Entry 107: Maintenance

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Location: Collonges, France

I could not have wiped the smile off my face if I had wanted to. I was back. It had been just over six years since I had stepped on Mont Salève, possibly my favorite place in the world. A lot had happened in those past six years, I had moved across the world and back, finished college, got my first job and many other things. I was grinning like an idiot the whole hike up as my mind was transported back to a different time of life.

But I also felt myself thinking about what had really been accomplished in the last five years since I left France. I felt a need to account for what it all measured up to. Obviously in the last five years I had a lot of time to do, well, just about anything actually. This caused me to often find myself wanting to know if all that time amounted to anything.  Was it time well spent, or just time that had come and gone?

My first step on the Salève’s rocky trails occurred on my first day in France ever. The year ahead was a leap of faith. As a teenage student starting another school year on a new continent, I had two goals: have as much fun as possible and learn to speak French. Looking back, on the year I know that I had a ton of fun, hence the foolish, reminiscing grin I had on my face while hiking. But it wasn’t all about fun. As students, we spent hours trying to piece together our homework like the foreign language it was. After nearly 10 months, we had all arguably achieved something great. But, the day after our graduation provided us with one final task, the never-ending endeavor called maintenance.

As young adults in our late teens and early twenties, none of us had the benefit of being in our mind's formative years where languages tend to stick in the brain. Perhaps if we had stayed longer the imprint would have been more permanent, but since that wouldn’t be happening we had to do the next best thing, practice. By living in an English-speaking country that doesn't require, or even allow, the French language in order to be a productive member of society, we all had the option to let our abilities slowly fade away.

After a day of hiking with a good friend, Harena, we went back to his place for dinner. I didn’t really consider it until afterwards, but dinner was my test. Harena’s family consists of three rambunctious young men and their parents. No doubt we would reminisce, tell jokes and all the other things people do at dinner, except in French. Instead of a casual dinner, this could very possibly be a communications nightmare.

 For the last five years I’d occasionally read French books, skyped French friends from far away and sat down to write in French. All of this in the name of maintenance, which if you’re wondering, is significantly less fun than learning for the first time. But, the thing about maintenance is that it pays off in the end.

Dinner was wonderful. After a single day back in France and some good conversation with Harena I felt like my French was back, albeit a little rusty. Together we laughed, told stories and talked about our lives.

So, what did those five years of intermittent practice amount to? Well today they amounted to good friends, laughs all around and a hike on my favorite mountain. I wouldn’t trade those boring hours fumbling through translations for one minute of that day. Not only because of the company, but also for the validation of time well spent.

This isn’t a story of praise in my own accomplishments. No doubt I waste plenty of time, just like anyone else. Rather, this is a story in praise of maintenance and practice.  I have to use it as a reminder to myself of what time well spent can add up to. It serves as motivation when I feel like doing nothing, by reminding me that instead of spending 20 minutes browsing videos online, I could make them productive.

So, I’d encourage you to think about what you want to maintain. Maybe you want to think more about your physical fitness or ability to play the guitar. I’m sure you have learned to do countless things in your life, but can you do them now? I’m also sure you’ve heard a lot of sentences start like this, “I used to be able to…” Would you rather be that person or the one who says, “I can still...”?

All it takes is a little maintenance.

Entry 106: Pause

 Photo taken in Sorá, Panama

Photo taken in Sorá, Panama

Location: Sorá, Panama

Minutes before, we were casually sitting in our chairs. Now though, we were furiously scrubbing our table, chairs and bodies with innumerable forms of disinfectant. My good friend Aris and I were in Panama. A few days before we set up a small clinic in an empty building. Our job at this clinic was to triage the individuals waiting in line to see a doctor. Having established our routine, Aris and I were became rather confident in our triage abilities. Aris sorted out how to use all the medical equipment, though much of it required a little more coaxing than what he was used to as a nurse in the States, and I had finally mastered (kind of) my Spanish translations from the English triage form. Soon, we were moving so fast that the doctors couldn’t keep up. Aris and I would triage a few patients then take a break to get reorganized or restock our basic supplies.

It was during one of these breaks that a doctor came to point out how our performance might improve. Rather casually, the he mentioned that we may wish to wipe everything down because in our rush to push patients through we had failed to notice that one of our patients had a bad case of scabies. Scabies is a highly contagious rash caused by mites, anyone aware of coming in contact with scabies would most likely scrub down and disinfect immediately. Aris and I, however, hadn’t taken notice for at least half an hour. This small oversight being the catalyst of the furious scrubbing of a table and chairs that minutes before were of little concern.Fortunately, neither of us ended up getting the obvious rash associated with scabies, though I am sure the high quantities of disinfectant didn’t do our skin any favors either.

It is amazing how quickly we change our perception once we become aware of our own failings. It is also interesting (and rather concerning) how these  perceptions can make us feel a certain way. Whether we feel uncomfortable, safe, happy or sad, our perceptions are a strong part of what guides those feelings. In Panama, Aris and I’s perception was based on our own overconfidence in the consistency and continuity of our work, we could have likely avoided the issue all together by taking more time to focus on the individual rather than the routine.

One way to counteract the consequences of our potentially false perceptions is through self reflection. Sitting down to think is often overlooked. In a world of knee-jerk reactions and fast-pace decisions, taking pause and reflecting doesn’t happen as often as it should. There’s also a lot of power in prayer or meditation, one in being a connection to a higher power, but also in how it allows us to slow down, refocus and think. Some people go as far as scheduling time in their day to sit and think or pray, but all that’s really necessary to be intentional about reflection and creating moments to clear out all the noise that piles up.

Whether you’re focused on living your best life well into your 100’s or making it through the day without serious consequences, taking pause to reflect is likely a part of the solution you’re looking for. Try taking a few minutes when you would normally check your phone or turning off the music while you’re in the car. You might be amazed by what can be accomplished when you pause.

