All too aware, I found myself anxious. I didn’t want to do much of anything, but felt the need to do something, something to redeem myself.
“But why? Hadn’t I done enough? What am I even supposed to do now?” My mind was tired of the grappling.
I lay down. Time continued to flow, but I was imperceptibly removed. The passing of cars through puddles outside lulled me away. That’s all there was.
Cars coming and going and faint music from another room.
I woke to a clear mind and a healthy sense of being. I hadn’t done much, but I certainly had received.
What’s more refreshing than accepting that which is freely given? What’s more refreshing than grace?
“To be human is to learn to live with faith. We must die, but also learn to be okay.” (“Attachment”, Jeff Pianki)
Yesterday I visited an old spot in a wooded area. I had been there one year before.
Frustrated with different events, I barreled from the Spring Arbor dining commons with reckless abandon, not caring that I was flying on a road bike on wet grass or that there were pedestrians milling about ahead of me. I knew I was done. I didn’t know where I was going, but I sure was going to get there fast.
I ended up in some woods. I sat, I listened, I wrote and I made up my mind. I wasn’t going to force anything anymore. And I was at peace with that.
I took a twig to remind myself of the promise, which to this day sits on the dashboard of my car.
While the twig lasted, my resolve on the decision did not.
Regardless, it was good to get back to that spot. It was good to be reminded of why I keep that stick on the dash and think about what it means now.
“All circles presuppose they’ll end where they begin. But only in their leaving can they ever come back around.”
(mewithoutYou. Or Hegel)
“You like the struggle more than the progress,” she said, referring to a pieced together quote I’ve come to cherish and return to often. Truth has a way of hitting heaviest when it’s succinct.
I sat reflecting upon that moment at a cafe across from MSU’s campus in East Lansing. I was using their outdoor patio, chilled, my clothes wet from cycling in the rain. I could have driven. But I chose not to. My only regret was not packing along a dry pair of pants. There are certain things that I have done or am doing that lend credence to what she said that evening. And I’m not going to pretend that there’s a simple reason behind those things.
For instance, for over a month now I’ve been telling people that I was going to write about sleeping in my car. I’d tell them that it would be better to write something clear and concise and then direct them to it, in order to save time and evade misunderstandings. I told two coworkers just that today. But I’ve changed my mind.
I don’t completely understand why I choose some of the struggles that I do or cling to some of the pain that I do. There are words that I can bring up that are true and defend certain actions- simplicity, solidarity, faith, frugality, self-discipline, trust, sustainability, freedom, minimalism- but they don’t completely encompass or express what is.
I’m going to paint something further with two broad strokes. I choose it because:
There is something in the struggle.
And there is something beyond the struggle.
Something in it: It’s choosing to live. I can feel it. The negative ramifications of my choices and perceived effects upon my own value come strongly and frequently. These are easy to fall into, but altogether serve as a beneficial reminder than I’m not simply following. I’m confronting something.
Something beyond it: It points beyond itself. It’s made whole by something that has yet to occur. It’s fulfillment is not completely encountered in the present. This has much to do with why I can’t fully explain it. I don’t know where it leads.
I walked briskly towards the Refugee Development Center this afternoon, a bike with two blown out tires at my side. As I strode, a bearded African-American man appeared in front of me. He was bundled up and washing the store-front windows in the November cold. He asked how I was. I said “fine, thanks”and asked how he was doing.
The truth of his response was audible as the word passed beyond his lips. The winds quieted, and I continued my walk.
If you have the ability to be contented in your circumstances, and offer perspective to others, you have much. Words may not always be the best way to explain why. You may not need to defend your actions; maybe only persevere. I can’t explain why this man was as he was. But it’s what I want. The ability to show something; to have something to offer. Something more than empty words and rhetoric. Progress?
Watching raindrops slipping down a window pane I remember what I remembered then When I knew not what I know now. How much has slipped away. Yet how much is given- Again and again.
A brief reminder I thought worth passing along.
“To marry in order to enjoy oneself more will never work. To put marriage — union with the person you love — as your main aim, replacing everything else, is a big mistake. And it’s obvious if you think about it. The aim is marriage. Well, you get married, and then what? If you have no other aim in life before marriage, then later on it will be terribly difficult, almost impossible for the two of you to find one. It’s almost certain that if you have no common aim before marriage, nothing will bring you together afterwards, and you will always be falling out. Marriage only brings happiness when there is a single aim — people meet on the road and say, ‘Let’s walk on together’; ‘yes, let’s!’ and offer one another their hands — and not when people are attracted to one another and then both turn off the road in different directions
Life is neither a vale of tears nor a circus of entertainment. Life is a place of service, where one sometimes has occasion to put up with a lot that is hard, but more often to experience a great many joys. Only there can only be real joys when people themselves understand their life as service: have a definite aim in life outside themselves and their own personal happiness. Usually married people forget this completely.
