Rolling on the Floor (with Skeletons) Laughing

On a day off, several years ago….

It’s ‘time-off’ time again – the time I know I need, but find difficult to take. Some weeks the time stands out in my diary as a welcoming light of refuge. Other weeks I feel its impending approach and the demands it makes on me to come up with some idea of what to do – with the added pressure that the idea be ‘fun’.

A year or so ago, I was ‘accosted’ in the street by a man wanting me to sign up to some charitable cause or other. But his approach was different to the usual ‘Can I have 30 seconds of your time?’ One always suspects such requests are less demanding in wording than the time that will actually be required of you.

He surprised me by asking, ‘Whatta you do for fun?!!’

He’d managed to arrest me – to stop my purposeful stride through the streets of this familiar city. I couldn’t come up with an answer quick enough. I stood there, staring blankly out onto the main street, mentally scanning my life for evidence of fun. Even he seemed surprised!

It’s not that I don’t like my life. I’m grateful for what God has given me and where he’s placed me. But I do sometimes wish that he’d made me a little differently: one of those ‘fun’ kind of people; a ‘hoot’ to be with; one who makes people ‘ROFL’ (that’s ‘Roll on Floor Laughing’, apparently). I find myself occasionally longing to be someone who’s spontaneous, adventurous and just a little bit crazy!

I’m more the kind of person who has people examining their lives – not laughing their cares away. Even when I’m on my own, I examine my own life. Not necessarily in a reflective, positive, life-changing kind of way, but in a way that makes me wish I could sometimes make myself laugh or at least laugh at myself.

I walked away from the charitable man, examining my life and wondering what I could do to have a bit more ‘fun’.

A year later and I still haven’t come up with any convincing answers.

Last night, as I got ready for bed, I was determined to plan my time-off the next day. I was going to plan something interesting. I didn’t put too much pressure on myself to make it ‘fun.’ Still I hoped that fun might just accidentally happen along the way.

This morning after getting my washing done (not everything can be fun), I caught the train into the city centre with the intention of going to see St.Michan’s Church – an old church which reportedly has lots of skeletons in its basement. I know! ‘Not much fun there, Ms Fun Seeker!’ Still, a little adventurous and just a little bit crazy! Though I had planned my itinerary for the day, because I can only cope with so much spontaneity and craziness.

Within ten minutes my ‘crazy’ plans had gone awry. It turns out that St.Michan’s opens later in the winter months. I still plan to go there today – but in the meantime I find myself here in ‘Third Space’ – an excellent new cafe opened by creative and entrepreneurial friends. I’ve had a delicious coffee and scone and, while I haven’t yet been ‘ROFLing’, I do love their new (old) floor and am thoroughly enjoying the aesthetics of the place.

At one point, I was asked by the owner if I would mind changing tables so they could move some tables. He said he could ask me because I was a friend. So I moved, as a friend, and felt a little spontaneous and crazy as I did it!

I like to think that there are different kinds of fun in life. One person’s joy at the beauty and aesthetics of an old wooden floor may be another’s idea of ‘not-so-much-fun’. While one’s desire for constant adventure may be just a little scary for another.

This one will take delight in being just brave enough to visit somewhere new, once in a while, and have fun writing while she waits to see the skeletons.

When I search in vain for ‘fun’ in my life – the kind of fun that others may consider to be fun – I find comfort in God’s creativity in making a rich, fun-loving, varying humanity: people that know how to have fun in all sorts of different ways. I’m also thankful for those he has placed in my life who have the ability to occasionally have me ‘rolling on the floor laughing’.

Postscript: I got to see the skeletons. I even had a few laughs – but none on the floor – which is just as well, as there were skeletons down there.


Posted in response to the Daily Post prompt for today.

Why did the friends cross the road?

Two summers ago, I found myself in the streets of Klagenfurt. The neat, tidy, clean streets of Klagenfurt – streets with pedestrian crossings clearly marked.

It was here, at the pedestrian crossings, that I found myself in the company of friends. I knew no-one – in the usual sense of friendship. I had earlier been sitting in a cafe, reading my book, drinking a coffee, on my own. But here, before the red shining man, I enjoyed the company of those who abide by the rules. These were my friends!

I generally like to keep the rules. Not because I’m more virtuous but because, in my inner world, it feels safer to me. I am quite comfortable with an inanimate light box instructing me, with red and green lights, when to walk and when to stop walking.

And here, in the streets of Klagenfurt, my new friends were OK with that too.

In Salzburg, three days earlier, I had found a smattering of such friends. But they were slightly hidden from view by a plague of ‘foreigners’ who forged ahead, crossing the road when a gap appeared in the traffic.

In Klagenfurt, my friends and I were happy to wait – with not a car in sight – for the green man to appear indicating that we were now allowed to walk across the road in law-abiding solidarity.

Yet, this is where our friendship ended – at the other side of the road. Law-abiding will only carry a friendship so far.

That evening, I experienced true friendship – an outing with old friends to a field strewn with straw, surrounded by unharvested fields of sunflowers and ranges of beautiful mountains. We sat on sun-warmed bales of straw, with beakers of good, cold, Austrian beverages and disposable plates of hearty food. All this with good conversation and laughter.

