When I first came up with the idea to write this article, my intent was to make an analogy of the incredible amount of faith Noah had to possess when God called down to him to build an ark. Think about it, Noah had never witnessed rainfall and he lived hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean. Imagine the doubts Noah must have had when God told him he was going to flood the earth and expected him to rebuild a new world.
“Noah, your mission if you should accept it, is to pack your family and every pair of animals you can congregate onto a gigantic ark, which incidentally you must build by hand.” Nice…thanks a lot God!
If you are a non-believer – don’t get nervous, I am not proselytizing today. Early this past summer I had been feeling anxious over things in my life that appeared to be rapidly unfolding in a way that challenged my faith and self-confidence. I thought I had been heading in a good direction, but instead I felt like I was sailing without a rudder. As the captain of my ship, it was my decision to be guided by actions that were spoken much louder than words.
In the past, I have experienced both business and personal relationships that were dominated by all talk, but no action. Here I was on the opposite end of the spectrum. For most of this wonderful voyage I was on, I had talked myself into believing this was acceptable and that everything would work out in the end. Ultimately, my faith started to wane and I began to challenge my previously accurate navigation system. I was feeling insecure but wondered if I was missing something.
Regardless of the type of relationships we find ourselves in, they will be hindered, perhaps ruined if they are dominated by words and no action. But, what happens when things are reversed and spoken or written communication is absent or confusing? Can you shrug it off by explaining that the other person is shy or non-expressive?
I had been aiming toward an “oasis” that seemed to be a great fit for the relationship portion of my life-plan. However, as any good sailor would do I checked my compass and discovered that I was slightly off course. To make matters worse, I failed to plot a safe track around some hazardous rocks that I should have steered around. My fears were getting the best of me and I did not have a divine voice calling down to me, “Mike, keep the faith!” I was succumbing to the protective part of my inner voice shouting out to me, “WARNING! DANGER AHEAD! ABANDON SHIP!”
In the past, I have helped family and friends to be more rational about their fears. I would reassure them by pointing out all the great things about themselves that were being drowned out by unfounded worries. I helped them recognize self-sabotaging thoughts that had boarded their ship like sneaky pirates in the night. I encouraged them to replace negative self-talk with realistic positive affirmations. The assistance I provided to others has been rewarding to me in many different ways. Besides the appreciation and thanks I have received, I have built a lifetime of friendships. And, as a result of my efforts I have grown and matured as a person. Many times after being a helpful friend I would learn more about my own demons, fears and insecurities that sometimes resurface after being stowed away for years.
Here I was, as much as I tried to ignore it, a malicious sprite was floating around my head. With a vengeance he was hurling old fearful thoughts at me, one after another. I was starting to get truly exasperated and I realized I had to take action. It was my turn to practice what I preach. I needed guidance, but realized that I could not turn to my family or friends to resolve the turbulence I was feeling. I knew that I had to get away in order to nurture my soul. I decided that immersing myself into some calming nature would help me find the answers. I decided to venture up to Door County and hike the beaches and trails of Newport State Park, one of my favorite places to visit.
On my way up, I decided to take the Eastern route so that I could enjoy the view of Lake Michigan. The ride was a bit longer than I anticipated, but eventually the sparkling blue waters came into view. My disposition improved as I spotted migrating loons, ducks, geese, seagulls, and the famous Door County cherry trees that were just starting to blossom.
My hike along the shore of the park was invigorating. I was soon rewarded with a huge flock of seagulls flying nearby and spectacular waves splashing off the rocks and cliffs of the shoreline. After a mile or so of hiking the edge of the lake, I decided to venture inland into the forest. I was fortunate and had the solitude of the entire woodlands to myself for well over an hour. I could think and talk out loud – without embarrassing myself!
The lush green trees and vegetation, coupled with a wide-variety of birds calling made me feel as if I was back in Costa Rica. It felt and looked like one of the rain forests I had visited a couple of years ago. Before I knew it, I was relaxed and feeing the restorative powers of Mother Earth. She has been my elixir for years, and once again she helped change my mood allowing me to harness my trepidation. The first key shift I made was to simply enjoy the journey and not worry so much about the destination. I also promised myself to take more breathes from my oxygen mask and take more responsibility for my own happiness. More revelations would come to me.
I trekked forward with a renewed sense of balance and confidence. Before long, I neared a familiar loop in the trail. I spotted a memorial bench that had not been there in years past. I like to stop at each bench I find to give thanks to the family for the gift they provided. They are a wonderful means of remembering their departed loved ones. I realize they are more than just a resting place for weary hikers. All of these benches have a soulful life and story behind them.
As I approached this particular bench, I was drawn to it like a hummingbird is attracted to the nectar of a flower. I was impressed with the artwork, but that was not what grabbed my interest. What caught my attention and saddened me at the same time was by the very short life of the woman memorialized on this bench, Sarah Elizabeth Parsen. However that was not what obliged me to stop and sit for a spell. What captivated my pensiveness was the quotation below Sarah’s name. As soon as I absorbed its meaning, I realized that my journey had a very cosmic aura to it. The quote read:
“Go forth to meet the future without fear.”
I sat on the bench and started to absorb the message. I could not help but wonder what kind of person Sarah was and the life she led. I surmised that she was a brave young woman who lived life to its fullest – without fear. I vowed to learn her story as soon as I returned home. I had a strong feeling that I would be touched in some special way once I learned more about her.
I began my research using the Internet and discovered what appeared to be an obituary. It revealed what a tremendous loss Sarah’s family and friends had suffered. I learned that Sarah gave love full-heartedly and had a joyful energy. She had a warming smile that was contagious. The way she lived her life gave comfort and strength to all those she touched. Everybody who knew Sarah will remember her as someone who gave enough love to grasp the beauty of life in all its countless ways. She was very close to her family and created memories with an extended family of friends.
