This past weekend, I got the hammock out.
Strung it between two trees in the backyard under a warm August sun. Just me and the sky.
There’s a lot to be said for a good hammock. Back when I was a young and single man, the bedroom of my tiny apartment was graced with one. I had no bed, I had a hammock. And I rocked myself to sleep every night dreaming I was on some warm and secluded beach far away. When my girlfriend agreed to become my wife, she said the hammock had to go. It was just as well. Eventually, you have to put the old things aside in favor of the new.
But sometimes those old things come back, if only for an afternoon. It had been a long, difficult week. I needed a break. My sunny disposition had turned sullen, and I had a serious case of the Grouchies. I needed to rock myself and dream of warm beaches to chase the pessimism away.
The knots were good, the hammock threads still strong. I moved to one tree and set my leg in the middle.
Lifted my other leg off the ground.
And by that, I mean tumbled. Hard. I did a complete three-sixty in the air and landed on my neck. I couldn’t breathe for thirty seconds.
Tried it again—setlegleanoverliftleg. Fell. It was an even worse fall that time, so bad that I actually did see warm beaches and thought I’d died.
The third attempt almost never happened. By then I was reciting the old adage of fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. To the best of my recollection, there was no fool me three times because no one in history had been so stupid to try it again.
But I did. I really wanted to chase that pessimism away, and I really wanted to do it in my old hammock.
I moved to one tree and set my leg in the middle.
Lifted my other leg off the ground. Slow, nice and slow, and…there. I’d made it.
Wasn’t easy, though. I’d forgotten that the thing about sitting in a hammock was just how difficult it was. Whatever stability you may find won’t last long. A breeze will kick up or you’ll sneeze or you’ll scratch a sudden itch, and for the next moments you’ll be fighting both gravity and inevitability.
The trick isn’t just learning how to get into a hammock, the trick is learning how to stay there. How to keep your balance. And the way you do that is simple—realizing you can tumble at any moment. You can tumble and you can have no understanding of why.
The best way to handle that knowledge, to maintain that balance, is to accept it and tuck it into a corner of your mind. Because the only way you can keep yourself from falling is by understanding that falling is a perpetual possibility.
Sounds pessimistic, I know. But it’s true. I laid there in that hammock for three hours counting the clouds and never fell once, all because I kept in my head I was always one twitch away from doing so.
I dreamed of faraway beaches, places where stress was a foreign word and time didn’t matter, where the sun was always warm. And yet I was allowed to dream of all that optimism because of the cynicism that held me in place.
Which got me thinking. Maybe the sadness we feel can teach us just as much as the happiness we want. Maybe God at times uses our doubt more than our faith. Maybe the best will happen and maybe the worst, and maybe the best we can hope for in this life is a strange and mysterious mix of the two.
I suppose we’ll all find out in the by and by. But for now, I’m sticking with this—the best way to rock away a warm afternoon is to know it can all tumble down.