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Have you seen this http://seress.net/still.php before? Oprah had been using it for over a year!
You know what I like about my Mother-in-law’s dogs?
They spent most of the morning at the window. The big dog perched his snout on the window sill while the little dog sat up straight, ears mimicking the posture of her back.
I sat there with them for a moment to see if I could tell what they were looking at, or looking for. But the thoughts of these dogs are yet a mystery, for I saw only patches of ice falling from the defrosting limbs above.
It’s been quite awhile since I’ve spent my time that way- just watching out a window. But I think I ought to do more of it because it is a welcome break from the clutter I usually give my eyes. Computer screens, highways, articles, instagrams.
How nice to watch ice fall from the limbs. How nice to watch how slowly clouds move across the sky. How nice to wait for an un-guaranteed squirrel sighting. (That is my dog-comrades’ favorite part of this window watching.)
For whatever reason my email keeps getting spammed, and it happens to be the email that’s connected to this blog. So in turn, this blog keeps getting spammed.
So just a heads up, if you see any inappropriate links or comments or posts, please notify me in the comments and I will try to take care of it A.S.A.P.
I have had such a hard time with Yahoo lately and it seems I am constantly getting spammed!
Thanks for your understanding!
Today is a special day.
84 years ago an incredibly inspiring and generous woman was born. Even though I’m far away from her, I am filled with thoughts of gratitude for who she is and the wonderful things she has done with her life. What a selfless person she is.
And since it is my grandma’s birthday, I am especially mindful of the extraordinary approach she has to life. For grandma, everything is an opportunity to serve. I cannot tell you how much I admire that. That is exactly what our world needs. This world is so full of hate and discouragement and bitterness. How refreshing to instead seek opportunities for service. Healing. Helping. Encouraging. My grandma is incredible at that.
And I want to be too.
We have a weird life. Given the choice between a home and 9-5 jobs, or no home and the freedom to be our own employers, we chose the drifter’s life. It has its pros and cons, just like anyone’s lifestyle does. But after talking with my grandma today, I have a feeling that we will be able to do good things with our strange, here-and-there, hodge podgey lifestyle. I don’t know exactly how the loose ends will get tied up. I don’t know when we’ll be able to add a home of some kind to the mix. Just as last year I had no idea we’d be doing what we’re doing now, I have no idea what next year will look like. And the temptation is to be dissatisfied by the unanswered questions. To feel restless. But today I want to practice what my grandma has taught me through her example. I want to practice the philosophy that today’s setting is the perfect setting for doing good things!
Isn’t that incredible? Isn’t that a great philosophy? And man. I could write a book about the ways my grandma’s approach to life has helped so many people. You see, my grandma finds a way to see everything as a resource for helping others. If she has an hour, it’s not just an hour. It is a chance to visit someone who needs a friend. If she has a kitchen table, it isn’t just a kitchen table. It’s a chance to serve someone with companionship and food.
Well, I have a different set of things in my life, but just as my grandma taught me to, today I want to see those things as resources for doing good things. Because that’s how she sees things, and I think it’s a great way to approach life. :)
Thank you so much for being you, grandma! And thank you for teaching us grandkids that anything can be used for good! And that we can be helpful with whatever resources we have, no matter what they are. Happy 84th birthday!
I hope you know how special and treasured you are!
We are in part defined by what we have.
Some people have dreads or feathers and beads in their hair. Some people have tattoos. Some people have signature items like jackets, shoes, glasses and lipstick. I used to wear pins on my denim jacket that said cute and clever things. And I had bumper stickers on my car and drawings on my banjo. My locker was covered with magazine clippings I carefully selected to express myself in some small way. We have things to decorate ourselves or our things in expressive and aesthetic ways.
And we have tools with which we practice our skills. These things define us too. Instruments and mountain bikes and running shoes. Books and canvases and gardening gloves. They suggest who we are by sharing what we do or what we love doing. Because that’s part of what defines us too.
