Taking a break from the series for the moment. This is a story I wrote this morning before hearing the news of the death of one of my heroes (mine, and so many others’)–now, it seems eerily/oddly fitting. Lest we ever forget that there is no peak in life that will save us. It is so easy to forget to simply live. But maybe this will help someone (anyone) remember. I know I need the reminder often enough. (God, but he reminded me…)
While something more specifically in memory of his marvelous existence will surely be here soon, this piece is in his honor. Tony, you were and are loved.
You Are Climbing
You are climbing.
And there comes a point wherein you begin to wonder: Will I ever see anything that tells me I’ve reached An Apex—if not The Apex? Will there ever be a sign? Will the vista be enough?
You keep climbing, yet you harbor this doubt in your heart.
Then, suddenly, there is no more stone shielding your eyes. The mountain face falls away. Pink clouds greet you in the belly of a pale blue sky.
And all you can summon is,
This is it? This can’t be it.
You were climbing. And now you are not climbing. How foreign it feels to you.
What to do?
You can choose to sit or stand, and to stare and linger, because the view is, admittedly, beautiful. Even if it is not the Utmost of anything.
Or, you can choose to keep going. To return to that constant sense of Up that you know so well. To, as the song puts it, see what you can see. Because maybe there is an Utmost and maybe it feels more potent and powerful than this.
Letting the crisp thin air filter through you, you decide, yes, that must be the answer.
You begin your journey once more.
Or so you think. Because as you turn to depart, to descend,
The light catches your eye in a way subtle and strange.
It is for a half of a second; no longer. But something about the colors that strike you then—
It sends you reeling.
It reminds you of a summer, years ago, where all you did was walk by the riverside and watch sunsets and read. Sometimes you painted. Sometimes you swam.
Mostly you did not, though. Mostly you embraced this—what would you call it?
How could you have been capable of that, though? It feels so near
So far away.
But that flash of Then, that memory, is yours. No doubt about that.
Once upon a time—once there was no Apex. It didn’t matter.
I wonder, are the words that cross your mind now. I wonder. Could it not-matter again. When did it even begin to.
There was a story that was told. Wasn’t there?
A myth. It should have been called what it was. Mythology. Fantasy. Fiction.
But it’s not too late. Right? You step back to where you were before, and you sit. You breathe. You watch the light move through the clouds, like a gentle waterfall. You remember.
You remember that there was someone who you loved before all of this began. That there were grounded dreams you had, dreams with shape and texture and definition, absolved of the Utmost. That there was a world beyond this mountain range, a world you wanted to see and explore.
It could be, the volleying cries of the birds seem to say. It could be again.
It is nearly time to descend; you know because the light is shifting in the direction known as Late Afternoon.
But, you think, let’s give it a minute longer. Let’s linger here. Let’s remember what that really means.
The name of this blog has always, to me, been about living in the balance between planning and improvisation—about finding a harmony between practicality and spontaneity. I’m not always good at marrying the two (really, it rarely happens, I fall more into the former camp in both instances), but I’ve seen a lot of magic happen when the two approaches are allowed to exist together, for me and for others.
So I’m using that as justification for attempting to steer this site in a different direction. Only a slightly different one, mind, but I thought doing so deserved a post (assuming, lol, that anyone is reading this).
What is it we are trying to do when we write? What is it we want? To express ourselves? To tell stories? To seek connection, or some semblance of immortality, or something deeper? Or is it all of the above?
Does it matter what avenue we take to sate this craving? And what is the purpose of sharing the words that flow from us? This thing we call the Internet is a bona fide means of doing so every second—a fountain of letters and numbers and words upon words upon words. Why, with this in mind, does anyone write at all?
(and hasn’t that particular question been asked and answered thousands of times?)
There are ideas and thoughts to be shared, to be sure. There is information to be distributed. There are opinions to be stated.
And yet, with all of this filtering out through every paragraph that is displayed on a screen or printed on a page, I find that there is still not enough understanding in the world. Of ourselves, and of one another. Talk of worldly and cultural divides is sort of a daily phenomenon lately. Yet there are, too, many divides within us.
How do we begin to bridge those gaps? It seems an impossible task. Yet there is no shortage of ways, most of them involving, yes, words. Stories. Poetry. Movies. Video. Music. Podcasts. Theatre.
