Sol

I’ve always been a fan of warm weather. The heat of the morning has always greeted me with the best the sun has to offer and I’ve never refused her glow. The way the sun and I have gotten along with each other is and always has been legendary.

So it comes as no surprise that when I sat here in a countryside town in northern Massachusetts I was shocked to realize I was finally about to see the sun set. Not the sunset. The sun >pause< set. I've literally never watched the sun go down into the horizon before.

Let me tell you.

The yellows and reds blended into an awe inspiring conglomerate of bright summer days with friends and cool drinks mixed with long, bright winter afternoons spent on four season porches holding steaming mugs of joy. There's no compare to the feeling of a power only the sun can possess. The raw energy I drank in from the sun as she went from a distant and ever present orb to the hills and mountains oh so far away was like a delicious dessert after a satisfying meal.

Then before I was ready the mountains reached up and grasped the sun and wouldn't let go. I witnessed the eternal might of the earth grasp the ceaseless power of the sun and they wrestled. And tussled. And grappled. And finally, the earth won. Pulling and tugging in their own way, the hills helped the earth softly drift down. Slowly the weakening sun dropped lower and in so doing, the sun, once a great sphere of life, became a half deflated ball of waning strength. My source of early waking hours and too early ended nights was losing the battle. And losing her shape in the process.

Lower she dropped. Becoming a mere sliver of her former glory. And all too soon the sun was as a discarded fingernail clipping. Thin and forlorn.

I saw my sun become thinner and thinner until, quite suddenly, she was gone. I knew it would happen. It is inevitable. It happens literally every day. But that didn't change the fact that when she went away I was sad. And yet…. I was happy too. I was not sure why at the time. But I am now.

Because no matter how many times my sun has gone down, she always comes back again. So my chance to say hello and my privilege to say goodbye will come again.

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A hard case to follow

So I found myself looking at the luggage rack in the local odd lots and more than odd store. They had all manner of luggage from every maker and a few I didn’t realize made luggage. Nautica. Lucas. Samsonite. London Fog. I was impressed and intimidated by the options. Expandable. Static. Flowery sides. Plasticy looking but thin. Roller type. Sets with carry on. Sets without. Sets with cute little see through bathroom bags. The list went on and on.

What I didn’t see was something that I heard someone talking about the other day in a completely unrelated situation.

Mr. No Neck was discussing the old school way of traveling. How the airlines used to be this and how the trains used to be that. How the service was the other. In the midst of this rhetorical rambling Mr. No Neck commented about that old commercial that had a giant gorilla. I believe it was at the time, long before PETA, that real gorillas were ok to be exploited. The gorilla leapt around and pounced upon the suitcase in an effort to satisfy his handlers. But for the consumer society looking at him, it was a display showing the sheer strength of the suitcase against the abuses that are sure to come in travel. It was amusing. It was disconcerting. It was informative.

It also was a warning about how you should be ready to travel in the months and years to come. Remember this was years, decades even, before 9-11. So even then there was a nod towards security in flight if only for your skivvies and toothbrush.

What strikes me now, and the reason for this particular train of thought, is the significant differences in that set of luggage and what I see at the local market today.

Back in the day, when Clarke Griswald was dragging his family to Wally World, he bundled up his 4″ wide neck ties and compression socks in a suitcase. The one the gorilla was pouncing on? It was hard. Thick. Dependable. Secure with an integrated combination lock. A fortress of comfort wrapping around his unmentionables. When his stuff flew off the station wagon all over the highway as I’m sure mine did at one point or another, it didn’t break open and it didn’t get my stuff any dirtier than it was in my closet.

It was great.

But today I cannot find such a hard shell suitcase. Today I see softy sided bags. These bags are amazing. They have a body the size of a chihuahua when first touched. Then you unzip the seventy five compartments and the thing is now able to transport a small bungalow, kitchen included. No kidding. The inner caverns hold slots and pouches that would make Hermione Granger positively green with envy. And they’ve wheels. But not just wheels. WHEELS! These things are spherical and the whole party spins in circles.

