Just Be Nimble

Not so steady

We circled the flickering campfire as the balmy day gave way to a cool evening breeze. Quietly inspired by the massive peaks standing watch over the rugged southern California landscape, a momentary hush fell upon us. The day’s end encouraged reflection. Clearly this was a Kumbaya moment, with the expectation of guitar accompaniment. Our daughter scanned the scene and then asked her dad if he brought his guitar. “Nope,” came the matter-of-fact reply. “Why not?” she asked, disappointed. Em searched for the right words, “Because my hands aren’t as steady as they used to be. In fact, I don’t really play just for enjoyment anymore.” Iris’ tone softened, “I didn’t know that.” 

Just a dusty memory

Even without songs around the campfire, our adventure was still a delight as we made some sweet memories together. But, that lingering fireside question about the guitar triggered some reflective moments the following day on the drive home. For the past 50 years, we’ve written music and sung together, accompanied by a guitar—always a guitar. We were college-age during the folk music years and imagined that we’d just continue in that mode. The simple question during the camp-out prompted conversation that uncovered a looming realization that our musical form of self-expression is limited. At 71 years of age, we expect a dimming spotlight on our favorite pastime. Perhaps only a certain number of songs remain to be written—20, 15, single digits?

Life certainly has its earthly limits. We’re painfully aware of the ever-diminishing natural resources in the world around us. As much as we try to stay focused on abundance, there’s a subtle ever present thought that scarcity does exist. Everything eventually gives-way to the ages. So, the realization of personal limitations is not really a big surprise. 

For us, abundance and scarcity show-up together. Everything is defined by its opposite. Rather than deny the negative aspects, why not look for their value? How can we accept and even find peace with something that we interpret as negative? Acceptance, integration and transition are steps needed to embrace the whole. Maybe pesky tremors can actually point the way to new and surprising possibilities. 

Our path, for now

Our conclusion: We’ll continue walking our current path with whatever brings us joy for as long as we can. Then, one day an urge will cause us to shift. Maybe we’ll find ourselves being nudged closer to the next dream as Em’s once-steady hands lay down the guitar. That moment will be our pivot-point, when we turn from that which we love and have loved, to something new—perhaps even better. The essence of those curious inflection points in life is captured beautifully in the following poem, “Snowbanks North of the House,” by Robert Bly—from his collection called The Man In The Black Coat Turns:

The mystery of “Why?” remains, quietly hidden in the “When?” We remind each other to “just be nimble.”

Snowbanks North of the House

Those great sweeps of snow that stop suddenly six
feet from the house …
Thoughts that go so far.
The boy gets out of high school and reads no more
books;
the son stops calling home.
The mother puts down her rolling pin and makes no
more bread.
And the wife looks at her husband one night at a
party, and loves him no more.
The energy leaves the wine, and the minister falls
leaving the church.
It will not come closer
the one inside moves back, and the hands touch
nothing, and are safe.
 
The father grieves for his son, and will not leave the
room where the coffin stands.
He turns away from his wife, and she sleeps alone.
 
And the sea lifts and falls all night, the moon goes on
through the unattached heavens alone.
 
The toe of the shoe pivots
in the dust …
And the man in the black coat turns, and goes back
down the hill.
No one knows why he came, or why he turned away,
and did not climb the hill.


Credits

Title inspiration:  “Jack Be Nimble,” the 1800s rhyme from England. Good luck was ascribed to those who could jump over a candle stick without dampening the flame. May we all aspire to such daring and resolve in the face of challenge!

 

Related Story and Music: Turn Around

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