Maybe these outlets are where we go to escape, but they are also where we end up confronted with ourselves, if we are so open to the possibility. This is not a profound idea; it’s probably spoken to much more eloquently at the Oscars and/or in AP English classes. But it’s still valid, and it still means something, and I would like this space to be one that has such purpose and possibility. One that features not only my own work of that nature, but also that of others’, and of their unique perspectives.
Hence this change. I have a renewed certainty that the only enemy in the world is neither the self nor the other, but rather, fear. And when we work to eradicate it, we do more than we realize. We make it possible for new stories to be told, and create a sense of hope and light—of understanding and of possibility.
So, all this is to say: creative hope that navigates the chaos. That’s what I want Mayhaps to mean. Mayhaps it will, sooner than later.
The river is running strong in this rainy season, its rapids gushing, and its movement is so enviable, something I crave. How refreshing would it be, I wonder, if our daily energy and movement were so rampant and wild?
We cannot literally have rivers running within us, as reviving as it would be. Yet that is the kind of momentum we need. And we especially need it in the face of that certain inertia that rises like a wall when spring arrives, as the cold air dissolves and is replaced by too kneejerk of a warming, of a humid overlay.
When everything seems stagnant, how do you find it? How do you choose the movement that works for you? I mean this physically, but also emotionally, and maybe even spiritually, too.
Recently, I started to more deeply re-engage with running, my movement of choice, after an injury forced me to cut back. I sort of forced myself to get back into the swing of it by ponying up for two race registration fees. The shame of getting dropped by the fasties in a 5K is that traumatic.
(Also, aforementioned fees are ridiculously expensive lately! That happened while I wasn’t looking.)
We’re in an interesting place, running and I. For a long time our relationship was somewhat forceful/codependent, i.e. I was the codependent one who needed it, and tried to make something special happen. If you are a runner reading this, perhaps you understand. And you probably also know that all of this is entirely unintuitive considering that, typically, we first start running because it is exhilarating. Because love is really what leads to speed.
Running fast offers something not unlike the sense of power—of autonomy—that comes with the relief of outside air—there is a freedom there.
It does not come as much from recklessness, though, as it does from balance, and from paying attention to momentum and inertia. A body in motion stays in motion. A body at rest tends to stay at rest.
Lately, when it comes to running, pushing myself to the extremes I did before has been, shall we say, unrealistic. But perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that somethingin me doesn’t want to go there right now. Being extreme is cool, but unsustainable: it’s something we should definitely do, but more so in moments.
There is a strange freedom in going out in the morning to “bound” (jog?) rather than run. Or maybe, in clearer terms, to be out there and simply run instead of race myself. It’s an embrace of that old sense of effort-meets-ease. If it’s still running, it’s for different reasons.
That’s not to say it was easy to get there.
When I was in college and running was more about competition for me, I was like many an athlete in picking up a few unhealthy habits—though mine were more internal. You can get obsessed—borderline addicted—quite easily. This did not crop up immediately; it was gradual, and always mixed in with the more positive side of the sport, so it was tricky to pinpoint what exactly was going on. But I developed this constant vigilance, this layer of stress that wouldn’t go away, rooted in the idea that maybe I was not ever doing enough. Rather than acting on this idea by running too much, I did so by running too hard, and not resting enough—and overall by thinking about it way too much.
That kind of stress can affect your performance as much as physically overdoing it can. You can’t, I believe, always gauge whether someone is overtraining by how she looks, or how many miles she runs per week. If running is a mostly mental sport—90% mental, as one of my coaches put it—then how, and how much, you think about your training matters. And when those thoughts are tainted by anxiety and fear, it’s more than a little bit of a detriment.
These fears were mostly of inertia. I was a sure that, if I did not stay in motion, I would prefer entirely to rest. That if I did not run with as much intensity as my body could handle, I would turn the other way and become unable to pick myself up and go. I couldn’t take a day off unless the calendar said to. I couldn’t take training out of the forefront of my mind, because that would mean I was being lazy. I could not include people in this pursuit of so-called “greatness” and make it fun, because that would mean I was not working.
