monkey bars and the art of trapeze

May 19, 2010

We had a swing set at the house where I grew up.  I guess it could be better described as a play complex b/c in addition to swings, it had a slide, some monkey bars, and swings.  That was high brow back then; nobody had the mini-amusement parks that kids get now-a-days.

But it was great and it was enough.

I loved those things and remember loving them.  I’d twist, turn, flip. I mean, I had to have had the abs of a body builder!  Days and weeks I spent on those things, having all the thrills I could stand…and never having to let go.

That’s the thing about monkey bars – they’re designed so that you can safely move to the next one without ever having to let go of the last.  And that’s great, I mean, every kid should learn the thrill of swinging and flipped within a structure safe enough to learn.

But at some point, if we’re ever going to live fully alive and free, we’ve got to start learning the trapeze.  They call them artists, which I always found amusing.  Shouldn’t they be called crazies? You willingly let go of a sure thing that will absolutely take you safely back to solid ground (or solid pedestal) in order to propel yourself through the air in hopes that someone else or something else will land in your hands at exactly the right moment.

is that not crazy?

is that not life? or at least, a life well-lived?

Maybe life can be lived on the monkey bars, but that’s not one I want to live.  I have seen some cool monkey bar performances, but I’ve never been captivated by one.  In the same way, I’ve seen risk-less lives that are well-lived and worthy of respect, but I’ve never stood up and cheered one.  So I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it takes to succeed at the art of trapeze.

– you’ve got to learn to let go and focus on finding the next bar.  i.e. learn the art of recognizing seasons and grieving them

– you’ve got to learn wisdom. I can’t think of another place where quickly being able to understand how cause and effect are connected is more important.  In a nano-second, you have to analyze a million inputs – it takes time to study possibilities and capabilities.

– you’ve got to be disciplined.  Nobody who hasn’t trained on the ground can fly.  And trapeze artists certainly don’t swing all day.  They capture our hearts and attention at their best moments – but if we were to see their workouts, their practices, their bad days – would we be fascinated? But we all know that’s what makes them great.

– you’ve got to learn trust.  There’s either someone swinging you a bar or someone attached to the bar with hands extended looking to grab yours.  nobody can trapeze on their own, so you have to choose a partner well and trust them every single time.

– you’ve got to learn faith.  I sort of wonder what trapeze artists think mid-air.  Sure, there is a net, but I doubt they are thinking about the net, about whether or not it will be there if they fall.  I imagine they’d never be able to climb the ladder, let alone let go of the bar, and definitely not flip and fly if they hadn’t absolutely determined they are going to be safe no matter what.  The net gives them permission to simple play in the air – to see what their bodies can do in concert with another without fear. I think Jesus is that kind of net (but that’s an entirely different conversation).

If you get the basics down, is life not then as boundless as your imagination?  You can flip and twist and turn to your heart’s desire? You can try to go higher, just to see what it’s like? What acrobatics can you accomplish?  It’s fun. It’s play. It’s freedom.

I want to live a spectacular life.  I want people to be inspired by it; to witness it and feel the wonder of art intersecting reality before their eyes…I want to be great at the trapeze.  I want to fly


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