Is There Any Other Way To Be?

text by Jessica Stammen
photographs by many

My enjoyment of an activity can be gauged simply and directly. Snap a picture of me mid-motion and if I’m smiling, great, I’m having a good time.

If, however, you catch me with mouth wide enough to fit a fist, nose scrunched, and laughter so apparent your eyes would swear they had ears, well then, I’m completely beside myself and in love with what I’m doing. Truly, is there another way to be?

I fall in love with what I do all the time. If you put my body in motion and add water, wheels or wind be sure and remind me not to stick my tongue out or I’ll likely bite it off when hitting a bump or any kind of turbulence. My mouth is in perpetual exclamation.

For the past two weeks I’ve been out on Penobscot Bay with Thorfinn Expeditions working on my stand up paddling technique. The photo above is from my first session of the season. When asked to look at the camera and smile I couldn’t stop yammering with excitement and was caught, mouth-agape. What a knucklehead – and in a hunter’s hat nonetheless! It’s still early in my relationship with the sport, but if it can forgive me my fashion faux pas I’d say we have a future.

Dancing is an activity with which I have a well-established affair. Exhibit A provides the most obvious form of evidence:

Exhibit B shows a slight variation. Behind the foreground couple who have what can only be classified as wet-noodle expressions at best, you will see extreme face scrunching and a mouth that has exponentially expanded horizontally instead of vertically. Is it possible to laugh so hard and still spin? I am the most ridiculously head-over-heels dancer – sometimes literally, whether on purpose or no.

Ah, and then there’s swimming, my first love. Can’t you tell?

This photo didn’t make the final editorial cut for our story about swimming from Lincolnville to Islesboro last fall, understandably so. My mom will be mortified I’ve published it here and will likely assure me I’ll never get another date in my life because of it. The truth is she’s partly to blame. I come from a family of big-mouthed folk who continue to breed after their kind.

Take my brother Greg, for example. We tease that when he was a toddler he was like the cartoon character in Reach Toothbrush commercials, the one that can brush his molars by flipping his head in half thanks to hinges at the corners of his mouth.

Greg is no longer a toddler; he’s a top gun Navy pilot and his mouth has only grown bigger as he’s grown older.

When I called to ask Greg permission to write about his big mouth he told me that the first oxygen mask he was fitted with in flight school (so he could do more than aerials achieved while jumping on his dorm bed in college) was too small. The corners of his mouth went outside the mask every time he’d laugh or talk, causing the air to leak. They finally fit him with an extra large wide – as in, if his mask were a t-shirt this is how the tag would read. How American.

Greg has a big mouth but it is my youngest brother, Tim, and my dad who win the prize for loudest talkers, a characteristic of big-mouthed-ness in this case, of which my raucous laughter is a variant. If either Tim or Dad pick up the phone to start a conversation at my parents’ house all the woodland creatures at the birdfeeder outside will instantly scatter and hide, even in the winter with all the windows securely shut, locked and airtight.

Who am I fooling? I have been known to have the same effect. Can you imagine what it was like growing up in my house? Yes, full of life and very loud. I have only recently come to terms with the fact that I am the daughter of these two people:

And when faced with food,

fun,

or photo booths,

I look just like them – that is, totally in love with the moment. Again, is there any other way to be?

My Grandpa Pete always spoke about enthusiasm, that there was no point in doing a thing if you couldn’t get excited about it. Grandpa played ball for the Dodgers organization and I have a photo of him sliding into second base at spring training with Jackie Robinson turning the double play and Pee Wee Reese in the background. The picture is a little grainy and Grandpa’s clearly out. Nonetheless, I can tell he’s smiling. If you weren’t excited about what you were doing, he’d say, then it was up to you to fix that – out or not, good call or bad, Jackie Robinson or little league level. “Just no point otherwise.” Even at times when I’d rather not, I agree with him. (And don’t let the photos fool you, there are plenty of these times.)

At its root enthusiasm comes from the Greek enthousiazein, “to be inspired or possessed by a god, be rapt, be in ecstasy.” Stripped further we have entheos, “divinely inspired,” from en “in” and theos, “god.” If expressing enthusiasm is being in God, then that’s right where I want to be.

And so I smile – I smile real big. I laugh and I make a fool out of myself with my wide-open mouth. And I’m glad. I have fun and I enjoy, especially when faced with the challenge of sport, which is not always easy. When I’m five miles into a six-mile swim and my shoulders feel like they’re going to fall off, I still want to be in love with the moment. I still want to be in God. It trains the heart and mind well for the challenge of life.

Bet you can guess which one I am.