By Chaplain (Lt. Col.) David Berube, 102nd Intelligence Wing
/ Published August 23, 2013
OTIS AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Mass. -- In The Breakwater on Elk Creek (1), author G. E. Wallace tells about a young man named George Jennings who was hired to build a breakwater.
It seems the owner of a summer home on Elk Creek commissioned George to construct a breakwater to prevent his land from getting washed away in the event of a storm. It was a straightforward job, to be completed in a single day. The property owner and George agreed on the scope of the work and the price to be paid. Then George got to work.
George first cleared the channel in front of the property. He skillfully removed rocks and debris in order to be sure the creek flowed how and where it was supposed to on a regular basis. He then built the wooden breakwater to help keep the creek within its banks whenever storms raised its level. George even added wooden wings to the ends of the breakwater to help keep a storm-swollen creek from working its way around the breakwater and defeating it. At the end of the day the property owner was satisfied with George's work, paid him, and was content his land was safe. George, however, wasn't yet satisfied.
George got home that evening and started thinking about how a living breakwater in front of the wooden one would make things even more secure. He knew another man who was successful in protecting his own property this way, so George went to see him.
George left that visit with a bunch of weeping willow shoots to plant at the newly constructed breakwater, which he did the next morning. The owner questioned why George was back (really, he wanted to know how much extra it was going to cost). George explained why he was back, and that there was no additional cost - he was paid to do the job and now he felt it was completely done. George left the second day confident he had done everything he could to secure the property on the bank of Elk Creek.
In many ways our lives are like living along a creek bank. In the normal flow of life a certain amount of debris collects near us. Financial and relationship difficulties, work-related issues, physical limitations, or other less-than-positive life events happen and leave emotional or physical obstructions in our lives - some big and some not. When the storms of major life events happen, that pile of smaller events can combine with the current storm and threaten to overwash our well-being. While we can't control the storms, we can spend time before it rains doing creek maintenance and building a life breakwater.
The first part of our task is to take a look at the debris collecting alongside our lives. As a result of negative experiences, are there negative thoughts and behaviors left behind that keep our lives from flowing smoothly? Have we made choices that created a pile of consequences which threaten to push life over us rather than helping it flow more naturally? What can we do to clear those obstructions and free up our lives? An honest personal assessment and work to clear the negatives we can will help maintain the positive flow of our lives in normal times and prepare for stormy and rainy periods.
Next, we can build a breakwater for life. For me, this means taking care of ourselves physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually. If we construct each of these areas in well-intentioned ways on the many good days of life, we have a solid buffer for the days when life's storms batter the banks of our existence. As we build a basic breakwater for life, we can anticipate the need for "wings" of extra support around the edges. And along with that, we can plant the "willows" of living breakwater - developing deeply trusting friendships with those committed to stand with us when the storms hit.
Obviously, we can't plan for everything and we'll drive ourselves crazy if we try to do that. But, once we've planned in reasonable ways for what storms life might bring our way, we'll be better able to live without fear of the creek rising. Then we can more fully engage and enjoy the good which life holds.
1 As told in Great Stories Remembered, Joe L. Wheeler, 1996, pp. 229-235