We are now well into the new year and I trust you have successfully transitioned from holiday celebrations, parties, and lists of things to do and/or accomplish in the new year, into the day-to-day routine of what we call life. In my life that has not always been an easy transition and at times I have had to work intentionally to get myself to accept that reality and welcome fully the new year and to go on with that business.
In my mind Super Bowl Sunday has always marked the true end of the prior year because it marks the actual end of the 2016 football season. Yes it is February, yes we are 5 weeks into the new year, and yes it is a long season. But it is the end of the only athletic season I actually pay any attention to so it is the end of the year for me. And I have come to realize that without any football to watch on TV and with no games to attend, it is amazing how little television I watch as the other sports, both pro and college, do not do too much for me. So with this game I actually am celebrating the end of 2016.
Another part of my difficulty with the transition into the new year is just psychologically accepting that another year has already gone by. As all of you know (or will learn) the older you get the faster the years seem to go by. And then this year with the end of our family connection to Iowa football, it was a reminder of how fast those 5 years went by. Then with the old Facebook flashback on signing day this year (when high school seniors sign their paperwork to attend whatever university they have selected) we were re-visited with the pictures of George when he signed his letter of intent with the University of Iowa 5 years ago. A great day then and another amazing reminder to the reality that that career/experience/opportunity has come and gone.
But life just keeps marching on and we must also lest we get trampled or left behind. And so too it is with George as he signed with an agent, did get an invite to the NFL Combine, and is now living in Texas and working out at a training facility preparing for that opportunity. He is all healthy, rested up, and appears to be on track to be able to perform at his peak level so we are all grateful.
And my oldest (daughter Emma) has gotten engaged and will be married in April of this year. So the little girl who rocked our world 26 plus years ago, has gotten through high school, graduated from college, and now is getting married. All of this is the normal course of life and no big surprise, but it still is a bit of shock when you see that picture on the frig when she was little and then you are sitting at the table working on wedding plans! But so it goes and it is a blessing and we are excited.
So one stage of life ends and another begins and I believe that is true for all of us as well. It seems some of those stages or transitions as we get older are not so obvious nor well defined. The older we get the more subtle those stages can be and sometimes we do not realize things have changed, shifted, ended, began, until after the fact and it just hits us in the face. Not so much out of no where, because in all likelihood this has been coming at you for sometime, but in a sudden unexpected way if you have not been paying attention. In my own life I know that if/when I have not been paying attention to things it seems the universe feels the need to send me a wake up call and boy does it ever. Just a big old smack side the head with something and then we are reminded to pay attention.
So you may know (or not) that I am very fond of water and particularly the ocean. I love to be on the beach, near water, and love to scuba dive and be under the water when I can. So oceans, beaches, waves, sand and all the rest are pretty high on my list. A bit hard at times living in Iowa but so it goes. And as I was thinking about these subtle transitions in life it of course reminded me of the beach.
The location we visit most often is in Texas on Padre Island and I have written about that. But one thing that has amazed me over the years of visiting the same place, is how much the beach can change in just a week or even a few days sometimes. The sand moves, the water level raises and lowers, the color and tone of the water can change, and of course the weather in a heartbeat. Some of those changes are obvious and you can't miss them. Others though are slower to take effect and if you are not paying attention you can miss them.
There is a walkway the locals call the jetty. These are matching and parallel walk-ways built on massive concrete blocks with a cement walkway over the top. They create an opening for boats to safely enter into the bay and load and/or put in to get into the gulf. These stick out into the gulf from the shoreline over 200 yards. The waves come crashing into these massive concrete blocks at quite a rate and in a storm or with high winds the interaction between surf and concrete is amazing.
But in calmer times when you walk out onto the jetty and look at it closely, you can see that the water, over time and constant repetition, has slowly but surely made changes to the concrete blocks. Same is true for the beach line along the coast, With wave after wave after wave the water has left its mark and made changes. None immediately obvious because they are so subtle. But they are there nonetheless.
That is how all of these other life changes seem to be happening to me now. Yes, graduation from college for my kids is an event and I see it coming, it comes, is gone and there you are. But so may other things about life are not that obvious. And you get up each day, do your routine, and it seems like a normal day. But then one day, one week, one month, one year it is different. You look more closely and things are not the same. A place has changed, some people have changed (or are not around any more), and then maybe too you realize, that you have changed.
Two years ago now, come February 8, my close friend and long time mentor Pat Mitchell died. Pat was the high school coach at Cedar Falls HS for many many years. Great guy, great coach, great person and great friend. Through the years no matter how much I changed or no matter how much older I had gotten, as long as Pat was still coaching the football team, still in Cedar Falls, it seemed as though the world was still in balance, all things were as they should be, and maybe you were not getting as old as you thought you were.
When Pat died I not only lost a good friend but also a certain innocence within my life. Maybe it is one I should have lost years ago but I realize I had not. If I got back to CF I could always call Pat, head down to a local spot and have a "salad" with him. We would discuss football, life, and whatever. And so long as I could do that I always felt connected to that part of my history and there was a sense of grounding and connection that it gave me.
With Pat gone I realize Cedar Falls is not the same place as it had been for me for all these years. If I am back passing through for work or whatever and I stop down to his favorite bar, it is not the same. And I actually do know that I have not been the same for years but with him gone and not able to meet me for a quick one and a chat just even once in a while, it feels entirely different. I feel different. Life feels different.
So as these other life moments are starting to come at me in my own family, and the close connections I had with certain people from my youth are disappearing along with them, I have such an appreciation for the life I have had and all the opportunities I have had. I am so grateful for what has been and for the chance each day to get up and keep living the dream. I think Pat at least taught all of his friends that, to appreciate life and be grateful. That life is a gift and we should enjoy each day, the people you are with and the things you do because life is short, it goes fast, and there is not a moment to lose.
So like the water on the beach and the rocks, over time we get washed. Time can change us and take things from us that we wish we still had. It also can cleanse us and heal us of past injuries, hurts, and wounds so that we are stronger and more able to move forward with the challenges that are in front of us. We know that the water will come, it will change us, it will not at times be obvious but it is there just the same. We can't do much more than accept it, pay attention to see it clearly, and then move forward with strength and courage with appreciation in all that we do.