We are in part defined by what we have. This is a beautiful truth that adds diversity and color to life.
But that’s not what I want to write about today. As I looked at my socks, with holes in the heels and my ring with an empty hole where the stone used to be, I realized that we are also defined by the things we don’t have.
In some funny way, I am more proud of the things I don’t have than I am of the things I do. Yes, perhaps my DSLR camera says something about myself I can be proud of too. It says I enjoy photography. I’m proud of that to a degree.
But if I did not have it, I would be proud of my ability to be creative in its absence. Like the man who had no drum, so he beat on the bottom of a trash can.
We are defined by the things we do without. And defined by the things we ignore.
We are in part defined by what we have, and in part defined by what we do without.
Today I am just as thankful for the things I lack as I am for the things I have.
Now that we’ve moved on from India, I can better recap the events…
Though if I’m being honest…there’s is largely one event that comes to my mind when I think of our time in India.
A few weeks ago we arrived at the Tundla train station in the middle of nowhere with tickets for a somewhat special, overnight train. It was one of the few trains that still had availability to Jammu in the far North. In fact, it appeared that because of an unpopular no cancellation policy, the train had sold hardly any tickets at all.
When we arrived at the train station it seemed we were not only the only tourists there, but seemingly the only passengers not part of the Indian military. Despite the late, 11 o’clock hour the train station was quite busy, bustling with military men and the sound of pigeons roosting above. We became concerned when our train wasn’t listed on the information board at its platform. But…confusion is just sort of the natural state for experiencing India, so we didn’t make too much of it. Finally Drew found a station manager who was able to assure us that our train was indeed still coming, despite an unannounced delay and that, in fact, it was the train that all the military men crowding the platform were waiting too get on.
Excellent. We had a plan. Follow the military men. That solved the insecurity of second guessing our platform, and second guessing which train was ours.
And then…we were met with a new problem. Something I can only guess at an explanation for.
The train arrived with all its doors locked. We rushed to the door of our train car only to stand there and watch the anxiety rise in the soldiers around us…and thus…in ourselves too. The men started beating on the side of the train with sticks and shouting. Someone a few cars down managed to open a door and the crowd rushed inside. We stood at our car, hoping that one of the soldiers crowding on through the other door would open ours. A man next to us shouted at the soldier passing our door on the inside and he just gave a guilty shrug. At some point the men started shouting and gesturing at us, and one of them asked “you have tickets?”
Though I can’t be sure…they seemed worried for us. At the time I didn’t know why but it seemed they were not shouting in anger, but rather in noticing an obvious problem. It was becoming clear that we were the only ticket holders trying to get onto this train. Soldiers get a “free ride” so to speak if they can hitch a train with empty seats…but this creates a bit of a competition as there’s not enough room for them all. So someone on board locks the doors to minimize competition.
Like I said…this is my best guess.
Then… as we foolishly waited, hoping our door would open…a new problem presented itself. The train started to depart.
This is the part of the story where your brain stops working off of comprehension and problem-solving. It runs off of impulse. So we ran through the crowds to the car with the open door a few yards away and leapt onto the moving train, letting the “current” of the crowd push us further into the cabin.
It was the most terrifying travel experience I’ve ever had because it was the one situation in which we could have been separated. That is my worst nightmare. I can tackle anything with Drew by my side. When we barely made it into Vietnam and were stuck in no-man’s land between the Cambodian and Vietnam border with a faulty visa, begging for permission in, I was not this scared. Because whatever the fate, it would be shared. We would bear it together, solve it together, deal with it together.
But what happens if we are separated? Worse…what happens if we are separated in such a way that one of us is stuck alone on a 15 hour train ride full of young military men?
The whole night I was haunted by the thought that we could not have been more cautious without simply avoiding trains all together- by the thought that there are some things that will happen even when we do think we’ve gotten everything sorted out.
That was not the last challenging moment in India, though nothing else felt that intense. Our entire time in India, someone was a new kind of sick. We went through more ailments and more medications than anywhere else we’ve ever traveled. Related to India? Who knows.
