Original publish date: May 9, 2013
Oh The Places We Went
Along the hall in my home the words, “Oh the Places You’ll Go” hang above art and posters representing the places I’ve gone. From the Great Barrier Reef to the edge of America’s West Coast, the places I’ve traveled are memorialized on my walls. It is, of course, a nod to the Dr. Seuss book about life and its many adventures. When it came time to return to Huntsville from my 18-month stay in Gulf Shores, I began the desperate search only a perfectionist/procrastinator can make. The perfect piece of art to join my hallway collection had to be found. Visits to off-the-beaten-path galleries were made. I flipped through pictures and marveled at paintings. Nothing struck my fancy. Nothing that could encompass angry people, grateful athletes, fresh seafood, musical events, lonely weekends on the beach, sand in everything, tennis, and the great fight was found. The wholeness of my beach life was too complicated to be put in a frame. As such, nothing hall-worthy made its way home with me.
During that time, I spent much energy focusing on how I’d honor this time. How would I use this experience in my future? What would I bring with me? If I couldn’t find anything to hang on the wall, surely the representation would come in my personality. Yes, I’m different now – but only slightly. I’m stronger, wiser, and more determined. Wouldn’t that have happened anyhow? Most likely. I was consumed with a genuine desperation to define and honor this magnificent experience that I wasn’t allowed to share with any external souls.
As it happens every spring in North Alabama, the brownish grey of winter gives way to the green of spring. As the season subtly transitions, a dusting of yellow pollen covers the region. The fine granules work their way through closed windows and screen doors. On the streets, piles of this allergen are stirred up as cars head forward toward their destination. Glancing in my side mirror, I watched it swirl and scatter in my wake. It was this simple, out-of-the-corner-of-my-eye sight that perfectly epitomized the struggle I was navigating internally.
Life is constantly happening. Seasons are constantly changing. We’re all just passing through this place. Why would you focus on what you bring with you to the next place? Instead focus on what you leave behind. Our legacy has very little to do with what we hang on walls or stories we tell. Our legacy is about improving this place. Honoring our past means doing the best in our present so when it becomes our past, we have made it better.
When I look back at my time on the Deepwater Horizon Spill Response team, I see a legacy of which I am incredibly proud. I recall communities we rebuilt, lives we enhanced, and industries we revitalized. We did it in the face of intense criticism and pressure. We created a legacy by establishing programs that will last for decades. Looking back over my life, I see I’ve always grown not by what I took. I grew by what I left. Addition by subtraction.
At the exact moment I shifted my perception, peace grew strong in my heart. The anxiety created by trying to honor the experience settled. We always say that God only gives us what we can handle. Challenge that. Take on what you can handle. Choose what you release. I choose to release that anxiety. By doing so, I’m finally done chewing on this experience.
Regardless if I ever find anything materialistic to symbolize my precious time at the beach, it stays alive in the memories of what I left in my wake. That is more amazing than anything you can hang on a wall.