Moving Forward

Moving forward. A Pods container used in our latest moving adventure.A few weeks ago, some of our family from New England came to visit. There were three children in our (small) house, as well as several adults, and it was noisy in the way that family visits are. For an introvert such as myself, it’s a bit nerve-wracking at times, but still…it was good being around family that we hadn’t seen in person since last summer.

The day that they left, they backed out of our driveway early in the morning, pulled slowly to the end of our cul-de-sac, and began their journey home. I walked to the end of our house and into our daughter’s room, which has the best view, and watched them drive away. I was thinking about how remarkably quiet the house was now. Too quiet at times. While it was soothing to my introverted nerves, I still missed our visitors.

That was three weeks ago. To say that things have taken an unexpected turn in those three weeks would be the definition of understatement.

Karen and I have been aching to return to New England for some time, especially now that the New Year’s addition to our family means that we have outgrown this house. We didn’t expect that to happen so…unexpectedly. An unexpected phone call resulted in an unexpected phone interview, which resulted in an unexpected trip to Boston to meet a team that resulted in an unexpected job offer. It felt so good being back in Boston, if even for a day, and now that will be a much more permanent state of affairs.

We’re moving in just three weeks.

With moving, of course, comes carefully orchestrated chaos as planning and organizing, phone calls and paperwork become interspersed with the day-to-day complexity of life. Things become progressively more…interesting…as more and more items become packed into boxes. No matter how well one plans, there will still always be that moment when you say of something that you need, “Where I did I put…oh, it’s packed.”

Karen and I have moved multiple times in the last few years. This will be our third major move up (or down) the East coast in just four years. While I am eagerly looking forward to this new part of our adventure, I find myself doing what I always do when we move.

I remember.

Now, this isn’t the overly nostalgic sort of remembrance to which I was (all too) prone for a bit, but rather a learned focus on recollecting the good things that happened during the phase of your journey that is ending.

When Karen and I moved (quite abruptly) to take care of this house, I felt as though I screeched to a halt. I had been moving at a breakneck pace since finishing school, and now found myself without a job to go to. This made time for unexpected things. We had been watching the Harry Potter movies before our move (I had never seen them, and Karen rightfully took it upon herself to remedy that tragic situation), and we had quiet evenings to finish them. I had time to pause and learn new technologies for my profession. Because we made several stops during that move and consolidated items that had been left behind at parents’ houses since we were married (or, in some cases, since we had left home for undergrad), we now had all of our stuff under one roof for the first time. I spent several evenings going through old comic books and novels that I hadn’t seen in years. While there was pressure involved (I was essentially beginning what would become two years of earning a living as a freelancer and contractor), it was relaxing for those first few weeks.

Of course, life became incredibly hectic again, and I had the opportunity for some really fantastic professional achievements here. There were several moments of renovating this house that I will hold quite fondly in my memory. We had the chance to frequently visit some of our closest friends from before we moved to New England the first time, and I am so very grateful for all of these opportunities.

I am more than ready to leave the South. As things become more quiet, though, I have more of a chance to remember. The contradiction of moving is that, while many things begin to move at a frantic pace, others slow down paradoxically. There is a huge importance, I think, to making space for the spiritual discipline of remembering these good times, these positive events. While I become less tolerant of moving as I get older, I find that these moments of reflection are gifts that only seem to occur as markers in these sorts of occasions.

For everything that has frustrated me here, there has been so much good, as well. I am grateful for every moment, as well as for every unexpected turn that our adventure together has taken, and for the family that we’ve become as we’ve embraced them together.

Moving forward is frantic, but there are tiny moments of quiet involved. Those moments hold beauty when you listen.

Pass It On

Grasping for Hope

Of the challenges that I’ve encountered during my life, being a parent is by far the most difficult.

I don’t mean for that to sound as though I’m some wise, ancient guru or something. Certainly I’m not, as anyone who knows me well will happily attest. Still, I have had some experience at life, and, relatively speaking, I haven’t encountered an experience as difficult as parenting.