India is also one of the most remarkable places we’ve been to. The culture is so vibrant and each of the prominent religions has a beautiful display of devotion. The daily habits are deeply intertwined with ancient rituals. So we were constantly in a state of awe at the incredible culture around us, and exhaustion of trying to manage on 50% wellness.
It was a strange and beautiful place that knocked us out of whatever false confidences we had previously had in terms of being savvy travelers. No. We are adaptable. But savvy? Hardly! In India, we are lost or at a loss, but that is part of what makes it such a valuable place to travel.
We loved it. We loved it and we hated it. That’s the kind of place it is.
India is absolutely puzzling and enthralling and downright remarkable.
On the one hand it feels like the pinnacle of adventure to walk down the street and watch an elephant lead a raucous wedding processional right down the highway.
On the other hand it feels like the pinnacle of shame to watch people line the sidewalk for the night, using empty plastic bottles as pillows.
On the one hand it’s a beautiful place with a bright, colorful culture in terms of food and dress.
On the other hand it’s an overwhelming place where every corner shows you a new store owner urging you to buy…for blocks and blocks and blocks.
It’s a majestic tapestry of sheer fabrics and filth. Trash at the gold-jangled feet of women and children.
It is intensity in both directions towards beauty and towards ugliness.
It will take me a very long time to figure any of it out.
This is something a pair of Swedish travelers asked us when they picked us up hitch-hiking in Germany. And it surprised me how difficult a question it was to answer. I stammered for a few moments before realizing I didn’t know what to say…
So it’s a question I’ve been thinking of ever since. Why do we travel?
It seemed easier to think of how not to answer that question.
For instance, I would not answer by saying “Why not?” There would be plenty of reasons not to travel. Community, stability, etc. A sense of community is not impossible as you travel, but it becomes a foggy and elusive thing, like the imaginary friend I invented as a child, then frustrated myself with when it never took visible shape and never felt real. I dare say stability too is nearly impossible while traveling, and sometimes a bed feels like so much work to establish. Then, a few nights later the work of finding a bed starts over, like rebuilding a sand-castle between high tides. Not to mention, there are incredibly valuable things about stationary life. While living a stationary life I can invest in a community, write and play music, feel connected to the lives of my friends, run races, participate in art exhibits. There are endless opportunities in stationary life, and it is undeniably beautiful.
I also wouldn’t answer by saying “For fun.” We have made travel a big enough part of our lifestyle by now that we have made it clear it matters more than a simple break from routine or vacation. No one would believe us if we said we travel just for fun because no one gives up the convenience and stability of home, possessions, community, etc “just for fun.” By pursuing travel despite the challenges, we have made the statement that it matters for some deeper reason than fun.
I wouldn’t answer by saying “For missions.” We are not missionaries. At least…not more than we were in Va. Not more than you or the next person or the next person over. We are not less so either. Regardless of where we are we will always wrestle with the important questions of how to respond to poverty and inequality. Though… we wrestle with that question whether in Cambodia staring at the face of a begging child or in VA pondering whose hands manufactured the clothing we wear. This world’s needs are so perplexing that they will always be in the back of my mind, influencing my actions and reactions. And yet, the more I see poverty and unmet needs, the less I seem to know how to fix it. It’s like the mountain in the distance. From far away, I almost think it looks climbable. But the closer I get, the more I notice the sheer cliffs and the rough terrain. Likewise, the mission of meeting needs and bettering the lives of the poor and broken-hearted looks less and less like a simple path and more and more like a complex series of struggles. We will always wrestle with how to make the world a better place. But that is not why we travel because we would wrestle with it anywhere, just as all of you do in your own lives.
So… why then?
While it’s still a question I turn over and over in my head, I do have a few ideas I might as well share with you all, knowing that vulnerability is a chance to grow in wisdom.
Why do we travel?