 

Entry 105: Yes

 Photo taken in Queenstown, New Zealand

Photo taken in Queenstown, New Zealand

            It was a lot worse than I thought it would be, but then again, I hadn’t taken the time to think before I said yes. You see, I’d made a rule: I would not say no. I never imagined that being a yes-man would lead me to the middle of a field, gripping an ewe while it gave birth.

            2014 was a blank slate. In July, I moved all the way from Ohio to the North Island of New Zealand. Only after stepping off the plane did I realize that I didn’t have a single acquaintance in the surrounding 2,000 miles. My overwhelming positivity about the whole adventure had overridden any negative sentiments until I entered my home as an alien. Sitting alone in my new apartment made me realize almost immediately that I had to take action. From that moment on, I decided to take every opportunity I could find; I refused to say no.

            Often my conscious decision to say yes led to amazing fun. In the first month alone I chaperoned a snowboard trip, spoke at a few events and won first prize as the fastest school teacher at a mud run. The yes-man mentality also had a few less appealing offerings as well.

            A woman ran into the cafeteria, a look of worry in her eyes. I recognized her from a brief conversation a few weeks before. “Can somebody help me with an ewe that’s giving birth?” She said it in a pleading tone, but also in a way that suggested this was as normal as asking for help with the dishes. My yes-man mentality had become a knee-jerk reaction by then and without a second thought I was running out to a muddy field on the orders someone I barely knew.

            The baby lamb had somehow become stuck, requiring more than a little help with its exit strategy. I’ll spare you the details, as this part got messy, but after a considerable effort, we freed the lamb and passed it along to its doting mother to be cleaned and fed. A job well done, I thought, before thoroughly washing my hands and returning to my now cold dinner.

            Every time I find myself slipping into a routine, I can’t help but think about situations like this. It’s amazing how we can subconsciously slip into the rhythm of normality. As much as I want to believe that these times are caused by new and exciting locations or interesting people, I have to accept that they aren’t. It always comes back to my attitude.

            Whether by saying always saying yes or through an all-encompassing attitude of extroversion, these situations came about because of my willingness to allow them. Life is full all sorts of these unique moments that allow you to be more adventurous or bring life into the world between bites of pasta. If you want more experiences like these then you have to open yourself up to these opportunities. The catch is that they don’t come around in the way we imagine.

            The entire year I lived in New Zealand I forced myself to talk with everyone about anything. I was always meeting new people, always seeking new opportunities. Through these efforts, I found that by being interested in others, making small conversations and being willing to say yes without question started to bear fruit. When we engage with others about their passions, it can open doors for us we would never imagine.  

            It all comes back to two main lessons. One, put yourself out there, engage with others and be open to new experiences without having to convince yourself that it is worth your time. This is where some of the juiciest experiences come from, but don’t expect amazing results all the time either. To be honest, you will often find that whatever you just did wasn’t very interesting or helpful. That’s where the second point comes in. Be willing to accept that some things that you do will have no impact on your life, but they might have impact for others. By being willing to take other people’s passions into consideration, you open yourself to the idea that sometimes you don’t have to give anything but time to others to make a difference. With that time you will find that more and more people will come to value you: your friendship, your time and your passion.

Entry 104: Defining Failure

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Location: Guangzhou, China

On May 24, 2013, I had a singular goal. I plotted with my counterparts as we flew away from the mountains of Zhangjiajie towards the city of Guangzhou. There we would find a market filled with elaborate fabrics and tailors who would in turn craft the pieces we sought. Tonight, we would get tailored suits from the streets of Canton, an obsession, albeit odd, that had filled our thoughts since our arrival in China.

Over the last eleven days, we made small efforts to find a tailor in Beijing and Shanghai, but truthfully, we were waiting for Guangzhou. Here we would find the market we had heard so much about. Over the span of a few hours we wandered through the markets, fumbling through conversations and following various guides attempting to help us without success. This act continued throughout the remaining days we spent in China with the same result. Amongst the few tailors we found there was always a problem, often a lack of time or too high a price. On the flight home, we could not help but reflect on our lack of success.

Despite our inability to acquire custom suits, it was difficult to reflect on our travels and call anything a failure. Strictly speaking, we did in fact fail to achieve our objective, but defining failure does not have to be simplistic. Our desires had taken us further into the depths of various cities and caused us to dive deeper into the Chinese culture through exposure to new people and experiences.

I could cite similar experiences of objective failure that lead to a whole manner of things I never intended. There was my failed attempt to start a career that lead me to work at a music festival or my inability to catch a flight that allowed me to have an amazing conversation with a stranger. I can say with certainty that I could write about my own failures without end, only to realize that many of them come coupled with an experience that I could have never anticipated.

Failure is not always a matter of black and white, objectives may not lead to their desired end, but the attempt to find or achieve something (whether it results in success, failure, or a much more likely status of in between) will lead to transformation.

Entry 103: Seeking Greatness

 Photo taken in Collonges, France

Photo taken in Collonges, France

“What good shall I do this day?”

I think of myself as a good person. I am generally nice, relatively honest and avoid road rage in most instances. Good person, right? I considered this as I read a short story about Benjamin Franklin.

Each morning and evening Mr. Franklin asked himself two questions, “What good shall I do this day?” and “What good have I done today?” Both questions require reflection and intentionality.

These questions brought me to a realization; good people do not ask these questions, great people do. You see, good people can tell you what they do, just like I can tell what I do. Going beyond that requires asking yourself how you can live with purpose, the goal being not to maintain the status quo but to push it beyond its current state.