I also am not writing from the perspective of the things that you generally think of when you think of parenting challenges. No, diapers, cuts and scrapes, temper tantrums, cleaning up after projectile…sickness…all are inherently challenging in their own right, but I’m referring to something more…well, more metaphysical than that.

There’s an angst, for me at least, that comes with knowing that there are two small human lives for which I am responsible. This is angst born of the desire to somehow protect them from harm, to keep away that which would do them wrong at all cost to myself, as impossible a goal as that is. As frustrated as I have always been at injustice in the world, I am doubly so now, because I find myself sometimes feeling an overwhelming guilt about bringing our children into a world in which there is a seemingly constant state of war or power-mongering or profit at someone else’s expense.

Of course, when either of my daughters smile at me and express a desire for my time, this all goes away, because I know that I can only do my best within my sphere of influence. Still, when the emotional onslaught makes its presence felt, it is a force to be reckoned with.

The reason that it is so overwhelming is because it is rooted, I think, in a feeling of hopelessness. I see violence and hate growing around us, and I feel that I have no ability to stop it, despite my intentionality of choosing to not engage in it. I know that both of my daughters will make poor decisions, likely decisions that will harm them at some level, in the future, and that I will be unable to prevent this, as well, as much as I would give anything to do so. A lack of hope is a dark place, indeed, and the smallest glimpse of hope in a dark situation is cause enough for the fiercest struggle.

Except, sometimes, the hope that I’m missing comes, seemingly, out of nowhere.

I was in a coffee shop a few days ago, waiting what in my Western mind was an unacceptably long time for my over-priced drink, and I watched an older couple come and go. They were traveling, is my guess…passing through as this particular Starbucks was right off a major Interstate. I watched them interacting with each other, their talking and their smiles, and my imagination began to weave a story around them. How had they met? How many children did they have? Where were those children now? What insurmountable odds had they faced at various points in their life together?

Certainly they’ve seen more than I have, and overcome more than I could imagine simply by virtue of their age. I wonder what pain and grievous moments might have interrupted their joy at being parents, either by decisions made or by the actions of outside forces over which they had no control. I wondered when they had felt powerless, as I sometimes do.

And I concluded that, whatever their story, whenever and however these events had occurred, that they were here now, enjoying time together, having made it through whatever challenges they had faced.

And there, in my imaginative wandering, was the hope for which I sometimes find myself grasping. They made it through.

And we will, too.

Not without scars, of course. Life gives us those regardless of our best efforts, but it is by those scars that we learn.

I don’t know those people, their names, or their stories. I very likely will never see them again. We do have friends, however, in the same position, friends who have been through more life than we have, and that, with only their presence, give the same hope.

I wonder if, one day, someone will see Karen and I in a Starbucks (that part, at least, is very likely) and think these thoughts. Because I know that we will have made it. I know that our children will have made it, that, in the end, everything will be okay. Not because things around us got better, but because life is created to survive, and because Light is created to overwhelm the darkness.

If we’re open to it, the hope will find us. Sometimes we have to force ourselves to be receptive to it, and that’s okay. That’s a spiritual discipline in itself. When revealed, though, the smallest hope will always bring us through the most crushing of obstacles.

Hope, by definition, will always point us to faith.

And hope is always, always more powerful than hate.

Always.

Pass It On

Moment to Moment

This weekend, I attended a funeral for a college student who left us entirely too early. We’re close friends with the family, so it was a weekend (and, indeed, a week) fraught with a myriad of emotions and events that, while healthy and necessary to experience, leave one exhausted at their conclusion.

Something said during the service was a tribute to the deceased young man’s love of life, how he lived every day that he had to its fullest, and how he lived it to the good of those around him whenever he could.