1.) Because sometimes I feel that travel is the best way for me personally to combat the “us/them” mentality carefully woven into every part of media, news, politics, and the daily Western life. In America there is a very strong collective voice advertising the idea that we are a separate entity. That we are something other than pieces of a great big humanity. There are categories and boxes for everyone, even within the box we’ve made for ourselves. We have national identities, political identities, familial identities, religious identities, sexual identities, academic identities, generational identities… The boxes get smaller and smaller and our attention becomes more and more tightly wound around ourselves and those like us. This is a strong temptation- to focus more and more inwardly. Travel allows us to focus on the biggest most forgotten box. We are all part of this incredible human existence. We are all part of the same baffling attempt to understand life. Yes. It is more comfortable to be around the people who have grown up in the same contexts we’ve seen, but our reality is very small when confined to what we and those like us have seen and experienced.
With travel, I am forcing my focus onto this bigger box every day.
But I am under no illusion that travel is the only way to shift our focus to the bigger box. In fact, it is as simple as spending time with someone different than ourselves. You can do this anywhere.
2.) I am truly fascinated by people. I can’t get enough. I love listening to people and how or why they make the decisions they do. I would travel the world simply to have more and more conversations with more and more kinds of people.
3.) We have an unimaginably beautiful planet in our keeping. And that beauty stimulates the same parts of me that spirituality does and so in some sense, beauty feels like a connection to God. It feels like a glimpse of the world God has in mind or a glimpse of God’s character. Beauty calls out to the part of me that senses the existence of something greater. Like glimpsing the reflection of the kingdom of God. It leaves the uninspired, cynical parts of me totally speechless.
4.) The novelty of each new place we see feels like an adventure. To see something I don’t understand at all feels incredibly exciting to me.
5.) Travel has become a job Drew and I can both enjoy. Perhaps if we both found careers that make us both feel fulfilled back in Va, maybe we would stop traveling. But we have an uncommon combination of skills and ideals. For instance, Drew is an entrepreneur at heart. The more he cultivates that interest, the more it makes sense as something he was just made to pursue….and the harder it is for him to imagine doing anything else. And I have always wanted a job I could partner with Drew for. Something we could work at together. Travel is one of the things we are both excited and passionate about and it’s also something that started working. We’ve had so many different business ideas over the three years we’ve been married, and the travel website is the idea that’s seen the most success. And we both love it. That is something special.
Whatever you’re doing, it is a beautiful adventure too. The things I’ve written about here are just thoughts on my own lifestyle, but I have never thought of travel as the only way. You can see beauty and diversity and adventure in all kinds of lifestyles. You do not need to travel to get these things, but it’s the way I access them.
When I used to work at the child development center we would put a box in the room and wait to see what the children would do with it. Some of them climbed inside and others beat their hands against the surface like a drum. Another child liked to push it across the room. Each child found interest in using the box a different way.
It’s the same with the daily lives we carve out for ourselves. There is no best way to play with a box just as there is no best way to experience diversity and beauty. I have chosen the travel life while others may look for beauty in the smiles of their children and may look for adventure in the pursuit of a new interest.
These are simply my reasons for traveling.
Why do you do the things you love?
There’s a problem in journalism today.
It’s called “iterative journalism.”
With iterative journalism, writers and bloggers are encouraged to publish first, and fact-check later. The idea is to create a more real-time journalism I suppose but the result can be murky ethics and confusion. As soon as a rumor surfaces it can be found in article-form somewhere on the internet. Then, when the facts really start to come in, updates may or may not be added to correct the articles for whoever stumbles upon it next.
The truth is handled carelessly as though it isn’t the precious rarity I believe it to be. As though it’s not something you need to dig out of the dirt like gems in the earth.
I think the tragedy of the missing Malaysian Airlines flight has been confusing in part because of the effects of this kind of journalism. A flight is missing. Then there are photos from China…or no wait…there aren’t photos from China…or wait…there were photos but they weren’t the right photos…? An already mysterious tragedy becomes all the more confusing because modern journalists are pressured to put content on the internet and do so quickly.
