That which breaks the waves
An international vacation in the throes of puberty
Hello friends and readers. I’m back stateside from an adventure in the Land of Fire & Ice. Iceland is a magnificent country, particularly for such a wet, gray, and jagged place. There’s something about it. Once you accept Iceland for what it is - in all its abrasiveness - it just gobsmacks you that such a place could even exist. I suppose that’s why Iceland has served as the backdrop for so many popular fantasy franchises including Star Wars and Game of Thrones. It’s unreal.
When we set off to Iceland I had just finished my last day at a job I hadn’t much enjoyed. I’m about to start a new job this coming week that I’m very excited about.
So with this turning point in mind, in my head, this trip was about me. The feeling was that of a soul-searching opportunity for me to meditate on rediscovering meaning in my work and then getting re-centered before starting the new job. Hilarious.
That’s not what I felt at all while we were here.
As I was driving the rental car across this wild country, through torrential rain, bitter cold, volcanic landscapes, across glaciers, and then suddenly into picturesque and sunny days, I was struck by a realization that this land of extreme conditions was telling me something about what was going on inside the car.
You know what it’s like on family road trips.
The bickering. The chatter.
The bouts of silence. The warmth.
The deep conversations. More bickering and sniping.
More warmth. Back and forth and back and forth.
My daughter, Sylvie, is about to be a teenager. The mood swings are already getting extreme. The feelings she now puts out: anger, sadness, bitterness, and then spikes of extreme joy are overwhelming. This is all relatively new. The new dynamics of personality appear almost out of nowhere.
I really struggle to keep up with it, because at 33 I’m still moody. One of my weaknesses is that I have a tendency to absorb and reciprocate vibes. If she’s gonna be nasty, I can be nasty too. If she’s gonna be gloomy, I feel dragged toward being gloomy. I struggle to resist the emotional center of gravity in a room. I’m like this at times in my marriage, and it’s something I know must be resisted.
One day we were all down by the river in Seydisfjordur, a small coastal town of 600 people on the eastern coast of Iceland. There is this series of waterfalls that cascades down the hillside, then feeds the river that flows into town and out into the fjord. As Sylvie played on the river and crawled around dangerously close to the edge of the falls, I suddenly remembered a passage from Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations.
It just popped into my head…
“To be the rock the waves crash against” - Meditations, 49a
Immediately, something became clear to me about my frustrations over the nastiness that had defined the trip thus far in my mind. What became clear was that it was my duty to be the rock that my child’s chaos cannot move.
She is a kid, and dealing with waves of hormones, rapid change, and internal dysfunction. I remember what it was like. It’s upsetting because you don’t even recognize yourself at that age. You look in the mirror and don’t quite recognize what you see, or the feelings that you feel. You kinda feel like you’re turning into a monster. (A good movie for this metaphor is Pixar’s TURNING RED)
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This trip was not about my career. It was about accepting that my family is entering a new chapter of greater storms and discord. I have to be reliable and less affected by it. No more sniping back. No more tit for tat. Show the way forward by being the lighthouse, by being the rock the waves break against. This is the way.
“To be like the rock that the waves keep crashing over. It stands unmoved and the raging of the sea falls still around it.”
- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
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