When confronted so harshly with our own mortality, it is normal to question the application of these words to our own lives, to consider what sort of imprint one would leave behind. There’s a natural tendency as a parent, I think, to understand the often experimental nature of raising your first child. That’s to say, it’s not a question of if you’ll make a mistake, but a question of minimizing the seriousness of your mistakes as you guide your child into adulthood. A tendency of mine has been to shrug off the moments when I haven’t handled a situation well…when I’ve minimized my daughter’s feelings, or been inconsiderate of her emotions, or raised my voice in frustration when I could just as easily have taken another deep breath and reasoned things through. I’ve assumed that these moments would be lost to her young memory as she grew, and that I would just get better at what was happening as I gained experience.

I’m not sure that these events are, in fact, lost to her memory though, and, as she’s now four, they’re not currently even if they once were.

Her quality of life, and the kind of person that she grows into, depends very largely on my actions and reactions during these years, and, while this is something that I understood in theory, the weight of it in practice is something entirely unanticipated.

Added to the fact that I’ve been unable to forge any depth of connection with our youngest daughter, this means that I’m leaving much to be desired in each moment that passes. Those moments are no longer just mine, if they ever were. They are impacting two other young lives in ways the depth of which I may never understand.

As I sat in the warm glow of stained glass windows this weekend paying tribute to another life lived, I considered the love of life and the importance of making it count in each moment. And while, yes, I understand how cliché that may sound, I think what strikes me here is redeeming the time…redeeming each moment…not for my own sake, but the sake of my daughters. To expect to handle every event, incident, and interaction perfectly is a superhuman expectation that I couldn’t hope to keep any more than anyone else can. What I can do, though, is do better. I can be more conscious of each moment, and how those moments carry repercussions into the lives of others.

If I do that, perhaps it won’t make any difference on my own life, but that isn’t the point. The point is the impact that will make on my daughters’ lives, and, perhaps, on others as well.

Pass It On

Motion

There’s an old adage, I’m certain you’ve heard it, that a “body in motion stays in motion.” I believe that its meant as a physical truth, encouraging one to remain active and fit. I remember, though, a conversation that I had with a young colleague in a Boston office building years ago, while he worked his way, as we all do, through relationships and life. I reminded him that none of us are static. That we change. That the people whom we know change.

On an emotional, psychological and spiritual level, we are always bodies in motion. We’re always moving forward or backward, but I don’t for a moment think that we’re ever stagnant. If we are, we don’t stay that way for long.

I’m thinking of this because I remember a teacher with whom I worked many years ago during my first career. She was struggling when I knew her, both personally and professionally. She wasn’t received well by her peers, and, whatever the details of her battle, the fact that she would not be returning after that semester became increasingly obvious. I remember respecting her strength as she worked to hold life together during the final few months of that academic year. She didn’t return the following year, and I have no idea what happened to her. If I remember her, though, I remember a person struggling through a difficult season of life, wearing all of the frustration and insecurities that go with that on her face, displaying it with her eyes and averted gaze.

Not so long ago, I was beginning a new career, and had taken a position with a company which surrounded me with people much better than I was at what I do. I had viewed this role as a learning experience…and it ultimately was exactly that…but I was a source of frustration to my more-experienced colleagues as they had to stop and explain things to me that were, for them, elementary concepts. When one has to meet tight deadlines in an environment where communication is not a priority, mentoring someone less experienced in one’s field is a burden, not a privilege.

I’m much more experienced at what I do now, and I’ve grown into an expert in my  niche. I have a skill set now that I wish I had possessed in that job, for the sake of my colleagues, because I could have been so much more productive and helpful to them. I occasionally encounter one of them on LinkedIn, congratulating them on a new role or something similar, and I wonder how they remember me. I think that, in their minds, I am still the inexperienced and troublesome novice whom they believed would have no success in this new career.

The teacher that I knew all those years ago, whatever happened to her, is likely in a much better place in life, now. I imagine that she no longer carries the stress that she did when I knew her. I no longer carry the stress of being inexperienced and needing to ask constant questions now, because I have learned and grown. I no longer carry the burdens that I did when my colleagues from two years ago knew me.

We are not static people. We stay in motion.

