Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Loss of a Gift

My friend lost his father to a heart attack the other day. I wasn't particularly close to his dad but for some reason the death is hitting me hard. Perhaps it was because it was so sudden, he was in good health and relatively young. Perhaps because it reminds me how unexpectedly your life can change. It makes me realize how precious the time that I have with my own family is and how quickly it can be taken away. Mostly I am overwhelmed with trying to understand why. Why in a world filled with so much evil was a man that was so incredibly good taken so early?

Kirk Gumz was a giver. He was heavily involved in his boy's lives and personal pursuits including the high school marching band and the boy scouts. At any one moment you could find him repairing tubas, building uniform carts, fabricating a lift for the the back of the bands equipment trailer or building drum line props. He helped with eagle scout projects, loaded band equipment on show days, helped find people cars or fixed their cars. He could do anything and whats more important he would do anything. He was the epitome of generous. Albert Pine wrote, "What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and the world remains and is immortal".

Mr. Gumz will not only live on in his actions but in the hearts and minds of those who witnessed his remarkable ability and desire to give. He was an inspiration and an example to countless students and parents. He will be missed but never forgotten.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Night Owl No Longer... In My Dreams

images.jpgFor some time I have been setting my alarm for seven am with the promise to my self that I will wake up and go for a run, do some yoga, watch the sun rise, hit the gym. At first I simply hit the snooze, then I started putting my alarm on the other side of the room. This simply meant I had to walk farther to hit the off button and go back to bed. I tried having friends call me early in the morning to wake me up and I simply wake up earlier than they are supposed to call and turn off my phone... or go back to sleep as soon as I hang up. There has only been one occasion where I got up early to run and I was on vacation sleeping on an incredibly uncomfortable fold out couch. I was so damn proud of myself that morning! Alas that was over a month ago and I haven't been able to accomplish that goal since. Imagine waking up every morning and the first thing I do is disappoint myself. What a way to start the day!

I've always enjoyed sleeping in in the mornings, it went along nicely with my night owl habits. My mind is most active and yet at the most peace at night. I'm the only night owl in my family and I have grown very accustomed to the hours on either side of midnight in which the house is quite and still. When I was younger I spent those hours reading. I remember staying up till five am to finish Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Those books always came out in July right around my birthday and I could stay up as late as I wanted and read to my hearts content. These days I spend my time mostly online reading the thoughts of people who inspire me or looking at pictures that capture my attention.

These days I have an intense yearning to change those habits. I want to know what the stillness of the early mornings is like. I want to wake up and be thankful for the fact that the sun came up again. So I started researching the reasons that some of us are night owls and others can pop out of bed in the morning with a smile on their face. Turns out some of us are genetically predisposed to being a night owl. Researchers at the University of Surrey have isolated a gene called Period 3 which regulate our circadian rhythms. The other part has to do with our daily habits and lifestyle. Not to worry though it's likely that my sleep patterns will begin to change as I age... sometime around age 60!

Part of me wants to say who am I to mess with genetics... just accept it but I'm tired of waking up grumpy every day. My family has a saying when they see me in the morning, "Don't poke the bear!" I don't wanna be feared anymore... it's time to let my naturally loving nature show through! I can do it... I will do it... I hope.

Has anyone successfully gone from a night owl to a morning person? How'd you do it? Any tricks?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Walking Through the Pain

"Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever." ~ Lance Armstrong

The night before my interview for graduate school I didn't sleep. Instead I considered what my life would be like in the next year if I actually got in. I pictured myself living so far from my family. I thought about how lonely my mother would be as she went about her day to day life without me. I worried about whether or not she would be able to find happiness when two of the people who brought her the most happiness were 1500 miles away. In those hours I had decided that even if I got in I would defer for a year. I wasn't ready.

The next day I was excited and nervous and full of hope and promise for the future. How had my thoughts and emotions changed so suddenly in those few hours? Was it the change from day to night? Did the darkness bring out my deepest fears as it did when I was a child? I understand that as we lay down to sleep all the distractions of the day fade away and we're left with nothing but our thoughts; but how is it possible that our emotions can change so drastically? Better yet how is it that we can't remember the feeling of those emotions the next morning? We are able to remember that we were sad or frightened. Yet we are incapable of remembering the feel of those emotions. We don't remember the feeling of our chest constricting or our eyes burning.

I believe it has something to do with the connection between emotional and physical pain. My mother once told me that if women could remember the pain of childbirth no one would have more than one child. Even if you look back on a less significant pain such as being pricked with a needle you can remember that it hurt and you can describe what the pain was like but we are incapable of remembering the feeling of the pain itself. This is because pain is our bodies way of telling our brains that there is a problem which needs attention. Pain is merely a perception created by pain receptors in our skin that relay a message to our brain so that can react. Once the trigger is removed there is no biological reason to remember the pain. Memory however operates in a completely different way having to do with pathways being created in the brain. There is no neurological connection between pain response and the formation of memories. There is however a neurological connection between physical pain and emotional pain. The brain can't tell the difference. The same part of the brain that recognizes physical pain also reacts to emotional pain.