To look further into the topic, consider this. The difference between saying you want to do good and being able to answer as to what that means on a daily basis is what draws the line between good intentions and great people. It is all well and good to talk about what this means, I find that I am very good at talking about what it means to be a good person and even better at pointing out how bad other people are. But we want to go beyond well and good to achieve more than “fine.”

If neither of the questions from above help you answer what it means to be great, try this one and paint out a scenario. What would happen if we all woke up each day and decided to love the world? What would it mean to wake up each day, committing to love the earth and its people?

I don’t know that humanity is any more hateful today than it was in the past, but without a doubt we have more ways of acting like it. In a world where pain is news and hate is shared (even in the condemnation of it), it is our responsibility to do more than maintain what is said to be normal.

We talk a lot, myself included, about what is wrong. Many of us feel good about ourselves because we commit no newsworthy acts of hatred or anger. How do we move beyond that? I believe that asking any of the questions above is a great start, but even then, many of us feel like we do enough. At least we do more than others, right? Perhaps, but now let’s even out the playing field.

Wherever you are and however you act on a day to day basis, make that your starting point or baseline. No matter how good or bad of a person you are, start at zero and ask what it means to be one percent better today. How could you be an even slightly better person today? If you struggle to see any good in yourself, then do something simple, pick up a piece of trash as you walk through the parking lot or give away a dollar without questioning its use. On the flip side, if you feel high and mighty in your everyday greatness, remember that you have been reduced to a zero. What can a great person do to love the world a little more today?Go to sleep tonight and ask yourself what it means to love the world.

What good shall I do this day?

Entry 102: Sensation

 Photo taken in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Photo taken in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Amélie, by Jean-Pierre Jeunet is one of my favorite French films. The film tells of how Amélie Poulain, acts to anonymously impact the people in her life.  Though odd, the story of Amélie captures the emotions the various personalities mankind can feel with a unique accuracy.

During my most recent viewing of Amélie, I noticed a scene that before had slipped by without my notice. There is a single minute in the film, unrelated to the main storyline. Amélie walks through the street after one of her successful missions to change a life. Until this point, the scene moves in slow motion reflecting her blissful state. Preparing to cross a street, Amélie recognizes a blind man waiting to cross the same street. With a sudden burst of energy, Amélie grabs the blind man by the arm and leads him across the busy street. The scene and music quicken as she walks him down the sidewalk, describing the scene of the street. “That’s the florist laughing,” she exclaims. “He has crinkly eyes. There are lollipops in the bakery! Do you smell that? They are giving out melon slices!”

As he walks, the blind man’s face lights up, as the viewer, you get the sense, this is the first time in a long time that he has felt this emotion. Amélie adds a detail of sight to each sense the man might hear or smell, giving him eyes for the streets he has so often walked alone. After this intense minute of detail, she leaves the blind man at the train while he smiles alone, feeling a new sense, bliss.

This scene hit me as I watched it, but I did not take its meaning until two days ago while walking the streets of Amsterdam, hurrying to my next destination. At a street crossing, I stopped, waiting for the hurried cars and bicycles to pass. Looking around, I thought of this scene. By hurrying through the crowded streets, I was failing to take in my surroundings.

I slowed down and smelled the pastries in a shop, felt the cobblestoned streets beneath my feet and admired the buildings along with their reflection in the canals. I quit worrying about the map, the next stop, the best picture and then I felt it, bliss.

It is not difficult to absorb the sensations of a new place. Amsterdam of all places is filled to the brim with them. But as I walk through the streets of my own home, I know there are many things I do not see. Too often I choose to be blind rather than like Amélie who thrives on sensation and emotion.

Life is full of sensations. Stop, breathe, experience.

Entry 101: Problems

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A few weeks ago I discovered a nail in one of my car’s tires. Somewhat bitterly I pulled out the jack and refreshed my memory on how to change a tire. Pulling off the tire, I tossed it into the back of my other car for a trip to the tire shop. Only as I walked to the driver’s side of the second car did I notice a silver nail poking its head out of yet another tire.

Now even more annoyed, I weighed the consequences of driving my second car to the shop with a nail in the tire and another punctured tire in the back. Seeing that the tire was still inflated I chose to take the risk, managing to make it to the shop before the tire deflated. A handful of dollars and a few hours later I returned home with two patched tires, frustrated by this seemingly significant problem.

Again last week I felt the same feeling of frustration as I discovered that my flight to New Jersey had been delayed. This caused a chain reaction that would cause me to miss my flight to The Netherlands. The feeling of annoyance only grew as I sat flying in the opposite direction towards Chicago and then again as I flew past The Netherlands on my way to Frankfurt, Germany. Thousands of miles later and half a day late, I landed in Amsterdam, only to find that because of my flight changes my bag had been temporarily misplaced.

Put off by my bad luck, I have shared both of these stories with friends and coworkers. After telling these stories a few times, I am beginning to realize that there is another problem, me.

These stories are not about bad luck. On the contrary in fact, they are stories about blessings. Only recently am I beginning to understand that the more opportunities or possessions one has, the more likely something is to eventually go wrong. Many issues defined as problems would not occur without the blessing they are tied to. One cannot have car trouble without a car or travel concerns without going somewhere. The same concept can be applied in all sorts of “problems” with things such as work, school, family and more. Each of these problems come from opportunities that many people in this world would be immeasurably grateful to have.

I will not deny you your problems. Often they are very real and keenly felt. Pay attention, however. You might have a chance to step back and understand where some of life’s problems come from. Do not forget to focus on the greater blessing from which a small problem has grown.

Entry 100: All Men Dream

 Photo taken in Tennessee, USA by  Julia Bonney  

Photo taken in Tennessee, USA by Julia Bonney 

Location: Arabia

“All men dream: but not equally, those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible. This I did.”