These beliefs came into full bloom during the tail end of my four years of college track, and it’s easy to see, in retrospect, the emerging pattern: that is, one of need.
I needed it. I couldn’t let it go. You could probably call that an addiction.
When I graduated, this turned into trying to grip my “career” (a term I use rather loosely) with both hands—else it would lose its meaning, and so would I. I fully intended to try and keep racing on my own terms. But in having this intention, I failed to comprehend the strength of the support that had surrounded me before. Nor, I suppose, had I wanted to, because all of this came down to avoidance. Something in me needed to avoid the truth: that I was—am—weak.
By this I mean, when we are human, we are weak. That’s it. When we do anything in an honest or vulnerable way, we show our weaknesses. And this is good. It’s necessary, but it’s certainly not easy.
Sinking into inertia is easy, though. Or at least, it happens easily. It starts with a week of late mornings where your body and mind definitely need the extra sleep, and morphs soon thereafter into two or three additional weeks of, “well, this is still happening, so that must mean I still need it. Right?”
(Rationalization is quick to respond with, “Right-o, my good fellow!”)
But the thing is, falling prey to inertia is about fear, too.
Fear that, maybe, control would slip away again if I started to constantly move again. That injury or imbalance would rear its ugly head again. Or that I would get too attached to movement and be unable, once again, to let go.
That reversal came with its own set of unintended consequences, because, though rest is important, it can also turn into less of a springboard, and more of a trap, or mire.
That’s when I had to wake up, and realize: it’s time to learn to move again. No: to move in a new way.
Not an easy lesson, by any stretch. Fear and old habits are potent. But facing down fear, thank goodness, is even more so. Because the thing is, I do truly love to run, and I am finding that there is more than one way to show it.
Sometimes you find that new sense of movement, and of vitality, by clambering through stupidly wide mud pits at an outdoors festival. Other times, it’s by admitting on the Internet or in counseling that you were once, in simplest terms, an exercise addict. And other, other times, it’s by giving yourself permission to enjoy yourself, and accept yourself, rather than try to be the best at every single thing in every single moment.
No one ever said giving up control was safe, or simple. But I’ve heard it’s worthwhile. And I’m counting on it.
I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.
This, from the ever-eloquent, ever-pertinent C.S. Lewis, always sticks with me when my mind is on giving – which it is, deeply, in this season – and why?
Mostly because I often wonder what it really means to give more than one can spare.
Financially, perhaps most people are well acquainted with what this looks like. Many of those with lower incomes who give to charitable organizations, for example, do so “sacrificially” (see Percentage of Households Giving to Charity by Annual Income on that page).
And perhaps most people do give quite a lot, in certain ways. Road races across the country commit percentages of their profits to charity. Crowdfunding provides those who want to start creative projects with a direct platform to ask for help. Donors are more highly concerned with overhead costs than ever, a notable thing that occasionally (and unfortunately) misses the finer points of how a 10-dollar gift becomes a child’s meal or toy or Bible.
None of these are necessarily negatives. But what if giving, by its very definition, is sacrificial? And to follow, what happens when it becomes too easy?
Easy – that’s a harsh word, isn’t it? Shouldn’t it be easy? You receive an email from a charitable organization, and there is a big red button at the bottom asking you to give, and it sends you straight to PayPal. That’s so easy! What’s wrong with that?
Well. Nothing. But let’s strike a contrast between the giving and the generosity behind it. Because, yes, generosity does come easily when one is in touch with its subject, either personally or emotionally or spiritually. There is a need, a gap like the edge of a puzzle piece, that you, the giver, are uniquely designed to fill and fulfill. When that clicks into place, it’s pretty incredible.
What’s the problem, then? Is there a problem? For one thing, there are simply so many needs. Wracked with something not unlike compassion fatigue, we face overwhelm at everything this aching world needs. It’s confusing, it’s concerning; in the face of it, it’s tempting to shut down. There is simply so much happening each day, and, lucky us, we get to know about it. Lately, for example, I open the news to more and more heart-wrenching coverage of the Standing Rock situation, and feel helpless. I would love to do something. Surely there is something – anything – that I could do.
(If you want to do something too, by the way, that website has a few options.)
Sometimes there is little to be done, but other times, there is plenty. There are many ways to address a problem. This time of year, there are so many drives for donations. (Today is Giving Tuesday, by the way, so your inbox is surely a reminder of that.)
