Sunday, June 10, 2012


So, I won't really say a whole lot this time around. The last post was clearly written from a place of great frustration and anxiety, so perhaps I exaggerated the gravity of the situation. I wholly admit that I often do that within the first 24 hours of receiving any kind of news like that about my mom and grandpa. But anyway--so, it seems like the spots on my grandpa's lungs were just pockets of fluid. At least, that is the initial findings. Huge sigh of relief for that. He was released from the hospital on Friday, which is great.

My mom was released on Friday, too. I am not sure how she is doing really, but she sounded alright when I talked with her yesterday. She has a long way to go before she is really okay, but at least it is a step in the right direction for now.

Thanks for all the thoughts and prayers, and really, just for letting me vent in this space. Funny, but I never wanted to be this kind of writer where it all became about the crises that occur...

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


There are times when it just feels like the weight of the world falls upon your shoulders. There isn't anything you can do really to shift the burden, but it sits there, making it a little bit more difficult to do normal activities. Right now, in spite of a plethora of good fortune that has befallen me over the past few months, there is a pall of illness affecting my family that makes it hard to see what is good in my life.

After an exhilarating trip to Peru, I came home only to find out that my mother had been in the hospital pretty much sense I left for my trip. To be honest, this itself isn't a surprise—it really is not unusual for my mother to have extended visits in a hospital for her various medical issues—but it wasn't exactly the first kind of news I had hoped for when returning back to the States. And, considering  I had been gone for almost two weeks, it had been a long stay even by my mom's standards. OF course, I hadn't actually been talking with my mom since it was my dad who was relaying all the information.

Let me point out something for context. My dad is perhaps one of the strongest people I know. Not necessarily physically (although is body has endured a lot on its own) but emotionally and spiritually. I wish I were as resilient as he has been these past 20 or so years where uncertainty is the only constant. Somehow amidst all the crap that my family has gone through (my mom's illnesses and injuries, my sister's defection and struggle with her own health and mental issues, caring for my mom's parents, etc.), he has always maintained that things will get better, that this will one day come to an end. For the first 10 years or so, I gladly joined him in this pronouncement, waiting for the day that my family would once again be healthy and whole. That day has yet to come, and although there is still a part of me that holds out for that…the inner 10-year old who believes that everyone can and should be happy…I have adopted a cynical shell to block out some of the more deceiving rays of hope. I cannot endure many more of the bruises that one incurs after an abrupt reality check knocks you back to earth. I used to think my dad was impervious to those bruises, but the more and more I talk with him, it appears his reserve is finally cracking, and that breaks my heart. I guess in some ways, his hope is one of the few things I could still hold onto in an occasionally bleak situation. With that slipping away, I don't know where to grasp, and while I know that as things develop, I will find a way to cope, it is hard to watch the one person who embodied stability begin to fall apart.

The one person who is still in Texas to help my dad cope with all that goes on with my mother is my grandpa. He, too, is in the hospital now. Yesterday, he was admitted with an infection and a fever. An MRI revealed a few spots on his lungs. While the results are still pending, my mind immediately jumps to the worst. I don't really know how to articulate what losing my grandpa would be like for me personally or for my dad and mom, but it would be huge. I hate even to think much about it, but of course, my mind doesn't really allow me to look beyond it at the moment.

As for my mom, she is still in the hospital. She may be transferred soon to a long-term care facility or a rehabilitation center. Or she may just be discharged altogether. It all depends on the whim of the doctors over the next couple of days, or so it seems. I won't even try to go into what is going on with her in the first place because I cannot wrap my own head around it. Let's just say there are a lot of complications from the medicine she has been on for the past 15+ years, complications from a botched surgery 10 years ago, and a lot of residual mental stress that exacerbates both problems in a way that none of us can quite figure out how to help.

