Facebook: Peace Artist
I haven’t written anything in a bit because to be right honest, I’ve been going through a bit of culture shock.
I’ve been around the world. I’ve lived in Germany, Italy, and France. I’ve visited Canada, Mexico, Belize, Japan, England, Denmark, Poland, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Czech Republic, and Austria.
I’ve burned trash in a barrel while eating mayonnaise sandwiches with kids behind their mobile home. But, I’ve also eaten caviar at the finest restaurants, where they comb the tablecloth for any loose crumbs. I’ve been the recipient of a used Light Bright for Christmas gift from “Toys for Tots” and watched my mom swallow her pride to take the free cheese, bread, and butter with the official stamp of the USA on it. But, I’ve also rented Santa suits, and been able to give away toys and candy to others. I’ve slept out under the stars, in $1000 a night luxury suits, and on park benches and on church doorsteps. I’ve been kept from taking gymnastics because I lacked the funds, and I’ve given away gymnastics instruction a hundred times. Did it today in fact.
I know what it is like to have been denied your hearts desires, and to grant those of others. I’ve basked in the warmth of the spotlight, and applauded ferociously from the shadows. I’ve smelled the scent of victory as I straddle mountain peaks, and I’ve tasted the bitter disappointment of rejection in the valley below.
I have suffered and I have loved.
It is this suffering and love that is so personal and intimate and yet so wholly common. It is our most personal heart wrenching sorrows and pain, the blissful joys of true love, and comfort of reconciliation that are so innately fundamental to our experience as human. These unique episodes in our life are what have made us who we are as people, and they are the webs that make our humanity, the very nature of which binds us together. We all feel it. I know what suffering and love feel like and so do you. Above all else, this we have in common.
This deep longing for intimacy and connection is why we all go to the internet. It is why people are addicted to twitter, Facebook, internet porn, and perhaps why I blog. It is our desire to be connected with someone else. It is a search for others that will rejoice with our success, ponder with us in our quandaries, laugh with us at our jokes, and empathize with our misfortunes. We want to know that someone is out there…and that they care about us.
6 Billion other souls out there with whom we might connect, and yet never before do we feel so powerless; so unimportant. We have tiptoed over the edge. There are 51% of us living in urban environments, and 49% in rural…a first in human evolution. The last two generations were the first to have “no purpose”. The baby boomers and Generation X served no purpose. We didn’t help the family survive, but rather were a drain. How many of us have heard, “Do you know how much you are going to cost me?” from our parents.
Formerly, children were an asset. On the farm there were chickens to feed, wood to chop, cows to milk, and fields to plow. Even in the urban environment coal that needed shoveling, there were the shoes to shine, the washing to be done, and food to be prepared. Everyone had a purpose. Everyone contributed to the good and well being of the household. Old looked after young, and young looked after old.
By extension, because of the responsibility that previous generations felt to the nuclear family and the extended family, it seem just as obvious to them that they had a deep level of commitment and a role to play in our communities, states, and governments. They called this citizenship and called it their duty.
Never before have we had so many who have acquired so much, but at a deep cost to others. We run in our $140 sneakers made in a sweatshop somewhere past the homeless in the park. We drive past the women’s shelter, and never once step inside to help. We don’t even call the children’s home to see if “they need anything?”
Instead, we insulate ourselves with our Coach bags, our Home Depot remodel, our $5 Latte, our “Designer” cupcakes, and our Banana Republic ensemble and never give a thought to those who toil to make these things for us in poverty in the real Banana Republics.
I condemn myself. I’ve bought bananas flown from Chile, Kiwi from New Zealand, sea salt from the Himalayas, and bottled water from the melting glaciers. When do we do this? When we stop at the store before going to our debate on global warming. We chain ourselves to trees to protect the Spotted Owl in our down sleeping bags. We protest cruelty to animals in our leather Birkenstocks, and wonder where all the Salmon went while we charge our phones with hydro-electric power.
