Swimming, the Olympics and Chick-fil-A

Trust me, we’ve all seen it.  An Olympic swimming race – the top competitors from around the world.  They’ve competed to come to the Olympics.  Then they’ve competed to get into the finals.  Now they are swimming for gold.  Pundits debate the merits of this top contender and that top contender, and everyone knows that the gold will belong to one of the two.

The race starts.  It’s nose-to-nose for the two favorites.  But inevitably, there’s a few who lag behind.  They can’t keep up throughout the race.  They finish painful seconds behind the gold and the silver and the bronze.

As I watch the races, I think about those swimmers – the ones with no hope.  To get to this moment, an Olympic race, they have won many races.  They have been the favorites excitedly talked about by pundits.  They are the best in their country, and that is no small accomplishment.

They didn’t change.  They didn’t dive into the Olympic pool and suddenly lose all their skills.  It’s simply that when swimming with one group of swimmers, they are the fastest, fiercest swimmers. When swimming with another group, they simply can’t keep up.

I’ve been thinking about that and the Chick-fil-A debate.  Because, you see, I’m a lot like those Olympians.

In some groups of friends, I am the most liberal person in the group.  In other groups of friends, I am the most conservative.  Both are uncomfortable for me because I know my position on the Chick-fil-A issue (and no, I don’t care to share it here), and my position is actually moderate, at least I think so.

There is a lot of discussion about the extreme sides of this debate.  There is an expectation that people are the top two swimmers or the bottom, when in fact, I think most of us are somewhere in the middle.

It’s easy to idolize the people you view as the front runners and trash the people you view as the late finishers – the people you most agree with and the people you least agree with.  Some people will see me as the golden child – the one at front of the race.  Others will see me as lagging behind, backwards, from the country whose best was not good enough.

Because I have a diverse group of friends, I have heard a lot of opinions.  Many of them have underlying anger or sanctimony or pride.  I know these are important issues.  They hit us at our core beliefs and values.  But I hope that as we answer difficult questions, we will have grace.  That we would debate issues with love, not hate.  That like the Olympians, we would all go back to our corners of the world better for the experience of being in a pool of people so different from us.  (I’m not advocating us all becoming lukewarm in our beliefs. I think we can talk in a spirit of mutual betterment.  We might not agree, but we may realize that we’re less front runners and less late-comers than we all thought).

I’d rather the pundits not talk about me.  I don’t want to be the center of their attention.  I want to build relationships.

Dear Fifteen Year Old Me

me

This is me in 2007 when I lived in New Zealand. Take that fifteen-year-old me.

Reading this guest post on the (amazing) blog Great Smitten, by my friend Liz at Lark and Bloom caused me to examine my own sneaky dreams.

. . . . . . . . . .

If I were to look at my life today from the eyes of my fifteen-year-old self, I would consider myself a failure.

I lived in California from the time I was seven years old until I was 15.  Surf boards and eucalyptus trees and stucco homes with red tile roofs were the setting of my foundational years.  We learned about the gold rush (not the land run and not the Alamo), and we created alternative uses for the word like.

San Diego is where I fell in love with the sea.  It’s where I tracked out the course of my life to be a marine mammal biologist.  It’s where I actually got to work with dolphins.  It’s where I whale watched and cataloged tide pools.

I was passionate about my life goals.  My gung-ho fifteen-year-old self foolishly believed that all the people around me had once also desired to be marine mammal biologists, but they had let their dreams slip away and now they were shadow people – not doing the things they loved, settling for mediocrity.  I despised mediocrity.

I took loads of aptitude tests and every one of them came back saying my talents were in writing and design.  Every one was wrong, and I knew it.  My talents were in science and math.  Now, I never actually excelled in science and math, but I knew that somewhere deep down inside of me was a wellspring of left-brained brilliance. Besides, aptitude tests measured aptitude.  They didn’t measure passion, and I had loads of that.

It wouldn’t be until my senior year of high school that I finally reached my rude awakening and realized I would never be a marine mammal biologist.  I was a writer, not a scientist.  I was made to tell stories, not write grant proposals and analyze data.  I traded my childhood dreams for my real aptitudes.

New dreams evolved.  Now I was going to be a high-powered writer and wear expensive suits and drive a BMW.  Or I was going to live in the country and write in my romantic manor, just like in Under the Tuscan Sun.

Never in my dreams did I picture the reality of the giant student loan payments that came with my private college education, loving a low-paying job doing public relations for a non-profit, saving for months to spend a weekend in a cabin in Arkansas, and suburbia – my old idealistic self saw the suburbs as failure.  But here I am.  That is my life.

And it is a very sweet life.

I am blessed with the greatest husband, an amazing community, a little business and good job where I get to do good.  I have fabulous parents who still provide wisdom and a sister who stuns me with her photographic memory and heart of gold.  And me, the little girl who longed for a brother, now has four brothers-in-law.  I have family near and far and a passport with stamps and a master’s degree.  The Professor and I are learning Italian in hopes of going someday.  And I have a great little house in suburbia (thank you very much).  I’m not out lighting the world on fire, but we support missionaries who are fighting child trafficking, and we’re saving money so that one day we can have our own kiddos.

Yep, fifteen-year-old me would be so utterly disappointed.  Fifteen-year-old me would pronounce me mediocre.  Fifteen-year-old me sometimes haunts me and teases me and whispers in my ear that I’m a failure and that my world is small and my contribution meaningless.  But fifteen-year-old me had no idea what she was talking about and had the smallest, most narrow view of success.

Dear fifteen-year-old me, I still hate mediocrity.  I just have a better definition of it than you did.

What does your fifteen-year-old self tell you?

Life Lessons from a Peach

I am genetically programmed to love peaches.  Really.  I am.

Eight generations of my family are buried in Weatherford, Texas, a small town renowned for their peaches.  They grow six varieties of peaches that come ripe throughout the summer like waves of fuzzy infantrymen.  I love peaches and Weatherford so very much that I even have made the trek to the Parker County Peach festival.  And yes, it is as amazing as it sounds.

Peach Julip

Peach Julep from the Parker County Peach Festival

To say that I am a peach snob is an understatement of the greatest magnitude.  I judge peaches on their color, texture, firmness and, of course, smell.  I scrutinize each piece of fruit as if it were a crown jewel…which it kind of is, metaphorically at least.

After years of dedicated peach snobbery, here are the lessons I’ve gleaned.

1. Accept No Substitutes.
Do not buy peaches in winter! Yes, I know it’s summer in Chile, but peaches are not meant to travel that far.  They’re meant to be picked ripe and eaten quickly.  The end.  I don’t even buy domestic peaches until after July 4.

2. If a Peach Doesn’t Smell Good When It’s Under Ripe, It will NEVER Be Good.
I think this applies to so many areas of life.  When something is bad from the beginning, it will not ripen into something good.  It will always be sub-par.  The guy who treats you bad on your first date, who ignores you or pressures you or makes fun of your appearance will never ripen into a good husband.  And a flavorless peach will always be a flavorless peach, even if it softens over time.

3. Don’t Try Hoarding.  They Will Not Last.
Confession: too much of my favorite fruit goes bad before I eat it.  Not because I forget about it and not because I’m excessively wasteful.  I want to keep my peaches as long as possible and stretch their goodness out over days.  This does not work.

Perfectly ripe watermelon ferments (and it is a terrible smell).  My favorite fruit – fresh figs – shrivel up like too-wet toes.  And peaches rot.  Like all good things – the milky smell of infants, perfect sunsets and your grandmother’s wisdom – they all disappear too quickly.

4. Don’t Ruin a Good Thing
Canned peaches in syrup? Sacrilege!