I was getting a taste, from my friends, of some of the highs and lows of living as ‘strangers’ among a polite people – a people who were ‘friendly’ but hard to build friendships with. They told a story of a woman from Ireland (a place where friendship-building also takes some time). This woman was struggling to find friends and community in this foreign land. My friends spoke to her about their church community where friendships were forged – with the help of the Maker of friendships. The Irish woman came to see this community. She came again. She found both friends and friendship with God.

Later that night my friends and I spoke together of painful times when our community and friendships had gone wrong. And yet – how God, the friendship-maker, often used those times to build community in later times and in other places.

The next morning, I read the pain-filled words of Heman the Ezrahite and I recalled my own times of conflict in the past:

You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths.

Your wrath lies heavily on me;

You have overwhelmed me with all your waves.

You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them.

I am confused and cannot escape;

My eyes are dim with grief.

(From Psalm 88)

Those times are mere memories now.

Today I rejoice in God’s gift of friends – two years ago among sunflowers – and right here, right now. Friends who have welcomed me into their hearts and homes, near and far. I am blessed with good friends and they’re a blessing because they know the Maker of friendships – they are friends with him – and he with me.

I am in the company of friends and I find God there.

(Response to the Daily Post

In Row 47, Seat F

At my inflight, fold-down table, I was appreciating the extra inch or two of legroom that one finds in the last four rows of economy seats on an Etihad flight back to Ireland. The girl next to me hadn’t flown before and so she didn’t know any better. For now, she was just excited! Legroom wasn’t a concern for her. She was an Australian travelling with her Irish boyfriend to see his beautiful homeland and meet his family. She was proudly clasping her newly-purchased copy of ‘Angela’s Ashes’. She told me she had saved reading it for the long flight. She was excited! The first offering of a drink and miniature bag of pretzels will do that for most first-timers.

Later in the flight – about eight hours later – the gloss was wearing off her first in-flight experience. She was now experiencing that precise moment for all passengers (the ones that can’t sleep on planes, anyway), after the first drink, the first meal tray, the first two movies and a fitful attempt to sleep, when one realises that one is not going to arrive at their destination anytime soon.

I noticed her fidgeting and her squirming (sure signs) and then with moistened eyes she turned to me and asked “How long is the next leg of our journey?” We still had 8 hours left of the first leg of the journey. I recognised the rising panic – the realisation that this journey was going to feel longer than she had ever imagined.

It’s at that moment that every economy class passenger faces an important choice: giving into the panic and tears and angst or submitting to the present reality – thinking ‘This is my life for the next 24 hours and I will calmly try to accept that life.’ You don’t have a third choice (short of one involving a parachute but, as far as I know, there are no parachutes provided in economy class). So you can either fight it or submit to it.

You don’t have to be seated in row 47 of an Etihad flight to face these two choices. They can appear before you in many different contexts: a 40 hour train trip to Townsville; an 18 hour trip on a Greyhound bus; a 15 minute trip on a train at peak hour with your face in a stranger’s armpit; or just about any situation in our ‘long-haul’ life where we are faced with an inescapable reality from which we would like to escape.

Can God be found in these moments? It’s sometimes very hard to find him there. Often we can admit that he’s there but we’re fighting with him for putting us there or for leaving us there. Occasionally we don’t even look for him there, as we are consumed with the rising sense of panic.

So many songs, poems, riots, screeches from fed-up children and status updates come from this space. ‘I’m here with seaweed wrapped around my head’, ‘My bones are aching’, ‘I’m forgotten’, ‘Where are you, God!?’

Some time ago, I travelled a short car journey with a friend. He is a true poet, a man of depth and one who suffers the excruciating ups and downs of chemical imbalance. He’d had a good week. A glimmer of joy in the lyric of a new song he’d heard. God had stepped into his long-haul journey and shown he was there. He lifted him out of the miry pit – for a little while anyway. This friend, like many others, has journeyed in this reality and pain for what seems like an eternity.

We long for rescue. Someone to step into our present journey and lift us into another – to upgrade us to the flat-bed seats and champagne of business class. Sometimes that happens (for awhile anyway) and other times it doesn’t. Other times we’re there in row 47, trapped by our seat belt and the overly reclined seat in front of us. There’s no way out. Fight or submit?

David, the poet king, once wrote of his submission to a good shepherd who gave him all that he needed. This shepherd sometimes took him to still waters and made him lie down in green pastures. But other times the shepherd travelled with David in row 47 in the 8th hour of the first leg of the journey – the ‘valley of death’.

This shepherd is not just a fellow passenger, but the pilot, the air-traffic controller and the flight attendant with a real glass overflowing with the best of beverages. He’s all that, right there with us in row 47 as we settle back and try to enjoy the in-flight entertainment and ignore our swelling ankles.

At the end of the long-haul flight to Ireland there are green pastures in sight.

This journey will be over soon and it will end so beautifully with a feast of the fruit of our longings during those dark valley times – feasting in the house of the shepherd forever.