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Even mistakes are like life rafts

Dec. 27, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

"Then it came to me that maybe that's the only thing life rafts are supposed to do. Taking the shipwrecked, not exactly to the land, but only in view of land. The final mile being theirs alone to swim." -- Bette Greene, Summer of My German Soldier

I emphasized these lines recently with my eighth-grade students as we finished reading the novel, "Summer of My German Soldier." I talked about not only the beauty of the words Ms. Greene wrote, but also of their personal significance. "How many times in life has a parent, teacher or coach attempted to provide guidance and instruction on how to perform or achieve a certain task; and, yet, they cannot do it for you? Their words can take you only so far, then it is up to you to go the last mile, to actually put what the adult said into practice."

Eyes met mine. I wondered how many were actually listening. Of those who were listening, how many could go beyond their daily teenage drama and actually think about what I was saying? I suppose I'll never know. Still, even as an adult, those words make me think.

How many situations have I personally experienced in which I had all the best advice in the world, yet, ultimately had to be the one to forge my own lone way?

Certainly as a child, teenager and young adult, lessons had to be learned over and over where I went that "final mile," without applying advice given to me only to find I missed the mark.

Therefore, perhaps, even mistakes are like life rafts -- eventually, after trying to achieve something independent of the best advice, you give in, and allow the raft to do its job until you are strong enough to make it on your own. Yet, I would also add you need an actual target, a lighthouse if you will, for which to focus as you go that final mile.

While I prefer to resist categorizing experiences as "bad" or "good." There is experience; and, it is often our best teacher -- our best inspiration at discovering our personal life raft, if you will. Often, teenagers and adults alike, can get so wrapped up in the "judgment" aspect what is "good" and what is "bad," that we forget about the lighthouse, the goal of our life. Knowing whom you are, what you stand for and what you wish to accomplish can often drown out the "noise" judgment can create within. You know, the self-doubting thoughts such as, "I can't do that, others might think . . ."

Of course, this sounds incongruent from how I started this essay. I am not saying we should not take advice of others. What I am saying is define who you are and what you value first. Then, choose wisely, based on those values, before deciding which life raft of advice you will heed. Furthermore, if mistakes happen, rather than wasting time "judging them," learn from them and get back on the raft.

Long ago, there was a song I used to hear in church with lyrics that went something like this,

"There is a lighthouse on the hill that overlooks life's seas. . .If it wasn't for the lighthouse, I don't know where this ship would be."

This is my point.

Knowing from whom to seek advice, applying the advice in an honest attempt; and then, learning from any mistake before hopping up on the "raft" for a rest and trying again is important. Surrounding yourself with loved ones and friends who understand and respect your goal will further strengthen your "raft."

Having faith and belief in a high power is critical. Believing in your ability is vital. Additionally, being a "flexible life raft" is also significant.

For example, what if the unexpected positive opportunity is placed before you. "Okay, so I thought this was what I wanted to achieve. I followed advice. Trained and/or became educated according to plan. But now, this unforeseen prospect is before me. Should I stick to my original plan or jump for shore in a new direction?"

This is where the final mile is the swimmers to swim alone. Taking in advice from confidants, examining who you truly are, and believing in your ability to "make it," the swimmer must place his or her faith in God and dive in. Only by swimming that final mile on your own, will you learn the strength that resides within you.

Therefore, as I approach 2013, I welcome it with open arms. Currently, I am on my life raft waiting for it to come into sight.

At this point in my life, I am grateful because I know who I am, for what I stand and in whom I can put my trust and faith.

When I finally crest the wave that throws me closest to my lighthouse of 2013, I will dive into another new year leaving the life raft of 2012 to be swallowed up into the seas of time as I swim vigorously into a new direction. I hope you will join me.

May we all feel strong enough to leave our life raft and swim with vigor into the lighthouse of 2013.

Happy New Year.

Stephanie Hill is a freelance writer and an eighth-grade reading and writing teacher at South Point Middle School. She is also a lifelong resident of Lawrence County. She can be reached at hill992@zoominternet.net.