Monday, April 4, 2011

Of Limits and Flying Shoes

One of our family's favorite games is called "Mille Bornes", or "1,000 Stones." It's a French card game based on the idea of an auto race, the object of which is to lay down enough mileage cards to reach one thousand miles (milestones) before one's opponents do the same. For the sake of interest, not to mention verisimilitude, there are helps and hazards to be played for and against oneself and one's competitors in the course of the race. One of the more frequent obstacles to be played is the familiar speed limit card, which can be dispensed with if you are the lucky holder of a corresponding "End of Limit" card.

Would that such valuable gambits existed in Real Life. I find lately that limits smack me in the face with less warning and more impact than ever before.

Over the weekend, Mr. Bill and I went to the cinema to take in the new release, "Limitless." [One-sentence review: hardly a classic, but novel, entertaining escapism.] The film follows the journey of a struggling writer whose life is catapulted into unimagined success by virtue of an experimental drug that gives him supernatural focus and access to his brain's full potential. Under this influence he is, virtually, limitless. But, as we all know, real life is full of limitations.

And if it is frustrating to bump up against the reality of my own limitations, how much more so when others supercede their limits and trespass onto my domain?

And so it was last night, when my own personal boundaries were again exceeded by a son's folly, that our front door was enexpectedly opened and his shoes became airborne, landing with an unimpressive squish onto our sodden front lawn.

I have no idea whether any curious neighbors happened to witness this little display, or whether they may have reacted with bemusement, astonishment, or worse. I just know that my ability to absorb further disrespect and boundary violations collapsed at that moment, and I needed some impact, however ludicrous it may have appeared.

Cathartic? Well, that may be stretching it. Attention-getting? Um, yes. Sudden silence reined for a few minutes before the prodigal's brother began sputtering in disbelief and confusion.

This is probably to be expected. Today's conventional wisdom apparently includes the erroneous notion that parents' longsuffering is limitless. Well, not at this house. I don't even think it's particularly helpful to perpetuate this myth. No one and nothing in this fallen world is without limits. A clue? Prisons. Cemetaries. Pink slips. Hospitals. Eruptions of all kinds. Limits are breached and "surprises" ensue.

As I once heard Chuck Colson observe, failure to freely self-govern inevitably leads to diminished personal freedoms. Few of us want to believe this but, alas, experience repeatedly bears it out. If we're not willing to acknowledge and respect where our rights end and another's begin, things quickly "go south." Far better to learn this early on and treat others as we want to be treated. This means understanding and living within reasonable limits.

I am learning, albeit with painful slowness, that life works better when I live within limits. Not arbitrary limits, but those that proceed from wisdom.
And even this--finding wisdom--requires me to face my own limitations because wisdom does not originate from me.

“Where then does wisdom come from?
Where does understanding dwell?
21 It is hidden from the eyes of every living thing,
concealed even from the birds of the air.
23 God understands the way to it
and he alone knows where it dwells,
24 for he views the ends of the earth
and sees everything under the heavens.
27 then he looked at wisdom and appraised it;
he confirmed it and tested it.
28 And he said to man,
‘The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom,
and to shun evil is understanding.’”

[Job 28, selected]

But, as my experience last night demonstrated, such lessons can be offered, but receiving them is up to the other party. Since he's not interested in learning yet, I hope he at least picked up his shoes.

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