Tag Archives: freedom

Something Fishy

This summer, photographer Tim Samuel was freediving off the coast of Australia when he happened by a curious sight:  a fish stuck inside a jellyfish.  Who knows how the poor guy got into this predicament–a lost bet?, a quick dart for cover?– but there he was, encased in the transparent innards of another being, struggling to set his course.

Much like the Pushmi-Pullyu of Dr. Doolittle lore, the fish tried valiantly to steer in one direction, but the jellyfish had other

Doolittle's pushmi-pullyu
Doolittle’s pushmi-pullyu

ideas; that is, as much of an idea as a non-sentient creature can have.  So the two ended up in a frustrating dance, the fish leading in one direction for a few hopeful moments, then twirling in circles led by the motions of the jellyfish.

Utterly stuck.

I stared at the pictures of that little fish for a long time, alternating between fascination and pity.  This was no symbiotic clown fish-anemone bargain.

It was a Big Oops.

How long had they been existing like this?  Had he surrendered to his plight as the new normal or did he hold out hope of escape?   Do fish hope?

Sometimes we cruise along merrily, caught up in the current’s rush and not paying much attention, and something takes over, recharting our course.  Maybe it’s a surprise pregnancy, a sudden loss, or a change in job status.

Image: Tim Samuel
Image: Tim Samuel

Oh, hello, Jellyfish!  Didn’t see that coming.  We have to readjust, struggling to steer with limited visibility through the gauzy haze that’s fallen.  Eventually, we part ways with the jelly because it was a temporary retreat.  Like Jonah’s whale,  it spits us out once we’ve sat long enough to learn the lessons within.

Then there’s the more worrisome situation.  The light shines down through the waters one day just enough to light up our prison.  We wake up out of our fog and see the walls of our own making.  All this time we thought this was living.  Realization settles in and a lump grows in our throats:  Regret.

Imagine how the heart sinks.  We never took that class, got the degree, popped the cork on a bottle of chilled champagne.  One day we look around and our passports remain unstamped, our taste buds untitillated.  As we drifted aimlessly inside the jellyfish, the current made the easy choices for us, leaving the hard, messy, rewarding roads open for those who swam unswaddled by limits.  There, the lowest common denominator makes the rules, and too much of anything (joy, faith, love, discovery) is frowned upon.

Sometimes we’re lucky enough to get shaken awake and make a run for it.  Unlike the unfortunate fish, we can escape from the trodden miles of waste that lie behind (wasted time, chances, calories) towards a different path.  Outside the jellyfish there’s an abundant waste, one that comes from an overflow.  Outside the jelly, we are in all the pictures because makeup and good hair doesn’t matter.   There, we ride the rides, eat the chocolate, and take scary steps of faith because the alternative is a lack of oxygen and color that shrinks us.

Outside the jellyfish an alabaster jar pours a wealth of grace at our feet.  It’s okay–encouraged–to pray big, sing loudly, jump into a pile of leaves like when you were young, and be so touched by beauty or kindness that it brings tears.  It’s no big deal to learn to tango, start that novel, or dress up like a T-Rex because it taps into your happy.  You don’t have to go 3.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu, but at least you have the option.

We weren’t born to just pay bills and die.  Somewhere between wanting to be a fireman when we grew up and sitting on the porch in our 80’s with a blanket across our knees there’s big wet sloppy kisses and zip lines and ice skating.  There are broken hearts, outrageous risks, and the cold side of the pillow.  There’s stuff in us waiting to be turned inside out and shown to the world because that’s what living out loud and living on purpose look like.

Stretch out your arms big and wide.  Draw a breath from the well that lies low in the depths.  Relax your shoulders and neck from where you’ve been balancing all the shoulds and oughts and expecteds and think about that fish.  All that open ocean and he’s stuck tight turning in circles.  Regret like that is heartbreaking.  Let’s put on some Jailhouse Rock and blow this joint.





