As is tradition, I was mixing the batter for the muffins this morning at the kitchen island when I had a strange thought. I happened to look down at my feet. They were both perfectly centered in the tile on our kitchen floor.
Strange I know, but stay with me. I asked my youngest daughter to grab the measuring tape. We measured the length and width of where I was standing. Roughly 290 square inches of space. My place in the world, when I’m standing, totals 290 square inches.
Then I looked up on Google that there is roughly 57,000,000 square miles of land on earth. My feet take up .000000000007 of the space on this earth. (If I got my math right). Even if I got the math wrong, my body, my heart, my life does not take up much of the space in this world.
It is, at first, sad to consider how insignificant one individual is. The space we stand on is so small. But then I had to move my feet toward the kitchen counter where the muffin tin was and my perspective changed.
I get to place my feet anywhere in the 57,000,000 square miles of this world. I can place them on a sidewalk in Chicago. I can walk a beach in Australia. I can play basketball with my son or volleyball with my daughters on the same court. I can stand on a stage in front of a microphone to share my poetry.
Life is about where we stand, where we take up our small 290 square inches of this world. And even more importantly who’s feet join us in our little part of the world…
6:42 a.m. Aug 25, 2022. The day my wife, two daughters, and I almost died.
The story is not uncommon, sadly. And it is a simple one. I was at a light waiting to turn left across a four lane street. (This is what made the moment an almost moment.). The light changes green for me and I start my turn. I am moving across the lane closest to us, turning the wheel, when I noticed the lights of a semi truck flying toward us in the next lane. There was a minivan stopped at the light, but the truck wasn’t even slowing down. I slammed on the brakes and watch as the truck then cattle trailer streaked by in front of us. Our headlights reflecting back to us. I don’t think the driver even saw us.
It was dead silent in the car as I took a breath and continued across the intersection, headed to a “normal” day at school. We were that close to having everything change in our life. I am writing this at 7:18 a.m. and I can’t shake the weight of that almost moment.
We spend time and energy working on and developing different types of relationships. Family, spouse, and friends get the most of our time and love, but there are some relationships that are just as important, even if the relationship is built on the smallest foundation. Recently, life has reminded me how important the smallest relationships are for building a joyful life. Let me tell you about a stranger, a cashier, and a person from the congregation of our church. Three cool dots that connect to show the power of a small relationship.
Today we attended a parade in Fairfield, NE, for the town’s 150th birthday celebration. My wife’s parents were the grand marshals because they are the oldest living couple in Fairfield. The parade was a mix of old tractors, cars, the local school band and other fun floats.
There was also a lot of candy!
The whole parade took over an hour. I sat next to a stranger. Yet, we had a great time watching the kids run out to get the candy, appreciating some classic cars, and had a funny moment when a local BBQ restaurant’s float passed us and I commented it would have been great if they threw out some ribs for us big kids. When her daughter showed up later in the parade (she played in the band earlier) she told her daughter of our idea of the ribs for us big kids. We laughed again.
When the parade ended we went our separate ways with a smile and an “enjoy the rest of the day” goodbye. That’s it. But for an hour we enjoyed the community feel of the event, making a small connection that generated some laughs and enjoyment of the day.
The second small relationship is based on dad jokes. No kidding. We usually shop for groceries on Saturday mornings. We shop at a few different places for different things. At our local grocery store there is a cashier that I tell a dad joke to every time I see him. In this case I do know his name (just not going to share it here), and have learned a few things about him. This routine started during the pandemic. It started just to ease the tension everyone was feeling as we were trying to figure out life with COVID affecting our lives. And now it is a small relationship that brings a shot of happiness to both of our lives, and I learned I am “the dad joke guy”.
Last week we had to pick up some milk on Wednesday. On the previous Saturday he did not work, so I didn’t get to tell him my joke. When my wife and I walked into the store I saw that he was working, so I approached him to share with him my newest dad joke. It was a good one. We laughed. My wife and I told him that we missed him on Saturday. He replied that his hours were changing because of school but knew that I had been in the store because his brother was working that day and had texted him that “the dad joke guy” was in the store.
This small relationship is more personal, it brings a sense of routine and joy to the week. It will and is changing because he has major life changes happening as he moves into more major life moments. But for now, we will share a good (sometimes bad) dad joke each week that adds a little happiness to our lives.
Now the third small relationship is with someone that attends our church only on Saturdays. As a family we attend church either Saturday night or Sunday morning, kind of depends on our schedule. When churches opened back up during COVID, we attended Saturday nights for a long time. This is when this small relationship started. And it might be the most powerful of my small relationships, and we don’t even know each other’s names.