But, that said, somewhere in me is the feeling that we miss something deep with the indirect routes. Not to say that those routes do not matter. But giving – charity – could move beyond the obvious. There is also, for an obvious example, art. There is activism. There is volunteer work. Your energy, more than anything else, can never be destroyed. Thus, when investing your energy, it is never wasted. It moves on. It gives life. It creates new possibilities.
I’m preaching to myself, frankly, because I’m having trouble with the entire idea of giving in the wake of the holiday double-whammy of Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’m having trouble with my desire to give outside of a consumerist mindset. But why on earth, I wonder, is that even a conflict?
Maybe because there’s a tit-for-tat philosophy that threatens to taint the whole thing. And maybe I’m fed up with that. Maybe you are, too.
I think it’s possible to get free from such a mindset. But it takes giving more than one can easily spare. Ultimately, I have a very specific desire for communities to start thinking differently about helping others, including in the context of charities. It is a desire that we stop talking so much about problems, and go do something about them instead. And though this whole post may get interpreted as a shot at monetary donations, rest assured: it’s not. There are no binaries here. One is not “better” than the other.
I simply think that the big difference with taking action – like volunteering at a shelter, or doing pro bono professional work for an organization – is its resistance to the give-to-get trap. Action is energizing. Fatigue can ensue, of course, but that’s why we don’t go at it alone, right? This whole idea of giving is meaningless without others.
Thus, to close, I leave you with wise words from Martin Luther King, Jr., whose depth is always relevant and I hope spurs you to exciting new steps. Because it’s true:
Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’
We moved a few weeks ago. Moving, to me, is exciting – in spite of the obvious stress I let it breed. Moving, to me, is yet another chance to start over. Even moving a half-mile offered this feeling of newness, this electric sense of change. Even if, as they say, no matter where you go, there you are.
Walking through my new neighborhood lately has left me with a new perspective on this. What I mean is: there has been a constant thread in my life of wanting to be somewhere other than I am. I’ve dreamt of it, been thrilled to anticipate it. You could call it wanderlust, or a rabid desire to reclaim a wasted youth, or anything else that is probably is.
Problem is, occasionally this has even happened while living somewhere gorgeous, unreal, and enviable. Even there, somehow I allow the sense of new, of now, of appreciation to slip away.
To an extent, this is simply the way of familiarity. The Pinterest-led desire to find the next shiny new spot, and the Instagram-soaked sense of wanderlust, are deceptive. It is easy to want to see an entire city or town through the eyes a single snapshot tends to lend. But as you know, if you’ve even once been a tourist or encountered one, snapshots are only windows – mere second-long slices of yearlong realities.
But there’s a way of looking at an old city with new eyes. Richmond, with its old age and new, youthful pulse, has its own personality, but is also a kindred spirit to many other blossoming places in this country. (Both Portlands, for sure.) The houses hearken to another time, I think as I walk down Ellwood Avenue, but there is activity that brings us all to this time, and there is promise, and potential.
There is an open vegetable garden nearby. It’s part of a local community gardening initiative, and people – neighbors, really – maintain its plots year-round. It reminds me that beauty can be found in what is so usual if one only chooses to look.
Richmond is, maybe, teaching me to see all things as they are, and to see the city in its many different colors, in both its beauty and ugliness and history and present and what’s-next. Maybe it is similar to Portland, Oregon and Portland, Maine, and Louisville, Kentucky, and so on.
But maybe it is also uniquely itself, and I can appreciate and bask in that for now.
All this is to say – thanks for being you, Richmond.
You could be anywhere, but you are here. And it’s for some reason, whether or not that reason has been properly pinpointed (while, in the meantime, you have been).
Sometimes when I walk (or run or bike) through Richmond, there is this sense of fluidity in the places and people I see. That is, I find myself in pockets of the city that, freed of context, could belong to many other places. This apartment looks like it would be at home in Montmartre. That section of trail reminds of Snoqualmie in summer. If you close your eyes and breathe in the late summer aromas – the heady threat of rain, the musty brown grass and leaves, the fresh breeze off the river – you could be somewhere just hours north or south.
Or, you could be right where you are.
