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Sunday, August 27, 2017

Bittersweet Symphony

There is a strange quality to how memory and sentiment cause me to feel somehow both full and lonely at the same moment. As if I was part of a ancient tree, but am an isolated branch, living through the lens of ancestry, and yet reaching my growing fingers toward unexplored sunbeams.

I want to stop and dive into that feeling, without somehow getting lost in the past. Its a mix of wonder and sadness. Knowledge that all things will end in my experience, but will also never truly be lost. 

I think for me it comes down to the people in my life and their experiences. I am fascinated by the lives that I will never live. I am humbled by the possibilities that I see in the mirrors of others. I am in love with the love that I’ve shared and received. I take courage from the strength of the stories that those close to me have helped me write. Forgetful of the joy until it is joyful again. Stung by the pain until the companionship and hope of relationship makes me forget. 

Isn’t that just like life? Its hard to grasp, impossible to keep, but beautiful in its difficulty.

I’ve realized that we need each other. We need each other’s stories. When we’re driving alone at night, as we’re saying goodbye, as we’re starting new chapters, I believe those stories will save our lives. The endings, the bittersweet, the beginnings, the ecstasy; they will be the promise that more awaits, that life is abundant.   

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Entertaining Angels

Tonight I went to a concert. 

Its been too long since the last one, and it was two of my favorite bands. Conditions were perfect. 

Except they weren’t. 

As I paid for parking and stood in line to go through the metal detector, I thought about the last 36 hours. I thought about the last year. 3 years. My whole life. I was wishing that I could do most of it over. I was wishing I didn’t make some choices; to carry the things that I had been carrying around. I told my friend this much over text while waiting in line. Texting a close friend in time of need has always been my drug of choice. I wanted them to tell me the same sort of words that I had been telling myself all day. ‘You are not worth it. You are never going to recover. You are never going to get it right.' However, tonight, I didn't get what I expected. I didn’t expect the care and understanding and acceptance that I got from my friend, but, thats what I got. As I dropped all my keys and gadgets into the metal detector bin, I think I dropped a lot of other things that were much heavier that the items in my pockets. I started to breathe a little easier, but I knew it wasn’t that easy. It couldn’t be that easy. 

I walked in to the concert and found a place to stand in the dark. The first band had already started playing. I was nodding along; singing along. No one ever seems to get excited for the opener, but I was. I scanned the crowd in front of me for some signs of life. I found some dancing, singing, non-zombies and made my way over to them. I didn’t feel quite so silly jumping around now. 
The music ended. I looked around. I was alone. Not in a bad way, just in a quiet way. I checked my phone. My dad. Asking how I was. I smiled. 

After a few more minutes of sideways glances and staring at my phone, a girl walked up to me. She was with an older lady. “What’s your favorite [band that had just played] song?” 
“Mmm,” I thought, “that’s a hard one.” 
After chatting for a few minutes, I found out the girl’s name was Cerra. Like Sierra. I know its spelled like that because she said: “Its not spelled normally. Its C-E-R-R-A.” (or something like that). It means something cool in Gaelic. I know because she told me. Eventually the woman (who was Cerra’s friend and had invited her the night before) left us alone. The next band came on after some friendly chit-chat and we re-focused on them. Pretty soon it became clear that Cerra liked to dance. I smiled to myself because thats just the kind of person I’d hoped to be next to me, if I had been hoping for someone to be next to me, which I think I had been. 
So we danced. And sang. And laughed. It was all very unexpected. I had expected to just get through this show. I had payed for the ticket so I might as well go.
I listened to the words these musicians were singing and the melodies that were having such a strange effect. Maybe it wasn’t all so bad? But, maybe it was. I couldn't decide. I looked at Cerra and she was having a blast. And I just gave in. I had a blast too. 

When the show was over. We said our goodbyes. I tried not to make it weird. The woman said “God bless you,” as she left. Cerra’s turn. It was over in a flash. A smile. A soft word. Some quiet footsteps in opposite directions. She melted into the crowd and was gone. 

On the way home I thought about angels. I read that we should be kind to everyone because sometimes we ‘entertain angels unawares.’ I asked myself if I thought Cerra was an angel. No. I don’t think she was. I think she has an earthly home, a steady job, an apartment, and pays taxes, but maybe she can be human, and sort of an angel too. I thought about the other people that had played a part: the text messages, the melodies. I wasn’t expecting to be hopeful as I walked to my car, but I was. I stopped trying to resist. I had been blessed without expecting a blessing.

