On Friday at lunchtime, my sons and I head out of the city to go camping. Murray and our friends, the Leisewitzes, can only get away on Saturday morning. But the boys have some days off school; we’re at a loose end; and they are irrepressibly excited. So we go.
Two hours later our tent is up (no pegs, no poles – even I can do it), the kettle’s boiling, I’ve pretty much shut out the world and we’re wading through the river. I feel like I’m in a Famous Five adventure.
Standing thigh deep in said river, I call the farmer’s wife to say we’ve arrived, and is it really safe to swim? Sure, she says. Her kids swim in the river all the time. It’s clean. Of course, there are hippos in the area. They’ve been spotted upstream and downstream of the campsite so we should keep a lookout. But she’s pretty sure we should be fine.
Oh right. Hippos. Hmm.
We swim nonetheless, though I swim while casting furtive glances across the water. But we swim because there’s something thrilling about the risk. Something stretching and strengthening for these boys of mine whose urban world is so safe, so measured. There’s something freeing about splashing over rocks knowing that no one is logging my exercise on an app, and that Africa’s most dangerous beast may be snoozing in the reeds.
It’s hard for Cam. He’s desperate for adventure and terrified of the unknown. I see just fine, and I can totally relate. He can’t see his feet or the crabs or the rocks (or the hippos) and he clutches my hands but he wants to keep going. He’s learning, maybe, what brave feels like. He’s learning that it’s just a whole lot of honest-to-God pretending while you push through panic – and it’s survivable. He’s learning that it’s exhilarating to stretch taut his capacity because afterwards he’s so glad he did.
The afternoon is autumn gold. Mud between our toes, we eat tennis biscuits and read on a sleeping bag in the shade.
And this is another thing I love about camping:
It recalibrates the soul for simplicity and flexibility. It reminds me that we need to be absolutely inflexible on the important stuff, and absolutely flexible on absolutely everything else.
So, we need to prioritize relationships, inflexibly. Life is too short to do anything but love people, and love God. And we dare not budge from the perspective we get, on His magnitude, when we’re barefoot beneath stars and sun. On these few simple things, there can be no flexibility.
But, we need to be flexible about brewing coffee in the kettle when the bodum breaks. Flexible about the kids floating all the towels and all the bedding across the river on tubes to build a house on their Secret Pirate Island (which boasts real, fresh, not-so-secret hippo poo). And occasionally, we shouldn’t get our knickers in a twist about the disproportionate vegetable to marshmallow ratio.
Sometimes, we need to be flexible about dirt, discomfort and our own agendas, and allow weather or whim to dictate the rhythm of the day. We need to ask, What’s the worst that can happen? And if it does happen, does it matter? (*Hippo attacks, obviously, do matter.*)
Sometimes, we need to allow ourselves unbridled happiness.
Always, we need to leverage our time and space in the great outdoors to rewrite the narratives that direct our lives and our kids’ lives, so that we and they remember what does and doesn’t really matter in the end.
. . .
Love and strength to you for the rest of the week!