Standing at the Helm of Destiny

The vista of Alto de Perdón.

The vista of Alto de Perdón.

“Have you ever sailed across an ocean Donald … on a sailboat, surrounded by sea with no land in sight, without even the possibility of sighting land for days to come? To stand at the helm of your destiny. I want that, one more time. I want to be in the Piazza del Campo in Siena. To feel the surge as 10 racehorses go thundering by. I want another meal in Paris, at L’Ambroisie, at the Place des Vosges. I want another bottle of wine. And then another. I want the warmth of a woman and a cool set of sheets. One more night of jazz at the Vanguard. I want to stand on the summits and smoke Cubans and feel the sun on my face for as long as I can. Walk on the Wall again. Climb the Tower. Ride the River. Stare at the Frescos. I want to sit in the garden and read one more good book. Most of all I want to sleep. I want to sleep like I slept when I was a boy. Give me that, just one time. That’s why I won’t allow that punk out there to get the best of me, let alone the last of me.” ~ James Spader as Raymond Reddington in “The Blacklist”

 

If life’s peaks and valleys have taught me nothing else in 50 years, they’ve shown me the importance of recognizing seasons when you should just be still. When you feel like you’re in the wilderness, the best thing you can do is embrace the quiet and listen.

Most of 2015 was such a season for me. And it was, furthermore, a year when I thought a lot about my own mortality.

Entering my sixth year of a career funk, (some would call that more than a short dry spell) I’d spent much of 2014 considering the next major move. There was a strong draw to a six-figure investment for a retail franchise I really liked, then a movie about a successful chef with a food truck brought some surprising inspiration about that notion. Go figure. Needless to say, I was all over the map, and both required money I could probably get, but couldn’t necessarily afford. At this point wounds from closing my beloved publishing business in 2008 were healed, but I still remember how much they hurt. It’s not a pain I want to feel again, and with it all comes a certain sense of caution. When clouds of caution hang like heavy fog over a risk-taking personality, it’s constant inner turmoil. A betting friend of mine says, “Scared money never wins.”

I’d always heard the ages between 45 and 55 were the most productive times of a man’s life – the time when he makes a real contribution. The urge to sink my energies, and invest my time into something real, was, well, real. But this is also an age when you first begin experiencing the loss of important people, many of whom shaped how you are, and what you think and believe.

The unusually high number of friends, mentors and other acquaintances who died that year pulled me in another direction that whispered, “Time is short. Forget a career. Experience your purpose. I’ll take care of the rest. Breathe.”

***

Cultural change and progressive attitudes over time can be a good thing. Society evolves, and that’s a double-edged sword. The evolution of how we think makes many things better. But it also often moves us in the opposite direction of many things that are true. One of the cute little sayings that’s made its way into society is this notion that “everything happens for a reason.” The idea is based on a dangerously liberal paraphrase from Romans 8:28 which reads:

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.”

So yes, God’s infinite wisdom and sovereign reign over all creation make everything work in His behalf, and in His time, but the gift of our own free will means we screw a lot of things up along the way. Much of what we do was never in God’s greater plan. The very idea that everything I’ve done in my life was perfectly in line and with the greater good makes me laugh out loud. I know disobedience personally.

Free will means we have the freedom to make mistakes. It’s also a gift, given by the Creator, consistent with his creative nature, that allows us to shape our lives in beautiful ways, learning uniquely, and growing as we go. It requires that we have a certain comfort level with uncertainty.

It requires faith.

***

Signage at the Alto de Perdón monument very roughly translated "where the path crosses the place where the wind meets the stars."

Signage at the Alto de Perdón monument very roughly translated “where the path crosses the wind.”

With anxiety and a sense of urgency over my career growing inside every cell of my spirit in early 2015, it would’ve been easy to make a bad decision, and a bad decision could’ve been costly in more ways than one. The time wasn’t right to do something big, and I knew it. So I bought myself some time in a crazy, low-risk sort of way. I bought a lawnmower and a trailer, and decided to mow yards for a living until the next move became clear. It’s the best decision/non-decision I’ve made in a long time.