Marriage and the birth of children offer so many joyful things to look forward to that it seems that these things actually constitute life itself, but this is a dangerous delusion. If parents live and produce children without also having a life purpose, there will be nothing to point their children to or guide them along the way. And then they will lose their human qualities as children and the happiness linked with them, and become pedigree cattle.
Those intending to marry, even if their life seems full, need more than ever to think and make clear to themselves what each of them is living for. And in order to do this, it’s necessary to think, and to think hard about the conditions one lives in and about one’s past, to evaluate what one considers to be important and unimportant in life and to find out what one really believes in — i.e. what one considers the invariable, indisputable truth, and what one will be guided by in life. Otherwise one does not truly know what he believes in, or whether one believes it or not.
If life is service, then the “good” consists of love. In order to love I must first train myself to require as little as possible from others. Unless I do this, I will be inclined not to love but to reproach. This demands a lot of work. Second, in order to love I must do something useful for others. This involves even more work. Lastly, it is necessary to learn gentleness, humility and the art of enduring unpleasant people and unpleasant things, and whenever possible not to offend. This requires the most work of all, and work that is non-stop, from waking up to going to sleep. But this is the most joyful sort of work.
When considering marriage, therefore, a couple needs to think and live as lovingly as possible so that they can find out whether they are really going along the same road and whether or not it’s good for them to give each other the hand. If they are sincere, the thought of marriage will lead them to what is higher, to find ways to bring more love and truth into the world. They will marry because it will enable them to attain this aim. But once having chosen what is higher, it will be necessary for them to put their whole heart and soul into it, not just a little bit of oneself; a little bit is no use!”
-Tolstoy (Personal Correspondence)
I continue to go. I move on after periods of time much too short. My heart and mind know that this can’t be kept up forever. Since my freshman year of college, I don’t think I’ve remained in any one place for more than six months.
This last leave was half voluntary. California’s Rim Fire, the fourth largest in state history pushed us from our jobs and living arrangements to safer ground- the Yosemite Valley. Our season was clearly over. We were given a choice: to take new positions with Delaware North, or get out of dodge. I chose the latter. This choice brought me to Los Angeles weeks before my scheduled arrival.
It’s been wonderful seeing my brother. He’s been super hospitable, generous with his time, space and resources. As an RA at the University of Southern California, full-time student and part-time IT guy, he has plenty asked of him. Despite that, he’s been willing to put up with me.
The city and campus are very impressive. I can feel that I don’t belong here though. In a couple weeks, it will again be time to move on.
I wonder how this transitiveness affects myself and my view of others. I think I have a tendency to plunge to certain depths with persons whom I see a certain trait in much faster than is usually desired or is expected. I think there are times when I don’t want to put any effort at all into meeting or getting to know people. I think that there is a strange subtle reinforcing loneliness that I tend to embrace at times, rather than trying to put myself out there and surmount it.
Further, how do I serve others in the context of this semi-nomadism? What am I trying to achieve through this constant reshuffling of persons and surroundings? As a start, Tolstoy’s recommendations as far as service to others, and how to love and view them are spot-on: to require less, offer something useful and do such things with the right position of heart. There are major strains of Christianity that view service as being a matter of simply being polite with others, avoiding profanity and supporting worthy causes. A commitment to justice and loving others is held to, yet not tightly enough to raise eyebrows or cause discomfort. Although this does require work, and is a step in the right direction, it simply isn’t enough.
It’s the faith community’s equivalent of “green consumerism”. There are a plethora of companies making a killing based solely on the fact that there are many, many people who want to make beneficial changes in this world and their lives, yet lack understanding of a handful of primary natures: that of change, that of sustainability, that of labor, that of necessity, that of exploitation, that of subsidies and trade agreements, so on and so forth. What you end up with are unnecessary products with “green” labels being embraced by the public and furthering corporate profits and control, as well as abuses of the environment and human rights.
Tolstoy’s first admonition, to ask less of others or to need less, can be a clarion call for Emerson-style self-sufficiency or a heavier dependence upon God. One of these ends unhealthily. Those well-versed in self-reliance understand that the term is a misnomer. To depend on oneself for everything is dangerous-emotionally, physically, spiritually, etc. The other form of dependence however leads to a genuine back-and-forth, or “relationship”, something spoken and written of much in Christian circles, but not always present. I digress. Tolstoy’s admonition that we should ask less of our fellow humans and planet has gained in relevance exponentially since his passing.
Beyond getting rid of unnecessary burdens upon that and those which are outside of ourselves, the ability to offer something is imperative. To tear something down without offering a replacement or alternative is senseless. Negation and removal only get one so far. Being proactively beneficial requires understanding what is worth doing, creating, sustaining. As Tolstoy mentioned, it does require reflection and work. But it is a vocation worth pursuing.
The last step Tolstoy offers is one of the heart and discipline. This is the one Andrew Murray speaks so eloquently about (humility). It’s the one that ties Paul together with the sound of clanging cymbals (love). It’s the one that we are to known by (love). This is the one that we must find ourselves before we can offer it to others, and gives worth to all of our words and actions. It’s one that we in the Christian community tend to lack, myself especially.
