Funnels and Flow

Pouring of liquids has mildly fascinated me for as long as I can remember. I think it’s the grace that is in the flow of a small stream, the way it bends and bubbles around the rocks, and especially how it maintains a shape as it falls short distances.

Haliburton Forest, overflow of Lake Havelock

I remember one occasion where my chore allotment was to wash dishes after dinner. I was dreading how long it would take (it was always longer than sweeping the floor or clearing the table) and rather than buckling down and washing, I began playing with the water. I poured cup full after cup full of water into the plastic drying basin (looked like this) and watched the water flow from the little holes in the cutlery pockets.

The water at first flowed straight, and fast, from those little holes, but as the tub emptied, the angle changed and the point-of-impact of the three little streams changed as well. I spent so long playing like this that the water grew cool, and dad came in the kitchen and asked if I was ok. It was bedtime and I still hadn’t finished my chores.

I had opportunities to pour more fluids than just dirty dishwater as I grew older, and they all pour a little differently. Cold milk flows quite a bit differently than hot tea. Engine oil and and gasoline are vastly different. And of course, the lip and shape of containers I poured from had a great impact on how the fluids flowed.

Over time this became a game for me, and watching my dad, a chemist with a steady hand pour exquisitely well, I always tried to free-hand it.

I went out to spray some ant-hills yesterday, and as I went to transfer the solution from one half-full container to the other half-full container, I felt like using a funnel. I’ve used funnels many times before, when the costs of spilling solution were higher than a little cleanup of milk or petrol, but this time I didn’t really need the funnel – it just seemed natural to use it.

It struck me in that moment that something has changed in me, and I can’t pinpoint exactly when it happened. Maybe it is the influence of the woodworking, and conscientiously taking extra time and effort to use the circular saw “just so”. Maybe it is an effect of fatherhood, and watching my daughter uncannily imitate my motions and words. Maybe it is from owning a business and being aware that seemingly insignificant choices, and changes, amplified over time, can influence a large ship.

Whatever may be the cause, my lifestream will continue to change as it flows through shallow sandy beds, turbulent stoney outcroppings, and quiet pools.

There is no going backward in this flow. There is no stopping of this river.

There is the chance to prepare yourself. The chance to train and be ready for the many rocks that lay ahead. The chance to move lithely through those terrors rather than smashed and broken upon them.

Enough Data

I am finding that most of my decisions are made with enough data, and this is a different perspective on a trend I have been aware of for a handful of years now.

I want more data for my decisions, and I have continually wanted more data since I graduated veterinary school. Honestly it started before graduation. I was working as a Kennel Assistant (caring for dogs and cats, and cleaning their kennels, on Saturdays and some holidays) for a successful veterinarian in Columbus Ohio.

He took time to mentor me, making my work in the kennels much more valuable for me than just learning how to pill cats and dogs, and getting paid $9 an hour. Discussing the bloodwork on a case, and the unknown factors, I told him how I felt.

I felt like I was in a dark room, and I could see just past the end of my nose. I was looking for something, and the only way to find it was to reach out into the darkness, beyond how far I could see, and take hold of it. My mentor’s response suprised me – he said “don’t worry, after a decade in practice I still feel that way”.

Ah, I was hoping that he was just trying to make me feel better about my ignorance of many things. I was hoping that feeling would subside over time, but nearly 4 years into this arena and it hasn’t gone away. It’s kind of like a shapeshifter. Every time I solve a problem, every time I learn a system, every time I grasp the issue, I find a deeper level of meaning waiting to be understood.

So now I am learning to follow the rest of my mentor’s advice and to abide that uncertainty and make the best decision with what I have, and then learn more, and decide again. Wash, rinse, repeat. Iterate.

Don’t let the uncertainty paralyze you. You may have enough data.

One Bucket

What good is a single bucket of water on a house fire?

If you had that single bucket of water, would you pour it on the house aflame? Or would you put it on the wall of house next door, to help prevent it from catching? Or would you offer it as a drink to the other people fighting the fire?

Just don’t despise your single bucket of water. Use it. Then go fill it again and use it again.

Think about the boy that gave Jesus his five small barley loaves and two fish.

Story in Song

Bob Dylan was able to tell an entire story in just a few lines of verse. It’s an absolutely beautiful thing. Take the first verse of The Times They Are a Changin.

A repetitious and technically basic guitar strumming carries the song. It is just fast enough to make you to cause some internal tension, but it never sounds rushed. He calls out far and wide “come gather ’round people wherever you roam” and asks them to reevaluate their position in society and in life “and admit that the waters around you have grown”.

