Can Anyone Do Anything?

”Anyone can do anything.” declared the boy with dead certainty in the wisdom of his 6 or 7 years on Earth, leaning against a tree on a hill in his backyard and folding his arms with finality.

“Nuh-UH!” came the little girl's response.

“Yeah, whatever they want they can learn to do!” insisted the boy once more. Oldest on his block and the self-declared leader of his group of friends, he'd often say things to sound smart, even if he was just repeating things he'd heard in cartoons or quoting a song out of context.

“People couldn't FLY!” was the girl's answer.

“Yeah they COULD!” he said, “They just go to school and learn and they can fly a PLANE!”

“But they can't just fly; the PLANE flies!”

“Well...yeah, but they're still finding a way to do what they want to do. Anyone can do anything.”

“That's silly,” she said, “You're silly.” And off she went.

We have such confidence when we're young, before life makes us jaded. As we get older, we tire more easily, both physically and psychologically. I often look back at how I started, what I believed when I was a boy, and what I believe now. There were no limits to what I believed was possible. I tried to create life by mashing leaves in a bucket of water and telling the other kids it was a “protoplasm”. I tried to build a time machine with a toy car, a magnifying glass, and an electrical wire connected to a “no parking” sign. I once built a working “robot” around a walkie talkie and sent it rolling in to the kitchen via remote control to ask my mom for some cookies. There were more than a few design flaws, from one-way communication as I had the receive button screwed down to getting the thing to turn around and come back.

When we're young, we have a lot of silly ideas, but they don't seem silly at the time. In truth, perhaps we're not capable of anything, and we do have natural limitations. I'll never reach things on the top shelf naturally, not without a step stool. I'll never cure a disease or solve physics equations. The thing is, some of our limitations come from a “try and fail” approach, while others are mental limitations based on our own perceptions or things we've been told. When we use the word “never”, is it stating a fact or indicating a choice?

I often look back on past decisions, as we all do. Geek that I am, I often look back on past decisions as points of divergence, and I'd like to think alternate realities branch off from each of these points, creating variant versions of myself leading different lives based on different decisions. Would I be married by now, own a house, have kids, earn a six figure salary? Would I travel out of the country or have a different career? And who made the correct choices, my doppelgangers or myself? The past cannot be changed, so who's to say I'm not on the course God intended for me? Am I the divergence or the core reality?

Practice and time can eradicate as many “can't”s and “never”s as bad experience and time can create. We might experience panic in certain situations, be it traffic or stressful meetings, but after “surviving” these experiences enough times, we reach a point where we don't even think about it. Autopilot can be a marvelous thing that lets us achieve more than we thought possible. There are days when I dread my “to do” list and get nothing done, and other days where I'm not paying attention and finish hours earlier than I would have anticipated. It can be hard to overcome limitations, but once in a while it's nice to look back and realize we've been doing all along what we once thought we could never do.

I never learned how to swim. I almost drowned in a pool when I was very young, and avoided beaches for a while. In high school it was a requirement of gym class, but I'd always panic and sink like a rock. I managed to learn the strokes and propel myself through the water wearing a life vest, but the underlying fear that I would sink prevented me from ever trying it without the vest. A few years later, a wave and an undertow nearly took me out in the Atlantic. Spun around, I ended up swimming through a cloud of stirred up sand, only to swim the wrong way and hit the bottom. Instead of fighting, I let go, and flipped right side up and floated to the top. Walking on tiptoes, I slowly made my way into shallower water where I could walk, praying all the while that another wave wouldn't pull me further out.

As far as confidence can take us, I think we often forget the value of prayer. On church on Saturday, our pastor spoke of people building walls by trying to do things on their own, shutting out God and those around them. There's an elderly couple I see each week in wheelchairs, accompanied by their middle-aged son and daughter-in-law(or daughter and son-in-law). When it comes time to stand, sometimes their younger relatives will wheel them forward and help them to their feet, where they can lean on the back of the pews. It's a very small thing that was once easy, but is now a great accomplishment for them. In the end, not being stubborn or held back by our own self-imposed restrictions can allow us to accept help, be it from God or our fellow human beings.

I guess it was that untapped potential I spoke of when I was that little boy, though I might not have understood it in those terms at the time. Maybe we could do anything we wanted, if we were willing to risk the effort or consequences of at least trying. Potentially, anyone could do anything, though ultimately, everyone won't do everything. Even without fears or anxiety, there's simply not enough time, and no one's invented a device to manipulate time.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's funny that you mention that wonderful variable called time at tje very end. Having a deep science background from my first tour of duty in University, I can really understand that no matter what side of the fence you sit on, time is your worst enemy. There are too many things we're interested in, too many paths to follow, but not enough time to do them all. Bugger of a conundrum, ain't it?

What I've really come to terms with is you have to choose. Choose which one you'll really hammer home. Be it career, family, activities, etcetera. And I think that your true confidence comes from making that choice and not looking back. We choose what will be right for us, and it becomes natural to be confident in the choice and our ability to execute it.


5/18/2008 12:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Auughh... it's the, not tje. Frakkin typos!

5/18/2008 1:01 AM  

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