Sarah had attended my alma mater, UW La Crosse. In 2003, while an exchange student in Melbourne, Australia she met the love of her life, Troy Saunders. For two years Sarah and Troy nurtured their strong relationship and grew closer, never letting the huge distance that separated them diminish their love for each other. In October of 2005, Troy came to the United States to be with Sarah and they began their voyage through life together. Tragically, one short week later when Sarah and Troy had just begun living their dream, they died in a car accident near the family cottage in Door County.
What message can one find from the loss of a loved one like Sarah or Troy? As I sat there and pondered the array of emotions and questions that converged that day, I asked myself what meaning could I glean from this serendipitous hike. The easy one (and so very cliché) is to “live every day of your life as if it might be your last.”
Over the days and weeks following my Door County respite, I dug deeper and deeper. The quote, “Go forth to meet the future without fear” motivated me to look backward, forward, and then at the present. The insights I created allowed me to resolve some old emotional baggage and alleviated my previously debilitating fears. However, the most meaningful take-away from the experience came to me simply because Father’s Day was fast approaching. My thoughts of a brave Sarah drifted to my late father who epitomized the meaning of being a fearless and loving Dad.
Without voices shouting down to me, I knew it was time for me to focus on building my “ark”. Before I delve into the making of a modern day ark, let me share a little bit about my father and the ark he helped build for my mother and sisters.
Norman Kreiman was the man who I learned to call Dad around the age of five or six. He married my mother when I was four years old. He was not just a father to four very rambunctious children. He was also a special friend to many, a dedicated and hard working optometrist, a socially conscious volunteer, a loving brother, uncle, son, and the dedicated husband to my mother.
I met my Dad when I was a young tot around the age of three. At the time, my family consisted of myself, my mother, and my two older sisters who were seven and eight. What was this man thinking when he started to date my mother? Was he out of his mind or simply smitten with her? Probably a little bit of both!
My father met my mother while she was doing the interior decorating at a restaurant he was dining at for the very first time. Not too surprisingly, he soon became a regular there. When he finally developed enough courage to ask her out on a date, he was rebuffed – more than once. Being the intelligent man he was, he hired her to decorate his new optometry office. Soon after his clever employ, he found himself courting a divorced woman with three children. What would normally also be at odds with this match turning out successfully, was the fact that he was Jewish and we were all Christian. What would his Jewish parents think as their son Norm, who was just starting his professional career, began dating a divorced, non-Jewish woman with an instant family waiting in the wings?
My mother had dated a number of men, but none captivated the hearts of my sisters and I like Norm did. He always treated her with respect and he truly seemed interested in each of us kids. The whirlwind romance would soon take a storybook twist after my sisters and I took a vote (which was unanimous) and we decided he was the one for her. One day while he was visiting at our house, we asked him to come down to the basement with us. My oldest sister being the spokesperson, shyly informed him, “we have taken a vote and of all the men that our mom has dated…well we like you the best, so will you be our daddy?”
He asked us, “did your Mom put you up to this?”
“No”, we answered in unison.
My mother married the wonderful father who raised my sisters and me in 1959. I was just four years old at the time and my sisters 8 and 9 respectively. Our ark soon added a fourth crew member when my youngest sister was born in November of 1961. We were not unlike other families in that we had joys, heartache, and turmoil – which I am relatively sure I caused the most of as a confused little boy.
There is no doubt how fortunate my siblings and I realize we were to have this special man and his family unite with us. My father’s entire family treated all of us children as if we born of the marriage – we were never called “step-children” and ultimately we always called him Dad. Through thick and thin and at times of utter chaos, our father was the rock of our family. Besides working extremely hard to provide for us, he was also fully present in our lives. My sisters and I all recall that he was always there for us – to listen and to be the wise sage and loving father every man should be. When we were together with him, he engaged us with authentic questions in which he was genuinely interested in the answers. As a doting Grandfather, my Dad often read children’s books to my son, played catch with him and created many lasting fond memories. He also touched the lives of his other grandchildren along with many others who were part of our extended family.
Let’s take a look at the blueprint for the making of a modern day ark. It’s not made of aluminum, wood or steel. It doesn’t really float, but if built correctly it does embrace people and can include animals. Often times a modern day ark will include men, women, children, and sometimes dogs, cats and other pets. A close-knit family is also a trademark of a seaworthy ark. The modern day ark will have plenty of room for friends who grow close enough to be treated like family. Community involvement, respect for the earth, spirituality and treating others like you want to be treated are all commonly found onboard a modern day ark.
A modern day ark will never have a Captain Bligh. If the ark is composed of a man and woman, they have equal say in important decision making. Recognizing each other’s strengths and weaknesses, they take turns at the helm. If the ark is filled with offspring, the unconditional love and respect shown by each parent is witnessed by those children and becomes a natural part of their lives. If the ark starts taking in water, both shipmates play a role in the repair process. If either one of the adult shipmates becomes ill, the other easily and willingly pilots the ark and helps nurture the other back to health in any way possible.
As I finish writing this piece with fondness and gratitude in my heart, I realize that as I “go forth to meet the future without fear”, I only need to think of my father to be inspired. His love and courage allowed him to take an amazing leap of faith and build a very nice “ark”. I would like to think that I became a much better friend, brother, father, and shipmate because of him. From him, I learned how to treat a woman with loving devotion and respect. Whenever my ark starts to tilt, I credit him with being a great role model in how to right the ship quickly working alongside my mate. The designs for my ark are in my heart. Although it is a work in progress, it has set sail and has unlimited horizons and potential.