- T. E. Lawrence

“All men dream…” Here we are. 100 entries and well over 3 years later. Back in July of 2014, the thought of sitting down to write 100 separate entries seemed like an insurmountable task. To be honest, I was not even considering it at the time. I certainly enjoyed the idea of being the kind of person who could achieve something like this, but actually doing it, well, that was a different matter. I mean, who has that much time on their hands? I know I don’t.

Taking a look back on these 100 entries, I can see the flux of writing. Some entries had months in between them, some were short and others might have been a bit more of a stretch than their counterparts. Nevertheless, here we are, 100 stories, snippets and thoughts.

By choosing to be a dreamer of the day, somebody who takes action, and not a day dreamer that sits back and wonders what it would be like, I have achieved something. Please don’t take this as an ego trip. Honestly, I have to see it written out to prove to myself that even I could do it. I don't know that I'm much of a writer, but I am a doer.

Taking a look back at Entry 1: Dreamers of the Day, I can see a message to myself: “A dreamer of the day has a dream that is achievable whether through days, weeks, months of countless hours of work, or through simple steps.” Simple steps, one entry at a time; not even over the course of months, but of years.

Through this time we’ve talked about stories from different parts of the world and different periods in time. Many of the stories I told had not even happened when I began. How could I have known even if I would have enough content? What I have found though, is that if you train your mind to seek out life’s lessons, you will find value in every experience.

Enough about me.

There is some old wisdom that says nothing is hard, but everything takes time. We view things as difficult at the beginning because we look all of the way to the end, not considering the time, the small goals, the achievements that happen before the task is finished.

Your goals may be big. They make take time. Each day that you postpone your goals because they seem to insurmountable is just another day you have to wait until you achieve them. You can make big changes if you take the time. You will not learn a new language in a month or maybe even in a year. You cannot achieve all of your life’s goals in a decade. If you can then I suggest sitting down to think up some bigger goals. There are always more to dreams to be dreamt

Let’s finish with how we began:

What are your dreams? Do you live them out on a day-to-day basis? Are you striving for something? I owe my achievements to my parents and to my God who have guided me towards and through the experiences that I’ve had in the past. So seek your own support, God is there, just pray that your dreams coincide with His plans for you.

Take action, dream big, and seek greatness.

“The dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible. This I did.”

Entry 99: Fruit Trees

 Photo taken in Sorá, Panama

Photo taken in Sorá, Panama

“I never planted fruit trees,” he started. “I never thought I would be anywhere long enough.”

                  It’s not too hard to understand. Nobody knows where they will be in even a handful of years. Justifying the work it would take to nurture a fruit tree only to leave it would be more than a little disheartening. All the pruning, watering and fertilizing it takes to nurture a peach out of a tree, only to leave before you see any benefit. Perhaps when you leave the tree will die or even worse, someone else will have your tree. It may be selfish, but you still won’t like it. Maybe next time you will take somebody’s tree.

                  And yet, there is something worse; no fruit. This is the predicament of a man who desired fruit but failed to plant a tree. 

                  I have talked a lot about New Zealand, I know. But that experience was of the highest importance in my life and I pull lessons from it weekly to create action. When I stepped off the plane into the frosty July morning, I shuddered from cold as much as from fear. I slowly wandered across the airfield to the airport entrance contemplating my next move. Nobody for thousands of miles knew my face or personality. They did not know me and I did not know them. The first step off that plane was me alone, with nothing but a handful of seeds that I could sow however I chose.

                  I would plant the seeds of relationships; all the opportunities I would have started at that moment from a blank slate, tiny seeds on an empty field. It took weeks to see the sprouts, months more to see fruit and before long I stepped back on the plane, leaving year-old relationships that I am sure would have blossomed further. Many friends remain in contact to this day, but I know many more had yet to blossom.

                  I know that I am guilty of failing to plant fruit trees, literally and metaphorically. Perhaps I got luck in New Zealand, because I can think of countless other occasions where I have refused to invest in something because of a short time frame, never thinking I would benefit from the fruit. There are times when I stayed longer than I thought and regretted not sewing seeds sooner, but that is not the only thing to be regretted, it’s the alternative as well.

                  By sowing seeds, you give provide others the opportunity to reap the benefits. Imagine a world where everyone lived their lives to give, creating a set foundation for the next person who came along. That could mean something as simple as having a peach tree already planted in your backyard or something as complex as a culture that looks after those in need.

                  Everything starts by planting seeds, whether or not you will be around to taste the fruit.

Entry 98: The Wayfinder

 Photo taken in Tongatapu, Tonga

Photo taken in Tongatapu, Tonga

Location: Polynesia

“What is even more astonishing is that the entire science of wayfinding is based on dead reckoning. You only know where you are by knowing precisely where you have been and how you got to where you are.” 

- Wade Davis, The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World. 

            Between working full time and getting my masters, I have done a lot less adventuring in 2017. When I started writing, adventure was a monthly occasion. Now, I have to adapt to a new kind of adventure, perhaps not as sweet, but still satisfying. Nevertheless, the voyager mindset lives and breathes in my mind. To satiate this thirst, I have been doing a lot more casual research on different cultures. My most recent obsession is with wayfinders of the South Pacific islands.

                  Perhaps you too have flown over the ocean. Though I am certain that the handful of hours in a plane pales in comparison to sailing, it gives a small sense of how vast the ocean is. A wayfinder or navigator, was a sailor who remained awake for days, guiding his canoe by the rhythm of waves and the changing of the stars.

                  When Captain Cook, a man thought to be the best navigator of his time, met the wayfinders, he was astonished, their knowledge of the sea far deeper than his. These men, no matter where they were, always knew where they had been and where they were going, even when where they were going was an island yet undiscovered. The skill is almost unfathomable; a wayfinder is said not to discover islands, but rather to pull islands out of the sea by holding a vision of them in their mind.

                  The key to wayfinding is knowing where you are by knowing precisely where you have been.

