“There is no security in following the call to adventure.” – Joseph Campbell
Yesterday, in the midst of “ordinary life,” my husband and I got news about one of our grown sons that rocked our world and changed what I had thought to write for the New Zealand blog tour. For a moment, I thought I might not write anything at all, but when the ground began to settle under my feet, I knew there was a different message here. No matter what their age, it is not possible to protect your children from life itself.
I’ve loved being an elder in the realm of gifted—past the stage of active parenting, past even the stage of believing my job is to change the world for this population I care about so much. A long enough life provides one with lots of stories—many of them stories that no one could have predicted, no matter how assiduously they study what’s known, no matter how many experts they consult, how carefully they plan, or how strong their desire for control. If you can stay open, life gives you plenty of opportunities to change your mind, change your strategies, and keep on growing. And it knocks you down often enough that you begin to trust that you can get up again.
When I write about giftedness, more often than not I write for parents. Parenting is by its very nature a tough job—parenting gifted, out of the box kids provides unique and sometimes daunting challenges. As parents it is in our very nature to want the best for our kids. But here’s the tricky part—there’s no way we can know just what that is. Sometimes the best is paved with ease and the worst looks like catastrophe. And sometimes the opposite is true.
Whenever I read the questions parents post online and the answers other parents share, I tend to feel with them the struggles and the anguish they encounter when they see that the world is constantly trying to shave off the edges of their beloved square pegs in order to get them to squeeze down into the available round holes. Life for gifted kids can be hard, tough, painful. (And seeing our kids in pain doesn’t just push our parent buttons. It all too often calls back for us what we ourselves lived through—so it’s natural that we want to stop that pain for them, to smooth out the bumps or widen the culture’s holes so square pegs can be valued more and fit more easily.) Wanting to do that is natural. I spoke about it years ago at NAGC—the article from that talk, “The Problem of Pain,” can be found here.
But watching parents wear themselves out trying to smooth the way, and looking back over my own life, I want today more than anything to remind us all of the magnificent theme of the 2013 World
Congress Conference that is being held in New Zealand: “The Soul of Giftedness.”
What does it mean to consider the soul, the spirit, the intangible essence of self that each human brings to life’s journey? The story I’ve been sharing with audiences and readers for a while is that each of us is the hero of our own life story. As a writer I could use the literary term protagonist, but I prefer hero because of the sense of courage, strength and passionate intensity the word carries with it. What animates the hero is soul, spirit, intangible essence of self. Our kids come into the world with that—every single one of them—and however fragile the child might appear, soul is indomitable.
At Yunasa-West last week I asked the campers what was the phrase surfers use to alert each other that it’s a really good day to grab their boards and head to the beach. Few of those campers are surfers themselves, but they knew the answer. “Surf’s up!” they called out. Yes. Of course. The thrill, the joy, the challenge of surfing has to do with waves. It isn’t about sitting on the board on a calm sea, admiring the blue of the sky.
As the kids answered so enthusiastically, I had this image suddenly, of a veritable army of parents rushing out to the beach ahead of their children and doing their best to calm the waves, to flatten the sea. I understand their wish to protect their kids from a wipeout. I also know that if we were able to do that, we would be depriving our young heroes of the very challenges that provide the exhilaration, the thrill, and the practice that can lead them to be the best surfers they are capable of becoming.
I’m talking paradox here, and paradox, however much a part of our world, is difficult to live with. It is a parent’s job to protect each child from harm. We wouldn’t send our beginning surfers off to face a tsunami. But if we allow our own fears and our sense of our children’s fragility to keep them away from the surf, we may block them from discovering the inner tools and capacities of spirit any life journey requires.
We have no idea what lies ahead for the children of today, except that it will be something humanity has never faced before. Just as we want our children’s minds to be challenged to prepare them to make the most of the special gifts they have brought, it’s worth remembering that their spirits, too, grow from challenge. Some of them may have come on purpose to become champion surfers of the tsunamis of change.
The truth is, we can’t disperse all the ripples and flatten all the waves no matter how much we might want to do that. But we can let our children know that they are heroes, that they have indomitable souls and that sometimes instead of fixing the world for them, we will be there to listen, to bind their wounds, to love them through the healing process, and give them a time and a place to rest between waves. We, too, need to be heroes, have indomitable spirits and face each day, each ripple or wave as it comes, whether it comes to us or to them.
Meantime, it is worth a bit of extra effort to model gratitude and appreciation for the journey itself. That way we can celebrate every triumph, take joy in every calm beautiful day, and be fully present in every moment, whatever that moment brings. Every journey happens just one step at a time.