Friday, October 25, 2013

Where "Better-than" is the Benchmark

You may not know it, but I live in a little corner of heaven on earth.  A town, that is right in the heart of “happy valley”.  I was born and grew up here, so naturally, I would want to raise my son here.  

This place is beautiful, stunning scenery, amazing seasons, well educated and well-placed in the sight of God. We really wouldn’t have it any other way...

My son is mid-way through his junior year in high school and I am just one year out of treatment for invasive breast cancer.  Happily, in Happy Valley, I lived to complain about it a bit.  In a funny way, coming through something so challenging, gives a person bragging rights; and yes, that is another quintessential thing that makes my corner of this lovely town what it is. 

My son goes to the “top school”, in a “top area” in a “top town”.  By the way, did I mention it?   Living here, like secondary smoke, a person by default inhales a perpetual undercurrent of the unspoken importance of winning, of being on top, of life at the top, where richness equal righteousness. 

He is on the Varsity Football team, with a program that would rival some Jr Colleges.  The parents and coaches of these young men wouldn’t have it any other way.  First in line, in heaven on earth, is what this culture is about.  

A natural people-watcher, I have seen him work his way though his pre-college school years, attending events from K-12 (almost). I've seen first-hand, the importance in this town of being at the top of your game.  It is the way of my local culture.  Yes, in my town, bigger is better, and better is the benchmark. 

Yet at my core, the truth of who I am in my soul is concerned for the well-being of one young man.  My young man.

I’ve been asking myself lately, how do I teach my son, amidst the head games of happy valley, that winning in life is subjective; that the best players don’t always play and that what constitutes a “win”, amidst the great-minds of his local culture, is not necessarily what benefits a man or woman in the long-run.  How do I teach my son, who works first-hand with adults who are addicted to the head-game of coming out on top, at all cost, (from the parents, to teachers and coaches, to the Mayor) that the measure of his manhood is his humanity. 

I’ve been sifting through the thoughts in my mind for the right turn of phrase to teach him that the only real win, comes from what he does with both his success and his so called failings. How do I express my core belief, that the administration of his manhood is beyond his standing; beyond what any one adult tells him (overtly or covertly) he has to be, in order to be first.  More importantly, that being first is often the fallacy that parents, coaches and teachers have bought into themselves and are reflecting onto him like a somewhat sick, yet congenital-congeniality.  

In the words of a friend, who gave him good council; words I wish could have come from a mentor-coach.  To teach him that it is more important what you are FOR, than what you are ahead of, or against, or in spite of.  Our friend told him good words in the language of the happiest of valleys, which was, of course:  

“The cream always rises to the top...”

Inspiring words, yet I find for me and for him, it is even more important to understand why the cream rises to the top.  

Contrary to the physics of happy valley, the cream rises, not because it pushes the milk aside for something better,  not because it sets the bar higher than it’s neighbor or needs to be affirmed by something outside of itself; but because what it is made of, on the inside, is less dense than the surrounding milk.  Because the cream is not weighed down by it’s surroundings.  Because the essence of it will eventually rise beyond it’s circumstance.  True to it’s form, what the cream does, by its very nature is adequate; that the natural way of feeling equal to things is the buoyancy of lasting contentment, and most importantly, that one of the truest measures of a man is the balance he is able to cast, between his sense of contentment and his passion.