Archive for January, 2014

Real Happiness

Last night a number of members from the ERT gathered to hang out and eventually put in a movie to watch.  While we have traditionally watched movies starring Patrick Swayze, we have fallen off the band-wagon and begun exploring other adventures.  Last night, we decided on the movie “Into The Wild.”

Since the last time I wrote about this movie, I have read Jon Krakauer’s book of the same title.  I’ve explored the vastness of my heart, searching for love, happiness, and a way to share my own story.  I wrote once that I thought I knew what drove Christopher Johnson McCandless to seek out the harmony of the wild lands that surround us.  I thought I understood why he abandoned his life and recreated himself.

But each time I read the words left behind or watch the movie that was made about his life, I find myself realizing how different we are.  He and I are nothing alike and our stories are barely an echo of one another.

In what many believe to be his last words and thoughts (as shown in the movie), his wisdom is revealed to be flawed as he discovers what he has been missing for so long.  I don’t know what he was thinking as he lay there dying of starvation, but I wonder if his thoughts wandered to all those he left behind:  His sister.  Jan Burres and Bob.  Ron Franz.  Tracy.  And maybe even his parents.

Next to a passage in Doctor Zhivago that read “And so it turned out that only a life similar to the life of those around us, merging with it without a ripple, is genuine life, and that an unshared happiness is nor happiness … And this was most vexing of all,” he wrote the following:

HAPPINESS ONLY REAL WHEN SHARED

The story of McCandless is not a happy one.  Each time I see the movie, I wonder why he couldn’t see what was in front of him the entire time.  So many people loved him, but each time he walked away from them he had convinced himself that the only way he could ever be happy was to find himself in the vast expanse of the Alaskan frontier.

We can learn something from his journey:  embrace the moment and love those that surround you.

There is a prayer that I read on the walls of the Agule Community Health Center.  I don’t know who said it originally but it goes as follows:

LORD, I shall pass through this world once – anyone I can help, any good thing I can do; help me do it now for I shall not pass this way again.

Every day that prayer echoes in my heart, and I continue the prayer replacing the word “help” with the simple four letter word that we all fear: LOVE.

We only have one chance to share our love before we pass through the moment.  And that is the only way we can find true happiness; to share it with those around us.

I struggle with that.  Opening myself up and allowing others to see me for who I truly am.  I like my solitude.  But at the same time, I know that I am not truly happy unless I am sharing my life with those around me, loving others to my fullest ability.  It’s not something that comes easily for me (and many others that I know), but we were created in  the image of God and need community to truly live.

So, I’ll leave you with the words of Alexander Supertramp: “Happiness only real when shared.”

God Bless and PEACE

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Living With Our Cages

‘Lord,’ she [Lady Eowyn] said, ‘if you must go, then let me ride in your following.  For I am weary of skulking in the hills, and wish to face peril and battle.’
.        ‘Your duty is with your people,’ he [Aragorn] answered.
.        ‘Too often have I heard of duty,’ she cried.  ‘But am I not of the House of Eorl, a shieldmaiden and not a dry-nurse?  I have waited on faltering feet long enough.  Since they falter no longer, it seems, may I not now spend my life as I will?’
.         ‘Few may do that with honour,’ he answered.  ‘But as for you, lady; did you not accept the charge to govern the people until their lord’s return?  If you had not been chosen, then some marshal or captain would have been set in the same place, and he could not ride away from his charge, were he weary of it or no.’
.         ‘Shall I always be chosen?’ she said bitterly.  ‘Shall I always be left behind when the Riders depart, to mind the house while they win renown, and find food and beds when they return?’
.         ‘A time may come soon,’ he said, ‘when none will return.  Then there will be need of valour without renown, for none shall remember the deeds that are done in the last defence of your homes.  Yet the deeds will not be less valiant because they are unpraised.’
.         And she answered: ‘All your words are but to say: you are a woman, and your part is in the house.  But when the men have died in battle and honour, you have leave to be burned in the house, for the men will need it no more.  But I am of the House of Eorl and not a serving-woman.  I can ride and wield blade, and I do not fear either pain or death.’
.         ‘What do you fear, lady?’ he asked.
.         ‘A cage,’ she said.  ‘To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.’
.      – Excerpt from The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien

I came across this passage while rereading the greatest adventure that has ever been written after many long years.  The last time I read these words was when the movie, The Fellowship of the Ring, first came out, and since then I have forgotten most of the details of the journey.  And much of what I remember has been warped by the plot of the movies that takes its own twists and turns.

