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Hello, World

It's been a while. I'd almost forgotten that this existed - and I'm not terribly sure that anyone would read anymore. So, it feels pretty safe just to speak into the wind, as it were. A place to be completely honest about things again, even if no one was listening.

So, hello. It's me again. Or, by now, I'd say that it's a different me than the one who wrote last time. Lots of things have changed since then. New members of the family, two new jobs, a new passion, and perhaps a new lease on life from time to time. Plenty of wandering in the darkness, even more solitude, discovery and re-discovery alike. A bit like finding out who I used to be - someone forgotten from long ago. And, I suppose, after the terrible year that 2016 turned out to be, this missive is a closing paragraph to a soon-to-be-forgotten chapter of my own history.

The stats:

Four new nieces and nephews (two each). They're busy, exhausting even. Doing babysitting while staying with my parents during Christmastime...well, let's just say that Walt Disney and I became fairly well acquainted. I'm a touch ambivalent about having kids myself, mostly because I don't know if I could keep up with it all, but there's supposed to be something different when it's your own progeny running around screaming. The oldest niece is a real hoot, though - getting her to laugh while saying "I'm not food!", now that's priceless.

New job pays triple what the old one used to. I'm officially a member of the 10% club. Add that to being somewhat hoarder-like with my own savings and you have someone who is doing better financially than he could have ever dreamed. Growing up poor, with the memories of forlorn birthdays and empty Christmas trees, being (relatively) wealthy is something I can't quite wrap my head around. At the same time, I can't stand it. Work is soulless, physically draining (desk job), and the monotony kills me daily. I miss sunlight and fear the onset of cardiovascular disease. I'd rather be less well off and happier doing something that actually makes a difference, even if it involved heavy amounts of manual labor or ran at a more breakneck pace. Boredom is doing me in, so much that I find myself missing school.

Perhaps it's time to go back for a graduate degree, at least for a change of scenery. Fortunately, computer science graduate studies are a pretty good investment, so I don't fear making that leap too much.

But what I find myself missing the most is home. Thirteen and a half years I've been out here, two thousand miles from the closest blood relative. Every time I get on the airplane after Christmas is done, I feel relief from the chaos but simultaneously a pang of homesickness. On today's flight, it was nothing but homesickness - an emotion I've really not encountered since boot camp all those years ago. I find myself not wanting to be here anymore; it's just too much. I'm tired of being alone, of having nowhere I really call home, of waiting for something to happen and then hearing only silence. It's time for action.

Healing

Something is different tonight.

I did something scary. Something I've worried about, something I've feared. And yet I know it was the right thing.

For the first time, I told someone how I really felt. And while the timing wasn't perhaps ideal, the fact that this was even possible astounds me. I don't know where this is going now, it's out of my hands - and perhaps not coincidental that my preparations to leave this place are coming to fruition at about the same time.

I think that I've finally started learning the lesson I came here to learn, just in time for the next great adventure of life to commence. And wherever the winds may take me, let the way be swift and sure to the horizon.

The Prodigal Returns

It's been eleven years - I think it's finally time to go home. I am a far different man now than when I left; an entire lifetime has passed since then. Time to go confront something I've been running from, time to accept what really happened. Time to heal and time to be reborn. Time to admit the truth I've denied for so long. Time to let life happen instead of forcing its hand.

FYI - my permanent retirement orders came in; no more waiting on the military bureaucracy. All ties are cut.

Expectations

Perhaps the old adage is true - you have to lose something in order to appreciate it. And because I can be so reluctant to see things, I lose them without ever knowing I had them. I think this is a lesson I am doomed to repeat ad infinitum, all while those around me lose patience, waiting for me to break samsara.

Scruffy-Lookin'

Ever since Savior wrapped up, I've been unable to let go of something. I just can't succumb, despite many years of protestations that I would never do such a thing.

You see, to look like a first century Jew, I had to grow my beard out. And now that I don't need to have it on anymore, I am under no obligation to keep one on my face. So why, a month later, do I still need a shave?

I don't know. And I really don't care. To pardon the terrible pun, I suppose you could say that it has "grown" on me.

Har, har, har - a joke so bad I think even my father might cringe. And yet I know that he would appreciate that one.

So then it was only fitting that I take my hirsute self to my first - and likely only - NASCAR event this past weekend, largely at the behest of my roommate who promised some good "redneck watching" experiences. After several long hours in the car on the way to the Speedway, I experienced the "joy" of hearing jet engines scream around a one-mile oval until my sternum started permanently vibrating. I'm not entirely sure why people like going to see these races in person, especially with friends/family - conversation with someone is rather pointless if you're still going deaf even while wearing earplugs.