These three concepts can, and should, fill a lifetime.
After Los Angeles, I’ll be heading for Lansing, MI. God willing, I’ll be:
1.) …living at an intentional community where members focus their time and lives towards knowing God and serving Him and His creation.
2.) …living an extremely spartan existence (first-world standards). In short, my “room” will be smaller than most bathrooms and sitting on four wheels.
3.) …interning at Lansing’s Refugee Development Center, hopefully working out aim #1.
And after that, I hope to attend a five month long farmer training program just outside of Fairbanks, Alaska.
In between the lines of the moves and rapid changes that I’m embarking on, I see what I am heading for. It’s slow going, but I think that it will be achieved. Something having to do with knowing what I believe, what should be done and what I have to offer. Although I’m tired of leaving people whom I don’t want to leave and meeting others knowing that that’s likely what lies ahead, I continue. To tie in Tolstoy’s primary subject matter, maybe someday I’ll meet someone on that same path- extend hands- and press on. Maybe not. I’m not sure it matters much.
“Understand: the task of an activist is not to negotiate systems of power with as much personal integrity as possible–it’s to dismantle those systems.” -L.K.
(liberalism vs. radicalism)
“Today I found out that I had been declined the Ahwahnee position because I wouldn’t be staying until November. At first I was bummed, because, well- that job would have paid very well, and that would have taken some stress out of returning to SAU. I’m now… thankful. Not thankful that I didn’t get the job. But thankful that my perspective was changed rather quickly. I’ve been thinking a lot about integrity, and doing the things that I believe are right despite having to turn down convenience. When it comes to that, there’s so much that I don’t understand. You know that. I talk about it often. I really liked the lines at the end of Never Cry Wolf- “In the end there were no simple answers. No heroes or villains; only silence.” Anyway- I had heard that this job would be high-stress, simply because of the clientele and the tip-based pay- but the more willing you are to play up to those with money and prestige, the more comfortable you’ll be. A microcosm of this world. Just yesterday I was telling someone here that I didn’t feel good about it, but I was obviously justifying it somehow. Well- I’m no longer in that position. I didn’t have the integrity to decline it myself, but now it’s been done for me. I don’t have the luxury of the “it’s only temporary and the ends will justify the means” perspective. I’m now free to be present and it wasn’t by my own power. And that’s one of the most powerful realizations that I think one can have. I can live now- love now-be here now, and it isn’t because of me. And that’s why I’m thankful. I have other options as far as jobs, and there are a few that involve doing something good. They pay less, but, “better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind.” I think this is a small step in the right direction, even though I wasn’t willing to take it myself in the first place.”
In late February of 2011, I made the trip that I’ll be making today. I arrived at the San Francisco International Airport, spend the night there, woke before dawn and took the BART to the Embarcadero, bought Amtrak tickets to Yosemite, enjoyed a bit of San Francisco and then rambled on into the park via a series of buses and trains. I’m thankful for the chance to do that very thing again. I’m looking forward to slow coffee in the airport (which I’m sure I’ll never be able to view in the same way again), people-watching and getting people-looked-at, briefly touching upon San Francisco (w/ aims of picking up some decent to good tea) and arriving in Yosemite, being hit with the fresh scent of what some would call “home”, and seeking out familiar faces.
Unfortunately, today I also leave Sandra Farms. I leave with fondness of heart as this mountain coffee plantation and roastery is wonderful, as are the owners- Israel and Sandra Gonzalez. They’ve been very good to me, and I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to become part of their livelihood and lives for this all too brief period of time. They’ve certainly lived quite the lives, and enjoy telling the stories of their experiences, whether they be of serving in the Peace Corps in Bolivia, escaping the Cuban revolution, the beginnings of becoming a specialty coffee producer, starting a family while living in the Bronx and attending Columbia Graduate School on $10 a week, and much, much more. Here are a few pictures from my stay. I still have a book to finish and a bit of packing left to do before I take off, so I’ll be leaving this one brief, and unfortunately, doing my stay a great injustice. Fantastic people, fantastic place, and I look forward to visiting again, and hope for others to be able to come along as well.
If you’d like more information on Sandra Farms Coffee, check out http://www.sandrafarms.com.
One of my Favorite Lookout Points
Coffee. Yet to ripen, yet to be picked. The aroma of the bloom is wonderful.
The Washing and Hulling Equipment. An Ecological Engineering Feat from Colombia. Fueled by last year’s coffee hulls, uses minute amounts of water, produces byproducts of a sugar that can be converted into ethanol and coffee mulch fertilizer.
Green beans in bulk. Heading to the co-op.
“Compassion constitutes a radical form of criticism, for it announces that the hurt [of poverty and hunger] is to be taken seriously, that the hurt is not to be accepted as normal and natural but is an abnormal and unacceptable condition of humanness. Therefore, hospitality in a society structured around profit margins and individualism constitutes not only resistance, but also offers an alternative.”
-Chris Crass, Towards a Non-Violent Society: A Position Paper on Anarchism, Social Change and Food Not Bombs