Friday, May 21, 2010

What Ships Are Built For

Birdland is lush with vegetation and slick with rain. The corn is coming up in fuzzy green stripes, and the beans are still just tiny leaflets adding thinner green lines to the field. We are rich in flowers; sunny Daisies and Grandma’s yellow roses have joined the red-blue hues of Iris, Sweet Rocket, and Nanny’s Peonies. We fill every vase and bottle and old teapot with bouquets. Spring is such a time of growth. Last weekend we had a small family party to honor our two graduates—Dylan from College and Ellis from Middle School. I was so busy with party preparations—baking, cooking, cleaning, moving furniture to accommodate conversation and mingling—that I didn’t have time to let the reality hit me of having watched my middle son’s transition from the shelter of school into the cold world. Chris Matthews spoke at Dylan’s graduation in Chicago, giving refreshingly realistic advice. He spoke to the entire graduating class as if they were all journalism graduates facing the grim prospect of scrambling for the few jobs that experienced reporters are also competing for. He gave a five-point plan for surviving long enough to prosper in this difficult job market. His advice was about networking and friendship, remaining humble and working hard. I can’t remember all five points, but I came away sharing his hope that these young people can face their tremendous challenge with vigor and grace.

Dylan’s graduation also gave me a reason to revisit something I stumbled upon when I was facing one of the biggest challenges of my life. When it seemed like my road was rocky and all uphill and filled with peril, I realized that although I may not be able to choose the landscape, I can choose how I walk down that path.
I do have the power to walk with dignity and respect, to face those hazards with honesty and elegance. I can also choose which direction I walk, and I’m choosing to walk my path toward Joy. That doesn’t mean taking shortcuts toward gratification. At times the path may wind around and go back upon itself, but maybe I just needed to come upon something from a different angle to understand its particular lesson. In Birdland I made myself a reminder of my path to Joy, in my winding trail to the barn. It is bordered with Sedum and Day Lilies, Daffodils and Lavender. Before the party I mulched it and set out some baskets and pots with leeks and onion sets.

It is part flower patch, and part vegetable container garden to remind me that we need both beauty and sustenance; we need to nourish both body and soul. My path will remind me of where I am going, and how to maintain my dignity and optimism. It will remind me that honest labor can be satisfying. My hope for my sons is that they discover their own paths to Joy, and travel them with vigor, buoyancy, and grace.

Dylan begins a fresh adventure next week, as he sets sail with his grandparents across a wide ocean. I encouraged him to go, but as he gets ready to embark, I admit I’m more than a little nervous. He will be out of sight of land and out of touch with the world for three weeks or more. No facebook or twitter updates for me to check—the equivalent of tiptoeing into my sons’ rooms when they were babies, to watch them silently breathing in the night. The soft rise and fall of the blanket assured me that all was well just like a status update can provide me with reassurance without intruding too much. I know that the trip may be dangerous, but I also know that this is an important passage for him. Plus, he can put a new bullet point on his resume: • Deckhand on a Transatlantic Crossing. I was admitting my fears to my friend, Barb, and she gave some wisdom in the form of a quote: “A ship in harbor is safe -- but that is not what ships are built for.” A quick google search revealed that this is from John A. Shedd’s Salt from My Attic, published in 1928. Bon Voyage, my Dylan. Your ship was built to take you on an exciting journey toward Joy. It’s only now beginning.

Sail in Beauty; Navigate Peace; Blessed Be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She is very proud of her three sons and will spend the next several weeks checking weather updates for the Atlantic Ocean.


  1. Loved this one! Glad you are still on your path to joy!

  2. Awww...thanks, Amanda. You're sweet. I admit I sometimes stray from my path, but getting back on course gets easier with practice.