Twenty-five or so years ago, our family went camping in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It was a busy season, so campsites were scarce and the more remote campground in Hiawatha National Forest where we wanted to say was closed due to sanitary problems with the water and toilet systems.
So we sat on a waiting list for a spot at another campground and jumped on it when a campsite opened up. That’s where we gratefully set up our tents and hurried to make supper for our kids.
The week went generally well with occasional fishing trips and hikes in the forest. We did get chased out of the wilderness park at Sylvania by massive hordes of mosquitoes. I went for hourlong runs in the woods and tried to keep the deer flies at bay.
Perhaps I’m even mixing together a few different camping trips because we went on quite a few when our kids were little. It was easier when the wonders of the world were not so hard to show.
Receiving a black belt
As the week was about to wrap up, one of the campers in the site next door walked over holding out a long black object. I thought for a moment that it might be a snake, and my late wife HATED snakes. Feared them. We’d even seen a long dark water snake lying on a strip of sand earlier that week. We left that lake immediately.
But it wasn’t a snake he was holding. It was size 34 black belt. “I found this on the road,” he told me. “Must have fallen off someone’s car. It doesn’t fit me but it looks brand new, so if you want it, it’s yours.”
I took the belt and tested it around my waist. At the time I was a size 32. Weighed 150 lbs. But the black belt fit well enough to keep. Who knows, I might need a size 34 someday?
The belt still fits. It still looks good. The inside coating is a bit fragmented. In fact it looks like snakeskin. So that part of the tale came true.
That belt has been worn with business suits and blue jeans. It has held up Bermuda shorts and survived dozens of painting sessions with only the merest trace of white paint on its surface. I could remove that with some Goof Off but something in me wants to keep it that way.
I have a new black belt that I purchased recently. It’s a size 34 as well. My waist has remained the same through years of adulthood. The last couple winters my pants got a little tight at times. All my running and riding and swimming can’t quite combat the appetite of a formerly competitive athlete now in his 60s. So I’m trying to get a headstart on winter this summer. I’ve dropped ten pounds since January and want to go another seven pounds down. Whether that will remove the belly fat accumulated around my waist I have no idea.
Strong family ties
My son is an inspiration of sorts at this stage in life. He’s supremely fit right now through CrossFit and running and riding his bike to work. He’s got his reasons to want to rock the fitness thing and sometimes we learn as much from our children as they learn from us.
That’s where the symbolic black belt thing comes in. In many forms of martial arts, it is considered as wise to redirect the energy of an opponent’s blows as it is to strike them with a force of your own. That is the yin and yang of life as well.
Life has thrown me some considerable blows. It has been my goal to try to redirect some of that energy to the positive side of things. In many ways, that has worked out.
Yet sometimes I fail at re-channeling or redirecting that energy. Like a Black Belt who whacks a board but fails to break it, my aim and purpose have sometimes been “off.” I’ve offended or hurt my own children through lack of communication at times. I’ve neglected friends or insulted business associates. My black belt has also been my Dark Side at times.
All one can ask for those transgressions is forgiveness. And try to make it up to those you’ve hurt.
Good and bad belts
So in many respects the black belt that I where around my waist is a chronicle of both the good and bad that I’ve accomplished over the years. Have you ever put a belt on inside out and had to pull it back out of your pants, reverse it and pull it through the belts loops again. Life itself is like that sometimes.
There has been one steady factor in all this of which I’m quietly proud. Over the last twenty five years my waist has held pretty much steady. That is an accomplishment of sorts.
But that belt has also held together the years. The young man who accepted that black belt from a fellow camper that day in July could never have dreamed that belt would carry him through all these adventures in life.
White belts and that 70s look
All I can say in looking back is that it is probably best that it was not a white belt I was given to wear. That’s not a good look for any father, including my own. My dad once showed up at one of my baseball games wearing a white shirt, white pants, white belt, white socks, white shoes and a set of dark shades. One of my teammates shouted out, “Look! It’s the Man From Glad!”
They might have been confusing my dad with Mr. Clean, who had no hair and wore all white as well. But you get the picture.
I’ll stick with my black belt, thank you.