Downhill, hardly or “Peter Pan!” – August 5, 2022
When I was young, our family’s typical Sunday included a drive to Kaukauna to visit my maternal grandmother. My brother and I were usually expected to sit quietly on the couch while the adults visited. I was obviously more focused on my own personal agony of confinement than the adult’s conversations, because to this day I couldn’t venture to guess what they visited about, even though I was in the same room with them. However, during at least a couple of these visits our sentences would be reprieved, and we would be allowed to go to the park.
The park started just a couple of doors down from my grandmother’s house. Whoever designed and built the playground had a young boy’s heart. The park was a series of large hills and the playground was situated on top of the steepest hill. Better yet, the swings were positioned just where the hill began to slope downward. When you swung out over the slope it gave you the sensation that you were taking flight.
Of course, if you ever were a little boy, you are already thinking that the sensation of taking off was bound to put ideas into one’s head. Ideas like wondering how far down the hill you could fly if you launched yourself free from the swing at its apex. Well, truth be told, my imagination didn’t use the term “apex”; I probably used a more technical term like jumping from the swing when I was “really, really high”!
Of course, if you ever were a little boy, you are already thinking that ideas are all well and good, but were you brave enough to try it, or were you going to be chicken? Little boys will do most anything in order to avoid becoming a chicken. And the best way to avoid becoming a chicken is to act quickly on whatever said idea had popped into your head, before any clear thinking could set in.
And so it was that probably only another leg pump or two from when I first had the idea of soaring down the hill that I let myself slide off of the swing and take flight! Well, flight is an overstatement. It was really just a fall, but it was the farthest I had ever fallen. It was somewhere between a half a mile and perhaps ten to fifteen feet down the hill where I crash-landed. I should have probably broken a leg, or a wrist, or my fool neck, but instead I popped up, brushed some grass clippings off and looked up at my brother’s wide-eyed, open-mouthed face. “That was a blast!” I blurted out. My brother Mike who was a year older, but in this case certainly not a year wiser, replied, “Let’s both do it!”
And so, we took two swings right next to each other, and pumped furiously until we were swinging as high as we could. We decided that at the appropriate code word, “Peter Pan” that we would both launch ourselves, and then see who could fly further. Although I was a bit shorter and a bit slighter, I must have made up for it in heart and technique because we launched ourselves off those swings dozens of times and I always landed a foot or two past Mike.
Then we both sensed that it was time that we should be heading back to grandmother’s house. We had to sense such things because neither of us had a watch, so we had no idea of the actual time. We decided that on our final run, instead of just measuring the landing spots, that we would instead race all the way to the bottom of the hill.
I decided that my best chance in winning would be to launch early rather than take the extra time to get enough height to get a few more feet down the slope. That way maybe I could manage to land on my feet and hit the ground running. And that’s just what I did. And it worked perfectly at first.
I hit the ground, steadied myself and then took off downhill. Just about in the amount of time that it took you to read this sentence to this point I realized that my legs couldn’t keep up with my feet. Now that’s a predicament – one’s legs and one’s feet being attached and all. I did the only thing I could do and that was tumble to the ground. I remember my momentum setting me into a roll, and realizing that Mike was passing me by. But then, he too, was pulled down by the hillside. He blocked my path so that when I tried to regain my footing I tripped on him and we tumbled down about five more feet together. All I can remember is elbows and legs, grass/sky/grass/sky and laughter that ended in a tangled heap.
We took stock of the situation. One scraped elbow, one scraped knee. No clothing tears, but enough grass stains and dirt smears to ensure that there would be no park visit next Sunday. Surely we would be confined to the couch where the adults could keep a watchful eye. But it was worth it!
As an adult, just like trying to run downhill, I have felt that strong pull, the building up speed and realization that I was no longer the one in control, as my relationship with God has deepened. Oh sure, I have fallen a time or two. I have tumbled – grass/sky/grass/sky/ – earth/Heaven/earth/Heaven/Heaven/Heaven. I fly and run and tumble a little farther, and get a little closer each day. And, every time that I have taken stock, except for a grass stain here or there, spiritually I am happier, more content and more at peace. It has certainly been worth it!