During a Catholic service there is a moment when the congregation says “Peace be with you” with each other. During the worse part of the pandemic we waved to each other instead of shaking hands. Durning the first service that the church included this moment, a gentleman was in front of us. At that time we gave each other an awkward wave and said, “Peace be with you,” quietly. For a number of weeks this gentleman sat close to us, so we would wave to each other during this part of the ceremony. He always attends church by himself. He finds a seat right as the service starts, so one week he was not sitting near us. I kind of looked around for him and saw him a few rows back in another section. We made eye contact, smiled, and waved hello. Then during the Peace Be With You part of the ceremony, we waved and mouthed, “Peace be with you.”
Almost two years later, we now find each other through the congregation to say hello at the start and make sure we wave and say “peace be with you” later in the service. Lately we have been attending Sunday morning services, but tonight (Saturday) we attended church and he walked in right at the beginning as usual. I saw him first and my heart was filled as I watched him look around the congregation until he saw me and my family. We smiled. We waved hello. Then later in the service we had to lean a little but still made eye contact, waved, and mouthed, “Peace be with you”. Both of us were smiling, it had been a few weeks since we had seen each other.
I don’t know his name. I doubt he knows mine. We never talk after church. But this small relationship is a powerful one because it gives me, and I think it is the same for him, a moment to know that I am here in this life. That I matter to someone else in this world, that my presence makes them happy simply because we are both here, living this life together, however small our relationship might be.
As many of you know, my word for this year is MILES, and I have fulfilled that word. Roughly, I have traveled 5,000 miles so far this year. I have traveled for sports, college visits, and a small family vacation. What is interesting about all my travels is how I’ve learned more about the idea of HOME.
Home is a house. A building that I start and finish my day at. A building that protects me and the family from storms. A place where we gather to eat dinner and to play Mario Kart. A place where we rest our heads and our feet. This house becomes a home because of the stories we share at the table, the protection we get from the emotional storms in our lives, and the laughter we share as dad comes in last again.
But home is not just this house. Home is our history. I went home this summer to visit my parents. It was just me, a few days to be their son and to walk down memory lane. One night we walked to the letter hill and found that my name, football number, and hand prints were still set in the concrete D on the hill by the high school.
For a few days I was simply their son. We talked about life, family, and recalled funny and emotional stories. The house was basically the same and so was the sense of home, especially the routine of gathering in the kitchen to talk. It was always the place we would gather before we went off on adventures (maybe someday I’ll share how we had to heat up the oil pan in the car with a waffle iron one winter).
Home is a routine. My wife and I make blueberry muffins every Sunday. Growing up we had bacon and eggs almost every Sunday. Home is the traditions we create. When I traveled with my daughter to Atlanta, it was funny how we still followed some of our normal routines, like eating at a certain time.
But what I’ve really come to realize is that home is actually the people we love and have a strong relationship with. One of the best things about the trip home was how easy it felt to talk and be with people that I hadn’t seen in years. It was like being home with them. I sat with my high school guidance counselor on her back step and just talked. Yes, we caught up on life, but there was no awkwardness to bridge because of the years. That is home.
If for some reason we had to move from this house, we would still have our home. You would find us eating dinner (at 6 p.m.) sharing stories at the dinner table. We would be home no matter where we were in this world.
I spent seven days with my first daughter in Atlanta as she competed in photography at the National Leadership and Skills Conference for SkillsUSA. Besides the almost 40 hours we traveled on a charter bus, I had time to think, read and write as my daughter’s photography competition ended up being two full days.
This post will be a collection of thoughts I wrote down. Be warned, I’m not sure how organized this post will be… but it will be centered on us…
There were about 6,500 students, high school and college, competing in over a 100 different trade, technical and leadership fields in Atlanta. It was amazing to see the scope of talent during the week. I had time on my hands so I walked to other areas to see the competitions. Everyone was a state champion, so the final results were incredible. To name a few of the fields, there was cabinet making, culinary, nursing, and also cool areas like urban search and rescue.
Sometimes we forget how vast our world is. There are so many careers for us to pursue. So many ways to express our talents. I was humbled by the skills the students displayed during the competition.
But I was also amazed at the character of the students and sponsors I met during the week. One of the fun activities during nationals is to collect state pins. I didn’t get extra Nebraska pins, so my pin game was a little rough, but I got some cool pins and met some great people by exchanging or trading pins. It gave us all a common experience to build a connection through.
That common experience is a powerful element to building a community. And a strong community looks out for each other. I witnessed so many small moments of this, of people just helping others. For many of the contests students would have to bring their own tools, or visual aids or make-up supplies. Someone was always willing to lend a hand, or give directions, or rush to hold a door. I would see contestants console or celebrate with another competitor. And in doing so I saw how we could be as a society. Even the staff at the different locations, but especially at the Georgia World Congress Center were a part of the community. Honestly, it took 12 minutes for my daughter and I to walk to her competition area each day. We got to know a few of the staff at the different checkpoints because we stopped and said hello every morning then goodbye at the end of the day. They would ask how the day went, but the best moment was on the last day when they asked to see my daughter’s work. They made her smile with their comments about her pictures. But we also learned a little about them. We learned about the significance of a necklace one of the staff members wore each day. Where another staff member got her cool boots. For just a little while we were a community.