I didn't walk out of the concert perfect by any means, but I was ready to try again. 

As I thought about who I was before, as compared to who I was now, I knew that I had indeed entertained angels. They were just regular people, (as far as I know), with overwhelming hope in their hearts, and had been kind enough to share it with me. Sometimes I look for miracles, or something bright, and winged to save me. I did not expect these kind of angels who didn’t have, or seem to need, any wings. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Missing Shoes

When I was younger, I used to misplace my shoes. I actually still do quite a bit. I would wander around the house, looking in all the same spots over and over again, getting frustrated and asking my mom if she’d seen them. She always said the same thing: 

“Where’d you take them off?” 

More recently, but not much, I have been wanting to get away from my everyday surroundings. I see my friends traveling and seeing the world; experiencing things that I could only dream of, suffering from the crushing fear of missing out. I just knew that staying put meant certain death: like a shark that needed the water always rushing through it’s gils, I needed to be moving if I wanted to survive; if I wanted to find what I was looking for. 

I was bored and things weren’t changing fast enough for me. In the very face of trying to establish some sort of stability, I was simultaneously sabotaging it. I am terrified of becoming stagnate, and so staying anywhere and doing anything for more than a while felt like some Great Evil that would destroy my life. I ignored the fact that staying put was the only way I would ever get good at what I was doing, or maintain the relationships that I valued. 

What I’ve been realizing is that, yes, life is monotonous. It can be boring and lead to despair. It can require every possible ounce of patience, and I think there are times when drastic moves are healthy and necessary. However, what I was doing was not healthy. I was trying to run away and escape, and running away is not the answer. The answer, at least for right now, is staying put. This was a paradoxical cure: not looking any farther than where I am for what will truly fulfill the restlessness in my heart. It was only a paradox to me until I realized that the only thing I was really running away from, was myself. Staying put taught me how to live with who I was, and not who I was going to be. And finding out how to live with myself was what I was looking for. 

Finally, all the time I spent looking for my shoes around the house made sense. I was frustrated because, obviously, I was looking in all the wrong places. 

“Where did you take them off?” 

The answer was not in all the places I was looking, but right where I had started from.    

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Diamonds and Fame

Someone wise once said: "If you keep asking questions, you'll keep getting answers."* This has been somewhat of a theme in my life, as I'm sure it has been for many people. So, in the true spirit of mankind, I will ask another question today.

Everything meant something when I was growing up. Words, events, maybe even a look I was given, held incalculable meaning for me.  It was exciting to step outside because there was something meaningful out there to find, and I felt it was good. I would savor moments of happiness not as ends in themselves, but as a promise; part of a continuous thread in my life that would counteract some distant moment of sadness or doubt. I saw the difficult times as a test or a lesson in disguise, and every book I read and movie I watched surely could teach me something about the road ahead.

I don't know when it was in the last year that my concept of meaning started to change, but it has gradually and inescapably occurred. Perhaps its for the best. Finding meaning in things that may not be meaningful, a lesson, a test, or a spark to put in a bottle for a dark day, sounds healthy. Letting go of the idea that everything must have some meaning might be freeing, both for me and the objects and people that I task with the responsibility of being constantly meaningful. I do think that everything still has meaning, but in the sense that circumstances and events are the result of an exercise of free will and the consequences of that, instead of say, the universe whispering in my ear. For instance, say something terrible were to happen to me right now (knocks on wood), I could see it as a punishment, which it very well may be, or it could be the result of a decision or a long line of decisions that I, or someone else, has made. I don't have the authority to say which is correct, but the alternative possibilities to some grand design besides that of humanity, are there.

Before this gets too confusing: I don't know if meaning is found in the same places I found it when I was a kid. Further, I don't know if I've ever found meaning at all. If meaning is relative, then yes I did. If it is static, then I could have, but how will I ever know for sure? Hopefully my dilemma is becoming clearer now.

As I move into 'adulthood' (shudder), I am starting to see that decisions and the pathways I choose are influenced by what I find meaningful. This is common. The problem occurs when you lose sight of what is meaningful. Its like dropping your compass overboard. I find that it is very troubling to try and navigate through life when you have no particular place you want to go. Sure, sailing on the waters of self-independence with nothing but your wits sounds like complete freedom, but with no place to land are you still free or just trapped in the ocean of possibilities? Why go sailing at all at that point?

Now that you know a little more about me, maybe its time to get to the point. My question is: Where does meaning come from?

