On 14 September 2015, two men were crowned American Ninja Warriors. The first was a man thirty-six years old, a camera man, a father, an athlete and a philosopher. The second was a mountain climber, a busboy, an athlete and a philosopher. It was an inspiring pleasure to watch them. Still, neither one of them is my favorite Ninja competitor. My favorites both failed that night of nights. One, Joe Moravsky, also known as the Weatherman, fell in stage three. My absolute favorite, a man named Brian Arnold, fell in stage two because he could not let go.
I will write a bit more about what I learned from Brian Arnold in a few. First, I want to reflect on losing. I’m frustrated right not with how I’m beginning to lose track of things.
I’ve been trying to recall a line from some play or movie or television show that goes something like, “I never liked that thing.” I’m sure the line ends with some other word than “thing.” Anyway, I’ve been wanting to recall the line and its source because of its context. In the context of the scene the line is a surprise. It’s a surprise because the item seems like something precious so when the character says, “I never liked it,” our perception of the character, the scene and the thing itself are transformed.
That power of words to change the scene or our ideas is what most interests me about writing. It’s not JUST an old worn cliché that words have a power beyond what we expect. Words encourage, frustrate, wound and comfort us. William Blake (I’m told) had a little quote on his wall. “Damn braces; bless relaxes.” That is we curse the things that limit and restrict us, and we bless the things that ease us. Yes, and even more subtle, when we say “damn,” our lips close in tension. When we say “bless” our lips open and relax. Words change us, inside and out.
I suspect the necessity of change can be most successfully ameliorated by words. We must change. We will change, and words are the most abundant tools we have to confront that change with joy.
I once asked my dear mother, “Why must we get weaker and uglier and suffer more pain as we age?”
She said, “So we can allow ourselves to let got of this life.”
I was feeling sorry for myself when I asked her the question. I am often feeling sorry for myself, and my mother offers me many an insightful word to teach me maturity. It is hard to let go of things, especially if your stubborn nature has brought you much farther than most people might have expected you to go. Letting go is hard because it requires faith, courage, and (let’s face it) a sense of adventure. “Terrible things could happen if I let go.”
“Yes, and wonderful things.”
“I could fail if I let go.”
“You’ll fail if you don’t.”
When I saw Brian Arnold fail to let go of a metal ring, I saw him struggle valiantly, not just with an obstacle course. I felt how the angels must when they see someone struggle to move forward and yet falter. I drew in my breath. If only he had let go, I thought. It is something to contemplate, as I contemplate my retirement, my health, my work. Don’t be afraid to let go, Eva. Don’t be afraid.