Jumping the Curb of Guarded Living

Photo by Ajay Murthy on Unsplash

It was simple: hit the floating rainbow cube, luck upon a red shell and excitedly fire on an unsuspecting racer. These were the joys from some of my favorite childhood pastimes playing Mario Kart with family. But over time, those wide-open tracks weren’t enough. They became familiar.

My 7-year-old mind had no concept around the law of diminishing returns, but its effect was nonetheless very real. I needed more.

That more was shortcuts. Certain courses where floating highways enticed you to stay on the narrowest level with the pride-inducing offer of shorter, faster race times. The impeding crash was the very thing that formerly gave me joy: just racing.

It’s odd how quickly my more defined a win as less. The shortcuts inspired by a fatigue from open space only shrunk my capacity for happiness.

Decades separate me from that 7-year-old self, but I’m just as victim to the enticements that cause me to view life less as a joy to be experienced and more as a pressure to maintain that upper tier, those guarantees.

It might not be shaving off my personal best or expanding just how badly I beat my brother or those CPUs, but somewhere along the way, I stopped loving the unknowns of it all.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

The shortcut for Vocation’s Road.

Do you remember the imaginative space when you were a child and thought about what you could be when you grew up? Firefighter one day. Hotel affectionado the next.

There was no concern around how you’d pay the bills, what fit your strengths profile or which university offered such a program. It was simple: dream, create, play. The vocation of humanity to cultivate thriving.

But then it wasn’t enough. Then I needed more.

I remember sitting at the dermatologist and seeing a woman who knew my mom. I was a junior in high school, anticipating my upcoming college career. I had waffled from artist to chemist, accountant to writer. Settling upon writer, I applied for journalism school.

The woman, filling waiting room silence with small talk questions, asked: “What do you plan to study?”

“Journalism.”

“Really?”

“Yes, I really enjoy writing. I see this degree honing those writing skills.”

“Yeah, but, it doesn’t really make a lot of money,” she replied. “You might want to rethink that.”

Rethink that. Rethink dreaming, creating, playing. Shrink down your vocation as a human. Drive on the narrow road of making ends meet.

I was privileged enough to not think about making ends meet. Not thinking about the absence of guardrails if all went downhill from my career. Yet her words still caused me to fear the drop off.

Twenty some years later, I still wrestle with those two words battling for top scores and life accomplishments. What if’s deceive me. They tell me I should have taken that last right.

But the course is just as beautiful now as it was then. My rethinking then doesn’t stop me from redreaming now. Of paying bills and creating. Of replaying my vocation as a human to cultivate thriving.

Sure, my degree in journalism can’t make me a doctor, but I don’t aspire to pursue medicine to catalyze human flourishing. My degree doesn’t have to be the tier I drive upon the rest of my life. I am dynamic. Humans are dynamic. We change. And so I change.

Creating is changing what’s around us, for ill or otherwise. So, I build upon my laps around the sun into the unknowns where potential to change exists, rather than dwell on how that last checkpoint could have gone differently and box myself into parameters of what’s allowed.

When our laps around the sun outpace our own life’s race, we won’t remember the numbers in our bank accounts. But others will remember how we aided or harmed their wellbeing.

“Who do you say that I am?”

The hidden path in Relationships Speedway.

Fairytales inspire because humans long to love and be loved. It is an extension of the very universe’s law: all things have definition in relation to another. Expanse is defined by the matter that relates within it. Light is defined as a wave or particle by our study of it in the moment.

We dream, create, play to love. The unfettered law of humanity to self and one another. The mystery of people binding our existence on the thriving of another.

But then it wasn’t enough. Then I needed more conditions.

As a child of the nineties, I fell prey to kissing dating goodbye. (You are blessed beyond measure if you miss the connotation.)

I was a perfect storm of hormones, Hollywood and hopes that gave me a list of expectations to be the most cordial, chivalrous bachelor. My route to experiencing love quickly became filled with pins of perfection. Failure to hit them, and love was forever out of one’s grasp.

