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Leave it safer than you found it

I turned left instead of right and found myself on the trail in the wooded path. You’ve got to watch yourself along these. Roots and sticks and brambles galore. Every so often an industrious spider has extended himself across the way and surprises me with a sticky netting that needs brushing off. Clearly, no one has passed this way recently.

I navigate the down slope safely and slow to face the creek bed that lies ahead. Exposed roots act as nature’s staircase as I step on down to the stones aligned to ford the small stream. Two jumps and I am facing the far slope. Steep, with one indentation in the dirt several feet up that is meant to hold my sneaker. I hesitate to consider my options. Turn back or risk it. Then I see the root wrapped in black burlap extending from the right ledge. Someone has thoughtfully provided a handhold to assist in the climb. I grab it and mount the bank without incident.

With renewed energy I tackle the uphill. Uphill is safer. Less slippage. More traction. It is cool and shady so I don’t mind the increased effort. What I do mind is the broken bottle that I barely avoid. I stop to lift it carefully by the neck and toss it off into the leaves where it won’t be a hazard. Runners and hikers wouldn’t be in danger, but I am thinking of the exposed paws of four-footed companions who might travel this way. Who would be so careless to leave broken glass?

Then I realized just how close this path was to the road. Obscured by a few trees and a small rise, it ran parallel and only about ten yards away. Any passing motorist could discard debris at will, perhaps even reveling in which tree they could target and how big the explosion of glass when it struck. Their Molsons and Miller Lights would rain gleefully down on this path. Harmless fun until an unsuspecting creature slices a foot or paw.

Looking more carefully now, I see piles of glass scattered at intervals. Shards in several colors, camouflaged among the leaves. I sweep the danger of this pile aside, then move on to the next and the next. I can’t hope to remove all the risk; but what I see, I remove. To clear the path for whomever might come along next. Just as some unknown soul did for me when he hung black burlap on the right hand root so I’d have a hand up and wouldn’t fall.

I ran on, occasionally stopping to shove away debris or brush away spider webs. I took care to keep to the path in the parts that had been narrowed by overgrowth, aware that the weight and disruption of my footfalls maintained and marked the path. This, too, was an offering so the next runner, next hiker, next Labrador Retriever, would find it easier to follow and just a bit safer.

At camp grounds in our parks the wilderness rangers always advise, ‘leave the camp ground cleaner than you found it.’ I can go them one better: ‘leave the path safer than you found it.’

Suddenly, my children come to mind. My flesh and blood kids and all the others I have come to know and love through the years. And I wonder if here in the woods I have stumbled on a mission statement: “To make the way safer for those who come after you.”

I would dearly love to keep them safe from all harm, but that is beyond my power. All I can do is make the path I travel a bit safer, and perhaps even more inviting, for them to follow.

Golfers…is it hazard, boundary or OB?

Some games have foul lines. On or inside, the ball is in play. (baseball)

Some games have touch lines. On or inside, the ball is live. (soccer)

The ruling is made by an official with regard to the ball and not the player. Unless you’re playing pick up ball, where the loudest and most authoritative kid usually prevails.

Out of bounds stakeBut golf is different. Golfers contend with two kinds of lines: boundaries and hazards. Hit it out of bounds and all is lost – stroke, distance, plus penalty – although you might be able to rescue your golf ball. But hazards you can play out of, if you dare.

They pose an interesting challenge:

  • is it safe?
  • is it wise?
  • is it fair?

Golfers regularly navigate hazardous territory. Errant golfers more than the rest. We trudge through long, bug-infested, reptile-inhabited grasses, foraging for our ball. If we find it, we’re gonna try and play it. Even if this is unwise or the shot is low probability. Without grounding our club, we’re going to blast it out of the muddy water, drive it through the reeds, and sail it up and onto the green. So what if our shoes, socks and outerwear are decorated with goose poop. We got it out!

I have enjoyed watching players at the Junior PGA Championship this week.

8 fairway, from the tall grass

8 fairway, from the tall grass

They have me reminiscing about my heyday, which bears little resemblance to the way these kids play. Nearly always, they hit the fairway. It gets more interesting when they land in a hazard. Then they must elect whether to play it or take a drop.

Dropping it is safe, but it costs you a stroke. Playing it is risky, but it doesn’t. In the hazard, they decide. I love this moment for these kids (score and outcome aside). It offers them something our culture rarely does – a gray moment all their own.

So much for us is black and white and safe all over. Fair or foul. In or out. Rulings move the game along. But what of stepping over the barrier and into the hazard? What of stepping through difference to investigate options? What of stepping beyond comfort to engage whoever and whatever we find there?

Today I read this from inward/outward:

Breaking down the barriers between the givers and the receivers of aid, between those who have and those who have not, is an essential expression of the solidarity that liberates the privileged from their blindness and the marginalized from their invisibility. ~ Theodore W. Jennings, in  

Trump NationalHave we mistaken the hazard markers for out of bounds stakes? We, the “haves,” who know that OB stakes are white and hazard markers are red, are not meant to be blind to color but to see all of life in its shades. It’s so very like God to use a gray zone to sharpen our vision:

  • is it safe?

  • is it wise?

  • is it fair?

Those, we’re meant to distinguish. Out of bounds? nope. Hazardous? perhaps. Worth it?

Some boundaries will always be worth crossing

Definitely.

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