one of our favorite cultural cliches is a phrase that just seems to ooze from the depths of the heart of the 'american dream'.
'the sky's the limit'.
and while many a dreamer has taken these words to heart, and through determination and hard work has transformed their dreams into realities, there are others of us who realize that there are limits in life that simply cannot be overcome, but must be accepted, accommodated, and even embraced.
because sometimes, limits aren't merely restrictions.
sometimes, limits can serve as a needed, and even healthy framework in which to wonder and work, labor and live.
for those of us who travel together on Bus 132, limits are simply a part of life. whether they be physical, emotional, neurological, developmental, educational or relational.
they are constrictive, confining, and paralyzingly prohibitive.
AND they can provide parameters for a life that is passionately prolific and productive.
as their driver, i face certain limits in my role every day.
i must do my best to stay on a schedule for pick ups and drop offs (especially in the afternoons, where i have 8 different students who i pick up from 3 different schools and drop off at locations all over the city).
i have certain rules of the road by which i'm obliged to abide, not only for the sake of keeping the law, but much more for the safety and security of my 'precious cargo'.
and my poor, rickety and faithful old bus has certain, built-in limitations beyond which it simply cannot go.
like being able to turn around in tight spaces.
or provide my passengers anything resembling a 'smooth' ride (thankfully, my experiences driving in foreign countries, where both level pavement - or any pavement at all - and operative vehicle suspension systems are entirely 'optional' have prepared my body and psyche well for my body-pummeling, mind-rattling excursions each day).
or come close to 'speeding' down the highways and by-ways of our fair city (good news for a renown 'led foot' like me).
but there are moments when these limitations elicit some real frustrations.
like at the point on my route where i need to get on the freeway. and the onramp is uphill. and steep. and short.
and all i can do is literally put the 'pedal to the metal' and floor the darn thing to gain as much forward momentum as possible in my feeble attempt to get onto said freeway at a speed that comes somewhat close to the flow of traffic.
and EVERY TIME, no matter how early i punch the accelerator, no matter how fervently i try to will the old jalopy up that blasted hill, by the time i get to the top and have to merge into traffic, i reach the scintillating top speed of...
42 miles per hour.
on a freeway where the speed limit is 65 miles per hour.
now, most vehicles whizzing by me understand that i'm driving a school bus, and graciously move over to the left inside lane to accommodate my tortoise-like lack of velocity and give me some safe space to merge into the mayhem, and then continue flooring it for another 3/4 of a mile until i reach a speed that more aligns with the flow of traffic.
but i can't help but feel somewhat self-conscious and slovenly suffocated by the lack of horsepower of my not-so-mighty machine.
and that, literally, i can't do a damn thing about it.
or a blessed thing.
kind of like certain aspects of my life.
like the fact that no matter how many times i've tried to alter the course of nature, i can't uncurl my toes and reshape my bunions and somehow make my feet look less like Sasquatch.
like the fact that regardless of the number of efforts i make to try and understand it, i will never be able to solve a Rubik's cube, or balance the national budget (let alone my own checkbook), or comprehend how a man who's been known throughout history as the 'Prince of Peace' could be used to advocate war, the death penalty, or violence of any kind for that matter.
like the fact that i can send out dozens of resumes all over the place and make scores of connections with people who can advocate for me for different vocational possibilities, and still come back to the end of another day with no real change in my prospects for the future.
i put the 'pedal to the metal', and i still end up struggling up the same damn hills at the same damn speed.
the tormented 'tortoise', trapped in interminable inertia, watching helplessly as the hasty 'hares' of progress and success blaze on by.
but then i think of the experience of an old 'friend'.
a lightning rod of controversy and conversion from the dim and distant past of my spiritual tradition.
the one named Saul of Tarsus.
the one hell-bent on maintaining the limits of his tradition at the expense of the lives of anyone who sought to transcend them.
the one (sadly among many) who employed the death penalty in the name of the One known as 'Love'.
the one who was blinded on a dark road one day by a brilliant Light, and deafened by a thunderous Voice calling him by name.
'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?'
in one account of this famous exchange, the Voice continues with a phrase equally mysterious and magnificent.
'It hurts you to kick against the goads.'
now, you may be wondering, 'what in the name of Romnesia is a GOAD?' good question.
a 'goad' is a sharp instrument used to prod animals to move in a certain direction. kind of like the 'point-HED sticks' that Eric Idle wants to learn how to defend himself against (instead of fresh fruit) in that great Monty Python skit.
in persecuting and even murdering people for defying the limits of his own tradition, Saul himself was kicking against the 'limits' of a whole new experience, one that transcends his tradition and all others, one that was 'prodding' him in a very real manner along the pathway to a new and very real Way of life.
and the more he 'kicked' against these 'goads' of transcendent vision and transformed passion, the more he was inflicting pain.
the key to stopping his sadistic self-destruction was to recognize that the damn thing against which he was fighting was, in fact, a blessed thing.
and i look at my dear, daily passengers, and how their limitations both frustrate them AND empower them to grow in ways that reveal how unique and amazing they truly are.
and then i realize that perhaps the limitations of my present life aren't ultimately meant for my frustration, but rather, for my formation.
and maybe even my transformation.
and maybe, just maybe, i could one day raise my head towards the heavens, and breathe a sigh of thanks...
that even the sky has limits.