Unfortunately, this means we have a tendency of making bad decisions more than once. We'll go back to that boyfriend or girlfriend that hurt us so badly, because although we can remember the effects of that emotional pain we are unable to remember the depth of the pain. This also means that while it is possible to alleviate physical pain by removing the trigger it is not possible to remove the emotional trigger. Instead we must overcome it, it brings to mind the image of someone learning to walk again during physical therapy. In this instance they are inflicting pain on themselves in order to heal. We inflict pain on ourselves every day simply by living; by taking risks and dealing with the outcomes. Be it physical pain, emotional pain, or perhaps a combination of the two we are all simply walking through the pain.

Family Bonding

Watching my family communicate on this trip is like watching a group of senior citizens at a swap meet with walkie talkies. If you've never witnessed this phenomenon, take a trip to Quartzsite, AZ in January. The city is overrun with "snowbirds", those that come from the colder states such as Minnesota and Montana and camp out in the desert through the winter. They spread out through city with their RV's, trailers and tents, half of them selling things like rocks, tools, jewelry and other treasures (crap) and the other half shop them. It's not unusual to see a senior citizen going down the aisles on a riding ice chest or a woman in a sequined sun visor pushing her dog in a custom made stroller. Every so often you'll see one of them hit the w
alkie talkie, "We've got quartz on the aisle with the BBQ corn!" of course the inevitable reply... "Where's the BBQ corn?"... or perhaps "Switch to channel 10 I can't here you" "Ten Four". Yes they actually say ten four.

In the instance of my family it's mostly my mom trying to give advice and be helpful, but a lot of the time it just serves to confuse my dad whose doing his best to keep us on the road and headed in the right direction. The problem is if my mom points out something that my dad already knows then he's annoyed. Yet if she hadn't pointed it out and he hadn't already realized it then they're both annoyed. Of course it doesn't help matters that my brother and I occasionally try to help clear up the confusion and usually just make it worse. Nope best to stay silent unless asked for input.

Other than that we're all doing well. Dad is almost in his relaxed state... meaning he only checks his emails about 10 times a day and is restraining himself from calling in to the office. He has taken a sabbatical from his usual break-neck pace and is in no real hurry. I'm sure it hurts his soul a little when he realized we've only gone about 150 miles in a day. He and Geoff have been troopers where the trailer is concerned. I'm sure hooking up sewer hoses is not as glamorous as most would imagine but they do it without complaining day in and day out. Mom has taken over in the reservation department making sure we are staying in one beautiful campground after another. At the moment we are sitting in a beautiful valley in Montana surrounded by amber waves of grain... seriously... and three senior citizens in a tent trailer who are walking around in flannel pajamas. It's better than the lady at the last campground who forgot to close the window of her tent last night and apparently likes to sleep in the nude.
People in this part of the country are ridiculously kind. I'm still getting used to people waving at you for no particular reason and today I even left my laptop out on the picnic table outside our trailer with only a brief thought that someone might steal it. This thought was quickly dismissed as I eyed the senior citizens next door. I thought one might have been staring at it enviously though I doubt they could see that far. Today I walked into a place I thought was an internet cafe and actually turned out to be a place that sells internet modems, when I asked if it was possible to send an email the guy said sure you can use my computer. He didn't even charge me anything!

Yesterday was spent helping Geoff set up his new apartment. I got to set up the kitchen, an activity I actually love doing. I believe I might have a slight case of OCD when it comes to organizing kitchen cabinets. I turn the soup can labels the same way and make sure the lazy susan holding the pots has a large enough turn radius to access the lids. We found out exactly how thin the walls were... still hoping it was someone practicing their pogo stick routine. I also convinced Mom that black out curtains for the living room are a must. It was difficult to explain how I knew the importance with out self incrimination but I got the point across. I am now reassured that he and his room mate Mike will be well prepared for their upcoming year.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Speed Play

I'm currently on day 1.5 of my summer camping trip with my family, I say 1.5 because after attempting this trip 6 days ago and losing an entire axle of our trailer on the 15 freeway we had to turn back. We left again as soon as the axle was fixed which happened to be about eight o'clock last night. We didn't get very far of course so we pulled into the parking lot of the outlet mall at the state line between California and Nevada around midnight. Mom of course was mortified at our "redneck nature" and was convinced a security guard would ask us to leave, I reassured her that it was ok to be redneck because Williams and Sonoma was having they're annual summer sale and we would be there when the store opened.