Ok. So I don’t travel much. Suitcases have clearly left me behind. But when I got my expandable cargo plane off the luggage return, I suddenly realized why my wonder bag set was only $29.95. I’m gonna have to replace it to fly home. It was mangled. Ripped. More than one scuff and some paint in a color I would sooner die that purchase. Then I opened it and found a chit advising me that I had better smile, because my bag had been on candid camera and as a prize, it had been searched by some government agency with a bunch of letters as it’s acronym. I’m still unsure why my underwear was of interest to them, but if they had the temerity to touch them, then God bless them for handling them.

So this molesting of my soft shell crab made me wistful. I was suddenly longing for a hard shell bag. Little better than a 1965 circa briefcase, a case with severe limitations on how much of my crud will go in it. Overstuff it if I wanna. It’ll never fit. Not even if I sit on it. The struggle is real. And frankly, I like it.

That struggle forces me to decide what MUST come along and what gets to experience the ride of a lifetime. It has clearly defined limitations on what’s going to fit my week. If I have a toiletries bag, it better be leather or the suitcase will not appreciate it. And in some weird way, I respect that.

I’m not saying I’m gonna race to an estate sale with my sights set on a hard travel case. But if I see one, I’m pretty sure I won’t turn it down.

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Twisted Future

A hundred years ago, I was a young boy watching mtv on this new thing called cable television. On this channel they showed me all kinds of worlds that existed outside of my four walls. I saw that there was a group of folk who liked to talk while music played behind them. They called it rap and I saw it ONLY on Yo, Mtv Raps. I saw that there was a bald guy named Pinfield who like loud and fast music with a story and his stuff was on 120 Minutes. Then there was the daily dose of bubble gum pop music. Madonna. Nina. The Bangles. Midnight Oil. U2. On and on.

I pretty much had charted my course on what style of music I was going to spend most of my summer watching. That is when I wasn’t at a geeky choir rehearsal. Or biking all over the city. Or avoiding the Scout troop because I lacked focus. When suddenly it happened.

I saw a music video of a kid who was being hassled in school. Worse that Pink Floyd I saw a teacher literally foaming at the mouth. Leering at the boy in the video. The male teacher was angry at something the boy had turned in or failed to. The teacher was quickly going from zero to 60 and the sweat on his brow was testament to his increasing frustration. Meanwhile the boy sat the completely unruffled, nonplussed, and passive. Finally the punch line came from the man who clearly had tired of his tirade and demanded of the slacker youth:

“What’re you gonna do with your life?!”

The kid sucked his teeth and said with conviction, “I wanna rock.”

And Twisted Sister jumped out and blasted chord upon chord of fever pitch music.

But I was left with the question too. What DO I wanna do with my life? Honestly up until that point I was unsure. I’d been witness to my grandfather and his profession of janitor. My grandmother and mother both being nurses. My mother would half teasingly ask me if I wanted to be a nurse. I wasn’t enlightened enough then to know that men COULD be nurses. Plus the hours were ungodly. So what in fact DID I want to do?

Frankly I believe that had I seriously considered that question then as I do now, I might have made different career choices. Not to say the path I took was a bad one. I regret nothing. Many folk change careers half way through life as I did. But the question I wish if been challenged with as a boy was two fold:

What of you want to do with your life?
When you are 50-60 years old, will you STILL want to be doing this?

I believe that every child should be asked this question at several points in his or her young life. The answer surely will change each time it is asked. One year he will want to be a spy. The next year she will want to be a geologist. The following year he wants to be a rocket scientist. The next year she wants to be a professional DJ. But the key to a fulfilling life is that we must as adults take a child under wing at some point and not assume they’ve got it all together. Not assume dad or mom have had that talk with them. Not assume that they chose well on career day at school. Not assume the Scoutmaster or minister or teacher or a close friend had asked them anything about their future.