One day, the president will come on the television and say, “There is no more oil.” That means, when your father is dying, there is no ambulance to take him. There is no food, because the fertilizers are all made from oil, but it doesn’t matter anyway, because there is no diesel for the combine to harvest it, the freight train to ship it, and the truck to distribute it. Your 30-minute commute to work becomes an all day walk when you can’t drive.
Will the best come out in people then, or will it become like Road Warrior? All of our apocalyptic films show giant asteroids, aliens taking our water or resources, our vampires who have come to reap their crop. But perhaps the Hindus are right, and we will disappear without significance like the Clovis of 11,000 years ago.
And yet we all feel so alone.
We cling to religions that we have never seen work, the illusion of wealth that never really satisfies, diets that never produce the results promised, resolutions that never make it out of January, promises by politicians that never see fruition, get rich schemes that leave us penniless, and crimes that leave us broken.
We have priests molesting boys, boys raping girls, girls prostituting themselves, human trafficking, drug lords killing entire towns, and politicians lying through their teeth. We have companies ruining green spaces, polluting the waterways, and oil that washes up on our beaches.
There are countless priests who own two homes let alone many “tunics” despite the fact that Jesus said if you have two give one away to those in need. Bankers who love God on Sunday, but don’t love their neighbor on Monday. We see soldier pray to God, but it is Jesus who said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”
And yet we wake up each day. We say things like “I feel that God has a purpose for my life.” People try to commit suicide, and regret it immediately, people pine for the weekend, and roust themselves out of bed for the drudgery of doing a job that they hate for people that they despise. The horizon or hope, whatever gets you through the day.
Some people are in the family pattern. But, statistics say that 1 out of 2 marriages end in divorce. Would you go on a plane if you had a 50/50 chance of living? We seek love and our own fulfillment in relationships. We seek to gratify our needs, our own lusts and desires, and hopes in our associations and interrelationships.
We parent children, volunteer coach, run the 5 mile loop, join the PTA, start up our own business, manage another’s, make play dates, and play super mom because we don’t want our kids lives to lack any of the treasures that we had, or wish we had. Our kids have more shoes than they ever put away, more toys than they play with, and more clothes than they wear. But look who is raising them. We have RV’s in the side lot, second homes at the coast, the mountain, or in France and a Harley in the garage.
And yet, we lay awake at night wondering if this is it? How did I get here? Where am I going? Who am I? Is this really what I wanted? What is the meaning of life? What will make me happy?
And when we can’t sleep, we take pills, when we can’t wake up; we drink coffee, tea, coke, or 5-hour energy. When the food is too rich, we take a pill, when we can’t poop or can’t stop we drink a pill, when all of this rigmarole has got us absolutely flabbergasted, our bodies rebel.
For most of my life, I didn’t give a shit. In fact at one point in my life, I would have been more upset by the use of the word shit, then I was over all the atrocities that wreak havoc upon the earth. Like most people in high school I found religion. Except, I really found it. I even became a youth pastor for a short stint. God, I was horrible, I was such a hypocrite. I was 18-19 years old, and I just parroted back all the things that good little Christian boys are supposed to say and believe. I did believe them, until I began to test some of them and found that rules make for a good religion, but not for a good life.
When I met Bonnie on the side of the road a month ago, she asked me if I was a preacher. “God, no. Sorry, do I sound like one?” I’m not preaching to anyone, this whole thing, the trip, the blog, the whole enterprise is my journey to find out, to figure out what is all about. What is the “meaning of life?”, “What should I do?”, and “What should I get out of bed for in the morning?”
The answer that I have come back to time and time and time again is LOVE. It is what is worth living for and worth dying for. LOVE.
So, as I survey the preceding 4 weeks of this journey, I wonder what have I accomplished, learned, and given? As I sit here on this comfortable couch I question is it even worth going out again? Or am I just the worst hypocrite out there?
