I find that my life is often filled with personal struggles where answers tend to not come very easily, or the work I put in doesn’t seem to be very rewarding.
One of the things I often struggle with is my own organization, or perhaps disorganization is a far better word for what I struggle with. I try to do only what I am able, but I often overestimate my abilities in terms of time, skill, and emotions. For instance, I found out that I had double-booked myself yet again. I verbally told someone I would do something for them months ago, and then a few weeks ago, I told someone else I would be able to do something with them on the same date and time. I felt chagrined and ashamed, even though the person who I had to cancel with didn’t seem to feel any ill will. I used to keep a planner in my pocket at (nearly) all times, but I’ve lapsed in that over the past year or two. Because of this situation (and some other near-misses like it), I have decided to order another pocket planner and try to keep it with me. Hopefully that will help keep me in some semblance of order, but this issue is really just a small example of much larger issues with me.
I try to be involved in this life of mine, but I often find that I’m trying to slay all the monsters that prowl through my psyche at once. Sometimes, it’s hard to get out of bed with all those things weighing on my shoulders. I make a foray into my disorganization at one level, but let some other part of my life that I want to be taking care of entropy for a while. Then, I jump at the part that’s been slipping and work on it for a while until something else comes up. It seems I’m always wounding but never slaying these monsters of my personal struggles.
However, when I look back on my life, I do see some of these monsters that have been put to rest. For instance, my finances were in some disarray in years past. In the past few years, I’ve paid off a lot of debt, from student loans to car payments. In fact, my finances are the best they’ve ever been. I have also become a lot better at being in the moment and not fighting with the past. I even dare say I’ve found some peace of mind in spite of the monsters with which I do battle from time to time and day to day. I don’t have that peace of mind every day, but it is getting better. Perhaps as I continue to “grow up” more, some of these wounded beasties will fall away from me and die forever. One can only hope!
A chimpanzee named Washoe was taught American Sign Language. One of her caretakers became pregnant and then missed work for quite a few weeks because she miscarried. Roger Fouts said:
People who should be there for her and aren’t are often later given the cold shoulder – her way of informing them that she’s miffed at them. Washoe greeted Kat [the caretaker] in just this way when she finally returned to work with the chimps. Kat made her apologies to Washoe, then decided to tell her the truth, signing “MY BABY DIED.” Washoe stared at her, then looked down. She finally peered into Kat’s eyes again and carefully signed, “CRY,” touching her cheek and drawing her finger down the path a tear would make on a human. (Chimpanzees don’t shed tears.) Kat later remarked that that one sign told her more about Washoe and her mental capabilities than all her longer, grammatically perfect sentences. When Kat prepared to leave that day, Washoe did not want her to go without some emotional support. She signed “PLEASE PERSON HUG.”
On February 20, 1974, Onoda encountered a young Japanese university dropout named Norio Suzuki who was traveling the wold and told his friends that he was “going to look for Lieutenant Onoda, a panda, and the abominable snowman, in that order. The two became friends, but Onoda said that he was waiting for orders from one of his commanders. On March 9, 1974, Onoda went to an agreed upon place and found a note that had been left by Suzuki. Suzuki had brought along Onoda’s one-time superior commander, Major Taniguchi, who delivered the oral orders for Onoda to surrender. Intelligence Officer 2nd Lt. Hiroo Onada emerged from the jungle of Lubang Island with his .25 caliber rifle, 500 rounds of ammunition and several hand grenades. He sureendered 29 years after Japan’s formal surrender, and 15 years after being declared legally dead in Japan. When he accepted that the war was over, he wept openly.
There’s something very honorable in this, even if it might seem a bit strange to us. From the Japanese surrender in 1945 to Onoda’s surrender in 1974 is an awfully long span of time. Even though there were leaflets dropped declaring the end of the war, Onoda thought they were clever ruses and dared not venture forth. I think this is an incredible story. This man did what he thought was “right” until he received orders otherwise. That’s pretty amazing, even if he was mistaken.