In a paralyzing lapse of judgment, a couple of years ago I signed up for one of those gimmicky exercise opportunities, a 5K scheduled for a pleasant spring morning.   The Foam Fest, it was called, to be held on beautiful Nashville countryside property.  The kicker–the fun part, as I billed it to my kids–was that it was also an obstacle course, with elements like plank walls and ditches.  They would be allowed, even expected, to get filthy.

foam fest group

Since the universe frequently uses me for free entertainment, the day of the event the temperature dropped twenty degrees and so began an unrelenting miserably cold drizzle.  My offspring cast wary looks at the gray skies and kept glancing at me (“the responsible adult”) to see when I would call the whole thing off.  No, no!  We would forge ahead!  What’s a little rain?  It would be refreshing!  We could DO THIS.

We fought valiantly.  Slogging through ankle deep mud, we cracked our knees on jagged rocks, helped heave and toss one another over the plank walls, and dragged each other through the inner tubes linked in waist-deep water.  We shouted encouragement as we army crawled, soaking wet, beneath an electrified mesh net, and we cheered weakly, shaking with hunger, when we spied the finish line.  By that time, we were thoroughly soaked, muddy and matted from head to toe, and so freezing cold that none of us could feel our fingers or toes.   “Almost there!” I buoyed them.  “We’ll get dried off and go get some warm lunch!”

Amidst crowds of hundreds of equally filthy runners, we stood at the back of the van and stripped off wet clothing.  Modesty?  Decorum?  Such words meant little in the face of frostbite and low blood sugar.  With the heater on full blast, I started the van to head on toward lunch and a hot shower.  We moved exactly two feet.  During the race, as the rain poured down, the hundreds of cars parked in the open cow pastures had slowly sunk, thousands of tires sucking into the soft mud below.  We were stuck.   Even the big, tough four wheel drives were spinning their wheels, mud showering any car within 10 feet.

For the first hour or two, people pitched in, neighbor helping neighbor, as teams pushed the lucky cars out one by one.  As each car moved, it left impassable muddy ruts behind, and the situation worsened.  We scavenged every stray cheerio and stale granola bar from beneath the seats, grateful it had been months since we last vacuumed the van.  As time wore on and the good Samaritans dwindled, people became more foam fest afterdesperate.  Two giant tractors were commandeered to pull the vehicles out one at a time.  Each time a tractor entered the field, people waved frantically, begging to be next.  My husband drove almost two hours to bring us food, tramping across the fields with it hidden in his coat.  We fell upon it like savage dogs.

Six. Hours.  Six hours after we passed the finish line, the tractor pulled us out to the road to head home.  Months later, after multiple car washes, I was still finding mud caked in the door frames of the van and my children shot me withering looks of how could you?! every time anyone brought it up.  Now, almost three years later, I think we’ve gotten to the point where we can laugh about it, albeit with a kind of careful, nervous tittering.

No way around it, stuck is tough to take.    This is true whether we’re trapped in a muddy field or whether it’s more of a feeling or state that’s got us mired.   Our culture adds pressure with demands for constant progress, advancement, transformations, and breakthroughs.   So we struggle and strive in what feerabbit pushingls sometimes like quicksand, unhappy with our “boring” marriage, fed up with our “monotonous” job, or impatient with not being able to “move on” from grief, fear, or anxiety.  Or maybe it’s just that we’ve worked forever on our one stubborn character flaw and it never seems to improve.  Endlessly treading water can be exhausting.  Anger and fear take over and we scream, wail, and fret our way into a tizzy, thinking we’ll use force of will and huge energy reserves to budge the immovable.

But that’s if we look at “stuck” as only inherently negative.   What if stuck is the best and simplest way to get our attention?   As a new mom, I was shocked when the nurses at the hospital demonstrated swaddling.  Take a red-faced, screaming, flailing infant and wrap her snugly in a blanket, her limbs effectively pinned, and she often calms right down, even drifts off to sleep.  What is this gypsy magic?!