It’s a transitional time of year. Likewise it’s a transitional time of life for me. Weighing past and future options, learning to appreciate the moment: is this why I find myself in a tug-of-war between being here and craving elsewhere?
Maybe it’s as simple as wiring: we have a need for the stability and safety of home, coupled with an innate desire to wander and roam.
The paradox continues: stability is not always so easily defined. Entropy likes to worm its way in my daily routine, for example, and sometimes too much stability makes me feel… well, unstable.
Likewise (as we know from Up In The Air), sometimes, too much transience is stagnating. Roots don’t go that deep without the opportunity to stay in one spot.
These are the thoughts that crop up when I find myself shuttling back and forth between Richmond and the DC area, as I have been this month. But then again, even when I stay to try and absorb what is around me, how much possibility there is! How much transience, and activity!
A visit to a local brewery deep in the Virginia countryside, halfway between my old home (Charlottesville) and new one, gave me this sense, as did the languid, lazy time spent there picking sunflowers. We are always growing and learning, yet somehow there lives an inner child who is only too happy to spend a Saturday picking sunflowers.
So did an evening at a local concert on the James, a day that was really a tribute to life itself, and living it well with others. Music from the past made its way to the present and that’s it’s job, isn’t it? To bring us all to life and lend hope for the future?
Even in the ordinary, yes, there is so much transience and change. Sometimes it is beautiful change. How clear it is becoming that, yes, perhaps I could be anywhere. But I am here. And that deserves to be appreciated.
Sunlight, summer mornings, sunsets. Some things have to be savored.
A bluebird flies low across the street, so bold. Someone at the coffee shop shoulders the heft of a crate before the boy working there drops it. The sun rises over the sea and you drift through the quiet, deep in a happy cocktail of serenity and awe.
Cliches exist for better or for worse, but let it not be said they have no raison d’être. In my case, during these dog days I have been inhaling-exhaling the truth that God is in the details.
Every day has its trajectory. But the moments built into each one sprout up both gently and starkly: those are the studded light on the surface. Within the blur, the edges on leaves and the dappled sunlight and the gleam on the water’s edge seem sharper, or brighter, or more beautiful; everything slows down and comes into focus.
What does it mean, though, to say that God is in the details?
To me, it is to believe in the power of His still small voice.
We look for signs – for loud sirens to draw us to the “right” place, or to some magic rock of stability. At least, this is my tendency. I see fog settling over the morning and wonder if it’s an omen, a warning to seek shelter from a something wicked that just may come. But in reality, it’s as simple as this: I am seeking a reason to worry or to be afraid. Maybe that is our human tendency: hard-wired to seek protection at any cost.
Today, while casually flipping through the lower-numbered radio stations, I landed on a short treatise – probably a PSA – on turning to Jesus during tough times.
“In the world we will have trouble. But He has overcome the world. Seeking the Lord makes those hardships – and there will be hardships – just a little easier to bear.”
A comfort? Of course not. My poor sweet monkey-mind immediately screeched out, “Oh, come on! So what’s going to happen to me now?” Me me me me me. It was all about me and my secure future. Where is my secure future? What ill shall befall us now?
But then my heart remembered: there are troubles in this world every day. Of course. They are there in ways big and small. What matters is whether or not the still small voice of truth, love, and a sound mind are acknowledged, or ignored.
Historically, I am not great at this acknowledgement. Historically, what charges me towards action is the emotional – the theatrical – the gigantic and bombastic. Historically, this seems to be a very normal human thing. Hamilton isn’t smashing all sorts of records and barriers for nothing, right? Didn’t reality singing shows take over America one fateful day in 2002?
Here’s the thing, though: the oak grows from a small acorn. These big, enormous triumphs all started as a small seed of hope.
(Where’s a good Totoro gif when you need one?)
Summer is ending, but let us hold it in open hands as a series of quiet moments. This is so different from clinging to that sweeping, crashing wave of emotion from school-free days past. Those are gone from my life, but then again they still breathe into it sometimes, with the cool sigh of an evening breeze, with the electric pulse of an outdoor concert, with time spent drifting down the river or settling into a shared laugh.
Moments: as they are savored, they somehow grow bigger and riper with meaning. And maybe that’s the detail to remember.