I find the lifecycle of wild salmon fascinating. A fish will begin its life journey from an inland streambed and will be carried downstream to the ocean where it will spend anywhere from 2 to 8 years before returning to the same place to produce offspring that repeat the process. These creatures begin their lives with a trouble-free voyage simply flowing at the pace of the current they happen to be carried in. They will then spend most of their lives in the ocean within relatively calm waters and, finally, they will finish their lives with a long upstream battle just to get back to where they first began their lives.
I found myself at a recent event that was raising funds for children in Haiti as well as a school project in rural Guatemala. Our dinner conversation covered many topics including the increasing cost of internet/cable TV service, the lack of performance from our local sports teams and a variety of similar annoyances. Those of us at the table soon realized that what we identified as our daily concerns paled in comparison to those who we intended to help with our attendance at the event. In stark contrast to children in Guatemala who have no fresh water at their school or a parent in Haiti who has a child with a defective heart... we were certainly swimming downstream.
As I further reflected, I realized that most of my life has been spent in calm waters. Some of that is luck... being born at the right place, at the right time. Some of it is undoubtedly due to the hard work and dedication of those who came before me who both paved the way for my success as well as provided me with an example of how best to gain access to life’s positive flow. Don’t get me wrong, I have worked hard, sacrificed, paid my dues and risked a great deal, perhaps more than most, but, in the end, I feel I have been blessed in many ways.
Of course, we all find ourselves fighting upstream from time to time. Often it is of our own doing... poor decisions made or simply coming out on the bottom side of calculated risks. Swimming upstream is a part of gaining experiences, learning from the trials and tribulations of life, building an identity and growing as a person. Other times, unfortunate occurrences out of our control can decisively put us contrary to a torrential current. The recent natural disasters come to mind as do the all too frequent loss of friends or loved ones... nobody comes out of this game of life alive.
I know I am fortunate to have enjoyed more downstream time than that of many others. I often observe people, in similar situations, that don’t seem to fully appreciate the advantages they have been blessed with. Maybe it isn’t necessarily a lack of appreciation but rather a case of losing sight of how favorable their circumstances truly are. Perspective can have a commanding influence on an individual’s state of mind but until it is made apparent, until it is realized ... it remains powerless. It is incumbent on us as caring beings to seek that perspective and work against the natural human tendency for taking our advantages for granted.
In many ways I believe our existence is similar to those of the salmon in that, depending on the day, depending on our situation, we may be seemingly going with or against the prevailing current. Our state of mind will often determine where we sit in the stream of life... do you have a glass half full or glass half empty mindset? Do you proactively determine your attitude or is it created by outside influences? What strategies do you utilize to keep yourself in the flow?
As we approach the holiday season, we set aside time to take stock of our many gifts and to give thanks for all we hold dear. I would suggest that maybe we go a step further and seek the perspective that helps us to more accurately define our relative prosperity. I certainly hope you find yourself (as I have) in calm waters and you seek the opportunity to reach out to others who may be caught swimming upstream. And if, by some unfortunate circumstance, you find yourself battling against the flow, I hope that through a kind word or deed from another that you will be provided the support and encouragement you to need to find your way to smoother waters.
Now go outside and have fun in the dirt!