He spends just a little extra time to draw out his question – “if your time to you is worth saving” and follows it rapidly with his own answer “then you better start swimmin or you’ll sink like a stone”, but this game of question and answer is just a lead up to what he really wants to say. “The times they are a changin”, which he accents with a blast from his harmonica. This is the centerpiece of all of the song.

That is a truly outstanding level of storytelling. Bob is compelling and leaves you with a chill, and the entire song is less barely over three minutes long.

However, today I also want to talk about another artist, and a specific song that has blessed me many times, and just yesterday I was singing it very loudly in the truck. It has such a well-crafted first verse, that can be written in two distinct, yet equally true and beautiful, ways.

Consider the first verse – “I am weary with the pain of Jacob’s wrestling, in the darkness with a fear” – describing the state of being and then referencing this very famous story immediately gives us an entire perspective on that state. Not just weary, but weary as one would be after years of self-seeking and deceiving family members, years of living in fear, working incredibly hard for a goal only to be conned out of it by his own uncle. And then the next line in the song is magnificently written – because it can be written in two distinct ways and either way is completely accurate.

Option 1. “But He met the mourning-wounded with a blessing, so in the night, my hope lives on”. I take this to mean that He (Christ) met the mourning and wounded man (Jacob) with a blessing. As you know in the story, Jacob wrestled all night long and would not let go of Christ, and his (Jacob’s) hip was thrown out of socket and he received a blessing, a new name, from Christ. Therefore the hope of the songwriter lives on because even though he may be wounded and mourning, Christ will bless him in due time.

Option 2. “But he met the morning, wounded, with a blessing, so in the night my hope lives on”. Reading it this way, I can see a focus on Jacob wrestling all night long, and not letting go. He (Jacob) made it all night long, and even though he was wounded, he received a blessing when the morning came. In this case the songwriter takes heart in remembering the suffering of Jacob, now and his hope will live through the night because he has the example of Jacob to remember.

I don’t know which way Andrew Peterson thinks of when he sings this song, but it blesses me as it is.

Aging

You’ve changed and it took me a moment to recognize you. Your hair once thick with the hue of a late autumn forest, is but a thin forgotten gray.

They speak of the years being kind and of the days pleasant, but on your face the years have drawn deep lines, and on your cheeks the days have worn long.

Yet I see the same old friend when I look into your eyes. The life-flame within you grows still strong.

I still feel it

I thought that, by now, this would be easier. I expected that after a hundred public posts, I wouldn’t feel any more fear sharing my thoughts.

Kind of like preg-checking cows. I thought that the pain was going to go away from that too. My arms were bruised, sore, and swollen for the first few weeks on this job. Early on, every next cow was yet another stab of pain. In the same way, the first posts here made me sweat a little, made me second guess myself at every little sound of an incoming email or text. It was that thought, way in the back of my mind, saying it would be someone angry at me for something I wrote, saying it would be someone telling me how wrong I am.

I don’t feel like I am injured on every cow anymore. Sometimes it still hurts, sometimes my wrist has still ached, and my forearm occasionally tender, but it is manageable. The pain doesn’t prevent me from doing my job anymore. The pain is there. The pain is real. There are even many things I do now to prevent injury ….but the pain is not what guides me.

And also with these posts. The fear must still be addressed. Like a feral dog just outside the light, the temptation to hide, to mince my words, to water down my thoughts, to avoid saying the hard things, to make everything a little softer than I truly believe it should be – is still there.

There is a time for soft words, and there is a time to speak the hard things. Proverbs 27 says that “as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another”. That isn’t a very pleasant picture to my mind – two pieces of iron grinding against one another. I don’t find it comfortable to think about being one of those blades, and yet as I mature, I find good coming from that place of conflict. Not always comfortable, not always pleasant, but good.

Taking Hold

I’ve been holding onto a hundred different ropes. Every one of them is a thread running to something in my life – something that I believe has potential. Something wild to be taken and tamed. It’s high time to let go of some of those ropes.

All this time, I am eagerly anticipating that day when I defeat a Bengal tiger at the end of one of those ropes.

Anyone can subdue a lamb. Many have tied up a calf. It is nothing extraordinary to catch a squirrel.

The future belongs to the one who bears the gaze of the tiger, and then binds it.

I’ve been waiting and preparing for that life or death dance with that proud beast.

The myriad of squawking chickens and noisy toy monkeys on the end of my ropes are distractions. It’s time to let them go.

It’s time, with both hands, to take hold of the line that leads directly to the snapping jaws.