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The Other Fifty Percent

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The Other Fifty Percent

Casual Starfish


A friend of mine is new to surfing, and I am helping him get started. He’s a gifted athlete, actor and improvisational comedian. In return for sharing my limited wisdom about standing on a surfboard, he is helping me understand the finer points of standing on a stage.

You probably saw this one coming, but I can’t help but make a comparison between surfing and improv. Physically they have almost nothing in common, other than balance and awareness, yet both require patience, an open mind, and a spirit of partnership. Both are often punctuated by flops, near collisions, smiles and laughter, and the refreshing excitement that endorphins and adrenaline can unleash.

Because the conditions change so rapidly, improv and surfing are also two of the hardest “easy” things I have ever added to my list of grown-up distractions.

Early into his first real surf session my friend succeeded in getting up on one leg and was working on getting the other one under him. I told him, “You just need the other fifty percent, and you’re there.” Soon after I said that, he was standing up and riding. The smiles on the beach passed easily from one spectator to the next.

I don’t remember if anyone was watching when I first stood up on a surfboard, but I do remember the joy— I still feel it every time.

I spent the rest of the weekend happy for his success and thinking about my comment about the other fifty percent. I though about it the next week, and the week after that. My wife and I walked the beach on that warm June morning, and as we walked I turned the phrase over and over in my head.

I watched a common grackle foraging in the wet sand. It was an odd sight. The bird was out of place. In the hotel parking lot scrounging for French fries maybe, but on the beach? Yet it was completely comfortable as it high stepped through the shallows looking for minnows to snatch. When a wave rolled in, it would hop up and flap or run to keep from getting wet, just like a tourist.

What does this bird do with my fifty percent theme? I could write that it was the other half of the relationship with the ocean, but it was just fun to watch. I’ll move on.

I just reached fifty years of age. This in and of itself is not overly remarkable, people turn fifty all the time. Statistically my life is more than fifty percent over. Ouch! If I look at my own family history my time could be much shorter than that, but if I look at it optimistically, and I do, I could have another fifty years ahead of me. There are a lot more waves to ride and smiles to share in the next fifty years.

Do I really want to live to be one hundred, though? Check back with me twenty years from now. If I am still paddling out, the answer will probably be yes.

It’s comforting to think about the next fifty years as time to fine-tune the person I’d like to become and how I fit into the world. I am the other fifty percent of every social interaction. I am the other half of everything I do, whether in business, with my family, or when I explore our natural environment. As we move through life we’re the other half of our own clamshell— the other half of the inner conversation. If we’re not the spectator, then we are the participant. If we aren’t the student, then we’re the teacher. And when it comes to children, each and every one of us can influence their lives in a positive way, whether or not they are our own.

We are the other half of every interaction with every child.

There was a wedding party down the beach that morning. A dad and his son, alone on the beach and wearing matching beach-wedding outfits, got into an improvised game of tag before the ceremony. They split the happiness of that moment fifty-fifty, and also shared it with me. I now have a photograph of two total strangers that will always make me smile.

The sun will rise 18,262 times in the next fifty years, but the little boy will probably remember that morning, an actor will remember first surfing, and I will have been a partner in all of it.

June 30th, 2012