                  Most of us do not know where we are going; life is yet to be defined. But, knowing where we have been is something we can grasp. Our destination will never hold a clear path as we look ahead, but we can look back and know exactly where we came from. The experiences of our past have shaped us into the people we are today. Though we should not get lost in the past, wayfinding through life requires reminiscing, giving thanks for past experiences and reveling in the life you have lived up to this moment.

                  It may be difficult to feel this in your present situation. Imagine the wayfinder, there he sits in the middle of the ocean drained from exhaustion, his eyes fixed upon the stars, his mind calculating the rhythm of the waves. He left his island home perhaps for prestige, adventure or necessity, likely never to return. The only thing he holds onto is the island in his mind, the one he will pull from the seas.

                  Be the wayfinder. Wherever or whatever your island is, if you hold it in your mind, you will never get lost. Know exactly who you are by knowing where you have been.

Entry 97: Prudence

 Photo taken in Tennessee, USA

Photo taken in Tennessee, USA

“The young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible - and achieve it, generation after generation.”

- Pearl S. Buck

Be careful. These are always the last two words you hear before setting off towards a new experience or adventure. With these two words is supposed to come the connotation of how much the person speaking cares about you. They are saying that they would like to see you again, that they don’t want you to get hurt or that they do not wish for you to be overly changed upon your return. I get it. It’s innocent enough if you are leaving to drive in a storm. At that point, by all means, be careful, but I’m not sure we are sending the right message when it comes to most situations. In reality, when we say be careful, we are telling somebody to play it safe.

“The young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible - and achieve it, generation after generation.” Notice how age is specifically pointed out by stating the young. In saying this, Pearl S. Buck infers that prudence is learned over time. I would go as far to say that prudence is taught over time. Risk, rejection, and failure are treated like the plague instead of a necessary way of learning. When we tell someone to be careful, we reiterate this, either out of genuine concern or the selfish hope that the experience does not change the individual.

It is odd how some things stick with you. I’ve been given a lot of great advice in my life. Some of it I remember, I’m sure other parts are locked in subconsciously and the rest is lost to time. One piece of advice that I do remember is just like those two words above. It’s something my Dad told me right before I got on the airplane to go to France for a year, easily the greatest experience I would have at that point in my life. There was no speech or list of rules, just like “be careful,” the advice was only two words. Be smart.

Neither he nor I fully knew what I was getting myself into that year, but living an ocean away always provides its opportunities for trouble and change. I do not know if my Dad chose those words specifically, but I remembered them the whole year through every character-forming experience and each daunting situation. Be smart.  

I would not argue that every time we set off on some new experience that we are going out to make change, but by creating a culture of prudence, we mold a personality that becomes less and less likely to create change in the future.

I never advise friends to be careful anymore. Normality is the result of prudence. If you want to grow into the type of person who attempts the impossible, be thoughtful, be kind, be smart.  

Entry 96: Windows

 Photo taken in Sorá, Panama

Photo taken in Sorá, Panama

“Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.”

- Ernest Hemingway

Do you drive with the windows down?

There is something so freeing about driving home after a long day with the wind ripping by. For this reason, it always amazes me how many people drive with their windows up, even on a beautiful day. Can somebody give me a reason why, because as far as I can tell there is no reason other than requiring something physical to separate you from the outside world.

Who needs a bubble when you can stick your hand out the window and glide all the way home? I look at people with their windows up and wonder what we are hiding from, why we want to experience the day from inside the glass.

Though I may drive with the windows down, I still find ways to shield myself. The person who deserves the real recognition is the guy with his windows down dancing and singing to his favorite song. He experiences life, no glass required. Me, I find myself turning down the music at stoplights and quietly whispering the words to the song when I really want to be singing. All the sudden I am shielding myself from the world because it allows me to be seen through the lens of composure and control.

To the guy who stays in his raw form, I salute you. You probably look at me in the same way as I look at people with their windows up. You know I was singing my heart out at 50 miles per hour but went quiet as soon as I slowed. You wonder why I stop, shielding myself from judgement and people I may never see again.

Do you keep the windows up?

Humans were meant to live in their raw form, proud of their personality. How you live defines your existence. When you shy away from who you deny that version of yourself.

When we talk with children we always make sure to emphasize how special they are. We believe it for them, but we forget to believe it ourselves. We fail to distinguish ourselves and lead by example, speaking something we do not believe. This world needs more people who sing with their windows down. These are the ones who lead by doing, showing what it looks like to be special.Maybe you aren’t the type of person to sing in the car, but I’m sure you still find yourself shielding your personality.

The most interesting thing to me is how often we celebrate people who aren’t guarded. For whatever reason, we think they are special, different from ourselves. We love how unique they are and how they stand out from the crowd. Of course, we could never be like that, we aren’t interesting/exciting/cool enough. Not true. The only difference is that we don’t see them through a lens. They have their windows down and they don’t whisper when they really want to sing.

How do you want to experience life? My guess is that you want to be seen in your raw form. It takes courage to show off your true self. When you are 100% you it can’t be taken back. You won’t get to say you were only kidding or lost in a temporary lapse. Being 100% requires a type of honesty that can be uncomfortable. You’ll have to commit, distinguishing yourself and discovering that you are still as different as you were told as a child. You’ll have to sing with the windows down.

Entry 91: Lost in Translation

 Jeremy and Santiago in Havana, Cuba

Jeremy and Santiago in Havana, Cuba

I love languages. So many little things get stuffed into a conversation that can never be teased out in translation. Nuances of culture and figures of speech are only the beginning of what comes through in another tongue. Knowing this is exciting, but can also be a bit disheartening every time I speak with somebody in a language other than English. For as much as I can understand, I know that I’m always missing the details of a quip or the heritage of a reference.

