August 18, 2017

The Cost of Gladness

A friend of mine told me a story of entering the seventh grade middle school. He’s a grown man, now; flies for FedEx. In fact, he is the captain that does check rides with other pilots to make sure they are topnotch. Basically, he is master of his craft.

He told me that the first day of seventh grade, he and another child from his elementary school got off the bus to take the long walk up to the entrance of the gargantuan two story school. He had finished K-6th with 300 students only to enter a school of 2500. The principal at the elementary school knew all the students, and he had buddies and favorite teachers; and some teachers, he remembered, favored him.

As he and the other kid walked the long sidewalk from the bus, the other kid said, “Are you scared?” My friend said he remembers saying, “I’m about to pee in my pants.” Neither he nor the other kid laughed. It was a very serious situation to them. They entered the school, got through the day, the years, and life went on.

Even so, my friend said that he remembered that scene because neither he nor the other kid spoke to each other again. They didn’t know each other that well from the other school, and they didn’t have classes together at the new school, but they did pass in the hallways. When I asked about that part of the story, he said that he figured they had broken the code of appearances when they got off the bus as little post summer 6th graders who had to quickly become big people.

As typical kids they could still speak the truth about change as they stepped into the future that was fraught with great possibilities and great insecurities. They were leaving behind the safety of what they had known to be OK. So they told the truth about what is consistent with life’s transitions. They entail emotional experiences. And those emotional experiences are normal and need to be addressed, or at least spoken. No one told them how normal that was—to share the substance of the heart as a way to deal with change.

Life is full of change. It is in the nature of life. Change of almost any kind entails loss, and loss brings us to our need to grieve, that is, to be emotionally accountable to leaving something behind. Grief admitted leads us towards acceptance. That acceptance, often hard won, returns us to the courage to take the next steps forward into all the risks that life requires.

Those two kids had talked about the experience of transition, revealing the heart that needs to talk about change, and all that goes with change. They expressed the story of their experience and the feelings that went with it. To not do so, or to run from it, can lead to more loss.

My friend figured that it was time to put the heart aside, so to speak, and get tough, which means negating what is normal to all life—dealing with the emotions that come with change. He told me that he remembered the story because he thought that maybe he had acted like a baby, and because he remembered the loss.

When I asked him what it was like to make the move from being a captain for FedEx to becoming a captain of the captains, he said, “I felt like peeing in my pants the first day.” We laughed hard. We laughed about the truth of all of us, the life within us that never dies no matter how much we paint appearances over the truth. That friend of mine never lost heart, and I would say that he also is plenty tough. Guess we can have both.