To Be Good Again
Petrichor is the word to describe the smell when it first starts to rain. Merriam-Webster’s defines it as, “a distinctive, earthly, usually pleasant odor that is associated with rainfall especially when following a warm, dry period…” A few weeks ago, I sat in the bleachers at Parma High School in Idaho, watching my son play football. It was gray, cloudy, cornfields ran along the horizon. In the distance, lightning stalked and parents wondered if the game would be called off. It began to rain.
A lady behind me said, “I love that smell, when it first begins to rain!”
I turned and said, “It’s called petrichor.”
“Okay, huh, didn’t know that,” she replied.
Naming and identifying something is very important. In this instance, the introduction of a single word is like a puzzle piece to fill a phenomenon, the smell of first rain, we all know this, have experienced it. It has a name. The right words clarify meaning. Experiences help the power of words as well. I’m reminded of a video I saw where a colorblind man is given these special sunglasses allowing him to see colors for the first time ever. Maybe you’ve seen these videos. The man is overjoyed. He weeps. He’s trembling. He’s experienced the colors now; life has become high definition. He reaches out for colors — green, blues, purples, red. The words have their missing part now. His knowledge is whole.
In Resilient: Restoring Your Weary Soul in These Turbulent Times, John Eldredge writes of the Pandemic, “To be suddenly stripped of your normal life; to live under the fear of suffering and death; to be bombarded with negative news, kept in a state of constant uncertainty about the future, with no clear view of the finish line, and to lose every human countenance behind a mask…Folks, this had a traumatic effect” (xii). This isn’t something we didn’t know. We’re all keenly aware of the normalcy stripped from our individual lives. The disruptions are on the tip of our tongue, we know them all intimately. A lot of things changed for a lot of people. Eldredge writes, “We just want to get past it all, so we’re currently trying to comfort ourselves with some sense of recovery and relief. But folks, we haven’t yet paid the psychological bill for all we’ve been through” (xi).
In short, Eldredge asserts that we all just want things to be good again. When everything is as it should be, we feel we are safely living with certainty. Routines help. The nuts and bolts of everyday are reassuring. But when things go wrong and this pattern goes on and on, there’s nothing but uncertainty, stress and anxiety.
And so, very often, in order to do away with uncertainty and to return to where everything is good again, we engage in activities that mask the uncertainty, we rush things, don’t think through things, we do something just to do something as if it addresses the uncertainty. The desire to get back to where things are good again must be handled carefully. Eldredge writes, “How we shepherd this longing — so crucial to our identity and the true life of our heart — how we listen to it but also guide it in right or wrong directions, this determines our fate” (2).
Many times we get it wrong. We over-correct, like a frantic driver, turning the steering wheel in the opposite direction to avoid some accident, to right the vehicle. Sometimes this looks like initiating closeness with a partner without facing an earlier conflict. Men are famous for this. We want to get back to a good part in the relationship without facing issues. Sometimes it means allowing individuals back into your life without them establishing trust first, and you know it, but for the sake of appearance or obligation or others, you let them back in. It feels good again but it’s really not.
Years ago, after my wife left me and a divorce I did not want was finalized, I had the thought of leading and establishing a retreat for men who had experienced this type of trauma (and it is trauma). I had a flyer, a website, I went on a local Christian radio station to talk about it. Looking back, I now know what to call this; I just wanted things to be good again. Nevertheless, I didn’t shepherd this longing with wisdom. I wanted healing. Now. I had no business thinking I could do this retreat when I was still in the eye of the storm. I needed experience in the storm, competency with healthy grief managing, an awareness that negative coping habits would see me as vulnerable prey. I needed to know how to ride this thing out. I needed to know to not mistrust the safety of calm waters. I had no business being a teacher without the curriculum of experience. I needed to be patient regardless of how desperate I was for things to be good again.
It’s important to look at one’s life and to ask, “Are the decisions I’m making a result of simply wanting things to be good again? Are these wise decisions? Unwise decisions? Doubt is a good indication that perhaps those decisions should be reevaluated. If things are rushed, very bad things may happen.
On June 13th, 2019, Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors tore his anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee at the 2:22 mark of Game 6 of the NBA Finals. The Toronto Raptors won that game and became NBA Champions. Much later, during his rehab, Thompson would rupture his right Achilles tendon. On Friday, November 26, 2021, Thompson, in street clothes, watched his team beat the Portland Trailblazers 118–103. In the article, “The emotional toll of Klay Thompson’s rehab was on display after Warriors’ last win” by Evan Webeck, Thompson is described as sitting on the bench after the game was over for half an hour. During that time, some of his teammates and his coach sat beside him. In the article, there’s a picture of Thompson, a towel over his head, face half-hidden, a contemplative look on his face. Steve Kerr, his coach, explains, “There have been times where he’s been pretty down. He’s vulnerable. He’s emotional. He loves the game and he loves the work and he just wants to be a part of everything. All that’s been ripped away the last two years.” Draymond Green, his teammate says, “…after almost three full calendar years off the floor, it’s tough. We sympathize with him, but we have to be right there and continue to push him.”
About his first two years of rehab, Thompson says, “They were just really hard. But that is a big part of being an athlete is going through rehab, being injured. I give myself credit because it takes mental fortitude.”
If you’ve ever seen Klay Thompson play, you know he’s a competitor and he loves to play. He was away from basketball for a total of 941 days, or two years, six months, and 27 days. During that time, I’m sure he had countless moments where he just wanted things to be good again, to be at a place where he could play and contribute better than ever. Klay Thompson returned January 9th, 2022 and scored 17 points. A little over five months later, Klay Thompson and the Golden State Warriors would win the NBA Championship.
Had Thompson rushed his rehab for the sake of returning to where things are good again, he may have reinjured himself, sabotaged his return and very likely, would not have played a significant role in the Warriors becoming champions again. Additionally, because he waited and did the work of rehab, he was a healthy, productive member of the team. We may not be an injured athlete waiting through a long rehab, but we all want to find ourselves where everything is good again. The work we do, to be good again, will make us better and our goodness will touch the lives of others. The place where everything is good again is out there, if we wait.