Let’s face it. Most children do not nor should they have long vision for the future. Their own in particular. Besides. The future is not set. God has given us free will and choice. Our paths are our own and only we can walk them.

But if no one takes the time to shine a light on that path. If no one sees us as lost or at least ambivalent youths with more years ahead than behind. If no one takes an interest in our children’s development if only for selfish reasons to assure the economy isn’t entirely peopled by lazy bums in 40 years. If we choose not to do unto the least of these….

Then what twisted future have just assumed ourselves of?

So, why do you ask?

I am a public official and over the years I’ve seen many people with many different motivations. They have needs that must be fulfilled and those needs are fueled by a variety of pressures. None of those motivations are necessarily my business and so I do not care to know. Besides. It tends to foment a certain level of bias if I do ask. So if knowing the reason beyond the ask is not going to serve me in being a good public official to the citizen, I will not go there.

But there are folk who are not public officials. People who have agendas both obvious and subtle. I do not fault them for that. I too have agendas on occasion. Frankly, an agendas a good thing to have. It gives me a drive and encouragement. A muse, if you will, to press on to the proverbial mark. So I don’t judge on that point.

What I am interested in understanding is when a persons motivation IS important. When their questions are probative and intended to net results. Leading questions, my lawyer friends might say. These are the questions that make me think, so…. Why do you ask?

You see, when I am asked a question I often am left to wonder what caused them to ask it.

Questions that are simply curiosity driven are few and far between when it’s an adult doing the asking. Children are great. They ask curious questions like:

‘Why is the sky blue?’
‘Are we there yet?’
‘Can you change my diaper?’
‘Do you love me?’

But adults have been around a while. We adults know that innocence is generally for the innocent. Honest and wholistic questions are somewhat rare. The ask simply for the sake of asking is met with many responses. Mostly defensive. In fact, even my pastor, whom I care deeply for, said a few Sundays ago that the substantive conversation is rare and unusual. But that rarity has fostered a society that is based upon sound bites, short attention span for even the most complex issues, and ill prepared for the pithy conversation we miss out on.

The tendency is to immediately be suspicious when someone or anyone, even children, ask surface and small talk questions. It’s nothing to do with the question asked, but the idea that someone went out of their way to stop you from your agenda to query you on yours seems at once invasive and threatening. It’s a fear led response that makes us think the inquisitor ‘….wouldn’t be interested in just making conversation because I certainly never do so, therefore they must want something from me. Not just my time. Maybe my money. That’s it. They are selling me something. Where’s my wallet? Did I hide it well enough?..’

Never thinking that we all crave simple conversation. But usually that simple minded inane low brow dialogue is relegated to the office workplace. Mostly around the proverbial water-cooler.

But what has us here? Lacking in substantive conversation as a rule, afraid of simple conversation, and constantly suspicious of people’s motivations? My thought is because our greatest fear where communication is concerned is being vulnerable. Vulnerability allows for a measure of trust. Faith if you will. Honesty. Acceptance of a truth. Maybe not THE truth, but certainly A truth. Communication on any level requires at least some level of thought and many of us become fatigued with the very idea of thinking. Why else are reality tv, talking head shows, radio blow-hard programs, and American Ninja-esque shows so popular? Those forms of media allow for knee jerk instantaneous entertainment that requires no effort at thought to enjoy them. Hand me a spoon, I’m hungry for more.

It’s not wrong to enjoy empty programming. Far from it. It allows for some escape from stress by watching others escape a sticky situation… Or revel in it. But it conditions us for empty programming in our heads when we interact with real folk everyday. And the shows are a product of us attempting to escape reality while cyclically mining society for reality shows subjects we will engage with for 24 minutes or 47 minutes at a clip.