And that is where I feel the most burdened. Here are three people I love and care about very much, and yet I have no clue how to help them. I very much want to be there to help and support them in person, but I am also aware that in doing so, I will lose myself. There is some kind of tacit understanding that if I were to be in Texas, my life would be put on hold as I shuttled Mom to appointments, took care of the house and yard, cared for the household things that are currently neglected. It isn't the life I want for myself and it is not the life that my parents want for me either. The selfish part of me shudders at the thought of even visiting because I do not want to return to that kind of life, particularly when right now I have so many good things in my life. Yet, the guilty part of me feels like I am being a negligent daughter, ignoring my duty to my parents and grandpa, to be the support that they need during this challenging time. My selfishness right now outweighs the guilt, but I have a feeling that soon the scales will shift depending on how much longer this continues.

This could just be another mini crisis in a long series of crises, and things will find their equilibrium once again. Well, at least until the next flare up brings us yet one step closer to that edge.  The edge where my mom finally makes good on her threats to just end it all. The edge that will send my dad into complete collapse and I am the only one to help pick up the pieces. The edge that I fall over as I try to grasp too tightly to the world I know, afraid that letting go will be more damaging than anything else.  I fear that edge more and more. I am bracing myself for the day we go over it, but I don't think that will be enough. I try to make myself numb and impervious to emotions swirling through my head, but those are impossible to ignore completely and in burying them, I become a bitter, cranky person, someone who I hate to be. I am sad, scared, angry, frustrated. I feel powerless and hopeless. I wish that for once my parents could catch a break from the universe. I wish that there were some way to bargain even for a few good days for them—if I could take on their pain for even a couple of days to give them a respite, I swear I would. But the world doesn't work that way, and we all have to learn how to cope with the hand we have been dealt. I know in a few days, I'll be doing okay. But right now, the world looks so bleak, the future a dark swirl of uncertainty and awfulness. I really am just tired of it all.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Peru -- A Brief Glimpse

Somehow, two weeks have passed since returning from my trip to Peru, and it already is beginning to feel like the whole thing never really happened, that it was just this amazing dream. Perhaps it is because the whole thing seemed a bit like a figment of my imagination—who would have thought I could manage to hike for four days and camp out for three nights without finding myself completely worn out, bruised, or battered? I never dreamed that I would have a chance to explore the Amazon Basin and encounter monkeys, tarantulas, frogs, and more. (Not many mosquitos, though, which was a very pleasant surprise!) And, even more importantly, I held myself to my goal of reaching my fifth continent before turning thirty. That in itself is pretty amazing because I am not one to set goals, let alone achieve them.

But this isn't really what you want to hear about. What you are more interested in are the stories. What interesting things transpired while I was immersed in a completely different culture and landscape? What did it really feel like to hike up to a point 13,5000 feet above sea level (particularly when I normally live only at 1,026 feet sea level)? What was the food like? Would I do it again?

My history with exploring the great outdoors really isn't as rich or abundant as one may think. Outside of the occasional camp trip with my family (which rarely involved hikes over 2 or 3 miles), I didn't do a whole lot in the outdoors. I dabbled a bit more in the adventuring lifestyles while in Wales, where I took a course called Outdoor Pursuits. It encouraged me to hike, climb, and kayak my way through Wales, helping me experience the country in a way far different from your average tourist. Still, my attempts at this were a challenge.  At 20, I was out-of-shape, a bit lazy, and not in the best of condition to be trudging about in a cool, clammy climate. I also had the misfortune to experience such interesting mishaps like watching my tent fly off a cliff, being lost in a bog, and finding myself perpetually wet either by virtue of the rain or by having our self-constructed raft collapse in the middle of a freezing cold pond. I also remember being battered, bruised, and sore. Strangely, none of this would deter me a few years later from pursuing similar activities which had the potential to replicate many of the above results.

So, when I signed up to hike the Inca Trail, I wasn't sure what to expect. I knew for certain that I would immediately be put at a disadvantage because of the difference in altitude. Being that high up literally takes your breath away and makes even the slightest amount of effort feel like a gargantuan task. I also knew that there would be a lot more steep inclines, stairs, and general overall ups and downs. Kansas City has a few hills, but nothing compared to what I would encounter. Still, in a paltry effort to prepare, I walked. A lot. I figured at least I could get the distance down if I couldn't get the elevation. And, strangely, I think it helped. Really, I was surprised by how little anything ended up hurting after the hike. Outside of my poor calves (the 20,000 or so stairs were a bit much for them), I didn't feel any muscle soreness, which was a shock. I thought I would ache all over and wake up on the second morning unable to move (as was my experience when hiking in Snowdonia ten years ago). Strangely, 5:00 a.m would come around and I would be ready to begin again without any complaint. Something truly strange was happening in those mountains.