No one told me those pins didn’t promise love. My twenties soured love for me. Sure, my first serious dating relationship didn’t mirror the suggested route to a successful relationship. But that’s why it wasn’t successful, right?

Well, my second serious relationship hit all the milestones, yet it ended in breakup and a heart more wrecked than a siren’s prey.

That jadedness was my salvation though, like the overwhelming euphoria that sometimes overtakes those nearing death. First felt so far out of place that I rediscovered just the act of relating. Of being human.

We mislabel it as throwing caution to the wind, but for me, it was actually being vulnerable to love and be loved again without condition.

Unfortunately, I was reintroduced to all those conditions when my son arrived. It was called getting sleep.

Pins again dotted the landscape, overshadowing new, mysterious life cradled in my arms with the ticking clock that stole precious Zzz’s. I became frustrated, jaded once again. Some I could blame on that lack of sleep, sure, but a lot of it was because I was trying to pigeonhole my dynamic son into a very unrealistic sleep schedule.

I can’t take back the first 12 weeks of his life. (Thank God he won’t remember those semi-daily conversations with his mom where visible anger bubbled like a shaken soda over why he just couldn’t understand that his sleepy cues meant he should fall asleep.) Didn’t he know better?

Didn’t I know better?

I imposed on him conditions just like I had done in dating relationships, but he was reminding me the course of human loving doesn’t need conditional guidelines. He just wants to be loved and to share in the joy of being alive. His coos coddle me from my crazy conditions.

When our laps around the sun outpace our own life’s race, we won’t remember how New York Times worthy our Match profile was or how closely we sleep trained our children. But others will remember how we aided or harmed their feeling loved.

“Why did this happen?”

The bypass from Mystery Turnpike.

In Frank Herbert’s book series Dune, one of his characters makes this profound observation: its beauty is bound up in the fact that life can surprise you. It’s a statement bound up in unfortunate tragedy.

The character’s arc leads him down a path of being utterly alone and without surprises in his attempt to preserve a Golden Path for humanity. Through his attempts to direct the flow of humanity, he trades surprise for stability, personhood for preservation.

It is in his narrowing of the grandness of the universe into a singular course of cause and effect that steals all the beauty out of existence, like a 1900s photo sapping all the hues of nuance for the sake of history.

The effect is literally making life black-and-white.

But then life wasn’t enough. Like him, I needed it to be more guaranteed.

I wouldn’t have said that this was my life, but in many ways I functionally lived encapsulated, guarded. I guarded my vocation within a piece of paper. I guarded my heart with a list of rules for dating engagement. I guarded my sleep with moms on call.

I was conditioned to accept splintered, categorized, walled-off expressions of life that made sense and answered the why as I hoped it would be answered. Like someone who thinks the lowest point on earth, which is cut off from everything else and allows nothing to leave its borders, is a superb locale for life. (Hint: Nothing grows at the Dead Sea. It’s why we call it that.)

I can’t tell you when this occurred to me. This guarded living. I think I am still exploring how to invite mystery back into my life. To live vulnerably, but fully. I’m still learning how to share honestly with my wife and not fear hard conversations, to let my son journey out his development and tantrums and the wonder of who he is becoming, to not cower from the mysteries in life but celebrate the open space in its wake. Of newborns and falls in love, of changed degrees and unexplained deaths, of quarantines and tumultuous nation states.

Mystery’s wake is where we again as humans can dream, create and play in our vocations and in our relationships. In their fullness rather than in their particulars.

It is the more we need that actually doesn’t subtract from our experience within living. It is what Jewish-Christian holy books call eternity written on our hearts / stomachs / livers / the source of our motivations (depending on your culture’s language).

When our laps around the sun outpace our own life’s race, we won’t remember how clearly we could articulate why everything happened as they did. But others will remember how we found, created and related to goodness along the way.

This just might be the Golden Path, not a shortcut but the wide-open arc of human existence with all its pain and beauty wrapped up in its surprises.

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Lane Lareau

Lane Lareau

Husband, dad, peacemaker, storyteller || Empowering spaces for flourishing || He/him