Life teaches in ironic ways.
Maybe the word I’m searching for is “incongruous”.
Shoot…I’m temped to just delete the first sentence and simply say that life teaches in absurd ways.
However it is said…..life teaches in fully unexpected and odd ways at times.
For instance, have you ever noticed that life sometimes brings us a death experience and a birth experience right about the same time?
Last year when my precious little grand daughter, Zella was born, I lost a dear friend, Gail, to cancer. Both experiences, within a span of a few days, taught me a lot about life and living. Learning the same thing from two perspectives at once was an enormously powerful experience. Life has a way of getting through that way. A little hot contrasted with a little cold. Sweet in the context of bitter. Light in the midst of darkness. But it doesn’t have to be such biggies like life/death to teach in the classroom of irony/incongruity/absurdity.
Like today….I went cross-county skiing right here in my little corner of Black Wolf Township. (One of the great things about living in Wisconsin is that you don’t have to travel far to do winter sports.) So…..first off, I went across the farmer’s field right next to our little South Moon Acres. Fresh snow was falling, temperature was around 20 degrees and no wind. Talk about idyllic conditions! It was amazing!
I made my way about a third of a mile past my neighbor’s farm and past his cattle. The cows watched so intently as I passed them by. It was almost as if they were expecting me to come over and have a neighborly conversation. I felt as if maybe they thought I was rude to ski right past them with not so much as a, “how’s it going?” But I was enjoying the glide and the sound of my skis and poles engaging the crystalline carpet too much. The cows would just have to overlook my snubbing. This little trek was just something I wanted to selfishly enjoy. So, without regard to my bovine onlookers, I continued.
The solitude and quietness of cross county skiing has been observed to be something very nearly akin to being in a cathedral or a monastery. The mind transcends to places ethereal. In fact, there’s a magazine published here in Wisconsin by the name of “Silent Sports”. It features stories and articles about biking, canoeing, hiking and, of course, cross-country skiing. All these sports are known for their absence of roaring motors, cheering crowds and referee’s whistles.
As I made my way along the farmer’s field, I continued right on until I intersected Swiss Road. Normally I don’t ski on the roadway but we have very little traffic here and on this day, the road was covered with just the right pack of fresh snow to make this a rare day to just ski right down the road.
I made my way North past the Kriege place where they raise Bison. I didn’t stop to talk with them either. They stared much like the cows. As much as the cows had been curious…..I think I had these guys puzzled. I guess you could say I had them “buffaloed”…… I’m sorry for that…. I know it was uncalled for and I promise……no more puns the rest of the way. I do have a point to be made and I’m about to get to it.
Swiss Road comes to a dead end after you cross County trunk Z. I went as far as the railroad tracks at the dead end barrier. And it was there that I was presented with another “classroom absurd” experience.
A Wisconsin Central train roared past me just as I got to the edge of the tracks. I had heard, but not noticed, the whistle blowing some several minutes ago. And now I stood next to the tracks with the big noisy train only a few feet away. What was a few minutes ago, a quiet solitude, was now a rude symphony of iron against iron. Those big wheels on uncompromising tracks of iron, was so obscenely loud. What an absurd counter point to the quietness experienced only a few moments ago. The irony of it all. (That wasn’t a pun….iron just happens to be spelled a lot like irony.)
Everything about the thundering freight train and its excessively graffiti-ed boxcars was juxtaposed against the quiet trek which had brought me to that junction. The soft white flakes were still falling but my world had been invaded by loud ugly steel. Peacefulness would only return again after this Canada-bound behemoth was down the tracks a ways.
And then it hit me, like a freight-train……
…that life is indeed comprised of just such ironies.
God never promised that we would live our lives in the pure soft-white world of peaceful solitude. Snow falls and it’s a soft and pure and quiet escape hatch. But things roar into our lives and deafen us temporarily. Sometimes we wonder if we will ever have peace again. But the deafening and disruptive things exit much like they came, with their noise, their clatter and their invasiveness. Until…. ever so gradually….the noise grows faint until silence comes again.
The way home was peaceful. I found myself once more, wrapped in the solitude and silence of the snow. The silence was even more calming after the exposure to the noise along the tracks.
I know it’s a bit absurd that a grown man still learns from such simple experiences. Later in the day I would read from a theology book, pour over a Bible text and read an ancient Celtic poem, but tonight when I lay this old gray head on the pillow, it will be what I learned on skis by a train track…… just up the road from South Moon, that engaged my spirit and mind in a profoundly absurd way.