This was equally true while travelling in Cuba. My friend Jeremy and I managed to get a driver named Santiago to take us to various parts of the country. It was going to be perfect. Except not quite, because Santiago did not speak a word of English. Originally, I didn’t think this would be an issue because Jeremy had spent a year going to school in Spain. Unfortunately, Jeremy’s “year” in Spain turned out to be a six-week summer stint that I had somehow created into a year with my own imagination. Combine that with the fact that my Spanish was learned by reading Harry Potter in New Zealand and you don’t come up with fluency even if you add the two together.

Jeremy, Santiago and I spent so much time toiling over basic conversation topics. Half of every sentence would be lost in translation. We would start a conversation then rephrase, repeat and carry on. Santiago was patient, even as he explained the simplest concepts while Jeremy and I either pretended like we understood or often took a meaning that was never intended.  

This has made me consider the way we communicate with God and made me ask the question; how often do we just not get it? On one side God is painting a picture for us and on the other we start to make assumptions before the painting is complete. Rephrasing and repeating wouldn’t help because we quit listening after the first time through. To communicate with God, we have to not only learn to how he speaks, but to truly listen to what He is trying to tell us. No matter how many times we must hear it.

The other part of this whole situation that hit me at the end of the trip, was the relationship that formed, despite all the confusion. By the end of the trip, Santiago, Jeremy and I all had inside jokes and crazy references. We could laugh together and make up songs. We had fumbled through life stories and even created some pretty good ones of our own that week.

Though we may lose sight of what God is trying to tell us, we can still build a relationship with Him if we share a part of our life. We can tell stories and make stories, laugh at jokes and sing out loud. All the while building the basis of a relationship. Intentional friendship does not get lost in translation.

Entry 86: More than Fine

 Photo taken at Matamata, New Zealand

Photo taken at Matamata, New Zealand

Location: Matamata, New Zealand

How many of us have the tendency to temper ourselves? Perhaps we do it naturally without even thinking. In order to explain, allow me to ask you a question. When you woke up this morning and prepared to do whatever it is that you do, what was your state of mind? Were you annoyed that you had to go to work? Were you excited? More likely you were just ‘meh.’ Today was another day.

I am equally guilty, but why do we do this? In all honesty, we have no idea what the day will hold and that in and of itself is kind of exciting. Nevertheless, many of us remain unmoved. How’s the day going to go? Probably fine…

Unfortunately, I’ve caught myself taking this one step further. In November of 2015, I prepared to realize an exciting dream with mellowed temperance. I made an actual effort to tell myself that this day would probably not be as exciting as I thought it could be. On this day, I was visiting Middle Earth, and more specifically, The Shire.

As a massive nerd for Lord of the Rings, this should have been a pretty big deal. For whatever reason, though, I felt a need to tell myself that today would be just fine, not great mind you, fine. After all, I wouldn’t want to get too excited and end up disappointed.

How often, on an average day, do we unconsciously tell ourselves the day will be… fine? Most likely, there are a few too many days when we don’t have to. We need to shake off this temperance, this muted version of our own personalities.

Fortunately, on this day in Middle Earth, my calmed emotions fell away from me as I ran through the rocky gates of The Shire screaming about having an adventure. My temperance unconsciously fell away as I accepted that this day was going to be absolutely stunning and that I was living the adventure.

What would it feel like to have just a sliver of that excitement about each day? What would it look like if we got excited about the day’s potential. How different would today have been if you started with the idea that something great (if even just maybe) occur? Screw temperance, today is going to be magnificent.

Entry 81: I Will

 Photo taken in Minnesota, USA

Photo taken in Minnesota, USA

Location: U.S.A.

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

- Howard Thurman           

I will love.

I will not forget that this world is made of real people.

I will not complain about problems without trying to create a solution.

I will continue to learn.

I will work harder.

I will always be an American.

I will create.

I will remember our history.

I will be specific.

I will learn from past mistakes, other’s or my own.

I will not fear.

I will vote.

I will not leave just because people don’t agree with me.

I will do unto others as I would have done unto me.

I will share.

I will accept you.

I will open my door.

I will do better.

I will not sit back and wait for the world to change.

I will not usher in evil so Jesus can come back.

I will leave the world better than I found it.

I will daydream.

I will be ruthless with my kindness.

I will make it count.

I will endure.

I will be still.

I will take action.

I will be a peacemaker.

I will come alive.

Entry 80: El Picacho

 Photo taken on El Picacho in Panama

Photo taken on El Picacho in Panama

Location: Sorá, Panama

“Whoa, how do we get up there?”

Our eyes immediately fell upon the highest peak we could find. El Picacho towered over the rest of the hilly terrain. It didn’t take but 2 minutes for us to decide that the summit was our goal for the week. None of us knew how to get there, how tall it was, or if it was dangerous or safe. Nevertheless, after those two minutes, it was decided.

Something that nags at me is the fact that if I was alone, I could have shrugged it off. El Picacho didn’t have to be a big deal to me. If it would have become a big hassle to get to the top then I probably would have dropped it. Fortunately, Aris and Emmanuel - my fellow travellers for the week, weren’t going to drop it so easily. To those guys, seeing was achieving. There was never a question of if we were going to make it.

Our plans were quickly spread amongst the neighbors in an attempt to find the surest route. Several discouraged the steep climb, but one suggested a guide. Early one morning, she took the liberty of calling a friend who could take us up. Peter, who we soon met, agreed to take us to the top if we could leave in fifteen minutes. The three of us weren’t close to ready to go, but it was now or never.

Fifteen minutes later, Peter pulled up in his car as we shoved water bottles into our packs and laced our shoes. The hike ended up being a scramble through the jungle over loose dirt and rocks. The humidity hit us instantly, but the sweat was well worth it at the breezy summit. From the top we looked out over the foggy hills.

