Here and Now Spring 2019: There’s a First Time for Everything

Do you remember your first time? I hope so!

By definition, there can only be one first time. A pleasant first time is to be treasured forever. It burrows deep into your memory, but not so far that you cannot reach it. It stays where you can pull it back out, caress and live it all over again, and when you do that, it makes you smile.

Now, before you decide I’m nosy and your personal first-time is none of my business, you are right: it’s not. But why wouldn’t you want to share the first time you got up on water skis, or the first time you drove the car out of the driveway all by yourself, or the first time you held your newborn baby? “Ohhh,” you say. “That’s not the kind of first time I thought you meant!”

Hey, I’m innocent! I’m just asking about any of the hundreds of first times you’ve enjoyed in your life.

Try this one: Do you remember your last first time? Hopefully it hasn’t been long since you did something great for the first time. To spark your memory, I’ll share some of my own.

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I am currently writing this with purple hair. Not the Mrs. Stewart’s Liquid Bluing shade that graced our grandmothers’ hair. My purple is straight from the salon shelf stocked with red, pink, blue, silver and purple temporary (yeah, right) colors. My beloved stylist artfully brushed it in- because I didn’t want to mess it up- and the results were spectacular, if I do say so myself! It was my first time dying my hair purple, and it’s been a ton of fun! It must suit me because a coworker opined that, “Can’t just anybody get away with wearing their hair like that!” I hope she meant in a good way. I think she did.

Purple hair wasn’t my last first time, though; it was just the first of others on the April weekend I attended my second FLAME Festival. FLAME is a gathering of people who teach, learn and celebrate the flow arts and, as its name describes, this includes artists who spin, juggle, hoop, toss and otherwise manipulate props that have wicks with fuel on fire. It is a fabulous weekend full of a community of flow artists, and with it comes moments of spectacle, focus, meditation, adventure and growth.

I went to my first FLAME Festival solely for the two days of hooping classes it offered. I attended my second FLAME for the hooping classes and the indescribable performances and experiences that I had discovered. The first time I observed. The second time I participated, volunteered and entered the community. All-in-all, I turned my hair purple for FLAME IX!

Now, before I tell you about the first times that followed purple-hair-day, please know this: I am an adventurous person, but I do not push the bounds of safety. If there is a chance I will get injured doing something, I don’t do it. I was injured once, and not only did it hurt, it slowed me down and that was worse than the pain. Yes, I swim in rivers and ride bikes and paddle kayaks, but I know my limits and I am a safety fanatic.

Remember this, because I want to share my next first time without worrying you to death. I can’t keep you from rolling your eyes or throwing up your hands, but I’m sharing all of this to inspire you. If you, my treasured reader, have thought about doing something for the first time and my story gives you the courage to do it, that’s a good day’s work for me!

The day after I turned my hair purple, I walked on glowing coals at FLAME. The Fire Walk is a tradition for this gathering, and it always fascinated me. I didn’t Fire Walk my first year, but I did run into one of the Fire Walk producers and learned that they professionally produce Fire Walks all around the country. Curious, I read more about fire walking over the ensuing year and came to know that I would do it one day.

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We gathered at dusk and watched as the pyramidal cedar log fire was meticulously tended. To ensure that no pebbles or other foreign objects adulterated the coals, two curators dipped their shovels in water before gently coaxing errant embers back into the stack. A gentle young man shared the history of Fire Walking and led us through meditations. He asked us to share with two people our reasons for being there and what we expected to gain, and he led us to encourage one another. It was Lent, and I shared my faith with a precious young man named Miles who was trying to overcome seeing his fiancé perish in an accident. My Lenten journey had been one of meditation and mindfulness, and my Fire Walk would be a testament to my faith. Miles said he could tell how much I loved my God. It was the first time I had ever shared my faith in that way.

After dark, the coals were gently shoveled onto damp grass in a line about eighteen inches wide and ten feet long. We lined up and made friends with those ahead of and behind us. We were told that if we got to the front of the line and couldn’t do it for whatever reason, that was perfectly okay. We could go to the back of the line and try again, or not. We were told that if we started to walk then changed our mind, to just step off to the side. You were supposed to walk gently but with purpose, and we were told that sometimes a coal might “kiss” your foot, and if that happened, there was some salve at the first aid tent. Nobody worried about that, and to my knowledge it didn’t happen.

I was completely at peace. At my turn I did not hesitate; I just walked. I did not get a kiss; I didn’t even feel the warmth. My last step was onto cool, wet-squishy grass. I didn’t speak with anyone after that; I just went back to my tent and wrote. It was a first time I could never have imagined.

Here’s another question for you: If you’re over 50, do you feel happier than you did in your 40’s? And if you’re over 60 (and up), are you happier still? Research shows that this does happen. While it’s well documented that many of us hit some “doldrums” in our 40’s, there is also ample proof that once we get into the 50’s, our overall happiness begins to increase. In a 2014 article from The Atlantic, Jonathan Rauch quotes a conversation with Donald Richie: “Midlife crisis begins sometime in your 40’s, when you look at your life and think, Is this all? And it ends about 10 years later, when you look at your life again and think, Actually, this is pretty good.”

The article describes a “U-curve” of happiness that bottoms out in our 40’s and only goes up from there, even into our 90’s. It resonated deeply with me. I’ve watched it happen and I’ve lived it, too. Those of us on the right side of the U-curve have nothing left to prove and everything left to be grateful for. We’ve earned the right to have as many more first-times as we can stand, and may they never stop coming!

My next first time is in the pipeline. Several Grand issues back (December 2016), I wrote about my passion for hooping. Rather than the hula-hoop style of our fond childhood memories, I enjoy contact hooping where I play with smaller, lighter hoops that I can flip, toss, spin and roll across my shoulders or my chest (on a good day). If you can’t get a visual image of what I’m talking about, search for Mike Hayataka on Google and watch his YouTube videos. I love his grace and confidence with hoops, and he doesn’t know it yet, but he’s going to be my next first-time.

Get your mind out of the gutter: It’s going to be the first time I’ve taken private contact hooping lessons!

What will your next first time be? Let me know at ninalovel@gmail.com.

*https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/12/the-real-roots-of-midlife-crisis/382235/