Frankly I feel a nice walk down a city street, quiet neighborhood, or wooded trail is more fulfilling for that sort of escapism but that’s a subject for another blog.

My argument is….well, I don’t know that I even have one. Perhaps this is just a letter to be aware. Aware of what? Glad you asked.

Aware that we are generally at least ambivalent about shallow conversation because it has the propensity of leading to a deeper conversation. We tend to fear connection through conversation because that sort of conversation requires dropping of bulwarks and fortresses of privacy we’ve spent years building. We often avoid even eye contact on the bus because if we see them looking at us, they might say something, perish the thought. And having a pithy conversation is good but only when we trust and trust is hard to build, easy to break and rare on a larger scale.

Finally faith, trust, honesty, true heart to heart conversation is spiritually uplifting. It is that sort of connection that makes being a communicative human such a gift. It lifts the heart and dashes our fear. Exposes the lies and highlights the truth. It conveys opinions born from an honest place and asks others to consider it for the value it may own. And in the end if we let go of preconceptions and fear driven avoidances we may finally get to the point where we no longer need to ask or even wonder: So…. Why do you ask?

I think I’m in trouble

So I’m driving home from my job when the smartphone next to me starts beeping and bouncing around with the ESPN jingle. Like Pavlov’s dogs I respond.

Belgium 1 USA nil.

I frown but realize it’s overtime.

I drive on. A bit faster now and my phone jingles again. I’m becoming somewhat anxious.

Belgium 2 USA nil.

Now I’m upset and start talking to the device as if it will somehow transmit my voice to the pitch in Brazil. C’mon boys. Score, why dontcha? My fellow drivers are looking equally withered and somewhat unfocused. I imagine they are listening to the radio broadcast of the game. But I don’t search for it. I just press on the gas and urge my four cylinders to chug harder.

Then suddenly a ray of hope. >jingle< Belgium 2 USA 1.

Now I'm elated. Hopeful. Ready to take on the world. Hype even. I wave my fist around and shout. Not too loudly now. I'd hate to unnerve someone. So instead I call my family and ask them if the game is on. They say yes. I ask the score. They say it's on delay so it's still early in the extra period. At this point I realize I'm only going to ruin them or myself if I share what I've already been told. So I hush up and gun the engine. It cries in pain but goes three miles per hour faster. I'm rocketing down the highway at a blazing 62 mph now!

My phone chimes again but I refuse to look. I now must see what my family sees. I must experience it with them. I realize I now actually care about the results. I feel very much like I did when I first heard of Olympic curling. I laughed hard at the so called sport. And changed the channel. Then the next time it was on television I sneered at it with disdainful indifference. And changed the channel. The next time I saw it I paused and smiled with a chuckle. But let the channel alone. The last time I searched the listings and taped the entire match and shouted with glee when the stone curled like a 1970's hairstyle.

I'd become a fan of a sport I knew nothing about and only see once every four years.

And I'd just done it again with fútbol. And I knew I was in trouble. Because I had just become a Johnny come lately fan of the worlds game. I had just done a superman belly flopping leap onto the bandwagon and wasn't embarrassed by it. I was ready to go to work and complain about the tackles, the missed shots on goal, the lost opportunities. The goalie. Oh the goalie with record breaking saves. Go Hamilton.

But I digress. I have just gotten into trouble. Because now I've added a sport to my lexicon and it was small as my home states pro league offerings. But now it had just become global. And I had chosen sides. And now when I decide to travel, I may just have become a target. Not of terrorists. But of rabid sports fans who do not like American fútbol because Americans are thieves of other countries players too. Just like the other teams are. But it's different because we are Americans.

Yep. I'm in trouble alright. But not for four years because when I got home I learned along with the rest of the planet that we were eliminated.

Again.

Oh well. There's always next time. And when next time rolls around I just might have a jersey or jacket on supporting the home team.

Go USA. You done good.

Maybe next time we get to okay Mexico too. That'd be great game , I'm sure.

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