John, Step Away from the Code Editor!
I am a died-in-the-wool nerd. I love my computers, and I love learning to code. Left to my own devices, I will spend the better part of the day and night chopping away at the keyboard, trying to make something cool, or at least something that doesn’t suck. In this, there is danger, though.
Like most (I think) people who tend towards technical pursuits, I have an almost ADD addiction to the work/suffer/reward cycle that comes from busting my ass trying to get the machine to do what I want. Note, I say “do what I want,” because, as we know, the machine ALWAYS does exactly “what I say” to do, but that is not always what I “want.”
It is so easy for me to get up on a Saturday morning, crack open the internet and the code editor, and before I know it, it’s dark outside, and Saturday is gone. Then, do the same thing Sunday, and then start the work week again. I learn a lot. I “get things done” at work. I meet deadlines, and have experienced some modest professional success.
. . . learn to take some time each day to recognize how precious are the moments we have on this planet, and to appreciate that, for one more day, I woke up this morning and drew breath. For one more day, I have received the gift of being allowed to experience this world, and everything it has to offer.
What is it all Worth, Really?
When all is said and done, though, what is all that really worth? When I leave this planet, I can’t take any of it with me. The code we write is a nebulous, ephemeral thing which, at best, will be obsolete in a few years. Make no mistake – I recognize the importance of achievement, of securing financial stability for myself and those I care about, and to some degree, attaining sufficient material wealth to live comfortably and with minimal anxiety. But beyond that, what really matters?
. . . the most important things in life are the experiences we have . . . if you do it right, the most important stuff, in this context, is free . . .
About a decade ago, I was forced to take a long, hard look at the way I lived my life, and to begin a long, slow process of realizing what matters, and what doesn’t. The story behind that turning point in my life is outside the scope of this blog. But starting then, I learned to take some time each day to recognize how precious are the moments we have on this planet, and to appreciate that, for one more day, I woke up this morning and drew breath. For one more day, I have received the gift of being allowed to experience this world, and everything it has to offer.
Most importantly, to recognize that the most important things in life are the experiences we have, and that if you do it right, the most important stuff, in this context, is free. If we remember to go take it.
A walk through the neighborhood on a warm spring evening . . .
There is nothing like the rebirth of Spring, the smells in the air, and the temperate breeze. Often, we get in such a hurry, we forget to get out and ambulate through our environment, our neighborhood, the place we live.
Each evening, I try to get out and walk, and while walking, remain hyper-aware of the everyday, commonplace things around me that I might otherwise take for granted, or miss entirely.
The number of times one gets to experience Spring in this life is finite. Try not to miss the little things.
Teaching Someone how to Play the Guitar . . . or do it Yourself, Live . . .
“Music, whether played yourself or absorbed through active listening, has the power to change your psychic state . . .”
All of my life, music has held sway over me. My mother likes to tell the story of me at age 3, sitting on the floor next to the old turntable with my ear pressed against the speaker, listening intently to the massive snare and cello at the end of the Simon and Garfunkel classic “The Boxer.” In my early teens, I learned to play the guitar, and since then, music has been my solace, passion, and escape. In my twenties, I found the sheer, addicting exhilaration of playing, at high volume, to large appreciative audiences. There is truly nothing like it.
Now, in middle age, I find the utmost reward in teaching the step-children to play, and in passing well-loved and well-played instruments on to a new generation. My much-loved black Fender Stratocaster (seen in the hands of the youngest step-child, above) was handed down last year (to the same step daughter. No worries – I replaced it with a new pearl white one!).
Music, whether played yourself or absorbed through active listening, has the power to change your psychic state. Passing that passion on to another, and sharing the impact music can have on your life is priceless.
. . . The Exhilaration of the Breeze off the Pacific Ocean
“Standing on the Westernmost edge of the American continent, gazing out across the largest ocean in the world, it is easy to remember how small we really are in the big scheme of things . . .”
