by Brandon Nappi
A Labor Day sun hangs heavy and low over the lake where my family spends lazy Sunday afternoons making mudpies, playing monkey in the middle and diving off of docks. I’m waist deep in thick water encircled by an elementary school gang of giggling children sucking summer’s last available marrow.
“Dad, look!” my eleven year old barks. Sophia’s body erupts heavenward and then plunges jerkily into the depths to reveal a perfectly executed under water handstand. Tween boys tackle each other all around us dropping the F-bomb on occasion. Sophia and I chuckle. Toddlers shove fists full of beach sand into their mouths. Disgruntled teenage thumbs hammer on screens. A Taylor Swift song bellows.
I notice the great upside-down tower my daughter’s legs had become-- the fruit of a decade of eternal summer weekends honing Olympic quality handstands. The sun rests upon her pointed toes as if placed there like the star atop a Christmas tree. In this moment, thoughts of graph paper and her first school dance seem to be buried in the cool mud of the lake bottom. Her handstand lasts for ages, and my mind scrolls through time.
I remember the hundreds of attempts to attain this singular vertical posture. This one handstand performed effortlessly the day before the start of middle school was years in the making. I’d witnessed awkward tipping, water logged sinuses, choking, spitting, tears and now this. I’d been asked to observe her perform this feat a zillion times, and I pretended to watch more than I care to admit. This is how practice works. After blue collar effort, desire and the boredom of repetition, suddenly there’s no effort at all.
This is why we practice—to cultivate the kind of effort that doesn’t require effort. What we do in meditation--the noticing, the watching and breathing takes incredible focus, energy and determination. From another perspective, it takes no effort at all. Being present doesn’t require any more effort than it takes to notice a handstand. Pay attention to all the paradoxes you encounter in life. They are the big red X’s on the treasure map where the riches are buried.
Sophia’s feet are wiggling more now as she runs out of breath and balance. I watch pruned toes, and I realize, “No one tells you when you are watching your daughter’s last handstand.” At some point in the coming days, my tween will become a teen, and the teen will become a woman. In truth, this is already happening but I’m not willing to admit it yet. At some point, she won’t bound into the musty brown water, pull down her goggles like a knight exploding into battle and throw her blue toe nails toward the sky. At some point, I won’t have dozens of handstands to watch and spelling lists to quiz her on.
Isn’t this how it is in life? Last moments aren’t usually announced. I didn’t know the last diaper I changed would be the last. I didn’t know that the last conversation I had with a friend would be the final time to hear his laugh. A father never knows when he will watch his daughter’s last handstand which is why it’s so important to watch as many as he can. This is why I practice mindfulness. It’s just so easy to miss our own lives. So we dedicate great effort to being as awake, as present, as available as we can be, until it takes no effort at all--like an eleven year old performing a Labor Day handstand without any labor.