I recently befriended a wise man with whom I have shared many fascinating conversations. I was particularly inspired by one of his musings on first times. So much so that I kindly asked him to write the following for this blog. Thankyou to Karsten Banović for this beautiful thought.
To me First Times are sacred and sacred isn’t a word I use lightly. It seems to be among the category of words abused by those whose belief systems rely far more on a feeling than anything sensible or logical. But, never the less, to me first times are sacred.
If we’re going to add up our first times, of course we must include our very first breath immediately after our birth, our first birthday, our first sexual relations and for some of us our first marriage or even our first child. Yet, there are many other first times that may tend to overlook. The first time we got a drivers license, our first job, our first time eating sushi or even our first broken limb. We may not remember some of our first times fondly such as our first broken heart, the first time a friend betrayed us or the first time we were wrongfully blamed for something we didn’t do. I believe there are many more first times that we don’t rejoice in which we could relish and savor.
I haven’t always felt this way about first times. In my childhood I was downright afraid of them. My childhood wasn’t exactly conducive to first times. With parents who grew up in the rural American west in a religious family, anything new, unusual or unexpected was not just considered weird but down right un-American and possibly even evil. Conformity and fitting in were and continue to be the standard by which everyone in that society was judged—sometimes very harshly for even minor infractions. But, good fortune was on my side after we moved to a state and a community where full compliance wasn’t mandatory. Yet, even then, it wasn’t until I spent a year in Hawaii that I came to understand how valuable first times are.
I worked as a Luna, or a supervisor to you and me, with a group teens, many of whom were on the verge of going to jail. Most of the young men on our program were from mountain states and were unfamiliar with the ocean. Since I was one of the few people who had ocean experience in the group I quickly became the go-to guy for all beach excursions. Many of the young men were doing exactly what I had done years before with my own insecurities and fears of trying something new. They recited a worn out dislike of the sea and preferred fond memories of their experiences hunting or camping in the Rocky Mountains. I simply ignored their protests, seeing them for what they were. I didn’t mock or make light of their protests but simply encouraged them to get in the water and to try something new.
Before too long these boys were buying snorkel masks, boogie boards and other beach toys with the rest of us. Within a few months their own excitement was evident as they explored the reef and found morey eels, octopus and even reef sharks. Now it was the tourists visiting the islands who came to us for their first times. We speared fresh fish, climbed coconut trees barefoot, picked fresh guava fruit and brought perfectly ripe pineapples with us that he had harvested earlier in the day and eagerly shared them with enthused tourists.
Many years later, one young man taught me how sacred first times can be. He spent his formative years living with a drug addicted mother in a violent world where extreme poverty was the norm. It was a world that I could hardly even imagine. So much of his life he lived in utter boredom and loneliness punctuated by episodes of abuse, violence and crime. He came into my life quite unexpectedly and before long he had found a place in my heart. Instead of being afraid and cowardly of first times, like I had been in my own childhood, this kid loved and embraced everything new. He was fearless in his embrace of the first times and was incredibly enthusiastic and grateful. We bought him new clothes that actually fit him—his first ever. We fed him Sushi, Indian, Thai, Italian, Mexican, French and even Afghani food and he relished them all. We took him camping, kayaking, white-water rafting, on road trips, sledding, hiking, and riding ATVs. We took him to the theatre, to political fundraisers, to music concerts outside his preferred genre, to modern dance, the ballet and the symphony and never once did he berate or prejudge the event or activity. He never fell back onto old stereotypes and prejudices that he had learned from others in his life. Not only did he teach me to value my own first times but to also rewrite my own past with a deep gratitude that I had failed to experience when I was actually there.
It’s interesting that in Eastern Philosophy, the highest levels in life isn’t achieved with great success but rather living an every day life with purpose. As the saying goes, “Before enlightenment—chop wood and haul water. After enlightenment—chop wood and haul water.” It’s those simple little memories that I hold as my fondest with this enlightened young man that would later become my son. The first time he shaved, the first time he drove my jeep, his first love of a book, preparing six hour early for his first date, his first girlfriend and later his first love.
Now, many years later, soon I’ll be a grandfather for the very first time. Him and his girlfriend will be having their first child and they are more excited then ever. They are having many more first times that they eagerly share with others their first ultrasound, their first time hearing the babies heart beat and the first time the knew the babies gender and soon the first time they came up with a baby name that they both like.
Just about the only television show I watch is the Amazing Race and its for just one simple reason. You get to see different people having many first times. You see first hand the many ways that we humans deal with facing a new experience. Some will be afraid of looking foolish and pretend to have previous experience that they don’t. Others will hide away their fears and self doubt and deal with the experience in solitude. Yet others will openly admit that they are having a first time, that they are afraid or that they have no idea what they are doing. More often then not this turns into a rally cry for support from others and an opportunity to share their very human emotions and experience with others. Then when they do face their fear and do it anyway, they now get to share the thrill of their success with others.
So, it is my hope that all of you will share with those around you your own doubts, your own concerns and even your excitement of having a brand new and exciting very first times
(Photo – Eli Woodbine, Wards Island, 2016)