I’ve been feeling guilty lately because I haven’t been running or exercising as much as I’d like. I have been going crazy trying to get as much of my work done as possible so I didn’t have to do it on the trip. So tonight we pulled into a beautiful campground and I pulled on my sneakers and took off down the first path I saw. Usually when I run it’s down the same old streets I’ve driven a thousand times before so I distract myself with music in hopes of cutting some of the boredom. Tonight I didn’t even know where the trail would go or how far. I just ran. Turns out I forgot about the change in altitude here in Utah so I wasn’t able to run the whole time, but when I could run I felt like a kid again. I was jumping off sand banks and avoiding rocks and swerving back and forth. Then when I couldn’t run anymore I walked and enjoyed the beautiful scenery and the sunset.

There’s a training program called Fartleks which means "speed play" in Swedish. It’s basically when runners run hard when they feel like it and ease off when they need to with out regard to a set plan. I think speed play is the most apt description for the activity because it takes all the stress and worry out of running and turns running into play. Running for the joy of the moment is an easy way to feel like a kid again.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Fork in the Road... Or Is It?

Ok so I'm gonna go off on a bit of a tangent here... hopefully I can translate my thoughts into words well enough to make my point.

For those of you who don't know me (I have a feeling there's very few people who read this that don't already know me) I will be leaving California to go to grad school in September. While I'm really excited about this I'm also slightly terrified. The thought of living 1500 miles away from my family and friends and all that I hold dear is something I can only handle if I think about it in small doses. Unfortunately, think about it I must, for that is who I am. This has made me start thinking about paths. I found my self contemplating two possible paths. One path was me staying in California and moving in with one of my best friends and working in a bakery, the second path was of course grad school and moving to Seattle. I felt as though I was standing at a fork in the road and "as way leads on to way" that made me think of Robert Frosts iconic poem.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Most people believe this poem is about choosing the path of non conformity or the path less traveled. They would be wrong... mostly because they only pay attention to the last verse. In actuality Robert Frost is saying that both paths were the same, " Then took the other, as just as fair, and having perhaps the better claim, Because it was grassy and wanted wear; Though as for that the passing there, had worn them really about the same. And both that morning equally lay, in leaves no step had trodden black." The last verse actually refers to a time in the future when he will tell others the story of his life and make it seem like he chose the path that was least traveled.

This whole process got me thinking about paths themselves. The interesting thing about paths is that they don't exist until someone makes them. Therefore it is impossible to stand at a fork of two life paths... they haven't been made yet. You may think that the path is clearly laid out in front of you, all you have to do is pick. In actuality you have to cut the path itself. A path only exists in your past and only then is it possible to look back and see it clearly.

So how do we cut that path? Before the days of GPS, trailblazers used the cues of nature to find their way. The position of the sun as it crossed the sky, the placement of the stars, the sound of running water. They found their way through obstacles using the only things they knew for certain. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west, polaris would take them north and the river would quench their thirst and provide vegetation. As we grow and evolve we begin to know things with certainty. We learn our strengths and weaknesses, we know that family and friends will catch us when we fall, we learn to savor every moment and above all we know the importance of continuously evolving. If we hold on to what we can count on we become capable of navigating the unknown.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Peace Be the Journey

There's an article in this months edition of Runners World about a man named Tommy Leonard who is best known for organizing the Falmouth Road Race in Falmouth Massachusetts. This article is six pages long and chronicles his life from the age of six till now... the pages are filled with facts about all the races he's organized as well as all the bars he's tended from Massachusetts to CA. Through it all it becomes apparent that this man had two love affairs ... running and beer. One story in particular stands out... he was running the 1986 Houston marathon at a sub 3 hour pace, unfortunately at mile 23 Pro's Bar came into view and he stopped to have a pint. Turns out he finished the beer, but not the race. When Tommy wasn't running he was tending bar... you would think he excelled at this but no. His boss Michael Cleary, of the Cork 'N Hearth says, "He truly was the worst bar tender in the world... You order dinner at the bar, you might get dessert first, then an entree, then the salad if your lucky. But that's because he was always in the middle of a story."

One such story includes the time that his buddy Eddie Burke threw him a surprise party which included bringing a police horse up to the bar. Tommy says, "That horse went up and down the bar and acknowledged every customer. I fed him one or two White Russians. Then some lady at the bar called the Health Department and we had to get him the hell out of there fast, which wasn't easy... But that horse, he was having such a good time he didn't want to leave." The party was thrown in gratitude for Tommy's constant fundraising. He started the "Friends of Eliot Fund" where he collected cash from regulars when he read about misfortunes in the newspaper.

If you read between the lines it's obvious that Tommy's third and fourth love are people and life in general. To most of us the idea of getting so close to the finish line of a marathon after so much training and then just stopping for a beer is ludicrous and unfathomable. But it seems to me that Tommy has a different finish line in mind. His life is a race and he recognizes the need to enjoy the journey. As long as he's doing what he loves he's happy... artificial finish lines be damned. Often times we put so much emphasis on the completion of an activity and forget to focus on the joy of the act. It's almost as if the lack of fruition diminishes the greatness of the journey. Hopefully when Tommy looks back on his life he doesn't say, "Man I wish I'd finished that one race....He says what a run." We should all be so lucky.