If the makers of the movies had been true to the story and the characters within, we wouldn’t forget how powerful the words have become.  They strike true in the heart and resound throughout our lives.

Lady Eowyn’s words echo true in my heart.  I fear being caught in a cage.  To be restrained by the responsibilities of life.  To be tied to a single place or time.  To grow old knowing that adventure was within my grasp and I let it slip through my fingers.  To become content with a ‘normal’ life.

I am an adventurer.  A self-proclaimed nomad.  And I fear the day when I won’t be able to travel and respond to the calls of my heart to find new places, see new sights, visit long-lost friends, and share my story with others.

The cage takes many forms:  Expectations.  Money.  Jobs.  Commitments.  Duty.

I believe that we all have our cages that we fear.  Too many of us have already accepted them.  They close us off and have forced us into apathy.  We feel that our lives are at a standstill and nothing we do will be capable of getting us free.

But we are wrong.

As Lady Eowyn lay in the House of Healing, we learn of the power of hope and healing.  The cage does not have to contain us, unless we sit idle and allow it too.  She took up the sword and rode with the Rohirrm.  She slayed the Black Rider, Lord of the Nazgul.  Her deeds set her among the queens of great renown.  And while she lay there bewitched by despair, only hope could heal her.

We too can escape from the chains of our cages.  While hope is a start, it takes action.  Courage to take the first step in following the cries of the heart, the calling of God.

Just some thoughts….

God Bless and PEACE

The Difference in Leadership

Somebody asked me the other day what the difference was between all the other AmeriCorps programs that I have served with and the Emergency Response Team.  The list goes on and on, but as I stood there thinking for a politically correct answer, I kept on coming back to the same thought: The difference comes down to the leadership of the program.

Don’t get me wrong, I have loved every moment of my time in AmeriCorps.  Each program has both it’s strengths and weaknesses.  I had amazing supervisors and leaders while with NCCC and FEMA Corps, but there is something different about how the ERT is set up.

In NCCC, teams are set up with a Team Leader (TL) and Corps Members (CMs).  There are different titles.  Differences in pay.  Differences in training.  Mindsets.  Attitudes.  The system allows for it.  Supports it.  The TL has more responsibility.  They are in charge of the finances and reports, enforcing the rules and maintaining team integrity, and maintaining communication with project sponsors and support staff back on campus.

The difference with the ERT is that we are all on the same, level playing field.  We each bring out experiences to the table, but nobody is truly above the rest.  With the exception of the Fellows who help to run the office (and are on their 3rd or higher  year), that is the only difference.  Experience.

Yes, we have second years, but they work side by side with us (as with most of the Fellows), passing on their knowledge and experience out in the field.  We first years work alongside them, learning from them and passing our knowledge on to them as well.

That is the power of leadership.  It’s not in a position or title, it is found within the humility to serve and teach, to watch and listen, and (many times) to step back and allow others to make mistakes.  No one was born a leader, despite what some may claim, but we learn to lead through following, then stepping up to work beside one another.  In very few cases do leaders ever put themselves ahead of others.

I once believed I knew what leadership was after leading my team through their year of FEMA Corps, but I have come to realize that I still have much to learn from those that work beside me and share their experiences, just as I share my own.

God Bless and PEACE

A Letter to Those Left Behind

Last night, I wrote about heroes and those brave men and women who sacrifice everything to save the life of another.  I wrote for those who have stood on the edge of darkness and turned back to the light of hope.  But there is a sad truth in the world we live in today:  Heroes fall and the greatest of the legends fail.

