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.

Compromise

It’s been hard for me to write consistently on this blog. I miss you all and I hope it doesn’t seem like I dropped off the edge of the world (well, I kinda did for a while but I’ve been back lately). Because of the challenge I’ve made compromises in how much I write and I created a new blog – walkthrough.blog – to help me share more regular updates – the kind of stuff status messages and tweets are made of – except in my own flavor. As I write this I’m cruising through Germany from Freiburg to Berlin where I’ll be visiting a couple friends. A friend from Tucson and a former co-worker (unrelated) are both going to be in Berlin at the same time – what are the odds? My bus ride should be around twelve hours long; it’ll be longer due to a distance where we crawled along at about 5mph behind an extra-wide truck carrying something important. Twelve hours? Not really a problem, a few hours of work then a night’s rest. As I ride cross the countryside through the night it’s a reflective time for me and Ill be trying to share more here on this site as I figure out the right compromises. That is, in the milieu of my daily life, I promise to try harder to write you all, my dear friends, and share my adventures and wanderings.

April Fool

The biggest prank is that Jesus rose again from the dead, at least that is one of my core convictions (his resurrection, not that it was a prank). The internet is full of Easter-related discussion; that’s good to talk about as the Jahresuhr (the year) turns ’round and we reflect on it and reset. I am deeply thankful for the opportunity to visit church with a friend in a place far from my home – I guess that seems to be my new tradition on Easter.

“We have too many Christians who have Lent without Easter,” the pastor quoted (or something close to that, supposedly from the Pope). To those unaware the “season of Lent” is a time of fasting and reflection leading up to Easter, the day we celebrate that Jesus came back to life after being dead in a tomb for three days and thus sealing in the hope we place in him. “We are Easter people,” he continues, “and alleluia is our song.”

So I come into this church and reflect on God and his nature and pray out the liturgy with the congregation: “I reject evil…I renounce the sin in me…help me, O God, to be your servant of peace.” I reflect on the consistent ways I fail, the things I never grow through, the temptations to which I repeatedly return. And I know God sees me. I proclaim his goodness and say “God is great!” yet while I struggle inside to love the very creation he made in me. And here was this man, this divine man who came and empathized and conquered where I have fallen short and I realize that on this April 1 I am the fool. God knows the very thin line separating the innermost from the outside and he sees what lies behind it.

So as we direct ourselves to think on Ash Wednesday to consider that we are dust and so as we focus during Lent to refrain from worldly distractions then so do we celebrate on Easter that God saw our disgrace and he loved us anyway; he saw our repeated, infantile, willful, and horrifying failures and took us in anyway; he saw the fool in me and he lifted me up anyway.

In all my running to seek affection and to seek being wanted, when I’m tired, hungry, angry, or sick, in my trained misbehaviors, and when I’m foolish I can be reminded to celebrate, because the very God who conquered death – death in the body and death in the soul – didn’t flush me out with it. He saw strength hiding behind my weakness and beauty behind my tears, he saw victory charging through my retreat and he saw Jesus when he looked at me. God I reject evil and defeat, please lead me away from it.

My friend, I have seen many things, been on many adventures, suffered excruciating loss, faced my own malice and insufficiency, and from the best of times to the worst of time I can say that I am alive because someone saw the fool in me through it all and decided it was worth saving. There is no greater story in my life than that quintessential act of kindness. Today I celebrate the freedom I have from that fool because of that act. Today I celebrate that the things that I have messed up in this world have hope because of that act. Today I celebrate, and I hope you do too.