But these are real people with real families, dying to know something. But they don’t want just any information, they want the truth. They don’t want a riveting article. They want to know what has happened to their family members and if the most accurate answer is “we don’t know yet”, then that’s what they want to know.
This follows a train of thought that has been important to me lately. Valuing the answer “I don’t know.” Which is really the same thing as valuing the truth. The truth is more valuable than we are trained to recognize, in all aspects of our life.
This is a scary thought because, after all, there are lots of things I don’t know. Worse yet, lots of things I don’t know that I should know.
Where do you live?
I don’t know. Genuinely, I don’t.
What do you do for a living?
Well…turns out that’s kind of a tough one to answer too. I’m somewhere in between a secretary and a graphic designer, but…I don’t know.
Will you do this forever? This traveling thing?
I don’t know. I don’t have a plan.
Is traveling safe?
It has been for us so far. But beyond that…I don’t know.
The list goes on.
Ironically…this puts me in no different of a position than those who suppose they do know. Because we don’t really, do we?
At the end of the day, we don’t know where the people on that flight are. And that is scary. And we don’t know why it happened to them, and not us. And that fills us with sadness and guilt and confusion. And we don’t know how to prevent bad things from happening. And that is scary too. But all of these things are true whether we say so or not. And that which is brought into light can at the very least be shared.
What is the use of wondering in secret what we could wonder together, or wrestling in secret what we could wrestle together?
Civita Di Bagnoregio is a “bluff-town” in italy that stretches up from the ochre rock as if it grew there on its own. It rises so high above the valley that one must cross a steep bridge on foot to even enter the town. And once there, you might believe you have crossed a bridge into former centuries, rising into a tiny series of cobbled streets and stone buildings all fit together like stacked boxes. Everything is stone…and everything is quiet.
The only noticeable ruckus when we arrived was a crowd of cats gathering curiously at the old wooden door of our friend’s house.
After an evening of wondering what there might be to do in a quiet bluff-town whose few shops and restaurants seem to close at a random hour before dinner, we asked the owner of the neighboring bookshop where we might find internet. She thought for a moment than motioned for us to follow her.
She led us down the short length of the town’s primary street, than ducked off to the side of a building and through a little wooden gate. The buildings were clustered around us and gave the feeling of a maze. Through the gate there was a courtyard and past the courtyard, a friendly old gentlemen making soup in his kitchen.
The keeper of the internet? I smiled at how unhesitant the bookkeeper had been to take us into this man’s house, and how our entry seemed to phase this man not a bit.
His house was the same small, stone structure we’d seen in the rest of the town and the rustic wooden furniture made me feel at home. The walls were adorned with pieces of artwork ,one of which I thought I recognized as depicting street behind the Vatican in Rome.
As soon as the old man introduced himself, I unraveled a few curious questions and learned more about the little Civita than I would have known without our accidental intrusion into this man’s house.
Civita di Bagnoregio has roughly 5 or 6 year-round residents Tony guessed, himself included, though more part-time residents or employees who keep a house outside of the bluff town. One of the primary families has resided in the Civita for some 500 years, now providing arguably the best restaurant on the bluff.
Some towns build their stories and histories around their coal mines like the towns in West Virginia, or around a culture of farming as is true for the towns I knew in Ohio…but for the Civita the central player in its stories and histories seems to be its bridge.
There were years in which there was no completed bridge, but instead a combination of bridge, stairs, and muddy terrain one had to cross on foot below the Civita. Tony says that there used to be women at the bottom of the path who would hand you a pair of boots to wear across the mud.
As we talked with Tony it became clear that he and his late wife had played a huge role in the Civita’s story. They created the Civita Institute and had called to light the unique beauty of the hill-town architecture. In addition, they helped to bring students to the beautiful town to study their own passions and projects.
Of course, I had to do my own independent research and came to realize that they were also contributors in much of the restoration that has happened in the Civita.
For that, I am grateful. It is indeed an incredible little town.