Oh well. At least there were a few fires/wrecks to break the monotony. And the characters in the crowd were enough to keep everyone entertained, especially the "friendly gentleman" sitting a few rows down whose behavior was sufficiently comically obscene to be worth the price of admission. Plus, with the beard and an old Army hat, I think I managed to blend into the crowd decently enough.

I have nothing against the sport, personally - it's just not for me. I think I'll stick to climbing. Which, by the way, is going fantastically - top-rope at 5.11b this week, and my second and third Trad Lead climbs. We're on track for Yosemite, provided all goes well.

Theophany

Some experiences fade with time; I hope that this one never fully leaves me.

Setting: Sunday, 30 March 2014

Tonight is different from the others, overshadowed with a presence ineffable - a feeling so powerful that it fills the theater. I am backstage, listening to "Mary Magdalene" sing her aria. Beyond the curtains I hear the muffled sniffles of both audience and cast. Many weep openly. The words, faithfully plaintive but filled with lamentation, cleave my heart in two:

Where is He who dried the tears

Of the suff’ring soul?

Where is He who stayed our fears,

He who made us whole?

He who healed the broken heart,

He who calmed the storm,

He who came to save us all,

Where is He this morn?

That same question, "Where were you?" echoes deep into my soul, for I have asked it many times before. And in that moment, I feel the loneliness resurface. Yes, God, where were you?
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Nearly twenty-one years have elapsed since I first learned just how cruel humans can really be towards each other. Twenty-one years since coming home to an empty house. Twenty-one years since life taught me who can really be trusted (no one), where love really comes from (no where), and who will be there when you really need them (just yourself). Twenty-one years of abusers, of traitors, of people without conscience - or even worse, those whose consciences were telling them that they were acting "for the greater good". Twenty-one years of tenuously believing in God, but "realizing" that all I could really expect from Him was the occasional token morsel with the expectation that I had to work everything out myself. Twenty-one years of assuming that God was a parent who watched but didn't really intervene, who had no comforting thing to say except for telling me to "suck it up".

Twenty-one years of hearing the voices in my head say, "you're a failure, you will always be one, your last success was not enough and you're only as good as the last time you screwed up" - and then attempting furiously to prove them wrong. Twenty-one years of defensiveness, of trying to prove my worth to people with every interaction, of walking the tightrope of over the Canyon of Instant Ostracization. Twenty-one years of pushing the Sisyphean stone. Twenty-one years of pounding at the door that never opened.

Well, doors have doorknobs. I have been pounding too loudly to hear the voice on the other side saying, "Come on in, it's unlocked."
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"Mary Magdalene" finishes her aria, and I also weep. My heart breaks for the childhood I lost, the friends I might have had, the love that I shut out. And in the midst of tears, I look through the scaffolding on set to see "Him" - or at least, the actor portraying Him - waiting in the wings.
In my mind, I seem to hear His response. "Here I am. And yet, you do not see me, at least not clearly. Will you not look and see?"

The next few scenes are a blur as I await my cue, finally entering the stage to express Thomas's doubt and dismay at having been left out of the miracles. "Am I not worthy?" he exclaims? "How can I be a witness of something I haven't seen? Except I shall see, I will not believe." And as I begin to sing his lament, my voice breaks down, filled with the sense of regret, of shame and guilt, of rejection from the Lord he served. In this moment, his shame is mine, for I feel each of those long years coming out in every quivering note. I finish, my heart heavy and broken once again.

"Peter" then convinces "Thomas" to hold true, to remember that seeing is not enough, and Thomas is convinced that if he cannot have the miracle himself, he will at least be a witness to what he has seen. I sing again, a faithful lament this time, still somewhat sorrowful, but loyal and accepting of what has been as well as what may yet be.
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All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

Sometimes - maybe every time, for that appears to be the purpose of this life - we are called to pass through sorrow that we may know true joy. And though we may wander for a season, perhaps many seasons, yet we are still of worth. We are still loved. And the door is still unlocked, that we may enter. Sometimes, He is just waiting in the wings.

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The stage blacks out once again. A "week" passes in a few moments, and Thomas stands once again at center stage, resigned but hopeful. He is willing to wait, as long as necessary, for his miracle. He has accepted it, and accepted the fact that God did not withhold from him for any other reason than to prove his faith. And then, in that most transcendent of moments for this seemingly abandoned soul, the Master appears at the door. Thomas, numb with shock and utter disbelief, finds that he must recant his insistent proclamation, for now he DOES see, and yet cannot believe his own eyes.

"Reach hither thy finger and behold my hands, and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side, and be not faithless, but believing."

Now, in this moment, in front of nearly seven hundred people and under the harsh spotlights, I find that it is no longer Thomas feeling the nail prints, but me. This is a moment between a man who thought himself forsaken, and the Lord who - in very deed - was never far away, only waiting in the wings. In my mind, I do not see the face of actor, nor the prosthetic marks in his palms, but the very Word made Flesh standing before me. And now it is real. It is He who raises me from the ground, He who reminds me of the blessing of seeing and believing, then reminding me that I did not see, and yet had enough faith to stand firm.

"Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed."

Again, I weep - soul-shaking sorrow mixed with fire and inexpressible joy consume me.

Of my experience, I can say only this - that when the day comes when I do meet Him in person, I shall not know any better then than I do now that He lives.

Acting and Truth

To doubt is human; faith requires effort that, most often, we as mere
mortals fail to muster. And yet it is that faith, that hope which provides
the sustenance we require, the rational we must entertain to avoid simply
resigning in defeat. And when our life's choices call upon us to confront
our doubts head-on, how often do we shrink away?

As such, I sympathize with St. Thomas the Doubter, whose manifest
apprehension at hearing of the empty tomb on Easter Morning is not only
profoundly natural, but also completely expected.

When my stake announced that they were putting on a presentation of Savior of the
World
, I went to the audition at the personal request of my friends,
several of whom were semi-professional singers. Having just started vocal
lessons, I confess that I was a bit apprehensive about the whole "singing
alone in front of several hundred people" part, and even more so about the
acting. Coming from a school that had only one major in the arts, (versus
thirty in the physical sciences and engineering disciplines), suffice it to
say that the closest I ever came to public performance in such a situation
was standing in front of the company formation before breakfast.
Nevertheless, I managed to impress the director, and on the spot, was
awarded the part of Thomas.

The scene, occurring as it is written in scripture, concerns itself
primarily with the events of Holy Week; Thomas's role primarily features
his skepticism and dismay that everyone else has seen miracles, but he is
left alone - a witness to everyone else's joy but not a participant
himself. The Aria ("Except I Shall See") is dejected, distrustful,
mournful in the first part; resigned but loyal in the second; and finally,
with the revelation and personal visitation, exuberant at the end, his
meager attempts at faith at last rewarded.

In that vein, as I attempt to portray all the tumultuous emotions -
loyalty, fear, faith, doubt - I find them clashing against the beliefs I
have about myself, my life, my future. The faith ("everything will work
out") against the fear and doubt ("why me?", "do I deserve this, and if so,
what did I do wrong?"). It leaves me a near-wreck at the end of each
rehearsal, and at times, I don't know how much more I have left to give.

Here is the truism that seems to manifest itself: fear, doubt - they are
natural. They are even expected at times. Yet they are raging storms,
thrashing against that dwindling particle of hope cowering under flimsy
cover. They threaten to consume me at times, ever tempting with the
siren's call: "Just give up, you can't win this one. You have already
lost. Ahead only lies rejection, dejection, and humiliation; you well know
this, as broken promises litter your memories."

In these times, peace is elusive.

And yet, I still have moments of peace. I still see the possibilities, the
remnants of goodness in human nature. I see what I hope for, and sometimes
that is enough to get me through another restless night. There are people
I can still trust.

There is hope. And there may yet come the day when I will hear the words,
"Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed."

One Thousand Feet

Ever have moments where you look around, completely flabbergasted at the situation you now confront?

That was Saturday afternoon. And in this case, my existence rather tenuously depended on a few straps of nylon girth-hitched to a small, scraggly pine tree. Winds whipped against my face, winter-chilled and chapping, as I fed another two hundred feet of braided nylon through a small block of machined aluminum. Nearly one hundred and fifty feet below, my friend began the treacherous ascent to join me at the top of an exposed ridge line.

There's something about cheating death on a regular basis - when you're twenty five feet from the next bolt, when only the tiniest bits of rock flake mean the difference between you and a head-over-heels tumble down the side of a very steep mountain, when you are praying that the aforementioned tree doesn't decide to uproot and take you down gravity's path - those are the times when you realize how alive you are. Every gingerly-placed footstep, every grasping scrabble for a handhold, every breath and every twitch are microseconds and millimeters from danger. With each synapse focusing on surviving mortal peril, time stops, thoughts clear, and the world fades to nothing.

And then, upon reaching the last anchor and clipping in, stopping, and viewing the majesty of late Eastern autumn, you understand why people do this.

Unfortunately, on the hike back down, laden with fifty pounds of climbing gear, I somehow manage to roll my ankle severely enough that I'm probably not climbing this week. At least if I messed up the ligaments DURING a climb, I'd have a good story to tell. No, it had to be a leaf-covered stone in the middle of the trail back to the parking lot.

Getting Back in the Saddle

Well, Internet, it’s been a long time. Time enough for me to come out of hiding. And boy, it has been an eventful two years. I’ve not written anything substantial in all the time I’ve been under the radar, so I’m a bit apprehensive as to how this is going to turn out. If you notice deficiencies in my writing style – I guess that’s just the effect of long-term verbal atrophy.

