Monday, January 12, 2009

limits and limitations (part III)

An email response from someone in our community-- to yesterday's lesson (click here and here)...

Limitations are something I've given a lot of thought over the years. It's my opinion that they take many forms, essentially boiling down to whether or not we view any given thing as limiting us.

There are, as with many things, no clear delineations for what constitutes a limit and what does not.... So it got me to thinking about what does constitute a limitation.

When I was a kid I was something of a runt, under-sized and unhealthily skinny. In fact I was so short for a number of years that certain members of my family admitted they thought I'd be a midget. Later, after the age of eleven, I went to live with my father on the farm, going from a life of neglectful parenting to a life of grueling labor which amounted to LOTS of fresh air, exercise and all the farm-fresh food I could eat.

My father was a polio victim at the age of five and this limitation shaped who he is, at least in large part. On one hand it's absolutely admirable for a child of the 30's, raised in brutal conditions with little education to have succeeded in the fashion he has. One thing my father says frequently is "If I had a healthy body NOTHING could stop me!"

He sees his body as his limitation. Then again, would he actually BE the man he became without that particular limitation having helped to shape him?

Because my father is somehow convinced that a good body is all one requires aside from a healthy dose of determination, he pushed me on the farm -- pushed me hard.

It didn't matter to him that he outweighed me by a hundred pounds, he saw me as having a healthy body, not one which suffered detriment at the hands of polio. Therefore, in his view, it made no sense that I wasn't capable of lifting a 100-pound sack of feed when I was just eleven years old and new to farm life. He pushed, he screamed, he badgered and belittled until I got that bag of feed out of the truck and into the barrel.

What in that situation, precisely, would count as a limitation?

As I hit puberty and grew, working hard under my father's ministrations, I began to experience something strange. I couldn't out-wrestle other boys, I was certainly no Alpha-dog among the pack-members of my group, and yet when there was work to be done I lifted loads they could not, not even in pairs and trios. When they each tried to throw that bale of hay to the top of the load and failed, I simply grabbed it and did it easily. When farm implements such as plows and rakes tipped over and they couldn't upright them, I grabbed things and just shoved them back into place.

But I couldn't outwrestle anyone, was always afraid to show my strengths because people got angry when defeated and reacted badly.

So my father pushed me PAST physical limitations which might have been imposed naturally or which might have consisted of mental barriers, his sheer, brute will forcing me into that place where "I can't do it" doesn't exist.

But he made me afraid of him always, and deprived me of any emotional bond, so that I ended up afraid of others as well.

One limitation removed, or seemingly. Another imposed.

Years later during an x-ray for pneumonia a med-tech looked at my film and squinted, asking finally "Have you been in some kind of terrible accident?" There was nothing blatant, but he believed he saw my ribs laceworked with old fractures like a kind of ossic doily. He said a few is normal for anyone but my count was unusually high.

It seems even a healthy body has its limitations, polio or not; the spirit may be willing but the flesh is weak. Large animals and brutal labor took their toll and at 42 years of age my shoulders and knees are a mess.

Still, I've accomplished a few physical feats which were nothing short of magnificent; yet I never had the manly gall to apply that physical derring-do to my social or educational efforts because I felt inferior and insignificant, a walking failure. Only now, years later when it's pretty much too late have I overcome that particular limitation.

And now I'm limited by time. Darn it all, those limitations won't stop coming!

There's a point to this train of thought, there really is....

It's my personal belief that way back in the Garden of Eden Man was created in God's image, with God's perfection in all ways save one: Experience and a solely corporeal form.

I don't believe Adam's back was tired at the end of the day, at least not in the BAD way where muscles feel hurt rather than worked. Anyone who's ever spent adequate time at the gym or worked hard on a daily basis knows the difference -- because of experience.

I believe life in Eden was perfection but God, the ultimate Father, knew it couldn't last, knew what had to happen. Like any father He knew there comes a time to let go but stand nearby ready to assist. Dad can't fix it for you, not if you're going to learn your lesson; but He can help.

And God gave us pretty much everything we'd ever need; after that Life kind of took over. We've lost some things along the way, thing which might have made our lives easier if only we'd known to use those gifts earlier.

Hindsight is 20/20, eh?

We were driven out of Eden, fell from grace; fell from perfection.

Climbing up is a lot harder than falling down, isn't it?

Limitations are, in my view, tests.

Some of the actions of a child are tests of a parent, while others are tests of the child; later those actions of the now-grown adult hearken back to yet more tests of the parent, actions only now come to fruition and others still are the sole responsibility of said child-now-adult.

Limitations are unavoidable; each path taken limits us by removing certain choices, certain branches off the path which are removed by taking a particular turn, until SOME destination is reached, whether it's the right one or not. At least very few of those paths are impossible to turn around on, fortunately for us.

Also fortunately, we've been offered at least one valid shortcut. You get the picture.

Whenever I taught classes in the military and mentioned tests or quizzes, people would invariably groan. I always explained to them that they were looking at the idea of tests in the wrong way. You see, when people go over a test afterward, having answers explained which they got wrong, which ones do they invariably remember down the line because they got reinforcement? Which bit of seeming trivia springs most readily to mind when necessary, the one you got right and let slide mentally, or the one which bit you on the arse until you learned to recognize it?

And what would you KNOW you knew, epistemology aside, unless you were tested?

Without limitations we might never learn what we're really capable of.

Everything constitutes a limitation. Everything also constitutes an opportunity of sorts.


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