I think that the only reason I was able to make it, though, was because I had the support of a wonderful team of porters, two excellent guides, and a great group with whom I was traveling. It is amazing just how much a support system makes a difference in a situation like this. The porters worked behind the scenes, rushing ahead to beat us to our camp site, our resting points, and anywhere else it was they were needed. After a long day of hiking, we would arrive at our campsite with our tents already in place. Within the first five minutes of getting situated there, a basin of steaming hot water would be available to wash away the grime accumulated throughout the day. Some people (not me) would even soak their feet once they had finished washing. Funny how such a small thing quickly became a luxury. I mean, when you have to deal with things like squat toilets along the path (stinking cess pools of all sorts of things you do not want to think about, really. I guess it is a better solution than finding some bushes, but you quickly learn how to hold your breath for a long time when you enter), dirt, sweat, sunscreen, oily hair, dirty clothes…a small bowl of hot water is gold.

Meal times were also strangely luxurious. We would arrive at the site, and there would be a separate tent furnished with tables and stools for us to sit at. Upon sitting, we would have tea and water availble for us, and eventually, the first course of our meal. I had so many delicious soups along the trail, it was amazing (and I didn't realize that with limited supplies, you can have six different kinds of soups. And six very different kind of cooked meals, ranging from spaghetti to stir fry to potato dishes…I felt kind of bad because I asked for vegetarian meals, so I always got my own personalized dish. It felt a bit too much for me). I felt like I was eating so much all of the time that I swore I would be one of the few people who actually gained weight while hiking the Inca Trail. I know, a silly thing to worry about…I think one of my favorite things that our chefs prepared were the cheese wonton things—fried wontons with melted cheese in the middle. Like many people, I have a weakness for all things cheesy and deep-fried. Still not sure how they managed to make them, but they were delicious.  As was the freshly popped popcorn. That was amazing and impossible to stop eating even when trying to ration oneself. And there were desserts, usually fruity concoctions of some sort. If there is one thing that Peru has a lot of, it is different varieties of fruit.

Add in the support of a good group and two amazing guides, and you have everything you need for success. I did require a little more patience with myself than I normally allow. Particularly on the second day, there was not going to be any quick sprints up the stairs. After about five stairs, I was ready for a breather. While doing it, I felt rather pathetic, but looking back, it was just the kind of thing I needed to keep pace. To be honest, I would have killed myself trying to keep an unsustainable pace if it weren't for a few other group members. At the steepest part of the climb, there were six of us walking together. We would pick an object in the distance ("Okay, that boulder, right there. Let's go!"), and keep moving until we reached it. Sometimes, the climb was easier than we had anticipated, sometimes far more grueling. No matter what, though, we made it to the next part of the trail until finally we were at the summit. We didn't stay long, and really we didn't need to. Funny thing about hiking—one minute it feels like your heart is beating out of your chest, the next minute it feels like you haven't been doing anything more taxing than a casual stroll.

Along the trail, we passed through three or four different ecosystems, seeing cacti and orchids, waterfalls and arid grasslands. There were times it felt like I had been transported back in time, left to forge the trail through the jungle myself (okay, fine. I let my imagination help shape that a little bit. The trail was always clearly marked, and there was never any need to wield a machete to clear through some overgrowth or anything). It felt almost like I were in an Indiana Jones movie or something—the caves also helped add to that feeling. In many ways, this trip helped me embrace those childhood dreams of being an intrepid explorer. So, thousands of people had passed this way before and there wasn't really anything new to discover. I still was discovering it for myself, and that was what was important, right? In the end, it wasn't about what other people thought about my journey. It was how I felt about it, and in all honesty, I feel pretty darn good about the whole thing. Despite all my reservations, all my previous catastrophes in the natural world, I managed to get through this adventure wholly in tact and feeling like I could conquer the world. I am not exactly quick to repeat the endeavor again, but looking around at what is out there, I know I can do a ton more hikes in the area without a problem, and perhaps I can seek out a few in the Rockies…it is high time to explore my own country and see what else is out there.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

What is Cleveland?