As far as updates go, well I’m not really sure where to start. I could talk about my emotional divorce from the Army, my rather pathetic attempts at stumbling into romantic relationships, my triumphs at work, or even the muddling mess that has been my medical history. I suppose the real treat would be writing about LDS singles wards, an incomprehensible labyrinth of social subterfuge, where everyone is desperately trying to get each other married off, in the most (in)conspicuous manner possible. When everyone lives, works, and worships in such tight quarters, news travels fast, and privacy is an illusion.

This is challenging for a man whose preferred state of being is a relatively anonymous one. Of course, my tech and military background combine to make me professionally paranoid, so the fact that I have little control over my own information frustrates me to no end. But first things first: the updates.

The docs have taken MS off the table, due to no growth in the ten-or-so lesions already present in my brain. Hey, no change is a good thing at this point. I still have bizarre symptoms, but they’re manageable, and (for the moment) not getting any worse. In the meantime, I’m off the immunomodulator medications until further notice. The official diagnosis is “demyelinating disease not otherwise specified” or something like that; at least until the Army docs decide to change their mind. But for the time being, I’m still a retired Lieutenant, and that means I get TRICARE instead of dealing with the debacle that is modern American Health Care. Other than that, no comment – I am profoundly apolitical, and I intend to stay that way.

About the Army – after hearing the medical reversal, I’d been contemplating the idea of getting back in. To that end, I travelled back up to the Academy back in May, to meet with some colleagues and figure out some options. After arriving, I discovered a growing knowledge building in my mind – a “knowing” if you will – that as much as it had been a part of my life, I had to let it go. And while watching the cadets bustle around the main Post area, I understood (perhaps for the very first time) that I didn’t want it anymore. I didn’t want to go back there, I wasn’t even really a part of it, and that all those accumulated memories would forever stay that way, as just memories. I have my own life to build now, and the Academy is no longer a part of it.

Most importantly, in a way I can’t fully explain, I knew that God didn’t want me there, either. And as I was driving back home, I felt the words come into my heart:

“Let it go.”

And so I did. Besides, there are new challenges that await me. For example:

I’ve taken up Rock Climbing in the meantime, in a serious way. In response to the mind-numbing boredom that was 2009 – 2011, I figure that cheating death two or three times a week will make up for it. There is something surreal about hanging by your fingertips, forty feet off the ground, knowing that if you let go, you’re going to travel twenty feet through the air before the rope finally arrests your momentum. And when conscious thought has a moment to catch up with the “holy-@#$%-I’m-still-alive” feeling racing through every nerve fiber, all you can think about is how amazing that life is.

Contradictory, I know - yet addicting.

With that comes a new goal of sorts – climb El Capitain, at least once in my lifetime.

Also, I’ve started taking voice lessons. After singing in choirs for a number of years, including the Glee Club for a while, I took the advice of one of my friends here – herself a semi-professional jazz singer – and started getting Classical Opera voice training. It’s been a very physical experience, as I’ve never felt so worn out after an hour of doing scales over and over again. According to my teacher, himself a vocal teacher at one of the local universities (and an accomplished tenor), I have the natural ability to produce good vocal tone. (He was pretty giddy at the end of the first lesson.)

So, as a newly christened bass-baritone, with a range somewhere from low-C to G-above-middle-C, there are a multitude of possible roles coming up in the near future. I’ll be starting some local performances with my teacher’s opera company, mostly community productions for now, but if I get the chance to do some bigger stuff, I’ll take it. Although – realistically – it could be a few years before I get really good. After all, I’m only doing this for fun.

I suppose that it’s about time I started learning Italian and German, or at least how to pronounce such.

In the meantime, my personal life has been chaotic. All those years in social isolation made my arrival in the local LDS singles ward more stressful than I previously imagined. It’s still too much at times, I still get overwhelmed by the number of people (over 200) and the rules of engagement mystify me. I was never one for subtlety, but my peers seem to have mastered the art.

All in all, I’ve had several attempts at dating and one success at landing a girlfriend. The one success didn’t end well, when she told me she loved me after only two weeks, then made a soft marriage proposal. Needless to say, I felt it was just a bit too rushed and told her that I wasn’t going to take things quite so quickly. We are no longer dating.

The twist was that she was a (young) Army psychiatrist. I should have realized that it wasn’t going to go well, especially since I already knew that I wasn’t going back in to the military. But this was the first time that someone ever really came on strong to me, and I responded in kind, before figuring out way too late that it was a bad idea.

I guess my naiveté shows. Oh well, a very hard lesson learned. Still a dork at heart, I suppose.

There’s more to all of this, of course. When I have the time to really sit down and chronicle it all out, I’ll certainly do so. Nevertheless, I’m happy to report that, for the first time in two years, I’m at peace with my life, my past, and about where the future is heading. Things may not have always been easy, but they’re going in the right direction. I code, climb, sing, and couldn’t complain any.