Just to spitball for a second: Love, happiness, family, staying in shape, living well, living long, fun, knowledge, honor, money, sex, security, adventure, legacy, wisdom, experiences, human connection, religion, charity, being a good person, teaching, working, writing, stories, houses, traveling, fame, diamonds, video is it that people can both find meaning in these things, among many others, and some people cannot? What characteristics do the common core of meaningful pursuits that bind the hearts of humanity together, share? Do they all point to some larger picture that you have to stand really far back to see? Will I ever stand back far enough? Will I ever know if anything I do is meaningful, or if meaning is just a coping construct that will propel me through life? Is is just a matter of getting outside my own small view of the world long enough to see a larger plan? If so, how?

I do not mean to be too troublesome in asking these questions. I know that humankind has asked this of themselves during every age and every lifetime, and that our answers to it are varied and too numerous to count. Personally, however, for there to be any hope of finding a meaningful life these questions need to be asked, if not answered. I will not pretend to know, or ignore the fact that I don't.

In retrospect, part of me wants to return to the kid I was who found meaning in the most ordinary things and felt as if he was being told secrets kept since the beginning of time. On the other hand, part of me stands gazing at those secrets and stockpiles of what I thought was truth and whispers: "How can you be what you say you are?"

*It was Ms. Frizzle from Magic School Bus.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Camping Alone

I had my tent, my food, my whiskey, my wilderness. It was pretty much perfect, except for the gale force winds that were screaming through the tops of the trees and trying to kill my tent, my hopes, and my dreams. I was finally settled around the roaring fire, bundled up against the chill, and I started to think.

Going back a little ways for context sake, I had decided to go camping to get some perspective. Mountain air is supposed to be good for clearing thoughts and helping get the blood pumping again. I was tired of being in the city and tired of, well, just tired. I have been asking so many questions and I thought this would help with some answers. Plus, I'd never camped alone so it was like kinda a cool edgy challenge to myself.  So, on Saturday I set off to find the answers to my whole life. I had some pretty massive expectations for how this was going to go. I drove for a few hours and started to see smoke on the horizon. As I got closer I realized that the smoke was basically coming from the road that led to the mountain where I was going. I asked a few questions of the rangers who told me to turn around and go the back way up the mountain; AKA another 3 hours of driving. So, the back way I went. When I got to the top it was starting to get dark so I hurriedly started assembling poles and unfolding and unfurling everything. The wind at this point was so strong that it kept blowing the tent away. I had recently realized that the stakes I had were not going to do the job so I ended up using a screwdriver, a big branch, and a couple strong twigs to hold the tent to the ground.

As I got my fire going and sat there sipping cheap Bourbon, I started asking some questions. I asked God, I asked myself, and then I ran out of people to ask, so I started texting people, making small talk. The irony of going out into the wilderness and consciously secluding myself and then obsessively checking instagram was not lost on me, even as I did it. Feel free to judge me. So, seeing as how there is no one else to blame, it is completely my fault that I might have distracted myself from receiving a life-changing paradigm that windy night, but more on that later.

A couple hours later as I watched the flames fade to embers, and embers fade to ashes, I climbed into my tent and, through the screen at the top, watched the stars blink at the tops of the pines as the wind whipped and tossed my tent around in the dark. It was interesting, I thought, that it seemed so peaceful up there, while down in my chaotic temporary home everything felt as if it could fall apart at any moment. And it did. Several times that night the screwdriver came loose and one corner of the tent was ripped off the ground. The 5th or 6th time this happened it was about 1a.m and I knew the wind had me beat. So I took the tent down and went to sleep in my car. As I laid there, I thought about what a dumb night this was. All the problems I had 50000ft below, had followed me up to the mountain and I started to wonder: what is the point? What did I really think was going to happen? The wind and the tent and the chaos seemed to remind me of what I had come up here to escape. I slept fitfully that night, and woke up to the wind still blowing full force. I went for a hike that morning, made it 15 steps and turned around. The wind literally felt as if it wanted me off the mountain. It almost shoved me back to my car.

Now, the way my mind works, is to find meaning in everything. Maybe I shouldn't. After I got back home that afternoon, I started thinking about what I was supposed to learn from this. At first, I didn't think there was anything except to just do better next time. Maybe I should have stopped checking instagram, wishing I was somewhere else, and been truly alone. I had to look myself in the face for a while; maybe I was afraid to do that? That is definitely possible. Maybe I was just afraid to be alone; that my sense of self is justified by other people. Then I thought: maybe I was texting and wishing that I wasn't out in the wilderness alone because I just genuinely think that my relationships are the most valuable components in my life and I felt like I was wasting some sort of opportunity to pour into those.