I have been to three coasts in my lifetime (so far), but none creates for me the same sense of peace as the Northwest Pacific Coast. Standing on the Westernmost edge of the American continent, gazing out across the largest ocean in the world, it is easy to remember how small we really are in the big scheme of things. Important to keep in mind, as it is so very easy to mentally overstate our own importance, and the seeming importance of the petty events which make up our daily lives.
Of course, it’s also a great place to spend time with friends and family.
Do you have a sea coast? A place where you can feel small, and recognize that is the way it is supposed to be?
Fall at Concordia Seminary in the St. Louis Suburbs . . .
Fall is a universal season. But growing up in the American Pacific Northwest, I had never experienced the exceptional explosion of color such as I saw when I moved to St. Louis, Missouri.
The days remained temperate (sometimes, even warm), but a chill was in the air as the deciduous trees on the grounds of Concordia Seminary here in Clayton (a suburb, in a way, of St. Louis) performed their annual magic show.
It was at this point I recognized that, while Portland, Oregon, will always be “home,” there is a natural beauty to every part of the world. It’s all a matter of looking from the right perspective.
Here in the middle of the country, I feel far from my home, friends, and family. But I get to experience the fall in a way I never have before.
And that’s a treat.
. . . A Sunset at the Gulf Coast of Alabama in Mid-August . . .
In the Summer of 2012, I was afforded the opportunity to visit the Gulf Coast of Alabama for a week. After a fascinating drive through the deepest parts of Mississippi, we arrived. The Gulf is unlike the Pacific beaches back home. The heat and near-tropical humidity gave an entirely different feel. The oil rigs operating offshore added a synthetic enhancement to the skyline. And as the sun sets through the moist, humid southern air, the sky takes on a fascinating palette of pastel colors, while a warm breeze picks up.
The culture along the gulf coast, while definitely American, also had its own flavor. And you haven’t had gumbo until you’ve had it prepared at a mom-and-pop restaurant here in the place of its origin.
The Monuments We make . . .
For me, just as it is important to remember how small mankind is in the big scheme of things, it is equally important to remember that we are capable of great victories, despite the laws of nature, and despite seemingly impossible odds.
How DOES one construct a 600 + foot high catenary arch of stainless steel?
While the monuments our species has created over the millennia might be seen as a grand delusion of our own self-importance, they can also serve to remind us as individuals that we are part of a greater whole, That whole, small though it may be on the universal scale of things, is greater than the sum of its parts, and capable of great things.
We all leave this planet with exactly what we brought into it – nothing, and alone. But when the last of us is gone, there will remain, for a time, some evidence we were here, and that we conquered some of the most basic forces of nature and subjugated them to our will, more so than any creature which inhabited this planet before us.
The People in our Life
It’s really easy to get caught up in the frantic here and now, in chasing professional success, material or monetary gain, or other ephemeral “things.” I doubt anyone has ever said, on their deathbed, “If only I had worked more”.
No one will ever accuse me of being a “people person.” However, as I grow older, I find that the people in my life, from various times and places, have made it what it is today.
Studies of how people experience happiness have shown that, while acquiring shiny new things provides a transitory jolt of seeming satisfaction, it is not lasting, and the individual moves on to seek the next thing. On the other hand, shared experiences, such as camping with friends, vacations with family, and some of the things I describe throughout this post are the type of thing which create lasting memories, and ultimately, a full life.
To quote something I found on the inter-webs recently, Life is a one-time offer. Best get it right. TO me that means making the most of the time we have with the people in our lives. Often, the people in our lives are complete strangers whom we have not taken the opportunity to know better yet.
When you leave this world, would the story of your life make a great movie? To quote the philosopher Morrison:
“Is everybody in? Is everybody in? Is everybody in? The ceremony is about to begin. The entertainment for this evening is not new, you’ve seen this entertainment through and through you have seen your birth, your life, your death….you may recall all the rest. Did you have a good world when you died? -enough to base a movie on??”
– Jim Morrison, An American Prayer