One of the beautifully profound aspects of the arrival of a new baby, is the event’s effect on baby’s siblings. Now adjusting to the myriad impacts of grandchild number four, I’ve been blessed to watch the evolving reactions of her brothers and sister. The natural fascination of children comes fully alive when intersecting with the mystery of birth. Watching mommy change little Blair’s diaper, big brother Cooper recently asked about the remnant of umbilical cord attached to her belly button.
How do we appropriately articulate the miracle of birth to a five year old? My suggestion is that less is more when it comes to the details, but I’ll leave that to mommy and daddy as one of the joys of the parenting experience. However my daughter responded to the question, Cooper’s ears and imagination walked away from it with the powerful awe and wonder that makes being five years old absolutely magical. Later that day, mommy and daddy watched with loving smiles as Cooper, playing the superhero in the living room, brought his “ability cord” to bear against a host of evil villains.
I’m not exactly sure how the “ability cord” manifested itself in battle as it seemed to be a weapon along with a collection of other critical powers like super strength and the gift of flight. Regardless, Cooper was able to turn it to good as he fought-off the forces of evil. Score one for the good guys.
Aside from the beautifully innocent mistranslation of “umbilical cord” to “ability cord,” the direction of Cooper’s misunderstanding gives a precious insight into what his mind’s open field saw as the perfect use of such a thing. What could be more appropriate than being gifted super powers by one’s own mother through the process of birth and a magical ability cord?
As I write this post, I’m at the close of a three day men’s retreat in the beautiful wooded hills of southern Indiana. I use “retreat” in the most leisurely application of the term as these few days have had no agenda, no presentations, and no structure other than a few meals. It has been a true escape from the norm encapsulated in the simple form of some guys gathering under one roof for the camaraderie, and common denominator, of manhood.
One of the most interesting aspects of this experience is the fact that, walking into it, the only person I knew was one of the organizers. Over the last few days I’ve spent extended time with 14 strangers under one roof with no agenda, limited background, and no expectations. Considering it beforehand, my mind was truly a blank slate. It made me realize how infrequently I meet new people outside of work, and the difference in interactions without that frame of reference.
Seeing each of these individuals for the first time and watching my understanding of them evolve, I was struck by the rich depth of each man that emerged through a series of interactions. How often do we get to move beyond first impression to “getting to know” someone in such a compressed fashion? Quite rarely for me. It seems that food, bourbon, guns, nature, boats, cards, and detachment can bring fourth much from a group of guys.
Super Hero Days
Sitting here, this morning, in the dark quiet of the house with a lake behind me and the hint of the day glowing over tree-covered hills to the east, Cooper’s fantastic imagination dances across my mind as I consider the full-grown men still asleep in their rooms. I’m afraid most of us have left our super-hero days behind and I’m not going to accuse anyone here of such unreasonable imagination (though I might recommend it), however, I can’t seem to get Cooper’s “ability cord” out of my mind.
You see, every man I’ve encountered over the last few days has brought gifts and struggles, hopes and dreams, fears and doubts, and various expressions of their own individuality into this open range of interactions. No small groups, facilitated sessions, counseling, or any other kind of therapeutic exchange has been present. Just plain and simple togetherness with no fuss or expectation.
In such an environment, something interesting occurs. Conversation. Laughter. Insight. Argument. Agreement. Ideas. Concerns. Joys. Gratitudes. The pieces begin to emerge. The parts that comprise the human experience come together in new ways and the wedges that sunder get left behind…maybe even forgotten. Frank conversation without some kind of end in mind is released into a world so often burdened with artifice and manipulation. Here, something profound happens as you find threads of connection that didn’t exist moments before and begin to feel tied to other individuals, and the world, in new and surprising ways.
In the absence of the need to impress, convince, or obtain, something else starts to happen. Here, we begin to receive. Here we begin to feel a different form of humanity. One unencumbered by what the world tells us we need to feel, expect, or project. If you pause and allow yourself to consider it, to let your heart and mind wander across it for a few moments, it starts to feel real, like soft, crumbling soil in your hand, or cool water running over your feet. Grounded. Elemental. Real.
Cooper was on to something. It seems that the magic of the “ability cord” is actually hidden in how it connects us to what matters and what it allows us to do from there. The superpower, conveyed in birth, and gifted by the mother who bore us, lies in how we bridge to the world around us and make meaning in that process. Those special gifts, carried by us as individuals, become super in the fashion they are shared and grow in the process of their giving.
This week, consider your own “ability cord,” twisting, turning, connecting. Where are your superpowers manifesting themselves? How are they being shared? Who stands at the end of those connections and who remains disconnected? We are the only stewards of our time, of our gifts, and of our affections. Ultimately, the super hero hidden within becomes fully alive through the stewardship of our inheritance. See your “ability cord” for what it is: your own gifts connected to the world in all the ways that matter.