Updated: Aug 13, 2020
Catalina is an island 26 miles off the coast of Southern California. It’s a great place to snorkel crystal clear water, chase the smell of a waffle cone along the cobblestone waterfront in Avalon, or nestle in the desolate serenity of Two Harbors. The clouds often cover the mainland, so staring out at the ocean, beyond the few sailboats in the harbor, you feel like you’re far from home.
In years past, Catalina has also been the starting place for a 26 mile swimming event from the island to the mainland. Along with lots of fanfare, escort boats, and months of training, the objective is hard, yet straightforward: swim across the open ocean channel from Avalon to Long Beach. You begin early in the morning and arrive hopefully before dark.
After a full and steady day of swimming, the sun was beginning to set, fatigue was setting in, and something began to happen that wasn’t forecast. A thick marine layer of fog rolled in and settled over the water, completely obscuring any view of the mainland. The lead swimmer, up to this point, was tired, hurting, but on course and still confident, because she had been seeing what was ahead. But the fog was cold and thickened to 10 feet of visibility, and all that was confident and clear and focused in her began to sink.
We can’t out-swim it or out-run it. We can’t prepare or train enough to avoid it. Covid-19 pandemic. The current world news. Masks: to wear or not to wear? Conversations we want to have and don’t want to have. Identity. Capacity. Voice. Trauma. Race. Justice. Projection. History. Hope. Security. Apathy. Choice. Kindness. Faith. Regret. And more, and more.
How do we find our way in the chaos?
Some of the common suggestions might work, like setting goals, being committed, being flexible, having accountability, etc. But ultimately, and as cliche as it sounds, our souls crave to feel more free than the feeling of accomplishing our best goals can provide. And we’re often deeply fatigued from the burdens we acquire in our pursuits for more comfort and security.
Finding our way is about discovering a deeper freedom in spite of the chaos.
At the end of the day, wouldn’t it be nice to feel a little lighter, a little more free, not only from the weight of the unknown before us, but from the weight of the things we already carry or might even pick up today?
And when it comes to burdens, one of the heaviest is regret, regret of something I was not courageous enough to believe or do or try, or regret of something I did or allowed that was hurtful or wrong, even the decisions on the inside that people may never know or see.
So finding our way through deep uncertainty is a really a question of navigating well. Few of us take the time to articulate the inner life, to navigate the less seen emotional and relational origins and even trajectories of our lives, the hidden assumptions and blindspots that we’ve carried for years that create filters for how we perceive people and things around us.
So taking some time to ask a few more reflective questions might serve us well right now. Let me suggest we begin here: What is something you want to look back on at the end of the day, whether that’s today, next month, year or decade, and say, “I don’t regret that.”
Because not regretting is the navigation point. It’s the Way we’re trying to find in the chaos.
Those who live with fewer regrets in life live with more freedom. They experience more peace. Is there something right now you will regret if you don’t start it, or stop it, or say it?
In these days of obscurity, where opinions and solutions to coronavirus seem to catapult through the air across news channels and social outlets, where coping mechanisms to the anxiety of racial and political tensions seem wanting, and where the tides of change are forcing us to adapt in unprecedented ways, some say we have but two choices: sink or swim. But there’s a third, and it’s not always the best.
When things change around you for the worse, it’s easy to get scared and lose your way. Especially when the thing you’re hoping for seems a long way off and you feel alone, tired, and done. What begins as running an epic race turns, within a short time, to surviving an epic trial (learn more about surviving epic trials at The Coffman Company).
When the fog bank didn’t lift after another hour of swimming, she began to question it all. Is it worth it? Can I even finish? What’s the point? It’s too far, I won’t make it. This could go on for hours. I don’t know how much longer.
The escort boat next to her was a few feet away. She had the choice to keep swimming through the dark fog to a destination she couldn’t see, or to climb aboard the boat, forfeit the race, and deal with the aftermath. Despite the encouragement from her coaches on board to hang on longer, she swam over to the boat and climbed up out of the water.
The boat throttled up, and within two minutes, it cleared the fog and was at the entrance of the marina, a bright sun setting over a crowd, adjusting their welcome to the first finisher wrapped in a towel on the back of a boat. While many celebrated her tremendous effort and wouldn’t fault her 11th hour choice to abandon the race, very few understood the weight of regret she would carry in her life.
“Had I known…”
Finding our way in the chaos is not about attaching to the right candidate for the election. It’s not just about representing our ideals and values across social media. And it’s not even about securing our preferred outcomes, whether financial or relational or professional. It’s about choices that activate our faith and lead us to freedom, even when our world is swirling around us.
So ask yourself, “Where will I carry the least regret?” (because this is the place I am most free regardless of what’s happening around me) and then act now toward that end. Despite the fog, the unknowing, the uncertainty, act with faith toward that end.
“Trust no future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,--act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 1807-1882