Faith Gong: Of anniversaries and trampolines
The 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing also happens to be the 17th anniversary of my marriage. Laying the two events side by side, I’m not sure which is the greater miracle: the amount of planning, coordination, brainpower, technology, and skill required to land a man on the moon, or the amount required to pull off our wedding (to say nothing of the ensuing marriage!).
The 17th anniversary is apparently the “furniture anniversary,” so it seems fitting that this week my husband installed a major piece of outdoor “furniture” that allows our family to defy gravity just like those Apollo 11 astronauts. That’s right: We got a trampoline.
The trampoline in question is 14 feet in diameter, so all four of our children can jump on it at once. But don’t worry: In keeping with my husband’s reputation as the “safe parent” – the sunscreen/bike helmet/smoke detector guy – it’s surrounded by a safety net. The trampoline sits in our backyard, right next to the treehouse that my husband built a couple of summers ago, and the “ninja slackline” that he installed earlier this summer.
My husband has a vision, you see, and it’s a good one: His vision is that our house and surrounding land will be a place where our children and their friends want to be, with plenty of fun outdoor features that encourage them to be outside and active. Whenever we visit friends who have something that fits that vision – like a slackline or a trampoline – it seems to turn up in our own yard before too long. Next on the list: A backyard yurt hangout, complete with foosball table.
It could be a midlife crisis displaced upon our children, or it could be that my husband sees the writing on the wall now that our daughters are sprinting towards teen-dom. “I’d just rather have them and their friends wanting to hang out here than anywhere else,” he says.
A friend wondered, half joking, if a moat was in the plans.
“Daddy never wants you to leave the house,” I told our daughters, half seriously, when they wondered at the utopia being built up in our backyard.
And they do wonder. We are not particularly lenient parents when it comes to purchases. Unless we undergo a radical conversion, we will never have a television or smartphones. We have no video game console, no Alexa, and as few junky toys as we can manage. Most of our daughters’ clothes are hand-me-downs, and they are required to use their own money whenever possible. The only things we seem to accumulate are art supplies and books – and now, large yard toys.
So as my daughters started ticking down the list of our backyard features, one of them looked up with worried eyes and asked, “Are we getting spoiled?”
“Well,” answered my husband, without missing a beat, “you know the way to keep from getting spoiled? We have to make sure that we always share what we have with other people.”
If you could sum up my husband in one statement, that would be it.
His belief that the key to not being spoiled is sharing with others applies not only to slacklines and trampolines; it applies to life itself. We need each other. We need to open our lives to others to keep from getting spoiled – and I’m not just talking about spoiled in the sense of having a lot of possessions, but rather in the sense of having our very spirits ferment and rot.
My tendency when alone is to turn inwards, to become self-centered, self-pitying, and just plain selfish. (Unless you are a monk in a desert cell, I suspect this is true of us all.) Then along came my husband, and he taught me how to share; how to share my life with him, and then how to share the life we’d made with others. And the more we share – with children, family, friends, and neighbors – our lives become less spoiled in every sense, and immeasurably richer.
The Apollo 11 mission itself was primarily the result of sharing: It was successful due to a team of roughly 400,000 people who worked together and shared their time, energy, and expertise.
On the night before the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing and our 17th anniversary, our family watched Apollo 11, Todd Douglas Miller’s documentary film of the lunar landing. We were amazed at the rows upon rows of people sitting behind their massive computers in ground control. We gasped at liftoff. We wondered at the courage of the three astronauts. (“Weren’t they afraid they would just FALL into space?” one daughter asked.) And we marveled at every single complicated maneuver that had to go right in order to pull the whole thing off. Half a century later, it still feels like a miracle.
The older I get, though – now 17 years into my marriage – the less impressed I am with the flashier miracles. I don’t need to see men walking on the moon to experience the miraculous. It turns out that what they teach in preschool was right all along: The biggest miracles are happening all the time, right under our noses, when we share with each other – our food, our gifts, our time, our love, our lives. And, yes, even our trampolines.
Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit director. She lives in Middlebury with her husband, four daughters, assorted chickens and ducks, one feisty cat, and one anxiety-prone labradoodle. In her "free time," she writes for her blog, The Pickle Patch.