Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Day for Recognition and Thanks

The fourth principle of Shen Gung is simply to say, “thank you”. It is a reminder to recognize that our place in the universe is not entirely (or even in large part) of our making. Rather, we are here as we are because of countless blessings and help of myriad parts of the universe. To be sure, our choices matter; without them the universe cannot act on our behalf. Yet, it is important to acknowledge that our karma (what we are here to do) cannot properly be achieved single-handedly.

Today is the day in American culture when we take time to appreciate that which we might otherwise take for granted. In no particular order, I offer the following:

My family, both given and chosen. The distinction between the family we are born to and the family we create is a subtle one in my world. That the latter should take a place of honor equal to the former is a concept that many people either do not truly understand, or else reject out of hand as detrimental to the survival of traditional ideas like blood lineage and property ownership. I understand this concern, but since I place a higher value on relationships than I do either ancestry or property, it is appropriate that I should honor the relationships that have made my life so rich, healthy and content.

My profession. I knew from a very early age that I wanted to teach, and I am blessed to have found so quickly a job that allows me to challenge myself to do the things that I value most -- to build quality relationships, to think critically about how people achieve their best and to develop a unique style of sharing what I know that helps people to find purpose, contentment and motivation to discover who they are.

My health. I am not the picture of perfect health. My waistline continues to be broader than it should be. My thyroid is dying, and my gallbladder is already dead and (thankfully) gone. I have plantar faciitis that is taking its good, sweet time clearing up. But last year I biked 250 miles up the middle of the Green Mountains. The two years before that I competed in intermediate distance triathlons (a hobby I very much look forward to continuing for many years). The year before that I biked 400 miles. That I am able to do these things even in my imperfect state of health is a blessing, and I am grateful (and a little amazed) that I have so much that I can do -- and even improve at.

My nationality. I am not often proud of the way my government represents me, but I am very much aware that I am a citizen of one of the richest, most technologically advanced nations in the world and that such membership, to quote American Express, has its privileges. I have the freedom to say so when my government embarrasses me and the right to vote my convictions. I have the resources to do amazing things with my life and I am protected by dedicated military and civilian forces in the process of pursuing those things. I have power and prestige as an American and, although I don’t value these things terribly, it is undeniable that they make my life much more comfortable than it would be otherwise.

Technology, and my access to it. I have a laptop. So does my wife. In fact, Wayfarer House has within its walls a computer for every individual who lives there. I have a blog and a Facebook page. We have WiFi. We have the ability to watch more TV on our computers than we do on the actual TV (I’m pretty sure we do this). We have access to a projector and good, loud speakers, and we can use these things to host drive-in style movie nights during the warmer months. We have, among us, more than one digital music player per person (I have the two smallest, oldest ones). Everyone over 16 has a car. I have a snowblower. I have power tools. There is a washer and dryer, and a dishwasher. These are all marvels that did not exist 100 years ago. Hell, the Internet didn’t properly exist 20 years ago! That I enjoy these things today is nothing less than astounding, and I am grateful for them and their contribution to a life of comfort and convenience.

My mad ninja-like skills. I can cook. I can write fairly well. I can pull a J-turn. I can fix damn near anything. I can do a crossword just by hearing it. I can speak six different languages and imitate accents from at least another dozen. I can tell you pretty much anything about you after sitting down with you for an hour of conversation. I can light a fire without matches. I can whistle a decent jazz improv piece. I can bike a loooong way. I can teach you how to solve an algebraic equation with your body. I can track a variety of wildlife. I can bend a corner kick into the net past a goalie. OK. Maybe some of these aren’t what you might call widely applicable, but they’ve all helped me out at some point in my life and so I am thankful for them.

The wisdom that has come from my experience. I was talking to a colleague and we were reflecting on just how much we have come to know that our students -- even our most gifted and motivated -- simply haven’t come to. We have learned so much just by being on the planet for 40 years! It makes me wonder what I’ll have learned in the next 40!

I hope that, whatever it is you are thankful for, you take the time today to honor it. Then go to bed early.. Black Friday sales start early, people!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Dear Bessie...

I've tried calling you, like, 4,812,906 times and no one answers. This means:

a) You're dead.
b) You're hiding.
c) You're so goddamn busy that you don't have time to answer the phone.
d) You've moved and haven't unpacked the phone.
e) You've moved and decided that you really didn't like having a phone.
f) You've suffered a head trauma and have forgotten how to answer the phone.
g) You've changed your number.
h) I've been dialing the wrong damn number the last 4,812,906 times.
i) You've perpetrated violence against your daughter, but in the process wounded yourself, so you're not able to reach the phone to answer it because you're bleeding out slowly on your new living room carpet.
j) The phone company is accidentally routing your calls to Czechoslovakia, where it's too late at night for any reasonable person to answer the phone when I call.

Please select any/all that apply and return to sender.