Weeping

Today I found the tree that weeps for me.

It’s hard for me to write this post, but not because the story pains me to tell – in fact, I love this story and it’s one of my favorites. It’s hard for me to write because how do I even begin to share the experience with you?

Two poems I have already written about it; two poems – one private, another even more private. I have posted briefly on Instagram about it just to say it is special to me. The poems are too vague, the prose too frank.

So I’m going to share some of the adventure of finding this tree and leave the rest up to the wind. This is fitting because when I found it the first time I too was missing much of the story.

Continue reading “Weeping”

Accepting Evil

Last week I visited the Topographie des Terrors in Berlin and wanted to share some thoughts that I was processing while walking through. The museum is built on the former site of the SS and Gestapo headquarters and exhibits the rise of NAZI ideology and acceptance throughout Germany and Europe. It’s particularly relevant today in demonstrating the mechanisms which can be used to bring mainstream acceptance of horrible, hateful, and evil ideas.

On to the lessons I learned

For Genevieve

Over the past four days I drove to Austin, Texas with a couple of my friends for a celebration of life for our late friend Genevieve Comeau. She is the victim of a domestic violence flareup that tragically ended with discharged firearms.

I didn’t have the privilege of spending as much time with her as I would have liked, but she was a very good friend right when I needed one. We met through my friend Mike while at the climbing gym but would end up hanging out with a group on Tuesday nights as well.

In December 2017 I visited Tucson at one of the most difficult moments in my life. Genevieve was known for bringing people together by hosting creative themed parties and she was holding one during that visit. I hadn’t been invited – I had been out of town for a year. Nonetheless my friends dragged me along and I remember how glad Genevieve looked when I arrived. She wasn’t shocked or surprised that I came, wasn’t upset; rather, she immediately smiled and told me how nice it was that I could make it and started asking how I had been and what adventures I had been experiencing.

A similar thing happened when I returned to Tucson recently and again I felt like a VIP guest when she greeted me. She was a person who always invited you along, a brilliant scholar and thinker, and loved by so many. She was working as a PhD student to better understand the spread of the Zika virus and certainly would have ended up preventing all sorts of anguish around the world from her research.

I’m still recoiling from the horror of what happened and am grateful for the opportunity to make it out and find some closure through the memorial last night. The unforgiving nature and zero tolerance afforded by firearms turned what may have been an awful moment into an irrevocable nightmare.

Belva

She’d rather know what you are interested in
than tell you what to be interested in.

She’d rather pause to hear you respond
than answer.

She’d rather root for you on your choices
than tell you where you need to go or what you need to do.

She’d rather find something good about it
than share in the community of complaining about it.

She’d rather give a second chance
than hold a grudge against it.

And she assumed the best of intentions
when she disagreed with it.

She was someone you looked forward to seeing
and left glad when you did.

We knew her soft disarming laugh.

To a frustrated heart
she brought a smile.

She was a refreshing sweetness in a bitter sea and her optimism and kindness inspires me and challenges me.

The Martian

My brother was kind enough to gift me The Martian audio book for my drive across the country. As I listen to it I keep thinking about a recurring point I’m hearing throughout the narrative – a motif about how Mark Watney (the protagonist) approaches seemingly impossible challenges.

So that’s the situation. I’m stranded on Mars. I have no way to communicate with Hermes or Earth. Everyone thinks I’m dead. I’m in a Hab designed to last thirty-one days. If the oxygenator breaks down, I’ll suffocate. If the water reclaimer breaks down, I’ll die of thirst. If the Hab breaches, I’ll just kind of explode. If none of those things happen, I’ll eventually run out of food and starve to death.

Often I feel this way, like everything is lined up against me or against “us” and there’s such an incredibly small chance of success that we’re doomed from the onset. Mark, however, counters with a bold stance:

At some point, everything’s gonna go south on you and you’re going to say, this is it. This is how I end. Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work. That’s all it is. You just begin. You do the math. You solve one problem and you solve the next one, and then the next. And If you solve enough problems, you get to come home.

At work recently I’ve been sharing my own quote: “we are creators; we are not powerless;” but The Martian does a better job fleshing out what that means. Having seemingly-unsolvable challenges can be paralyzing, but it’s quintessentially human to face our limits and push our boundaries. When I die I don’t want people to remember me as one who “accepted it [and gave up]” but rather as one who “got to work” when the outcome seemed futile.

Impossible problems aren’t impossible; they are just…really hard. Frustratingly big problems usually also require a shift in momentum – things continue to “go south” even after we get ourselves in gear. This is derailing for me particularly because I want so badly to see that my hard work pays off and it can be demotivating to feel like my efforts were made in vain.


Sigh…okay. I’ve had my tantrum and now
I have to figure out how to stay alive.


But we just have to celebrate our little wins and stay the course. No great accomplishment comes without its own story of struggle and perseverance leading up to the victory.

For me this means pressing hard towards the goal even when it feels helpless. It means choosing an attitude of gratitude and a spirit of empowerment, of not getting distracted by all of the things that remain unknown or daunting and instead focusing on what we can do and solve today. I cannot change the fact that the journey is hard, but I can orient my steps towards that path or away from it.

The final victory, the full reconciliation, redemption, and restoration doesn’t come about because we took a thousand-foot impossible leap-of-faith but rather because we took a thousand small determined steps towards the goal often even after stumbling or going astray.


