In 1967 my family lived in Provo, Utah where my dad was attending BYU. The house we moved into had a huge gutter in front of it between the sidewalk and the street. The gutter was a foot deep and was wide enough that I had to focus pretty hard to jump from one side to the other. I don’t know where the water came from or where it was going – but every time I wanted to play, the dark green rushing water was there. Pretty awesome house – I loved it.
The driveways of our neighborhood started in the street as concrete arches over these deep gutters. I remember driving home one evening and someone had missed the driveway backing out of their house and the back wheel was in the gutter. My dad told me they would have to wait for a tow truck to come and get them out.
My best friend Paul and I found all manner of things to float in the water. We’d throw sticks in and run next to the water cheering our “boats” on. The water would gurgle under the driveway of our neighbor carrying our boats with it. And that would be that – we’d never see those sticks again! We would run to the other side of the drive way and wait, but nothing ever came out the other side. Sometimes we’d see them 3 or four inches under the dark green surface, sinking and being swept away all at the same time.
One day I went to my dad to ask him to buy me a cool toy boat. He said “finally a use for that junk mail” and opened an envelope and pulled out a sheet of paper. He carefully folded the paper in magic ways – I had no idea what he was up to until he handed me one of these:
I ran out and showed Paul my new boat! Soon we were both back asking my dad for a second boat. Another piece of junk mail made the transformation into a toy and we ran back to the waters edge.
On your mark, get set, GO! The boats dropped and we were running and laughing – our boats were amazing! We got to the driveway arching over our river and saw them disappear into the darkness under the arch. I was sure that somehow the magic of the origami was going to protect the new boats! So we ran to the other side of the driveway” waiting expectantly to see our boats emerge. After a five year olds eternity we looked at each other wondering what could have happened to our boats! Sadness started to descend as we laid down on the warm concrete of the arch and stuck our heads down over the edge to peer back into the dark to see if there was any trace of our junk mail regatta. We were pretty sad to have lost our cool boats on their maiden voyage… – and we ran back to my dad to explain why we needed a couple more. For all I know those boats and all of our sticks are still there, because we never saw them again.
Over the years of my educational journey I’ve picked up phrases like “go with the flow” It always meant “conform” and make sure you’re doing it like others are doing it” to me. It also reminded me of my lost boat, so it was a phrase/concept I wasn’t really fond of. Then last week I heard it again and it had nothing to do with water…
My wife and I stopped for a sandwich at a national chain restaurant last week. It had to be 43° in that place! What is it with air conditioning in this world! As soon as it gets mildly warm outside you have to wear your winter gear inside! Oh, that nearly turned into a rant. Sorry. Back to our story…
My wife and I were chatting – comfortable small talk, you know– and all of a sudden it was like the sun had come up! I’m telling you I could warm my hands on the cheerful coming from the human being that had stepped up to our table! Bright, energetic, and happy with a capital “H”! Kirsten introduced herself and asked how she could make our day better – she took our order and brought us food and beverage and she would check back to make sure we were ok. You know… she was a great waitress. (do we still call them that? or is she a “server”?). Call it what you want – she was good at it – she was seriously making our day better!
My wife and I chatted about what makes people happy. I’ve always had the notion that one must work hard at being happy. No matter how naturally it came, it was always some form of work to be that happy. …like running up a down escalator, the flow was always toward sad, and to go against the flow was, well, work!
So the next time Kirsten stopped at our table I asked her “is it genetics that makes you this bright and cheerful and positive? Or are you working really hard at it?” (you know, like a duck – all calm and collected on the surface and paddling like a maniac underneath)
She chuckled at my duck analogy, but then the smile ran away from her for a moment and she said “I’m generally pretty happy, but today… well today it’s taking a lot of work”. I told her I was sorry she was having a hard day and she replied “I just decided it’s just as much work to be happy as it is to go with the flow” And there it was! That phrase! That thing we’re all supposed to do – go with the flow – don’t rock the boat baby!
I was so grateful and impressed that she was working hard to make it look that effortless. I love the idea that she feels she has a choice. She doesn’t have to let her life’s boat flow underneath the driveway into that dark place. She’s actually figured out how to move upstream in the flow – to be happy on a day when the flow would make it so easy to go the other direction.
I told her how much I appreciated what she had chosen that day, and asked to take a photo – see that smile? Hopefully we managed to brighten each others day. Kirsten gave me a reason to smile –
And determine: Am I going with the flow or making decisions and defining my own destiny.