Hoop-jumping and Free-falling
We went to the La Brea Tar Pits today. After years of home schooling my kids, it is strange that they have projects due for someone else. Clarissa has a project due for her biology teacher. I don’t get it, but I’m willing to risk our lives and drive her downtown L.A. on a Saturday for the points she needs to earn.
I am not a very good “hoop jumper” after all these years of (assuming at least), that I am jumping through no one’s hoops but my own. Of course the first time you have a boss, you get to choose whether you like a paycheck enough to jump through someone’s hoops or not. My students don’t know what I mean when I say, “ok for those of you who just want to know what hoops you have to jump through…” They have never seen a circus, I guess, where trained animals jump through hoops and the audience applauds as if the dog jumping through a round plastic thing has just written “Hamlet” or the lion just painted “The Last Supper”.
Do I think of God as Someone who wants me to jump through hoops? Do I think my God is the type of god who gives me creative license to be a work in progress? Does God want me to earn points for a grade or, like an Unschooling Parent, just want me to learn at my own pace? But a project due for a biology teacher is an important thing indeed.
My daughters and I looked around the Tar Pit; Clarissa there for her project, Verity there for her sister’s moral support. We tried to figure out good angles from which to take pictures, as this was part of the requirement. For biology. It was one of those lovely, May Saturdays that keep us tethered to Los Angeles; One of those postcard days when we forget about the hideous heat, the hideous smog, and the even more hideous traffic. Families of every culture on the planet, and come to think of it, probably from off our planet too, were enjoying the sun, and seventy- something perfect degree weather, and each other. I didn’t hear a single parent screech at their child. There was a man sporadically playing the banjo and a man surreptitiously offering to do your portrait for sometimes three dollars and sometimes ten. I guess he based the price on the clothes you were wearing. He offered to do ours for three. A police sort –of- man on a bike with a bright yellow vest and heavy- duty helmet, wove authoritatively, yet with an air of counter-serious enjoyment, through the clots of families. We were grateful the assignment did not include having to tour the museum; we had plans for the evening to take Dad out for Sushi for a belated birthday present. We planned on a quick in and out, but we dallied. Sunshine in May after a long, wild drive down freeways and Wilshire Boulevard, make for a dallying frame of mind.
At the La Brea Tar Pits, there is, at least for Los Angeles, an even more rare natural phenomenon than the pit itself. There is a hill. Though a common phenomenon in the Midwest of my childhood, hills are as sporadic as parking spaces here in SoCal. There are mountains, (which we don’t actually do well in the Midwest) but there are very few grassy hills, gentle knolls, inviting hummocks. The hill at the La Brea Tar Pits is a good, old fashioned, grassy, spotted with clover, rolling hill. Not rolling hills, mind you, but a single Rolling Hill i.e. a hill to roll upon.
There is obviously imbedded in human nature the world over, and perhaps, for all I know, by beings on other planets as well, the deep need and desire to roll down a hill. Now some people that I know desire to climb mountains, to conquer very high scary, things. But every single person in the universe, and you can quote me on this, desires to roll down a good hill.
There in the City of Angels, surrounded by high rises, billboards, drug deals, crime, trash, and tar pits, were children of every age, color, shape, and size, rolling down a hill. I was envious of the families who still had children unashamed to roll down a hill. I knew if my girls had been there with their friends, and especially if those friends included boys that they wanted to impress, my teenage girls would have been laughing and rolling and flirting and rolling and fake complaining and rolling down the only hill in Los Angeles County. But my teenagers were there with their mom and even though they know she is a hill-rolling kinda’ lady, she is never ever to be a hill-rolling kinda’ lady when around her children. Never. Ever.
I miss my little kids. I love my teens, but I miss my children. Especially when there’s a good hill to roll down.
There was one Filipino family, (why oh, why Filipino are you not spelled with a Ph?) with two adorable little boys, probably about five and three years old. The parents stood expectantly waiting, two arm lengths away from me at the bottom of the hill. My girls were taking their last pictures of the tar pit from the top of the hill they wouldn’t dream of rolling down. The parents said sweet encouraging “rah yea!” things while the boys in their little jeans and little striped shirts swayed like miniature drunken sailors at the top of what to them must have looked like a mountain in the Andes. Then the one whose height and form of face betrayed him as the elder, lay down and began to roll hesitantly down the hill. When he began to pick up speed, he would naturally, as all humans and aliens know to do, stop himself, look at his parents for confirmation that it was safe to continue, and then start rolling again. Meanwhile, the little one sat down.
Now I myself, am quite afraid of heights, so I immediately, understood the dilemma of Boy the Younger. If he let himself go willy- nilly down, what to him was a gihugic mountain, he might be crushed on the shoals of the other children and dogs and clover far below. If on the other hand, he remained frozen at the top, he would not only be humiliated in front of his big brother, especially if one of his parents had to make the long slog up to carry him down like a baby!!, but he would also have to be carried by said parent. Said parent might carry Boy the Younger hurriedly and therefore carelessly, down the hill, and that would be scary. Said parent is taller than the boy and carrying him would make him even higher up and further off safe ground, since he would be in the arms of an adult, albeit a parent, but a tall person with other things on his or her mind nonetheless. He might be dropped!!! Humiliation and fear were making a job of it in the little boy’s every expression.