I had about 12 yard-mowing clients in the summer of 2015. It’s really hard work when the temperatures are high. But it was a good way to be my own boss, and gave me much needed time to think about a bigger move, also giving us a bit of bill-paying money. The unexpected benefit is there’s a certain sense of satisfaction in work like mowing yards. At the end of the day, you can look back and see you’ve really done something. It’s important, I think, especially to men.

Once I realized that, and really thought about it, my next move became crystal clear. As much as I’d been patient in recent years, and done my best to listen, on July 4 as I was preparing a backyard barbecue for family and friends, I realized I needed to go away, be even more intentional with my listening, and pursue something I’d been thinking about for nearly three years.

I needed to do something to feel like a man again, and remembered a C.S. Lewis quote I’d first read in John Eldridge’s book, Wild at Heart.

“We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”

I walked into my office, fired up the computer and booked an October 19 plane ticket to Madrid. A 500-mile walk across Spain might just be the perfect place to figure things out, and even feel like a real man again.

***

Fourteen kilometers west of Pamplona, pilgrims reach the peak of Alto de Perdón (the high place of forgiveness). It’s a significant stop on the Camino made even more famous in a special scene in Emilio Estevez’s The Way. Like many personal experiences we all encounter, it’s difficult to describe exactly how you feel at this place where the vista seems almost endless, and you can look back nearly 70 kilometers to see how far you’ve come. It’s one of those rare feelings you never want to end.

As I reached the peak of Alto de Perdón my feet were blistered, my back hurt, and my legs were just beginning to sense the effects of a long-distance walk. I looked across the amazing sight of the Spanish countryside and was thankful for every ache and pain. I’d asked for this through the gift of my own free will.

With no idea what tomorrow would bring, it was the first time in years when I felt I was standing at the helm of my destiny. It was a defining moment.

-30-

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7 thoughts on “Standing at the Helm of Destiny

  1. Thank you. Thank you. I am at a loss of words other than to let you know how deeply I appreciate your posts. They are inspiring, resonate deeply and a constant reminder of faith.

    Malinda R. Lugo,Thank you. Thank you. I am at a loss of words other than to let you know how deeply I appreciate your posts. They are inspiring, resonate deeply and a constant reminder of faith. Esq.
    Lugo Law Center, PL
    1110 N. Florida Avenue, 2nd Floor
    Tampa, FL 33602
    P: (813) 895-3909
    F: (813) 482-9835
    Malinda@lugo-law.com

  2. There is so much profound truth packed in your words here. But I love this: “Time is short. Forget a career. Experience your purpose. I’ll take care of the rest. Breathe.” My guess is that your response is in the top 5 best things you’ve ever said “Yes” to in your life. Bravo!

  3. As usual Steven, an excellent glimpse of what is important and when. The thought of your own mortality does intensify as you age (I’m now 63!) especially when you see friends you remember only as their teenage selves and see before you the reality of their advanced ages. But there’s also a beauty in looking back at the many God given blessings you’ve been given despite setbacks and challenges, and the beauty beyond that is out there when you believe… Thanks so much for your words and choosing some of the (the many) best Reddington lines from Blacklist!

  4. I’m assuming you are incorporating this into your book of the camino (she said hopefully). Gosh did this just speak to what my brother has gone thru since 2008 market crash, business lost,,,hopes trampled on. (I forwarded on to him). Keep them coming. Love these! Ultreia you gentle buddha you!

  5. Just another T.Y. for sharing…..for sharing your “season of funk”. It helps to know it hasn’t been all “glory” for all pilgrims. I have been somewhat guilt-ridding at “screwing” up my first Camino @ 65y.o., again at 66, tried again to get it right at 69. Will I finally get it right at 70. Yes. I long to go again.
    As I look back at the Kilometers I’ve been from here to there and back again; knowing I can do it. Your testimonies give me hope that I will return not anxious, not rushing and missing the Way. Thank you again.

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