I never intended to go to Cleveland. At least, it wasn't high on my list of places I wanted to visit in my lifetime. Not that there is anything wrong with the city. It is very nice, actually. And it has a gorgeous public library in the heart of downtown. But, I can honestly say I would not have discovered this fact if I had never had a chance conversation at work with my good friend Shelley. I am not sure how we got on the topic of Jeopardy, but I remember the conversation spurring me to check out when the next online test was going to be. Strangely enough, it was only a couple of weeks away, and I since I had nothing better to do that Wednesday evening, I went ahead and signed up. A quick reminder was added to my calendar, and I didn't think much of it.

The night of the online test, I made sure to let my grandma know that until I came back out of my room, I was not to be interrupted (I wanted to take it a little bit seriously, and I admit, I wasn't really sure how long it would take). I sat at my desk, eagerly watching the minutes tick by until I could log in and the test would start. At exactly 7:00 p.m., the first of fifty questions popped on the screen. The test was over in less than 15 minutes. There were only three questions I knew I had missed. Still, 47 out of 50 wasn't all that impressive in the context of Jeopardy, right? So, with this thought in mind, I relegated it to a fun experience that maybe I would repeat in another 18 months if I even remembered to do it.

Three months later, I am sitting at my desk again, reading some article or another online when I clicked over to my email. Immediately, I saw something I never thought I would see: "Jeopardy Contestant Search." My heart already beating quickly, I opened the email inviting me for an audition in Chicago on May 18. And with that, I laughed a little as my heart sunk. Of course, they would be in Chicago when I was going to be in Peru. Although being on Jeopardy has long been one of my (unvoiced) dreams, I couldn't rearrange my trip to Peru for something that may not ever amount to much. In a last ditch effort, though, I responded back explaining why I couldn't make this particular audition and practically begged for an invitation to any other audition they had available.  Three long days later, I received an email that I would be considered for auditions in Cleveland. The fact that they were still considering me was encouraging, but no date was set, and I wasn't sure if I would even be able to make that audition. I gave it a good shot, but perhaps Jeopardy was just not meant to be.

Fast forward a couple weeks later when I am at my desk at work, doing a quick check of my email (a bad habit I am trying to break, I swear), when I saw another message from Jeopardy. I almost bounced out of my chair I was so excited. I saw the date, calculated that I could slip away from work on those days, and emailed my RSVP within ten minutes of receiving the email. I was giddy. Ridiculously giddy, to the point that I was beaming ear-to-ear and could not sit still. I popped out of my chair and told my co-worker Alison right away. I was going to audition for Jeopardy! How was this happening? I had always been under the impression that this kind of thing never happened to me, but it seems that this is going to be my year for a lot of great things happening for me, so if I am going to get on the show, this will be the year to do it.

And so, with a great deal of anxiety (but also a great deal of support from the world's best friends and co-workers) I found myself in Cleveland on a warm, humid day. After killing as  much time as possible by walking around the downtown area, I finally headed to the hotel where the audition was being held. I found my way up to the suite, and there I was amid all the other hopeful contestants. I don't know why exactly, but as I listened to the conversations around me, I worried that I was hear on some fluke--surely I didn't belong in the same class as these people. After shaking off this crazy notion, I headed into the auditions ready to do the best I could. After a short explanation about what to expect and a brief video from Alex himself, we began our written test. Overall, I think I did alright--really, it boosted my confidence pretty high, actually. The producers went out to grade the tests, and we were left to wait for our "mock" game assignment. Some idle chatter ensued, but really, I think all of us were just ready to get to play with the signaling devices.

The producers came back in, all of our applications now carefully organized by whom they wanted to see first. As it turns out, I was the second contestant called, so that meant I got to get my turn out of the way immediately. The game itself was a blur...I remember holding my own on the literature questions and maybe a couple of others, but it was done in the blink of an eye. Then, it was time to go through the personality interview. When my turn came up, the first thing I was asked to do was sing. In Welsh. I knew I shouldn't have put that down as one of my interesting facts, but since I came here to prove I was Jeopardy material, I put aside all humility and sang one of the only Welsh songs I knew. I got a little bit of applause, so I guess I did alright with it, and that was that. I got to sit back and watch the rest of the people go through their games and listen to them answer questions about themselves.