In three days our idea became a reality. A mountain I’d never heard of four days ago in a country I had no plans of being in four weeks before. Often times we have no clear vision of which mountains we will be climbing or where we will face them. The challenge might be a welcome one or dreaded. The fact is when you see it you have to face it. Fortunately, I had a couple of guys with me who were driven to face the challenge and because of them, I’ve seen a new mountaintop with new rocks under my feet. El Picacho: seen and achieved. 

Entry 75: The Long Haul

Location: USA, Fiji, Australia, & New Zealand

“Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”

- Warren Buffett

            I’ve gone on a lot of long flights. A few of the trips that I’ve been on have taken more time in the air (or road) than they provided with actual time at the destination. I’m sure that many people think these trips are foolish or unnecessary, but I have always found them to be well worth the effort.

            The most recent example I can provide was my July trip to New Zealand. I was there just under 7 days but traveled over the course of 5 days to get there and back. My flights were long and not without various problems in no less than 4 different countries and 8 airports. Nevertheless, when I tell people where I recently was they still manage to give the “wow” response along with their dreams of going. Shortly after this I have to mention that in NZ I did not participate in any of the standard attractions that it provides. There was no bungee jumping, no epic hiking or Lord of The Rings exploration. These facts are often met with dismay. “Why would you go that far and not do anything?” Why would I willingly choose to deal with all the troubles of traveling without taking advantage of what many would describe as the most important things at the destination? At times, during the excessively long flights, I begged the same question.

            In truth, I had a fantastic time in New Zealand without any of the aforementioned activities. I spent much of my time socializing, eating with friends and, oh, I went to a wedding. My trip was entirely for the purpose of 2 people. All the hassle was for a few important hours with a couple of very important people in my life.

            Many of the things that we describe in life as hard aren’t overly difficult; they just take time. Other times, those problems aren’t overly hard, but the result will not arrive for years to come. Despite my best efforts, I often have a difficult time seeing this in my daily life. I can hardly ever decide if it is worth it to drive an extra half hour to go on a new hike or if I should plan ahead instead of just seeing what happens.

            Don’t get caught sitting at home when you could be doing something you will remember for the rest of your life. Forget the laziness that keeps you from driving the extra few miles. Resist the temptation to sleep in when you could be seeing a new sunrise. Many of the best things in life only require your time. 

Entry 66: WWRD

            Take a minute to describe the character of Jesus. My guess is that you came up with a list of words similar to this:

·      Loving

·      Compassionate

·      Approachable

·      Forgiving

·      Gentle

·      Etc.

            If you have read the Gospels then this is a likely, albeit vague, sense of Jesus’ character. As Christians, one of our constant goals is to adopt these characteristics. To be like Jesus is the Christian emotional equivalent of finding El Dorado. Unlike the forgotten city, we know exactly how to find it. There is a virtual map written in the Bible. Nevertheless, we are terrible at it.

            Apparently, one map (no matter how clearly defined) isn’t enough for us. Perhaps we need more reminders, something a little more tangible than a wristband that shouts WWJD each time you accidentally catch your wrist on a door handle.

            Where can you find an example like that? Who is that loving and forgiving? To be honest, I can think of a substantial list of names who are better at it than I am, but at a Jesus-level of love… not many. As a matter of fact, in seeking out a being that is exceedingly loving, approachable, and gentle, I can think of only one. His name is Rowdy and he’s my golden retriever.

            Before you get too upset, let me be clear that I’m not calling Jesus a dog. I’ve simply come to the recent conclusion that my dog might be better at being like Jesus than I am. Here is my thought process:

Approachable:

            Jesus was the epitome of love on this earth. Though you may not personally know Rowdy, I can assume that you’ve been met a dog of a similar caliber. I can also assume that you have seen children flock to a new dog, showering it with hugs and kisses as it mildly stands accepting all that love and returning it in kind.

            Jesus had a constant following. People loved him because he could be approached. Think about the last time you went up to a stranger on the street. Can you even think of one? Now think about the last time you pet a dog you didn’t know. I rest my case.

Forgiving:

            No matter how long we separate ourselves from Jesus, we can always go back. His forgiveness is continuous. The parable of the prodigal son illustrates this level of forgiveness that is rarely seen or experienced. When I forgive somebody, it has never been with tears of joy. Rather, it is more likely to be with bitterness and even contempt. Rowdy, however, is different.

            I do not get to visit Rowdy very often any more. Usually there are months between my visits. But he doesn’t forget about me, much less does he treat me with contempt upon my return. In fact, he is usually so excited that he cries out with joy. It doesn’t matter that I left him.

Gentle:

            Imagine you encountered a wolf in the woods. Fear would be an acceptable reaction. Now imagine you encountered a dog in the street. Most likely, you wouldn’t have the same reaction. Why? Dogs have the same teeth and claws, but the fact of the matter is, most dogs are quite gentle. I know with full confidence that I could hold my hand in Rowdy’s mouth and never get bitten. Even if I were to try to force him to bite me I would be met with resistance.

            Our God is capable of great and terrible things, yet Jesus was gentle. You could make the point that in the Gospels Jesus went out of his way to form a whip and shouted angrily at the vendors in the temple and you would be justified. But, does a dog not defend his home as well?

            Jesus was not a dog. Equally, my dog is not Jesus. Even if you aren’t seeking to be like Jesus, most people still have the goal to be a better person. That is why WWJD wristbands were such a hit. We want to be better. We want somebody to show us how. I fully believe that as we seek these things we are becoming more accountable to one another.

            But I make mistakes. I do things that are unkind. I do not love. I continue fail. And as I continue to fail and seek new guidance so that I might become a better person, I can’t help but to beg the question. Is my dog more like Jesus than I am?

