It was a young boy’s dream. Probably about ten years old, it was the first time I had been allowed to wander around the fairgrounds without an adult. Oh, there was an older brother, but with three of them in the family, that wasn’t anything unusual. Besides that, we didn’t slow each other down any. Any trouble one got into, the other was bound to be up to the challenge of. No, the real difference this year was that for an hour or two, we were free to wander on our own, without being held back by parents. They wanted to go see the cows, and goats, and chickens, for crying out loud! Every year the Livestock Show, the local equivalent of the County Fair, was set up in a neighboring town and we went…to see the livestock. Not this year, buddy! That was for the old people. We were headed to the “Midway”!
I had a few dollars burning a hole in my pocket and it was a pretty sure bet that I would find someplace to spend them. That was an understatement! As we left the exhibition part of the show and started past the booths and rides, we were immediately assaulted with the noises and visual sights. Confusion reigned. Here was the booth where you could test your shooting skills. “Hit the ducks and win a prize!” called the pitchman. As I hesitated, he lifted up one of the rifles to shove into my hands, but just a few feet away, the fellow selling chances at tossing the pennies onto the plates took up the cry. “Just one penny on a plate is all it takes!” Every time I wavered, another voice joined the chorus, confusing matters even more. I really hadn’t planned to stop at any of these booths. I wanted to ride the Matterhorn, with it’s loud rock music and flashing lights. But, it was on the other end of the Midway and to get to the goal, I had to wander past all the “games of skill”. To a young boy, they were ripe for the picking. Of course, I could hit the ducks! Without question, I could toss a coin onto a plate. Balloons to be hit with a dart? No problem! My head spun with the possibilities. What to choose?
We did make our way to the Matterhorn ride, after not much more than fifteen minutes in the pandemonium. Once there, I stood and watched as my brother and a lot of other kids boarded the ride. The music blared…the lights flashed…the cars swung and tilted as the ride spun around and around. Up the incline, then down…faster and faster the ride went as the kids screamed and laughed. As for me…I stood and watched, my pockets empty of the price of admission to the wonderful adventure. In just those few minutes, as we made our way from the exhibits to the other end of the Midway, I had heeded every possible tempting challenge made by the carnival workers. As I said, my head was spinning and the allure of their spiels was more than this young boy could resist. They were experts in their craft; their assignment, the emptying of pockets of unsuspecting rubes like me. Their job done, they turned their attention to the next victims who still had a dollar or two burning a hole in their pockets and I was left to watch other, wiser folks revel in the sensations of the scintillating ride. “How could this have happened to me?” was the only confused thought in my mind, besides the disappointment that only a ten-year old boy could feel.
Just over a week ago, the fifty-four old version of that ten-year old took a trip out to California. I was on my way to another carnival, but this was for business purposes. This carnival goes by the name of “The NAMM Show”, the annual equivalent in the music business of the County Fair. I had good intentions of how I would use my time as I wandered leisurely through the show, stopping to see the new products and talking with company representatives. I would take notes and acquire new contacts; networking to maximize the reach of my business. When I left, the success of the business would be guaranteed for at least the next year, due to a successful venture into the land of the trade show. I can only report that the result was less than spectacular.
The show boasts well over one thousand exhibitors, each one with a product to sell. Since it is a music show, most of the products make noise. And, noise they did make. The longer I was there, the louder the volume rose. Initially, I made a few good contacts. I have the business cards to show for it. I even have some literature from the first several stops I made. I’m still not sure what happened for the rest of the day. About seven hours after I entered the hall, I exited with a splitting headache. I was actually physically dizzy. The noise level and the sales pitches all run together in my head. One amplifier company after another with ear-splitting levels of music; one guitar company after another with heavy-metal artists who were all searching for eleven on volume dials that only go to ten, scantily clad models slapping brochures (with pictures of more scantily clad models printed on them) into your hand…it all runs together. After I finally found my way out of the crowd and to the parking lot, I sat in my rental car for ten minutes before I could be confident of being able to drive safely to my motel. Once there, I collapsed, exhausted.
It becomes clear to me as I consider the world in which we pass our lives, that we live in a great big carnival, surrounded by confusion and noise. Throughout our lives, it is easy to be distracted from our purpose, to have our attention diverted from the business at hand. Every step we take, someone is hawking their product. Every time we turn a corner, the eye is drawn to a bigger and better activity. The noise is deafening, the visual assault on the senses, almost irresistible. I find that frequently, as I sit and consider what I have accomplished in life, I realize that almost nothing has come to fruition; few of my goals realized. It is easy to be drawn off the long path to our destination, when we are bedazzled by the glitz, by the sheen of the attractive options available to us, right here and right now.
I remember a parable, now familiar to many of you, offered by one of my teachers many years ago. The story is told about a young man who wants to be a farmer, and mounting to the seat of the tractor, he begins to do the easiest task he can think of…plowing the sod. Arriving at the end of the row, he turns the tractor around, only to see the most crooked, wandering furrow he has ever seen. The old farmer, to whom he wouldn’t listen before, offers just one piece of advice. “Don’t look at the front of the tractor, young man,” he recommends. “Pick a fence post in the distance beyond the field you are in. Head for that, never looking down or around you. You’ll do fine.” Sure enough, raising his eyes beyond his present position, he takes off again and, as he reaches the turn-around spot this time, he sees behind him a perfectly straight furrow.
A simple tale, but one we seem to forget, caught up in the present. Noise, sights, fads, and people…all of these contribute to a crooked path through life. We need a Point on which to focus, a North Star by which to navigate, or we are lost and our lives wasted in pursuit of first one inconsequential goal, then another. I’d like to get to the end of my time on this earthen sphere and be able to look back, to see a straight line where I’ve traveled.
I’ve had the Point of focus picked out for many years. Now if I can just keep my eyes on the goal. I’m hoping there’s still time to straighten up the furrow.
“Set your course by the stars, not by the lights of every passing ship.”
(Omar Bradley~American Army general W.W. II ~1893-1981)
“…But, this one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize…”