I often find that the language I use to describe my world restricts the way I understand it. For example, “creative” and “academic” people are often dichotomized. I could never tell which one I was and I found this frustrating for quite some time before I realized that I was just both and there isn’t a word for that and that’s okay.
In this example and many others (especially in the realm of social-political controversy) we need to step back and think about the accuracy of the terms and models we use to interpret our world. I’m not trying to suggest that language is inadequate to convey meaning. That’s a slippery slope to start down. Rather, humans are fallible and we misuse perfectly apt things and sometimes need to rethink our actions.
So for many years now, I’ve used a certain analogy to describe how I live my life, particularly within the context of my Christian faith. I imagine life as like crossing a river on a foggy day. The river is wide and you can’t see more than a metre in front of you. Luckily, the river is shallow and there are rocks everywhere. So you jump forward and a new rock comes into your field of view.
You could try jumping further, into the fog, to speed up the process but you don’t know where those rocks are in the fog. There’s a very high chance you’d just get soaked. So you take small steps, one rock at a time, and gradually make your way across. The faith element being that this is how God leads people through life. He gives us just enough information to make our next move wisely and we don’t try to rush his plan.
The problem I encountered after graduating from university a year ago is that I couldn’t see the next rock. My thinking for the past year had been that God just wanted me to wait for a bit until the fog let up enough to reveal the next stone. Maybe there’s an alligator lurking around and he wants me to wait until it’s gone. Who knows.
And then as I began my second year after graduating I turned around and I couldn’t see the rock I had hopped from anymore! The fog hadn’t let up any. But clearly I was moving! I’d learned things, I’d done things – my life is clearly progressing but I’m not seeing any clear jumps forward just a gradual crawl-
What do I mean by “tortoise”?
I mean my metaphor was all wrong. Or at least too narrow. The first part of my life may have been hopping from stone to stone but maybe there’s more to it than that. And, indeed, I look down to my feet and I see that the last stone I hopped to was no stone at all, but a surprisingly cooperative tortoise. My metaphor made me feel like my life wasn’t progressing this whole time but I’ve clearly accomplished things. Perhaps nothing dramatic but I know I’m not where I was a year ago. This turtle’s movin’. I’m going somewhere.
And if I transitioned from stones to tortoise, I very well my transition from tortoise to something else later on.
So now I’m at much greater peace than I was over the past year. Many of my peers transition from stones to fully-gassed pontoon boat right out of university but their mode of transportation may change later. For now, I will take the lesson on the limitations of how I interpret my life, and I will greatly appreciate the services of my proverbial tortoise friend. I think I’ll name him Harold. That sounds like a good name for a tortoise.