I still haven't figured it out, and it might get clearer as more time passes, but for me it comes down to these two things: fear and relationships. I went to that mountain to find perspective. Maybe I found it, in a way that I didn't expect.

Its also ironic because another reason that I went up to the mountains was in order to better see the people around me, and to better understand myself so that I could be better for them. In a way, in my search for meaning, I may have taken myself out of the equation completely.

I feel like I usually wrap these up so they are all bite size and stuff, but I feel like in writing this, I have raised more questions then I answered and they, like the wind that night, have overwhelmed me. So this is where I'll be: hanging out on the edge of my questions, waiting for answers to echo off the walls and reach me.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

I Keep My Eyes Fixed on the Sun

There have been some cloudy days recently in normally sunny Southern California. The rain has been tapping on the roof of my car and sliding down the edges of my apartment, and when I try to look up, it stings my eyes and pelts my face with little furious drops. The rain brings life and so I'm grateful for it, but when I am surrounded by clouds, its hard to find my bearings and believe that life really is on its way.

You've probably figured out by now that I'm not just talking about the weather. Although it is really raining, its been raining for like two days and its totally not a big deal. However, the clouds have come in over my life recently in a suffocating way and looking outside today has given me a visual aid for what is going on inside.

In this kind of environment, when everything seems to be sad and hopeless and doubtful; that every turn I make seems to be the wrong one; when I can't decide what to run from and what to run to, that is where I am forced to admit that I am lost. I keep waiting for the sun to peek through and give me a ray of perspective, but it stubbornly refuses to do so.

I realize that my life is not the only one with these sorts of problems. I think humanity in general has dealt with feeling lost and confused and blind in it's long walk through life. I am not special in this way. I have not come to a fork in the road where no one else has been to, but it is the first time that I have been to it, and although I've heard about it, is suddenly real. Isn't it funny how you hear about something and you know its coming, but nothing really prepares you for it?

The point is, that in the midst of confusion and doubt and being lost, I have a choice. I can accept that this is all there is: the clouds, the rain, the darkness, and live my life in perfect contentment that there is nothing more. Or, I can look past the clouds to what I believe will come after them: the sun, the light, recovery.

The clouds and darkness and confusion of life is where faith comes in. Without times like these, there is no reason to believe that I am lost or that I might be making big mistakes or that I might need help. The clouds tell a story: they are so fragile and fleeting, but they keep us from seeing the truth. There is more out there than what we can see or even imagine.

 Its easy to get trapped into thinking that the limits of possibilities are just as far as the nearest barrier, until we see the sky open up before us in all its unfathomed depths.

So, even on the cloudy days, (I'm looking at you CTE) "I'll keep my eyes fixed on the sun."

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Only Temporary

I've always wanted to be a rockstar. I wanted to be in a different city every night and wake up in a new bed every morning. I wanted to constantly be surprised and delighted and deal with problems as I ran into them, without waiting for them to find me. I've realized in the last couple weeks that in so many ways, I have gotten my wish. I am not famous, I do not travel to a different city every night, and I do not wake up in a different bed every morning, but there is a feeling that I cannot ignore of being in constant motion. So, I got my wish, I just don't get paid for it.

The thing about this whole motion thing is that when I'm moving all the time, I kinda forget about stopping. Its like flying all the time and forgetting about the ground. I forget that there are things that might just be solid and absolute and good...and bad. The other thing about that is when you are moving so quick and exploring such a wide range of ideas, you get perspective on your world; the areas where I live the majority of my life. I found out that there were other worlds out there and I decided I needed to see some of them. Since then, its been hard to trust the solid ground; the things I always took for granted as being absolute. Without trying to sound too Post-Modern: how do I know that what I think and feel and believe is the right way, or even if there is a right way? How do I know that this is not just a product of how I was brought up, or my culture, or my environment? How can I tell someone just like me, who has contradictory views that they are not correct, especially if I am asking all these questions? Where does the dream end, and reality begin?

I think there is only one way to try and answer some of these questions: gather evidence and make some decisions.

So, here I am: boldly going where so many people have gone before, to explore new worlds and find out what is real. This is why I feel like a rockstar: I am traveling. I am testing ground. I am a tourist. All this time I thought I was right at home, and I realized that I might be a stranger there. I'm trying to find solid ground to stand on.