~ by Christine Gough
Vocabulary and shades of meaning make my heart skip a beat. The 3rd grade teacher in me salivates a bit over the day when we get to pull out the thesauri and find the perfect word for our narratives. To push away from using mundane, overused vocabulary in favor of verbiage that truly fits the situation. And so, as I look over images from our recent vacation, this game of “find the perfect descriptor” begins.
We had planned this trip to Crater Lake and Sunriver awhile back and were so looking forward to seeing grandparents, watching friends get married and experiencing one of Oregon’s Seven Wonders together for the first time. And then, just days before departure, the newscasters began to report that there was a fire right on the Western Rim of Crater Lake. Close enough to the Historic Lodge and Visitor’s Center that the most efficient road in was closed. My carefully plotted and attained Lodge Room Reservation seemed like it might disappear before we ever arrived. Luckily, despite warnings, there were other routes in and the staff assured us it was safe to come to the Lake.
Finally packed and ready, bikes atop the van, we left for our trip, stopping quickly at the Library to grab the long-awaited reserved items that had arrived. Before we hit the road, I wanted to return one book that was close to its due date. No 50 cent fine for this responsible library-goer, thank you very much. As we drove down into the underground garage to put the book in the drive-up slot, a loud, ripping sound made me slam on the brakes. And with a sickening realization, we remembered the bikes on top of the van. No longer standing proudly, waiting for biking adventures.
Our regrets, tears, frustration, brokenness and car parts blocked the entry to the library. Drew wailed the words that were in my mind, “OUR VACATION IS RUINED. IT’S OVER!”
Calls were placed to the insurance. Friends helped us schlep the bikes home. The car parts were stowed and we hit the road, bound for Crater Lake, fire and all. Folks wrote on our Facebook wall that hopefully the worst incident of our trip happened at the beginning and that things had to look up from there. My eldest who, like me, can get stuck in the negative narrative, kept trying to say positive things and lift my spirits. And I realized I needed to be the one to pull myself up and out of that grimy, dark pit of negativity and be the adult. To change the story I was telling myself and displaying with my presence. To “fake it ‘til I made it,” like I tell my students time and time again. “Change the verbiage, Christine. Look for a new shade of meaning.”
Because of the mishap before we ever left town, I was feeling a bit anxious for all we would miss out on at our destination. We were going to be late. Check in was at 4pm and Trip Advisor had loudly and boldly reminded us through those who had gone before, that everything at Crater Lake would be crowded, busy and full of lines. And then we rounded the bend and this stretched before us…
Everyone tells you that Crater Lake will take your breath away. And. They are right. Its blue waters are truly otherworldly. So we stopped and took in the view (smoke in the distance and all…). We eventually made it around the lake, the long way. The surprise? We missed the crowded, line-filled check in. Greeted by calm, friendly staff, we got to our room. And despite the close up view of the fire out of one window, we had crystal clear sightlines to Wizard Island and Crater Lake out the other.
The choice of mindset became clear once again, God using whatever means possible to remind us. Which words do we choose? Which story do we tell? How do we model, as parents, the right response to life’s hiccups to our children? As we entered this long-awaited vacation, did we PRESS forward, like soldiers off to war, or WALK through, letting the views and beauty into the narrative?
These “shades of meaning” are so small but mean so much. I cried, like Drew my youngest, outside the library parking garage. I had many self-loathing thoughts coming through my head and out of my mouth just hours earlier. But the shade of meaning I was to choose had to be connected with the example I planned to set for the boys too. Fists clenched, teeth gritted, PRESSING on through our trip, determined to save it?!? Or WALKING forward, hands and eyes opened for the grace and beauty right there? It was the choice to be made. Just like the two windows from our room. Did we fixate on the window framing the fire and smoke and doom? Or rotate to the other showing the calm lake?
I am not one to ignore the realities, however painful, to be in LaLaLand, floating on a cotton candy cloud, downing hot chocolate and singing happy songs while the world is burning below. But we do have a choice. As parents we choose every single moment the story we tell our children, even without words. What is our knee jerk reaction after things don’t go according to plan? What words do we use with and towards the ones we live with and love most when they mess up? What lens do we chose to look through in the midst of difficulty? When the schedule and plan derails, what next?
My own kids and husband are reminding me through their actions of the answer. We walk. We don’t press or finagle. We aren’t called to coerce and manipulate. We walk. We take in the view, even if it is different from what we expected. And after we let the tears flow and say our truth, that “this ISN’T how it was SUPPOSED to be!” we can turn and look out the other window and maybe be freed to see what IS.