I wasn’t completely altruistic while out there. I worried about eating. I worried about being attacked. I coveted the things others had. I cursed the ground, my tent, the stroller (plenty of times), the idea, and my ailments. I had moments of doubt. I failed to love. I wrestled with the idea that I am not worthy, and conversely I felt that I was worth too much to do this. Why me?
There is a urban legend about a professor of psychology 101 who assigned just one essay question to the final exam: “Why?” The story goes that some stood up almost immediately and handed in their blue books, others wrote laboriously for the full 2 hours allotted. In the end, if you answered the professors query with: Why Not? —You got an A, Because—earned you a B, and anything else— a C.
When the devil came to the Buddha under the Bodhi tree, the final question the devil asked to disquiet his mind was, why you? Who will witness to your worthiness to receive enlightenment? It is said that the Buddha just touched the ground. With that, the devil left. The earth is our witness.
My mom lives in Oregon, and so when I got close to her home, she came and picked me up so that I could stay in her house while I rested my shin, knee, feet, and spirit. Having spent the last month on the road walking and running, I began to notice more. Every milepost on the side of the road, the slope of the turn, blind turns, and the width of the shoulder became far more important. While driving, it amazed me how fast the miles just clicked off. We stopped in a convenience store, and mom said, “Get anything you want.” In the last month, a convenience store meant either just water, or if I did have a buck or two, to find the healthiest, cheapest, and most filling by weight item. The carte blanche my mom gave me was impossible; I stood there for 20 minutes and couldn’t decide.
I was worried that if I came “back” to civilization so to speak, that I wouldn’t want to leave. But I am ready.
So what then is the purpose of going back “on the road”? To love others better than I did in the last 4 weeks, and love others period.
Dr. Joe Vigil, who is more than likely the best running coach ever, but most certainly the best the US has ever had. He has coached Olympians, national champs, you name it in running…he’s done it. Deena Kastor came to him before she was “Deena Kastor” and asked him to coach her. True to any good yogi, he turned her away many times, but her persistence won him over. Posted on the wall of old Joe’s “office was a magic formula for fast running that, as far as Deena could tell, had absolutely nothing to do with running: it was stuff like “Practice abundance by giving back,” and “Improve personal relationships,” and “Show integrity to your value system.” Coach Vigil believed you had to become a strong person before you could become a strong runner.”
The problems that I had in the first month I can honestly say, I think I brought them on myself. Statistically, cervical cancer is 8 times more likely in women that have experienced rape or sexual abuse. We can hurt ourselves when we are not ready to love others and ourselves.
One of the survival instincts that I have used all my life is being clever. All my life I have been good at ‘working an angle’. I had gotten rid of or was working on a lot of my character defects before this trip, but this is one that slipped by. I honestly think it is what has hurt my body.
As I prepare to go out this time, my focus is on love, just love.
So here’s what Coach Vigil was trying to figure out: Have there been great men that happened to run, or are great men great because they ran? Vigil couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but his gut kept telling him that there was some kind of connection between the capacity to love and the capacity to love running. The engineering was certainly the same: both depended on loosening your grip on your own desires, putting aside what you wanted and appreciating what you got, being patient and forgiving and undemanding. Sex and speed—haven’t they been symbiotic for most of our existence, as intertwined as the strand of our DNA? We wouldn’t be alive without love; we wouldn’t have survived without running; maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that getting better at one could make you better at the other.
Was it just by chance that the pantheon of dedicated runners also includes Abraham Lincoln (“he could beat all the other boys in a footrace”) and Nelson Mandela (a college cross-country standout who, even in prison, continued to run seven miles a day in place in his cell)?
Tonight I watched a documentary recommended to me by Scaughdt. It was called, “The Human Experience.” In it, two brothers decided to conduct some experiments in living in another’s shoes. What they come away with is that the human experience is about loving life.
Yes! Love of life! Exactly!