If you had asked me a couple of years ago if I led a diligent and persistent life, I would have told you “yes.” However, I’m not so sure of that nowadays. In looking at the past, I see clearly all those places where I’ve failed to live up to my expectations of myself. What seems to happen is that I tell myself that I can do something, and for the moment that is true. But then, I tell myself that I can do another thing which might slightly compromise the first thing. That works okay for a while until a third thing comes along that I think I can do if I slightly compromise on the first two. This proceeds ad infinitum until I can accomplish next to nothing and I am stretched way too thin.
One might ask why I do such a thing. From my perspective, it comes from two main sources: love and wanting my life to be well-lived. I take on extra burden because I love something or someone. I make a commitment because I love this person. I take on more responsibility because I care about that responsibility’s well-being. I love this Earth and the creatures on it, and I feel a certain responsibility to them. The other reason I take on extra burden is because I have a desire to “experience” life. I might train for a marathon because I want to know what a 26.2 mile run feels like. I might bike more because I want to know what life feels like through the lens of a multi-day bike ride. I might try to learn in order to understand the world around me.
I think in general, these instincts of mine to experience and love in this life are quite necessary and good motives. The trouble is that I cannot do everything. I cannot be diligent in every aspect of my life. I cannot excel in everything under the sun. Other people may be able to, but I cannot. So, what then shall I be diligent in? What would make me feel that I could give love and have lived a good life?
On Saturday, I was able to celebrate my birthday with quite a few of my friends. It was a lot of fun for me. I have found in my life that I feel the most fulfilled when I am a part of a community. In this case, it was great to have so many of my friends able to share my birthday with me, and that made me feel included and special.
I am incredibly grateful for my friends. Some have been with me for a very long time and some have been with me only a short while, but I can say that each one has made a mark on my life and in my heart. I really feel that that is what life is about. When I feel that friendship and love is flowing, I really feel alive and that my life has purpose. What an amazing gift it is when I can feel that way!
My life is amazing today in large part because I have such amazing friends. My thanks to all of you!
November 12 is my birthday, and that means another year has come and gone. Looking back on this past year, I feel like I’ve grown a lot and I’ve learned quite a few things. I’ve heard it said that you learn something new every day. I hope that has been true for me. As an exercise in that frame of mind, I once again put together the “Top 40″ things I’ve learned this year.
It’s interesting to look back on that day. It started like any other day, yet ended unlike any other day. It was dark and windy, just like many days since, but it is special in my mind because of how much it affected my life. Even today, I ride differently at night than I used to. I try to be a little more careful and in less of a hurry, but like that night, sometimes I forget to be safe. It’s very easy to get caught up in the past and future of my life, but to not pay attention to the present. The experience taught me a lot about asking for help, being grateful for what I have and what I do not have, and also not feeling like I have to control my whole world.
Another thing that is brought to mind at this anniversary is all my friends, family, and strangers who have helped me in the past year. Rich drove me to the emergency room. My friends John, Andrew, Joe, James, Rixin, Liz, and many other friends and family were able to drive me back and forth to places I needed to go. My parents put me up for a week and took care of me until I could at least start to go back to work. The staff at Quantum Physical Therapy helped me get back on my feet. Along the way, there were countless strangers who went out of their way to help me, from opening doors for me to just being careful to watch out for me. I am able to see how important a community of friends and family is, especially when I needed them the most. Also, I can see the goodness of strangers reaching out to the rest of the community with no reward other than altruism. It really is a beautiful thing!
I think that it is really remarkable how easy it is to twist ourselves into doing less than our best. In the video above, I feel like the penguin who stole the pebbles from the others probably had great potential as a nest-builder, but something inside the little guy said that stealing would be just a little easier.
The trouble is that in the long run, doing less than our best or taking the easy way out of the situation can make us untrusting of others and outsiders in our own community. I’ve been guilty of this more times than I can count. I take a situation and try to manipulate people and things to my liking without being forthright and honest. At the time, it seems like an easy thing to do, but in the end I always pay, even if it’s a small piece of my honor that I’ve given away. But given that our honor is one of the few trappings that make us who we are, you would think that people like me would do our best to never tarnish our honor.
It’s a strange world we live in, and I think it’s good for me to relate to it. Even if it’s a few penguins in a documentary!