So the little fellow made an executive decision and I had to hand it to him. He had his cake and ate it too, so to speak, which might mark him as either a future politician, Mafioso, or the next Ghandi. He began a sort of a three-quarter roll down what was now The Hill with capitals. He opted for a sort of magician’s helper act with half his body going one direction and the other still stationary in the magic box so to speak. It was an illusion trick – how to make the audience think you are rolling down a hill, when you are actually safely scooting down a hill. He was moving with his little chunky legs and jean-clad bottom turning over and over down the hill, while his little round head and upper torso sort of sat upright so he could keep his eyes firmly fixed on Mom and Dad and flat ground at the bottom of The Hill.
After a couple little leg/bottom rolls, he would stop, to make sure everyone was buying his magic act as a full- out roll down the hill act. As his parents seemed just as happy with his pseudo-roll as his brother’s reckless abandonment in motion, he continued to flip his lower three-quarters as if he had a little pancake flipper in his chest, while his eyes warily watched for traffic and dinosaurs and his head stayed firmly upright.
And I realized as I watched this little guy on a sunny, perfect spring day in California, that spiritually I am just like him. No matter how good my life is, no matter how much God has blessed me and mine with protection and food and money and I-pods, I worry that if I let go and really, truly let God control things, I will fall willy- nilly down life’s hill and not stop falling until I crash at the bottom. And I will be embarrassed and humiliated in front of friends and strangers who roll perfectly down Life’s Hills, hills with capitals. At my age, I know crashes hurt and falls humiliate. A lot. I could break a hip. I could be on Crime Stoppers, not as a detective. Knowing me, I could end up rolling down The Hill, rolling over the fence and rolling into the primordial tar pit!
Furthermore, I know that unless I keep upright with my eyes fixed on the bottom of Life’s Big Hill, and guard against bad things that lurk under every clover blossom, I will not end happily like the older brother, with applause and “well done good and faithful hill roller”, but I will end up with bee stings, and bruises, and people laughing and getting angry at me for getting grass stains on my jeans and God will not be a sunny pat –on- the- back- applauding Father, but God will be a mean, silent rainy day all alone at the bottom of a pointless hill. I know this in my little child’s heart as sure as that little boy knew he could not possibly roll down The Hill alone. So I go through life rolling my little jean clad legs in a three quarter roll down The Hill while I keep my eyes and head upright, afraid to give up control in case I might be hurt or embarrassed. Because I don’t think my god is big enough to steer me at Life’s Top, let alone big enough to catch me at Life’s Bottom.
This morning at church we sang that lovely old hymn by Fanny Crosby, “He Hideth My Soul”, and I cried, as I often do during hymns or the reading of scripture. Today I felt weepy for the little child-me who feels she has to keep her head upright and her eyes nervously scanning the valley for dinosaurs. I felt sad for “Little Me” who never can quite believe that God loves me enough to take care of me and the people I love. I wish I didn’t feel like I always had to be in control. Can you imagine the loss of control in being blind? Fanny Crosby was blind because of a doctor’s mistake, but she didn’t complain. She said once that if she could have chosen to be blind, she would have, because she knew that by being blind, the first face she would ever see would be the face of Jesus. Imagine what a crazy, wild hill-roller Fanny Crosby must have been!
I think about the little guy on the hill. I see his stern little worried face looking into the huge distance of his hill and his life. I wish I would have not worried about his parents having me arrested or my girls being embarrassed at me, or my own fear of heights and embarrassment at unwarrented attention, and I wish I had gone on up that hill and grabbed that little boy in my arms and hugged him tight while together we rolled recklessly down the hill. Jesus would have been there rolling with us as He promised: “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, rolling down hills, there I will be also.”
I imagine Jesus loved to roll down the hills of Nazareth. Talk about a Dude who was one crazy, reckless, unashamed, out of control Hill Roller! I feel sad we have made Jesus so serious and robbed him of the hilarity of His phenomenal hill rolling, of His abandoned joy in the journey, of His acceptance of the irony of not knowing what the future holds even though He was God, of the rock and rolling communion of laughter with His buddies, and of Jesus’ great love – so great He could hold a friend in his arms; He could hold the World in His hands and together roll, and roll, and roll down Life’s Big Hills. When we have a Friend like that, we no longer need to be afraid to let go and roll with God.
I see some pretty big Life Hills ahead. We all get to go down big hills in this life – a parent’s death, a friend’s divorce, a child’s illness, a scary test result, a betrayal, a big mistake. I hope I will be brave enough to in the words of another great hymn, “Turn my eyes upon Jesus”. He has his eyes laser-locked on mine, waiting at the finish line. He already rolled down all the Big Hills, and He rolled down in my place The Biggest Hill of All. Jesus climbed The Big Hill of Calvary, and He carried me down Golgotha’s Hill on His bloodied back and in His pierced hands. Jesus rolled down Calvary’s Hill unafraid because He knew The Father was waiting at the end and that The Father was big enough to control any Fall. The Fall. The Hills I face today or tomorrow will seem quite small to Jesus, Hill-roller Extraordinaire.
Perhaps I will get another chance to grab one of God’s children standing alone and afraid at the top of The Hill and together we will roll and roll and roll, and not look down once. We will keep our eyes turned up to the heavens and we will be laughing and rejoicing as we free fall forward on Life’s Hill. We won’t be afraid because Jesus will be rolling with us, willy-nilly, out of all control except the Father’s.