We live in a world that is broken.  The unfortunate fact is this, that death’s presence is constantly in our lives.  I am not naïve enough to think that good men are immune to the cold grip of death.  Brothers and sisters.  Mothers and fathers.  Friends and family.  We see it too often in the lives of those closest to us.  I’ve seen it too often in the lives of dear friends both new and old.

This writing isn’t for them, but for those left behind in the silence.  A letter to those I love that have had people close to their hearts ripped away from them…

I may have never met the one your tears fall for, but I see that their life has made a difference.  I may not know who they are or what they did, but I am thankful for the part they played in your life.  Without them, you wouldn’t be the man or woman you are.  They helped to shape you, and you have embraced me as a brother, so I honor the work they did.

There is nothing I can say that will sooth the ache in your heart.  No amount of words will fill the hole that they have left behind.  I see that, so I’ll keep this short.

It’s never going to be easy.  The upcoming days are going to be the hardest you have ever faced.  Each morning you are going to have to face the day with them no longer at your side.  No one will fill their place.  At times you will hear their voice, or catch a glimpse of them in a crowd, or smell the lingering hint of the presence of what they left behind, and it will all come crashing back.  There will be times you wake up only to remember that they are no longer there beside you as you reach out for them.

It’s going to hurt.  It’s going to be difficult.  But remember that you are not alone in this.  There will always be people who love you and that are here for you.  We will never be able to replace the love that was lost, but know that I am here, I will always be here for you.

With love, your brother in Christ.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

As we begin a new year, take time to thank all the heroes in your life.  Let them know that you love them and will always be there for them.

God Bless and PEACE

Heroes

There is a scene at the end of the movie Black Hawk Down in which one of the characters talks about what it takes to be a hero.  After witnessing some of his closest friends lose their lives in the field of combat he states the following:

A friend of mine asked me before I got here, just when we were all shipping out.  He asked me “Why are you going to fight somebody else’s war?  What, do y’all think you’re heroes?”  I didn’t know what to say at the time, but if he asked me again, I’d say “No.” I’d say there is no way in Hell.  Nobody asks to be a hero.  It just sometimes turns out that way.

We are surrounded by a society that idolizes its heroes.  We have superheroes and comic books.  Movies about war and violence, good triumphing over evil.  We are surrounded by stories of the good man winning.  Or dying in the process.  And we stand here asking ourselves what it takes to be a hero.

I have encountered many heroes in my life.  Not many of them wear the title as a badge of honor, it’s just something that they do.  I was born and raised on Army bases where my father and many family friends served and still serve.  I have known people who, in times of desperation, put their own lives in danger to save others.  I worked alongside a humble man who was responsible for saving the lives of countless survivors in the wake of Joplin.  I have a brother and several friends who serve and work as paramedics, firefighters, and police officers, saving the lives of others each and every day.

These men and women are all heroes.  But there are countless more that we will never know about.

Each day we are faced with challenges, trials, and our own personal demons.  Each day every single one of us must face the darkness within ourselves.  Many of us no longer recognize it, we just move on with our lives.  But for hundreds out there, each day is a battle to struggle forward.

Over the past week, I’ve found myself hearing a song, truly hearing it, for the first time.

Heroes are made when you make a choice
– Hero, by Superchick

It’s a beautiful song with a beautiful message.  It speaks about making the choice to continue on.  To stand up for those who are struggling.  To lend a hand to those that are experiencing the darkness of their soul, standing on the edge asking themselves if they should jump.

Each day we make a thousand choices.  And you never know when (or if) one of those choices will save someone’s life.

There was a time when we knew what the right thing to do was, but it’s becoming harder and harder to be the everyday hero.  Our society tells us to keep going.  To move forward.  To focus on yourself.  But heroes learn to live for others.

As the year is beginning, make the conscious effort to notice those around you and become the hero God has made you to be.

God Bless and PEACE