My girlfriend and I attended a backyard gathering at our neighbor's to celebrate the autumnal equinox this week. People, drinks, music, chili, dogs running around, bonfire (back sweat) - the whole deal. In Texas it's hard to believe - but even here, fall has arrived. Goodness gracious that fire was hot.
This was my first time to meet any of these people. Many of them already knew each other and some didn't. There was a subtle lack of familiarity amongst the partygoers. We settled into a few pockets of conversation scattered across the backyard until our hosts let us know it was time to bob for apples.
Their spin on the game was calling out a phrase you might want more of in your life like: childlike wonder, spiciness or fearlessness. If you desired more of said phrase, it was on you to stand up, claim it and march forward to bob for an apple. Upon retrieving your apple you were offered a smattering of applause, a towel and a prize from the grocery store.
This moved slowly. There was lots of cajoling from the hostess and nervous laughter from the group. At one point the hostess' husband had to volunteer as tribute to keep the thing moving.
The game ended and I was able to avoid claiming more spiciness in my life or messing up my hair in the apple slobber water. Our hosts then let us know we'd soon be gathering around the fire to throw in something we wanted to say goodbye to in our lives of as we transitioned into the fall season. What was a thing we wanted to let fall away or die? Write it down on a piece of paper, when it's your turn, share that thing with the group and then let it burn.
Arguably quite a shift in depth from a carnival game.
Here we were now being asked to venture into a vulnerable place with people we might never have met before.
After staring at the fire together for a few moments, the first person went. Then another.
Then I really wanted to go.
And it soon became one of the most beautiful moments I've experienced in months.
People took to the activity with great intention, courage and willingness. Not a person chose silence.
Minutes earlier we were avoiding a children's party game and here we were listening to strangers talk about purpose and fear and grief and relationship challenges.
In that moment we were able to slide into a groove and share what was going on in our lives in a real way.
But it took someone to shepherd us there.
We had to be guided from unfamiliarity and social anxiousness to this place of safety and willingness.
Our hosts put in the work of assembling the people in the back yard, popping in and out of conversations to call out commonalities, urging people to eat the food, and forcing grown adults to dunk their heads in a bucket to retrieve mankind's least favorite fruit - all in an effort to get us to circle around the fire and find one another for the first time.
What a gift it is to be guided.
We're all being shepherded, ushered, and guided from one thing to another throughout our week. And we do this for others whether we know it or not.
We're attended to in the very real sense of the word by a flight attendant reminding us about features of the plane we'll never remember - but also by making us feel special when they let us keep the can of ginger ale.
We're nurtured and nudged toward understanding and confidence by early childhood educators.
A coach primes us to remember we have what it takes.
Someone in a neon yellow vest guides us around construction on our way to work.
A friend steers us around a blind spot we have in our character.
This is all we do each day. It's all a transfer of energy. And we each play our part in guiding one another throughout our lives from one thing to the next.
If we wanted to become more purposeful about our living we might learn to see where we naturally guide others from the muddy banks of now, across some unknown river to the other side where things might be a little clearer.
What perspective or gift or clarity do you possess which might allow you to ferry folks from the way they see the world today over to a different bank, where they could feel a new and necessary ground underneath them, and perhaps move forward into the next version of who they're meant to be?
And if we want to do this work with complete devotion, we also learn to recognize areas in our lives where we feel most nervous or ill equipped to navigate some interaction or task, and we decide to look for people who might help us. We surrender our egos and become willing to be shepherded.
We become willing because sometimes the things we want require ingredients we don't understand - and if we aren't willing to be guided we'll never find the growth and change necessary for us to live a life which doesn't cease to blossom.
Put another way: If we want the intimacy of the conversation around the fire, we must be responsive to the guide coaxing us to first bob for the apples.