I left feeling pretty good about the whole process. Knowing that the likelihood of my being picked is pretty slim (of the 2,000 to 3,000 people auditioning, only 400 will be selected), I figure I won't be hearing from anyone in the next 18 months. Still, I did well, I think I did my friends and family back home proud. And, if nothing else, it helped me realize and appreciate just what a great group of friends and family I have supporting me. It has been a long time since I have felt such overwhelming love.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Art of Getting Lost

I may have admitted this once before, but I have a knack for getting lost. Not the horrible, irreparable kind of lost that requires a team of skilled trackers to extract me from the wild, but the kind of lost that is enough that I can easily add an additional 30 to 45 minutes to any drive or hike I happen to be on. (Okay, there may have been one or two times professional help would have been much appreciated, but at least then I was with a is always easier to endure these kinds of things with someone else by your side.)

Anyway, today was one of those days to get lost. At the very least, it was a beautiful day to do so. The sun blazed down and the skies were a resplendent blue. If it weren't for the chill in the air, it would have been a perfect day to sprawl out. I had a need to get a little ways away from the city, away from the urban scene and reconnect with nature. I hopped in my car and headed west, looking for a trail that sounded like it would be a serve my needs--long enough to be worth a good drive, but not so challenging it took all the fun out of it.

I had the directions. I was even sure to write out every single step, mileage and all. And, you are probably wondering why 1) I wrote it out instead of printing it and 2) why I have not invested in GPS.  My home printer is old and decrepit. It takes less time to transcribe seemingly simple things like directions. I have not purchased a GPS because...I have no real reason except that I figure that my handwritten directions will suffice, despite having proven wrong far more often than not. Like I was today. In all fairness, though, if I had GPS, I would not have passed the wild turkeys or the soaring hawks. I would have missed the simple beauty of sunlight over a rolling prairie. I would not have been reminded what 'fun' it is to drive on unpaved roads. And, I may have ended up at my destination a few minutes earlier. Still, I found where I needed to be, and really that is all that matters, right?

If my navigation skills while driving are bad, they are even worse when hiking. I had read about the hike I was about to do (a simple 4.25 mile loop), and I felt confident that all I had to do was follow the blue blazes, and I would be okay. And for the first half, it worked. While a few times it seemed like I had lost the path (and there were no blazes until a good third of the way), I always managed to pick it up again, following it through grasslands to the trees and down to the lake. The path along the lake was by far the best part of the hike, and the few moments I spent listening to the water lap the shoreline provided some calm to my otherwise busy mind. (Perhaps this distracted mental state is related to my ability to get lost.) And really, the first part of the hike wasn't where I got really lost. I quickly found myself at the other side of the trailhead, the loop completed in far less time than I had anticipated. (I figured about 50 minutes...I walk fast, but not that fast, especially on uneven ground.) So, being the intrepid adventurer I am (read idiot), I decided to retrace my steps and see if I had missed part of the trail somehow.

I am still not sure if I missed part of the trail. I have no clue, really, if I was ever on it after the first fifteen minutes back in. I thought I did a good job retracing my steps until I reached a fork in the road I didn't remember. Of course, I chose the wrong path. I think no matter what I had decided, it would have still have been the wrong path. But, because this was an adventure, or at least an attempt to recapture the spirit of past adventures, I kept on. My mind occasionally drifted to the most negative outcome possible, but thank goodness my rational self is good at curbing my imagination. What I couldn't quell, though, was my growing frustration. How many times would I allow myself to get into this kind of mess? While this situation was not at all dangerous (I had a ton of energy still, and I knew I could backtrack yet again if I had to), there is no guarantee that the next time I do something like this, it would be safe. At least when I was with friends, there was the comfort of their presence and I knew if I were hurt, someone else would be right there to help. As it turned out, I was able to find the right path, a fact confirmed by locating my own footprints. One benefit of a muddy path, I guess. As I got into my car (after having knocked off as much mud from my car and taking off my sodden shoes), I realized that yet again I was lucky. That what makes my getting lost such an art is my ability to finally get unlost. I have always found my way back, from bogs and fields, mountains and forests. But for how long? Perhaps it is time to be a bit more careful...