We all know people like me, or like that teacher. We’ve helped someone through a difficult time in their life, and, whenever we see them now that they are doing better, we begin our approach with a practiced empathy that is no longer warranted or even helpful (perhaps even the opposite), yet engrained with a sort of emotional muscle memory when encountering that person. I’ve been on the receiving end of that, and it’s not fun.

Just as our children will not be the same next year as they are now, neither will the people that we know. I think that recognizing the growth that someone has experienced…actively seeking all the ways in which they are better…is the sort of unconditional positive regard that has an enormous influence on all of us, something that helps us to live our lives that much better.

Because we are in motion. Always in motion. And that is a frightening, as well as a really cool, thing.

Pass It On

A Hope Deferred

Each weekend, I keep a now long-standing tradition of taking our oldest daughter for cookies and milk. It’s the time in which she knows that she has my undivided attention, where she’s the scheduled priority, regardless of other commitments that may press in. I began the tradition by taking her to a Starbucks for a cookie when she was younger. As her love of books grew, however, she developed an affinity for the Barnes & Noble near our apartment in New England. After our cookie and conversation, we would spend an hour or more looking through books, and occasionally returning home with new reading material. Dedicated time with my daughter, and feeding her love of books. Everyone wins.

Since our re-location to North Carolina, Barnes & Noble isn’t as close by, but we manage to make it the home of the weekly cookies and milk outing about once monthly. A couple of weekends ago, after having browsed the books and moved on to the toys, she discovered one of those toys that would be really cool at about half its price. Of course, it’s a toy that she immediately wanted, for which she professed her un-dying love, and that she pined to own in a way that one wouldn’t even imagine possible for a four-year-old.

She’s ahead of the game, I suppose.

My reasons for not buying her the toy were many. The cost was less of an issue than the fact that her grandparents are able to show very little self-control in the toy-buying area, to the point that we must routinely purge old and un-favored toys in order to avoid the cost of purchasing a storage unit or a larger house. Karen and I both wish to not raise materialistic children.

That said, I also prefer to not be the guy with a sobbing four-year-old in the middle of a bookstore because she didn’t get what she wants. Parenting is a learning curve. Sometimes you end up saying things that you realize in retrospect were not the best of ideas. In this case, that went something like, “I’ve taken a photo of it. When we get home, Mommy and I will talk about it. Maybe we can buy it for you if we agree.”

The issue is that I already knew that no such agreement would come, because I could predict with certainty that Karen would feel the same as I did. It accomplished the short-term goal of avoiding the in-store meltdown, but the side effect was frequent reminders on the drive home to remember to show Mommy the toy as soon as we arrived so that we could talk about it and then make the purchase.

As promised, we discussed the toy, and, as predicted, it was not purchased. So, I was successful in deferring the meltdown until we were in the safety of our home, but I also deferred my daughter’s hope.

I don’t think that’s a good thing.

I forget…we all do…how crushing is the potential for such an event on a child of that age. I’m not speaking of not getting a toy, but rather about being given hope and then realizing the desired result still didn’t happen. Hope, you see, is a most powerful thing. Only a small amount of hope can inspire us to get through the day, to stop obsessing over that thing that is causing us such anxiety, to believe the best of a potential diagnosis, to try one more time to keep a relationship alive. Hope is a Divinely given gift, one of the best attributes of the human condition.

Hope crushed…a series of dreams that don’t come true…can achieve the opposite. The most optimistic among us can become calloused after a certain number of such experiences.

I believe that I mis-handled my daughter’s hope that day. A small thing, perhaps, a blip on the proverbial radar of her childhood (she’s already forgotten the toy by this point), but impactful should it continue. I gave her hope for something that I knew would not come true, that I knew I would not permit to come true, and I did so because of selfish motives.

I’m quite disappointed in my actions that day. I learned in that moment that realism is always the preferred approach. I want our daughter to know that hope is important because dreams and wishes do occasionally come true to our liking.

I can’t manipulate her outlook the way I did that day because of that toy.

I won’t do so again.

“What happens to a dream deferred?

 

      Does it dry up
      like a raisin in the sun?”
(Langston Hughes)

Pass It On