning,” greeting to our neighbors. But before I was even able to turn to the man standing next to me, I noticed that his head was dropped as if to save other’s the trouble of having to acknowledge his existence. I deliberately waited patiently, hoping that he would look up and after a matter of seconds he hesitantly accepted my hand.

It was nothing less than an awkward moment shared by two social introverts. After we shook hands, he took off his faded, mesh red trucker hat to reveal his long combed hair and it was obvious that this was his way of making an effort for his appearance at church. Little did he know, that the church nor its members would make no such accommodations for him.

I sat uneasy at times as I watched the small children around us stare in his direction and whisper to their parents like he was a sideshow at a circus. I began to feel a strange aura around us as if he were unwelcome. I was embarrassed for him.

He was the kind of guy that people pass on the sidewalk without stopping to say hello. For one, he most likely walked with his head parallel to the pavement and two, his body odor is such that people ignore him because of his scent. In fact, he probably had gone his entire life without saying as much as a sentence to anyone in a given week. Yet on this beautiful Sunday morning, this man attracted more glances than anyone in the congregation. Amidst all of the singing, praying and hoopla that was going on, my neighbor became something that he probably never asked for; the center of attention.

I started to think about God’s message and the sole purpose of Christians like myself and the reason why we even attended places like church. And alas, just as the offerings were being passed to the man next to me who had no money to give, I saw the disconnect. For many in that church it was enough for them to listen to the preacher’s sermon, give their tithings and check off their good deed of having attended. These people were on their way to self-centered happiness with not a care in the world.

The prerequisites became clear as I scanned the room only to see the common attire of pressed aloha shirts, pagers clipped onto the belts and fancy strollers. Church all of a sudden seemed more like a members-only club than a setting for prayer. I began to wonder, “since when did Christians become a strictly middle to upper class social group?” I questioned what our mission was as a church and who we were called to serve if people like the guest who sat beside me was treated like the outsider I’m sure he felt like.

I noticed more unfriendly piercing stares from all directions and wondered if the quiet man to my left did the same. I scoffed at the idea that church had become something less about our neighbors and more about oneself.

Later in the service as people joined hands, I once again offered my hand to the man to my left. I held it there in plain site, hoping that he would reach out and grab it. Again he reluctantly gave in as if it were only the second time someone had ever offered. (To prove my theory, the lady beside him did not hold hers out). And so, we stood together, the homeless man and I. Neither of us sang but we stood shoulder to shoulder, praising our Creator, with humility, bashfulness but as equals.

I try to imagine how hard it must have been for that man to walk into a church filled with hundreds of people from a different walk of life and on opposite ends of the socioeconomic spectrum. While I felt that in a basic sense I could relate to his reticence, I don’t quite know where he came up with the courage to walk into a place filled with people who would just assume pretend that he wasn’t there.

I sometimes don’t know how to respond to people like my neighbor in church or how to act around them. I don’t know whether to ignore them like the rest of society and let them live a life of absolute privacy and isolation or to embrace them and show them even the most basic forms of courtesy. While I keep trying to figure that one out in each encounter that I have, I know that at the very least we can show them some dignity. And so what if that doesn’t mean rolling out the red carpet or handing them a stack of money. Maybe all dignity has to be is holding a strangers hand at church…no matter what they look like, where they came from or how they smell.