What Makes a Life?

Recently, Richie has been posting, on Facebook and his website, pieces of ephemera from his bicycle history with his reflections and backstory. Since his involvement with bicycles, bicycle racing, and frame building dates back to the early 1970’s this project, taken as a whole, has become a testament of sorts to his life—his choices, his experiences, his observations.

Tonight, we go to my parent’s sixtieth wedding anniversary dinner party. To give them something, my four siblings and I have been combing through photographs. There are lots of photos of sailing—comfy coastal sailing and gritty ocean sailing. There is one of my Dad hang gliding, another of my Mom horseback riding in the Grand Canyon (looking none too thrilled), a lovely one of her resting on a Swiss mountaintop à la Sound of Music, and one of them in Russia with a young Russian couple they met when they were stuck there for a bit.

Reading the ephemera and perusing the photographs makes me think, what makes a life? Is it adventure and experiences—new places, travel? Is it people—those you’ve met and interacted with within your passion? Or is it something more fundamental?

The common denominator in Richie’s ephemera and my parents’ travels is connection. Each of them has lived—is living—a life filled with connection. Connections to people, places, adventures, experiences, words, ideas, nature.

So what makes a life?

The courage to connect is what makes a life.

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By the Sea

Snails, we are brought up to think, are slow. I am here to tell you that snails are not slow. Not when you’re using them as models as you perch on a low-tide rock, peering into a tide pool with watercolors balanced beside you and you are in the full grip of an artistic fever to capture this light and shaped-filled moment. Then snails hunker along quite annoyingly rapidly. What was, when you first spied it, a sinuous curve of light and dark, two snails in a perfect sine wave and you catch your breath with the awe of it and quickly, quickly! get your pencil and brush and paper out and, secure in the knowledge that snails are slow and you have plenty of time—all the time in the world, in fact, given that snails are so slow—lay down a line of shape and hue and glance to your models and discover that, oh my gosh, that sine curve is no longer. Now the space between them only speaks of space between them and not a beautiful visual harmony and you shake your head a little wondering if in fact you were mistaken at the beginning and then you realize, HEY, they are moving! Little-thick-antennae-sticking-out-suctioning-along-pulling-the-shell-behind-purposeful-moving.

I don’t pretend to know where snails in a tide pool are going. It’s only a tiny tide pool after all. But they have shown me that slow is relative and that time, tide and snails wait for no man.

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On The Fly

When I posted last week about watching dragonflies hatch, I didn’t realize at the time it was a metaphor for my current life.

This past week, it seemed every direction I faced there was a wall. Nothing got finished; everything in process, obstacles galore. After about the third frustrating project, the image of the dragonfly nymph popped up. My subconscious was knocking.

I thought back to that afternoon and how I had felt a combination of peace and impatience watching the nymph emerging from its confining caste. The peace because it felt so wondrous, the impatience because it was taking so long.

I remembered how the nymph’s emergence had had spurts of effort followed by long moments of stillness. During the still parts, I imagined the nymph making minute adjustments to its still-restrained body inside the caste, cognizant that a single impulsive movement could tear the delicate membrane of the wings. (I did see a dragonfly that had emerged with crooked, broken wings–heartbreaking–and this dragonfly was doomed. A dragonfly must be able to fly.)

I think anyone who tries something new (which is another word for growth) is like that nymph emerging. And like the nymph that instinctively knows when to push and when to rest and adjust, I think there is a roadmap inside us.

If a dragonfly is given the intrinsic knowledge of how to grow, surely we, as part of nature, are too. There is no guarantee we will be successful (the broken-winged dragonfly) but there is the knowledge, always, waiting for us to only listen.

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