Mostly gone are the days of long journeys taking more than a day of travel. Back when I was still starting to travel I actually looked into being a “stowaway” on a cargo ship because I thought that the month-long time of quiet would be valuable, but the cost was significantly higher than flying in a jet so I took the obvious choice. Recently though I finally found myself in a long journey – two weeks by the longest measure or six straight days by the shortest. It was a memorable experience so I thought I might share with you the story of my recent fortnight.Across the world in six days
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”
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
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.
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
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.
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,Jesus
for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.
Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.