I’m working on my attitude when I get overwhelmed by big problems like what we read about in The Martian. I’m not facing death, but I don’t see any easy or quick solutions to the roadblocks on my journey. Throw a fit, but get up and get working; remember that the challenge is big and the path to victory is lined by stunning losses; don’t let the impossibility of the remaining work prevent you from accomplishing the success of today.

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow,
for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.
Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Jesus

Thirty Two

This year it’s two raised to the fifth power. Next time we cross a “bit” I’ll be sixty four years old. It’s been a year of a different flavor since last August. What have I got to say? What can I share about my life and adventures?

First of all my thirty-first year was marked by nomading across the United States, Asia, and Europe. Like the year before I rarely spent more than two weeks in a single place. I’ve been living the life of a “digital nomad,” or as I call it, “digital homeless.” The year before was marked by me running away – “I gotta get away from here…”. This year has been my chance to travel “for me;” I’ve become a collector of experiences and culture and am trying to share my collection with the people I love and miss. A good part of the beginning of 2018 I was by myself in unfamiliar places which presented significant time to think and reflect on life, on who I am, and accustom myself to silence (I’ve always had trouble with the quiet).

My months of solitude refreshed me and encouraged me; they were however personally challenging. In my thirty-first year I was able to peacefully examine some of the more painful or ugly sides of myself. I learned about some deep anxieties I have about my own self-worth and started recognizing some of the unhelpful ways I deal with them. Knowing of course is just the start of the battle and I have to continue to examine myself and strive to mature beyond these behaviors and patterns.

During this time too I started feeling bursts of thankfulness for how much I have grown and for how good God is. In countless travels I’ve been able to overcome stress and discomfort while solo; beyond that I’ve matured and grown in ways I need to. In the worst moments of my life I was a loose cannon with no real control and yet in those times I felt that God was guarding me from the most harmful decisions I was willing to make for myself. I can look back and know that when I was weak God came to my aid when I was running away from him and that has saved me – saved me from making choices that would bring me the greatest regret later on. The Bible repeats a picture of who God is: someone who takes us back after every fall and after every offense. All he wants is for us to turn and come back to him. I’ve repeatedly made mistakes and repeatedly made bad decisions and yeah I have deep regrets, but I know a form of love that covers even the worst of me and that is a powerful thing.

Among my ups and downs I persevered while on my own. I’ve had moments I regret and moments I’m proud of – little victories. I persevered through frequent bouts of depression and persevered on the personal journey I’ve chosen for myself. A constant longing for companionship evokes in me a sense of homesickness and a reminder that I have no home to which to return, but I’ve persevered through it. I’ve spent a reasonable part of the past year planning how I will combat that longing and establish the routine and community around me which I need for my own health. Every day as I question myself and wonder, “how can I change myself?” I’m reminded that any real change happens by consistent and vigilant perseverance to that goal. Every victory a reminder of hope, every failure a chance to repent and press on again.

Unfortunately I often find myself angry and I don’t understand why. I admire how some people are able to navigate through difficult projects at work, through stressful times in life, and through rough interactions with others while staying peaceable and happy. My hope is that when thirty-three comes around I’ll look back and see that I have been able to find ways to relieve stress better that don’t leave me so frustrated on the inside. How do I tone down my passion? How do I let go of things that confuse me? How can a train my mind to be more accepting and not get stuck on ideological hangups?


Unexpectedly during thirty-one I gained a new grandmother and an entire family. Thanks to the miracle of modern genetic sequencing and social networks on the internet my mother, adopted at birth, connected for the first time with her biological mother. This revelation has profoundly impacted her and me and all the family. The family has been accepting and many have reached out to us all. It’s hard to explain the emotion. People who were complete strangers are rapidly trying to share their love and learn about my mom, about me, about my nieces and nephew. For someone with a skewed understanding of “family” at best this has been a kind of healing balm. I don’t know why these people want to know me but it warms my heart that they do.


What then are my biggest goals for thirty-two?

My anxiety is probably my worst vice. It leads me to a paranoid place where I expect people who love me to unexpectedly reject me. It also leads me to act out in ways inconsistent with who I want to be. I need to work through this with professional help and figure out how to escape it.

It may be highly intertwined but that anger needs to go too or it will burn me up. A few times over I have learned that the cure for this kind of ailment is gratitude. Despite some obvious major regrets I have much for which to be thankful and glad. I want to feel that thankfulness instead of frustration from a sense of powerlessness.

Nomading is something I’m not ready to give up but after a couple years of hitting it hard I’m wearing out. I want to establish a home base where I feel at home, involve myself with a community, and settle to some extent without giving up the travel outright. This past year was my most-traveled year full of one-way journeys but I’d like the next one to be quieter and take more return journeys.


What were the highlights of thirty-three?

Hm, you’ll probably want to wait for my 2018 year-in-review post around the new year 😉.

I’m still around and kicking and I consider that a highlight. I’m learning how to be content and continue to force myself to face my biggest challenges and fears. While that’s difficult in the extreme it’s also worthwhile. This past year may have been the first time in years that I’ve felt like that work is starting to pay off. You can call me a hypocrite and you’d be right, but I haven’t given up yet and I don’t have any plans to do so either.