Entry 62: Lessons from the AT

 Photo by:  Ryan Haas

Photo by: Ryan Haas

Location: The Appalachian Trail, North Georgia

We all have that dream somewhere in our subconscious of quitting the daily grind to disappear. Most of us will never act upon that thought. I’ve always tried to suppress it by making the evenings and weekends my playground. My brother however, gave in to the subconscious a few weeks ago by quitting his job and taking a month away from the world to hike the Appalachian Trail.

I visited him to hike for a few days not long after he started. As always, I took more away from my trip than I brought. The AT gave me an opportunity to reflect while acting as my mentor for a weekend.

Lesson 1: Pack Smart

My personal tendency is to have more than I need, more to eat, more to wear, etc. Yet, these “needs” always take greater consideration when there is 18 miles between you and setting them back down again. When I found Ryan he had already been hiking for 5 days. His first act after greeting me was to empty his backpack of the superfluous. Items such as spare notebooks, bandanas, and headphones clearly did not make the cut. Each choice made sense to me, but I did not truly grasp the reason until I started to carry my own pack. Because I was only hiking for a weekend my pack was much lighter than Ryan’s. Nevertheless, the things that could be labeled as unnecessary only continued to grow as the miles passed by.

There seems to be a grey area, between needs and wants in life. Everything that falls into the grey is immediately categorized as a need. These needs act as added weight that hold us back, weight that sometimes only becomes evident after years of gathering dust. By continuously focusing on what we carry it is easier to distinguish what our needs are.  

Lesson 2: On Going Alone

You can, in fact, you should at times.

Going alone will give you a lot of one thing, silence. Silence is a scarce commodity in our world. Though it sometimes makes me uncomfortable, I also envy the time that Ryan has to reflect. Silence has a way of wrapping itself around you, saturating your mind with thoughts and memories.

There is an Arabic Proverb I love. It says, “Only speak if what you have to say is more beautiful than silence.” This applies to both the silence and the noise. Noise can be beautiful. When friends come to invade your silence, enjoy the beauty. Let friends fill your mind with stories and frivolity. In return you can share your own noise or you can choose to give them some of your silence. The AT offered both to me as I wandered down the 2,181-miles ahead of me.

Lesson 3: The Up and Down

The AT follows the ridgeline of the Appalachian Mountains from Georgia all the way to Maine. While hiking, you will constantly go up and down. Such is the nature of mountains. I learned not to be sad about going uphill because it meant I would soon be going down. In the same way, I realized that the longer I enjoyed the ease of a downhill path the more likely I would soon face the alternate and equal challenge of an uphill battle.

Life offers the same battles. There will be times of hardship and times of ease. When the hard times come, anticipate the downhill and how it can be used to fight the next battle.

The Verdict

I cannot claim expertise on long distance hiking; I only claim these small lessons that the Appalachian Trail will quickly offer to anybody who comes to learn. The great gift of nature is insight. The more time you give to nature the more it will give back.

 

If you wish to keep up with Ryan’s hike you can visit him on his Instagram and on his personal website, both of which will soon be filled with greater insights than I have to offer from my brief time on the AT. 

Entry 56: Conditional Copout

Location: Sydney, Australia

“People are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dream of.”

- Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

            Good ideas aren’t that hard to come by, it’s finding the effort that’s difficult. How many times have you been with a friend(s) and they said, “wouldn’t it be awesome if we ___________?” The idea is often then met with instant support. That would be a great idea after all. Support, however, is short lived. It will soon be followed up with “but.” But that costs money. But that would take practice. But that would require effort. Being conditional only opens the door for laziness.

            Take a second to think about how many good ideas you’ve watched pass by. Wouldn’t it be awesome if I started practicing guitar every day? Wouldn’t it be fun to plan a camping trip for this weekend? Wouldn’t it be nice to stop eating junk and get in good shape this year? They are all the same. You thought about it, realized it was a great idea, and proceeded, for whatever reason, to not do it. 

            I’m going to make a proposition. Be accountable to your ideas and stop being conditional. Instead of asking wouldn’t it be awesome if, ask a different question: Won’t it be awesome when? Won’t it be awesome when we take that trip? Won’t it be great to run a marathon? And the list goes on.

            In 2013, my friend Jeremy and I started talking. We were sitting in class dreaming of traveling. “Won’t it be awesome when we go to Australia?” we asked. The question had an obvious answer. “It will be.” Each time we talked about our trip to Australia, the conversation always ended with one of us saying, “this is happening.” We may not have even believed that it would, but we were going to fake it until we made it real.

            Fast-forward two years. Jeremy and I are putting on suits and checking our tickets. We had plenty of time before the show started at the Sydney Opera House. Walking through the streets of Sydney, Australia, we would occasionally start to laugh in disbelief. We’d made it. And to answer our own question, yes, it was awesome. It had taken two years to get to Australia. Two years of collecting pennies, midnight phone calls, and convenient visa expirations to get us to Australia. Nevertheless we had arrived and a long term goal had been conquered. 

            Often, the amount of time it takes to accomplish something is what defines the task as difficult. Going to Australia was not overly difficult, but it did take time. Whatever your goal is, don’t let the amount of time it will take stop you from making that dream a reality. We couldn’t have known that it would take two years to get to Australia. It would have been easy to sit back and wait for an opportune moment, but if we had, we would probably still be waiting. Opportune moments rarely come knocking on your front door. More than likely you will have to, as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson puts it, “kick that b*tch in, smile and introduce yourself.” Time will pass either way, but you get to decide what you do with the time as it passes

            Realizing what your dreams are is sometimes so simple. Paul Coelho wrote, “There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” Don’t let a fear of failure make you a daydreamer and don’t make it any harder on yourself by adding the idea of impossibility. And when you’ve achieved your goals, you’ll get to answer your question: Won’t it be awesome when…? No, it will be even better.