Turns out, mini baby straight jackets keep babies from being disturbed by their own startle reflex.  Hmm.   Perhaps we’re wired from birth to need periods of being “stuck” to allow us to calm down, feel the Zen, and cut out the deafening mental chatter that runs rabbit acceptingnonstop otherwise.  Once we stop holding our breath in panic and resist that urge to gnaw off our own limb rather than face restraint in any form, a sense of calm acceptance takes over, new ideas and creative solutions bubble up from the silence, and the situation may appear totally different–less Pit of Despair and more Source of Revelation.

Could it be that when we feel the most “stuck” on land, our underground rivers are allowed to course freely, leading to wisdom and a depth of character we would have missed in our bustling path toward progress?    If we sit still and surrender to the present situation for a minute, a day, a year, what might we learn?

I’m not saying we should give up or “settle.”   The alternative to treading water is not to sink to a watery grave, but rather to float on your back for awhile.  If we simmer down and sit with things when we’ve hit a wall spiritually, emotionally, or professionally, taking stock without the fight or flight reflex screaming in our ears, we might be surprised.  Stuck can bring a startling peace.   Being stuck can help us notice people or resources we had overlooked or dismissed in our flailing.    It’s the truth that gets us unstuck, not striving or barreling or flailing.  The truth.  Oh, and sometimes tractors.




I am officially “old” today.  My oldest kid turns 18, the moment she’s been waiting for, when the heavens open up and the angels come down and bestow upon her the title of Adult, Grown Up, Legal.  She can magically do lots of things today that she couldn’t legally do yesterday:  vote, smoke, get a tattoo, buy a house, sign a lease, get married, change her name, buy a lottery ticket, get medical attention without consent, open a bank account, own a stock, get a credit card.  In short, she is now Completely Free to make lots of binding decisions that can affect the rest of her life.  If that’s not enough to age you as a parent, I don’t know what is.

The day she turned 5, I was handing out birthday cupcakes to happy kids in her kindergarten class.  That day, as it turns out, was also the day the World Trade Towers fell in New York City, the Pentagon was hit, and UA Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania.  A few weeks earlier, I’d braced myself to hand over my firstborn to teachers at a new school and now all I felt like doing was holing up in a safe bubble at home forever.

Because of the date, every birthday she’s had since then has been filled with memorials and pictures on the news and internet that never fail to bring back the exact emotions of that morning–panic, horror, fear, disbelief, despair.   Instead of giving into that fear, like everyone else, I learned to take a deep breath and forge on.  It was a good lesson for me to learn as a mom early on because over these past 13 years I have been constantly faced with a series of “trusting and letting go” moments as my daughter jumped into life with both feet.

As an Official Adult, she can, as Ghandi said, go forth and be the change she wants to see in the world.  When people ask when her birthday is, she used to kind of mumble the date and wait for the inevitable reaction–Oh.  Like she bore a disfiguring scar that she’d suddenly revealed.  I think the distinction has had an effect on her but not what you might expect.  With each passing year, she’s learned to wear her birthday like a badge, not a scar.  She has adopted a “yes, but” mentality, which has leaked out into other areas of her life.

Yes, 9/11 was a terrible day in our history, BUT it’s my birthday and we can celebrate THAT.  Yes, I messed up big that time, BUT each day is a new one and I can start over.  Yes, children are dying from hunger every day, BUT I can do something about things I’m not okay with (18000 for 18000 is an organization she started with her friend to make a difference).

I love that 9/11 doesn’t hold her back.  I love that she wakes up each September 11 excited about the day and eager to face it, DESPITE the feelings that creep back in each time it rolls around.  I love that she reclaims her right to that day as her own, unmarred by the cowardly acts by despicable men. I hope she will use her Newfound Freedom of Adulthood to do great things and plant seeds of goodness.  Freedom is the watchword of the U.S., our foundation and one of our greatest values.  It is what others tried to take from us in acts of terror, but fittingly, it is also our rallying cry and the cement that binds us together, enabling us to rise up in opposition and stand firm.   Now that she’s 18, and legally “free,” I hope my daughter will spread those wings of hers as she was meant to.  I hope she will come to see her freedom as a gift that’s ultimately meant for responsibility as well as exploration.  And, I hope she’ll have a blast letting her freedom ring!   Happy 18th Birthday, Sav!