Setting Sail

photo (7)Tonight the rain came with a vengeance, like it is so wont to do here.

In a region marked by its harshness, there is no gentle relief.

When the desert heals, it heals its way. Power poles fall, the dangling lines a reminder of where the real control lies.

It reverses course with ferocity. Take it or leave it.

But in the end, the air clears. The dust settles.

The cactus grow fat. The patient trees that wait months for one satisfying drink will suck from the ground and the air all they have to give.

And then they will go on. Waiting again. Waiting because it’s a way a survival. Waiting, because there is always relief somewhere, no matter how long it takes.

It’s why I call this place home.

* *  *

Oddly enough, despite a summer that seems to have been spent waiting for that relief, praying for the clouds to break open, I’m not outside tonight, alone on my patio.

I’m not wandering the neighborhood, collecting my 10,000 steps on my FitBit (I didn’t even make 10,000 today), buying flowers, glancing in the windows of the many slices of life that make a city hum.

No tonight, I’m inside, at my desk, basking in climate-controlled bliss.

I keep staring at a picture that hangs behind my computer – it’s a drawing my daughter made, of the two of us, holding hands underneath a rainbow.

“Go Dad. Pow. Super Dad,” it reads over the rainbow.

On the opposite page: “I love you. I’m really glad that you’re my dad. Hi dad. You are so nice and sweet. Happy Father’s Day.  Super Dad.”

I know I got that on Father’s Day. I know either I or my wife made a conscious decision to hang it up.

I know it’s been sitting there for a month-plus in the same place I pay my bills. In the same place I log the numbers of my life – finance, diet, blah blah blah – like some integer-obsessed freak. But until about 30 minutes ago, I don’t know that I really saw it, that I recorded it to memory, that I knew it existed.

Rushing here and there, wrapped up in day-to-day of life, I simply missed it.

* *  *

I know my daughter.

Despite her often boisterous personality, she is really the silent observer.

I watch her at the dinner table as my wife and I talk; when we have to steer my son with gentle – and sometimes not-so-gentle – discipline. I see her eyes dart from person to person as the conversation moves, watch her expressions change, see the questioning on her face when she wonders why the talk with her does not yet reach such depths.

Her minds churns. She feels deeply.

And when she chooses to express herself, it comes with a sincerity that most of us have lost touch with across the years.

I know this, and that gives that simple piece of 8X11 piece of paper a lot of weight.

I look at it and I know that, despite the doubt, I’m loved.

You know that feeling?

It swells the chest – that’s really how it feels – a lightness that wants to expand and expand and expand.

Needless to say, it’s a powerful drug.

* * *

I feel my writing has been heavy lately.

And I don’t want it to be like that. At least not all the time.

Tonight, I explained to a coworker over lunch the light that exists at the end of many of life’s trials.

That when you stare into some horrible darkness – if you can recover from the scars it leaves (and that is no easy task) – that the gift of perspective on the other side pays compounding dividends.

In the middle of the slog, you need to hold onto that knowledge that passing the test results in a richer life.

We shy from these challenges all the time – at least the ones free will allows us to: a broken family member or friend, a broken self, a situation that brings us extreme unhappiness.

I’d had a lingering thought in the back of my mind about this phenomenon for some time, but I’d been unable to find the words to convey the way I feel.

And then my friend Eric – he’s a sage, really – responded to last night’s post about struggling to carry on peacefully in a world of such trauma with this incredible quote by John Augustus Shedd, one I’d never heard before.

“A ship is safe in harbor, but that is not what ships are for.”

It’s so simple – yes, there is safety when you hide.

But your real purpose emerges when you thrust yourself into the wild sea and battle whatever the elements throw your way.

* * *

I know this. And I know that I have always been meant to write. To tell stories. To communicate across wide audiences beyond my ability to know.

It is a calling.

And at the keyboard, sharing what lies buried deep within, I always find a satisfaction that can be replicated nowhere.

Finding my words again – not words brought on by some horrible stress or some need for deep confession – has been a wonderful and unexpected gift.

But my job, which I truly love – especially in the building phase – has revealed there’s a second field where I feel free and at peace.

Numbers and letters  and patterns, ideas in a mind brought to life on a digital screen, codified in syntax.

I want to get better at it. Much better.

So today, I officially started the process.

Masters of Science in Computer Information Systems, here I come.

See you at the starting line in January.

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Ship without a Rudder

IMG_0702The feeling is inescapable.

I keep telling my kids this the last couple days.

The simple things: the clean water we drink, the peace we feel when we lay our heads to rest, the food we eat – these are luxuries.

But always, these ideas float over their heads.

They retreat to what they know: their friends, some perceived trauma at school, who said what in some video game whose name I barely know.

How do we convey this inexplicable gift we’re given to those who have only known privilege?

How do we repay this gift ourselves?

* *  *

In a couple days, I’ll leave for Sonoma County, California.

Life will be excessive.

We’ll bottle wine from a small vineyard. We’ll sample libations from the pinnacle of brewing, distilling and viticulture.

And throughout it, despite enjoying it all, I will feel a profound sense of guilt.

Oh, you can categorize it as you wish.

Yeah, it’s probably only to make myself feel good. Yeah, I’m not doing enough. Yeah, I don’t know how the hell I got here.

Yeah, it’s sin in a world of suffering.

I vacillate between dedicating all I’ve got to “make the world a better place” and retreating to a state of being overwhelmed.

A place where I give everything; and a place where I feel I’ve got nothing to give.

I’m a god-damned yo-yo.

Iraq, Israel, Ebola, Ukraine – and today, what did I do? I programmed a tutorial for a Southwestern utility on how to pay your water bill online.

Saving the world? Hardly.

Feeding my own kids? Yeah.

But that’s about it.

* *  *

And therein lies the dilemma.

How do we go about our daily lives – doing the things we do – amid a world where so much lies in chaos?

How do we rest our heads when dehydrated mothers are dragging their starving children down a rugged, desert mountain to complete uncertainty?

And, to put in bluntly, how do we help our own kids understand how obnoxious complaining about 30 minutes of math homework is in the context of all this?

Hell if I have the answers.

I reminded my children this morning; “You don’t come with an instruction manual. I’m flying by the seat of my pants. God knows if I’m ‘doing it right.’”

At least my son paused for a second when I threw that idea at him.

* *  *

I have no sweet wrap ups where everything comes into context.

I just have questions.

And they’re really pretty basic.

What did I do to deserve this fortune?

And how close are we to having it all stripped away?

Many nights lately, the answers are so obscenely distant, that I’m at a loss of what to do.

So, tonight, I walked. It’s a way to burn off  the energy that makes sleep impossible.

I rarely know where I’m going. But tonight I ended up at the Safeway in my neighborhood.

They had gladiolus there for $4. The flowers of funerals, I’m told.

I brought them home.

Put them in a vase. Somewhere where I would see them every morning and night until they die and we throw them away.

Their beauty brought me happiness, peace.

They let me forget for a second. For a minute.

A distraction, yes.

Movies, TV, music, radio, even flowers.

It seems that’s the name of the game.

Run away, run away …

I can’t find the checkpoint.