This isn't to say that I will give up solo hikes altogether. I will, however, be far more mindful of the paths I choose--those that are well-defined and well-traveled. I am getting to that stage in my life where it is finally sinking in that I am not invincible. Took me long enough to realize this, yes? Yet, a part of me finds it hard to let go because while hindsight reveals to me how every situation could have gone horribly wrong, the experiences remain some of the most memorable, the ones I think back on and smile. I don't want to give up any of those yet to happen...I guess it is finding that balance of spontaneity and planning to allow for chance to guide the path, but not to be caught of guard? Who knows. All I know is that I made it out yet again unscathed, and I drove off with a smile on my face.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Today marks the third anniversary of my grandfather’s death. Three years seems like an eternity ago, and even though I never thought it possible at the time, my life has adjusted to his absence. It didn’t seem to take very long for my grandma and me to settle into a quiet, comfortable routine without him. It has been a while since I have looked for him sitting in the living room chair, blanket covering his knees, television blaring in the background. Very rarely do I wake in the middle of the night to track any movement in the hallway, confirming that the trek from the bathroom back to the bedroom was completed successfully and without incident. Eight p.m. no longer has the same significance as I have no one to prepare a bowl of spumoni ice cream (with a dash of brandy to enhance the flavor) for.  So much of my life in Kansas City was spent helping care for him, watching out, listening, that with him gone, I felt adrift. When he was around, I had a purpose, one that I embraced and enjoyed. Without him, there was a void, one that I haven’t quite figured out how to fill.

My grandfather was a good man, dedicated to family, country, and his faith. He wasn’t perfect by any means—he had quite the temper, was stubborn beyond belief, and could be unforgiving.  He was even a bit of a scoundrel in his youth, running booze across state lines, lying about his age to enlist in the National Guard, and who knows what else. But, even with his shortcomings, he was an amazing person.

Although born in Omaha, he was a Kansas Citian through and through. Kansas City was the place that would always be home no matter how far he traveled, whether it be out on the Pacific during WWII or following jobs in St. Louis or Atlanta. He went to school here, attended college as well. He met my grandmother here and started his family here. Drive down any street in Kansas City, and he would have a story to share. He knew the gangsters, the elite, the who’s who of Kansas City. In turn, people here knew his name, respected him.  I wish I had paid more attention to his stories at the time instead of dismissing them as the ramblings of a nostalgic old man. But, it is always easier to think that in hindsight…

My grandpa was always a proud man. He rarely complained, and he did everything in his power not to feel like a burden to his family. He never was. Even as his health began to fail and his body weaken, his spirit remained strong. Parkinson’s robbed him of so much, but never his mind. When he could barely read, he would pull out his magnifying glass to read the newspaper, keeping on top of the world around him. When he could no longer even do that, he would have either my grandma or me read to him, books about Kansas City that reminded him of his past, and he would add his own commentary where the author had omitted pertinent information. And if he were in a mischievous mood, watch out. He could make a snowball or a water gun materialize out of nowhere, hit you with it, and make it disappear. The only evidence that anything had even happened, besides the tell-tale wet spot on your clothing, would be the faux innocent look on his face doing a poor attempt to hide his amusement.

For a man so independent, it could not have been easy to accept the help of his wife, children, and grandchildren as he did. It was hard to make him hand over the car keys, harder still to ask him not to make minor repairs around the house. He did so with little fuss, but it felt like in asking, we were asking he give up a part of himself. To compensate, we did what we could to make sure he never wanted for anything. I took him and grandma to Mass every morning. We arranged for trips to the store, asked him for advice, anything everything to make sure he felt included and important, as he still very much was. Some days, it was just enough to have someone to sit next to him, not saying a word but just being there.

