On this (hypothetical) perfect day with no limits, I’m thinking it’s a Saturday. I picture myself having gotten a really restful sleep and waking up around 10am, which is still the morning and the day is still in front of me, but I definitely feel like I’ve slept in. I’m not much of a breakfast person (I know it’s the most important meal of the day but I’m never hungry in the morning) but on this day, me and the special person I’m with, grab brunch by the ocean in Connecticut. There’s this little deli in Norwalk, CT called Jimmy’s. It’s summer and definitely hot in the sun, but we are so close to the water that there is a breeze in the air and the wind ripples the sails of boats docked at a nearby harbor. We drive a Jeep with the top off and the doors off, to a small parking lot and walk to a landing right on the Long Island sound that empties into the Atlantic Ocean. Then we take a small boat over to an island called Sprite Island. It’s a pretty small island and I’m only able to go there because of a family friend (the Ohrems), but it’s one of my favorite places in the world. We make our way to a secluded beach and swim for an hour or so and then rest on the beach afterward. In my mind, my perfect day is filled with the people I love having some sort of small barbecue or party on said island. I think of going for a long walk and talking until night time. I’m a bit of a conversationalist. I think of sleeping under the stars on a very clear night. Something like that…
The trail, brown and worn, is thick with roots – it slips and churns through rock caves, sand and dirt. I find myself forgetting to look up, focusing instead on keeping my footing. I remember the river next to me, and all of a sudden, I pick my head up and I see a new translation of beauty. Caleb stops to take the scene in. Rhododendron leaves line the trail – they brush against my face and it feels as though we’ve walked through several (back) countries in the past mile. “I’m almost expecting to see snow up ahead,” Bevan calls back laughing. We nod in agreement, smile at the plausibility, with sweat dripping down our faces.
I haven’t carried a pack this size before. I almost tip over with each defined step and bob from right to left and back to right. Jacob slides under fallen trees, grabbing at the bark to keep his balance. The upslopes are definitely harder, though the downs burn our knees. It’s not much farther, which is good for me because now I’m really breathing heavy.
We climb that last upslope to the site, which sits next to a boulder, and tear the buckles off our packs. It feels like we earned our dinner and our sleep. We laugh with mouths full of potatoes and drink expensive bourbon first to toast and diluted bourbon later. It is almost like you are sleeping in the hammock behind us, with a big grin on your face – hands laced, resting on your stomach. Maybe you are, in some way, but if you aren’t then we hope the toasts reach up to the place you are now. Maybe “up” is the wrong word. Maybe it’s more like “out.”
What makes someone worth following?
This question was posed to me (and a group of other men) one night at an event we call “Bourbon and Cigars.” The meeting has become a ritual, something we can count on; a weekly rhythm for men to gather and discuss life over spirits and smokes.
Who do you follow?
This was another question that succeeded the first. The men around the fire were silent for a long time; looking off into the distance to the sun setting over the West Side of Cincinnati.
“My father,” one man said after quite some time. We spoke about parents; about the roles of fathers versus mothers, if we, as men, were looking more for male leadership in our lives over female leadership. We spoke about the difference between people we look up to and those who we believe are worth following.
I thought about my dad. How I followed him as a child. How he taught me what he knew. I thought about his patience, his level-headedness; how I felt safe when he was around.
When I became a man, the image of my dad was tainted. My parents divorced. Now they don’t even speak to one another. My dad can’t even say my mom’s name. This question of who I follow caused my stomach to turn a bit.
I didn’t give my answer right away. Instead, I thought about how I don’t particularly want to follow anyone at the moment. Being a follower has almost become a bad word in our culture. We should be self starters! We should be completely independent! We should be free from any power over us! I am my own man, I thought. An army of one.
After battling in my own head, I thought about my mentor. How I met him when I was in grade school and did in fact follow his lead throughout middle and high school. What made him worth following?
Well, he is committed to service:
My mentor has been involved in the ministry of Young Life for over 20 years. He made a commitment when he was in college to mentor high school kids and share life with them and tell them his truth; how he found peace in the Gospel of Jesus. He has devoted his life to helping others; his impact is undeniable. He has reached thousands of young men and women through his humble service.
The Bourbon and Cigar crew talked then about imperfection; how it’s hard to follow anyone because we are all so broken. I said that the people worth following will undoubtedly screw up, but what makes them worth following is how they respond after.
There are two men in particular I’ve seen in my life that are worth following; my mentor and my grandfather. I thought about both of them and came to a realization – I have never seen either of them screw up. I do admit, I have put them on somewhat of a pedestal, but truthfully, they have been uncommonly consistent in their pursuit to live uprightly.
My mentor is steadfast and reliable. His “yes” means yes and his “no” means no. I am also certain he loves me. My grandpa was positive and uplifting every single time I saw him. His words were seasoned with love. His actions were compassion (the noun felt better there for some reason). I knew he loved me. He also loved his wife well.
(Aside) I don’t see many men that love their wives well. I don’t see men who inspire me with how they serve their wives.
So these were the themes that surfaced through the conversation around the fire. In my opinion, the people worth following are the ones who serve others, serve their families, and as a result, serve whole communities.
Also, people worth following, love well. There should be no question in your mind, that the person you are following, loves you.
I helped co-write this quirky short film. Enjoy the whimsy.
Language, and the ever expanding volume of words, is a collection of venn diagrams. From one thousand feet up it looks just like a storm cloud. At the smallest scale, it seems like cells in a state of mitosis; splitting and fragmenting – all from one original idea. One day, I hope I’ll get to meet the speaker from whose lips came the great, indelible origin of it all. Now I’m not a betting man, but I’m guessing the first word sounded something … like love.
(Pulls fancy stationery out)
Pens a chicken scratch letter.
It starts, “I promised I would write you…”
But “promised” is misspelled.
It’s pretty much downhill from there.
He’s no romantic.
He barely knows his times tables.
But you were the prettiest girl at summer camp.
And he doesn’t want to lose you.
His best line is, “You’re a real swell dancer.”
And you giggle a bit and remember.
You think you’ll keep him.
Even if you’re a foot taller.
He signs it, “All the best, Ace.”
Which is what you called him,
When he missed the archery target by 10 feet.
Hold on to these never ending years,
Hearts held together by scotch tape
And friendships forged in blood.
When every day is new,
And every night is forever.
In this current season of political chaos and personal strife, I have felt uneasy; like there is little I can do to help. In the middle of all the swirling negativity, this is my prayer.