I do not know if I will ever quite grasp how fortunate I was to spend so much time with him. I just know that I was one of the lucky ones to share in his life. I got to witness his humor, his kindness, and his love. I still think that his relationship with my grandma is one of the sweetest I have ever seen, and if I find something even half as good as what they had, I’ll be lucky. And although he was never one to say it, he was extremely proud of all his children, all of whom shared his good heart and generous nature. When he did finally pass away, he did so realizing that he was leaving things in good hands. I sometimes think that was one of the reasons he fought for so long…he just wanted to make sure everyone he loved was going to be okay.  He wanted to be sure my grandma would be taken care of, and his children would support each other in even the most challenging times.

Learning to live without someone you love doesn’t mean you have forgotten. But, I still struggle with find the best way to remember my grandpa. I guess it will be in the stories I tell for the years to come. It will be in how I continue to watch out over my grandma, to make sure that even when she is lonely or missing him, that she knows she is not alone. And, it is in living my life in a way that would make him proud, to ensure that what I do ensures that the name Hayes remains synonymous with character, strong morals, and, of course, good humor. 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Big Ideas

Recently, I finished a book that, while assuming the guise of a more articulate/literary version of chick lit, posed some questions about how we view and conduct our lives. Perhaps the most profound observation was about how we (as humans) attempt to fit the story of our lives into a traditional narrative structure—where every major event seems to have a distinct beginning, middle, and end. There is the exposition, the obstacle, and the resolution, all of which are only truly visible in hindsight. Everything happens to move the plot along, no matter how small that action happens to be. We each should be the heroes of our own stories, and each story should have some greater impact on the surrounding world if it is to be one at all worthwhile.

But, does life ever really fit into such a neat, tidy construction? Not really.  Indeed, much of what we do is meaningless, at least in the sense of contributing to some universal narrative If life were like a novel, my choice to drive to work via Main Street versus Gillham would have a huge impact on not only the rest of my day but my entire life and potentially, the lives of others (I would show up to work late, have to park in a space far, far from the building, further delaying me from reaching my desk on time, which would mean I miss an important phone call from my manager, etc.).  In real life, all of these things may still happen, but there would not be some ulterior reason, no grand cosmic scheme that drove these events. It wouldn’t be the day that my life changed for a grander purpose. It would just be a day that happened to be awful.

Life cannot really be narrowed down to such a fine point. It is far too complicated, far too messy for that. Yet, try as we might to avoid such a conceit, we still have a tendency to see our lives as one big adventure. Or, as I shouldn’t speak for everyone else, I know that I do.  Why do I do it? It gives me a sense of purpose. It makes me feel like there is order in the world. Random events make me nervous because I want to understand…indeed there is a need to understand. I don’t like mystery, I don’t like uncertainty. I unconsciously seek out patterns and connections, and maybe, I tend to create connections that really are not there. I want to believe that some of my more irrational choices were not so irrational, that I knew one decision would change the entire course of my life.

I like the idea of being a hero. It is far more exciting to think in those terms than it is to recognize yourself as simply another cog in the corporate wheel. Maybe that is why I tend to seek out different experiences, like traveling to Kazakhstan or hiking in Croatia. It isn’t only because I want to see these places for myself, but also because I am writing my own story in a way to make it more exciting, more intriguing for some invisible audience.  So, in a sense, in buying into the whole idea that life is one great novel (or movie if you prefer to think in those terms), I make major life decisions based on audience appeal.  If I am bored with my life, then certainly my invisible audience is, too, and that requires a major shake up. I need to change just for changes sake, not necessarily because things are not working as they are. Hmm…

Most likely, I have given this idea way too much thought. I tend to do that with ideas that intrigue me.  And, the longer I think about an idea, the more muddled and tangential my musings on it become, as has happened with this piece. Still, it cannot hurt to ponder some of these things. Granted, it isn’t going to change how I live my life, but it does help me keep my mind fresh. I think mulling over ideas isn’t so much about giving credence to them or rejecting them outright…it is more to keep our mind alive and open to possibilities. It helps remind us that the world is infinitely more fascinating and complex than we will ever be able to fathom.  Or it means absolutely nothing, and it would be better for all if I leave this kind of thinking to those far more intellectual…