Our nation is divided right now. It is hard to believe that we can be one nation anytime soon, but for a week I saw how we could be. Yes, I understand it was a unique situation, but isn’t our life a unique situation? Can’t we be respectful, helpful, and friendly to each other? Yes, yes, we can…
This is not really a poem, but this is something I had jotted down late Thursday afternoon while I waited for my daughter to complete her debriefing.
We all like a good meal, we just have different favorite dishes.
We all jam out to good music, we just have a different favorite song.
We all want to be seen, we just choose different ways to gain your attention.
We all want to be loved, we just have different ways that we show it.
We all want to look good, we just have different styles.
We all feel pain, we just have different stories that tell of our heartache.
We all have a passion, we just let it shine in different ways.
We all give our lives to something, we just have different things we believe in.
Tomorrow is state track. I have a triple jumper that has jumped over 2,000 feet in competitions this season. That’s over a quarter of a mile. He will have at least three more jumps tomorrow, the more distance he travels the better his chance of making finals. Where he will have the chance to jump three more times, the more distance he travels the better his chance of earning a medal.
Triple jumping is one of the most demanding events in track and field. A study done in 2019 (“Mechanical Function of the Human Knee Joint Region during Triple Jump by Combined Multi-body Dynamics and Finite Element Analysis”) indicates that the force on the knees can be over 5 times the body weight of the jumper.
Sometimes it is not how far we travel to reach our goals that matter. It is the work we put into reaching our goals that makes the difference. I could walk a quarter mile without much stress on my knees. Even to reach his new PR (personal record) my triple jumper is going to have to work hard to jump over 43 feet.
I haven’t even mentioned all the practices he has worked at for this chance at state.
Sometimes the work needed to reach our goals is hard, and we don’t seem to travel far even though we feel the stress of the work. Keep your faith though, remember that you really don’t know how far your work has taken you until the board official yells “Mark!” Then, the other officials stretch the tape to measure your jump and you’ve set a new PR.
I received a thoughtful answer from the PBS show, Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum. The episode was “I Am Rukmini Devi” which shared the story of how Rukmini Devi brought back the Indian classical dance form of Bharatanatyam. Part of the overall story was the importance of traditions, and at one point Rukmini Devi states that traditions are part of a family’s story.
I had never thought of it exactly that way, but it is true. A tradition is not just something you do on a regular basis, it helps tell the story of you. The story of those you share the tradition with. Making blueberry muffins every Sunday has given us milestones to remember our past and to celebrate the present moment. Almost every child has helped make breakfast on Sunday morning, lately my third daughter has cooked the scrambled eggs. I didn’t supervise her this past Sunday. These are small moments but they highlight the change our family goes through as we live life.
We have stories to tell because of our Sunday morning tradition of blueberry muffins, those stories bond us together. And as my children get older, especially the boys as they are starting their adult lives, they will start their own traditions but will always know the story of our family because of blueberry muffins. I am thankful for that.
I have been busy this month with the write a poem a day (PAD) challenge. I use the prompt provided by Writer’s Digest and I added my own personal challenge to write in a different form for each day. (You can read some of the poems on my creative blog: Creative Corner for Writing. I’m a few days behind posting to the site.)
On day 24 the prompt was to write a poem about a superhero or a villain, or both. I wrote a cadralore poem about moments in life where we could be the hero or the villain. The last stanza starts with the line:
Of course this got me thinking about how our decisions lead us to different choices in the future. At the same time a decision will eliminate other opportunities for us in the future. I once gave my seniors a kind of “last lecture” about life. I presented the idea that life is a tree.
That each major decision sends us to a new branch. That branch will have its own junctions or moments of choice that only happen because of the decision made before. You can become paralyzed at the vastness of moments life can have for you because of one choice. My seniors are two weeks away from graduation. They have chosen a path to follow, the opportunities they will have in the future are unique to the path they have chosen now.
I recognize that some goals we have as individuals can be pursued at any time. I may yet be known as a poet or writer, but each day the choices I have now are because of choices I made in the past… I can’t change that.
No one can change that. Too many times we only consider the immediate consequences of a choice, not where the choice will lead us. No, we can’t predict what future moments will come our way, but there is a certain set of outcomes we can infer if we think about where the choice will lead us.
As a poet, it is an inspiring image to the complexity of this life. Tomorrow is based on what choices we make today…
Alright, I have tried and tried and tried to remember a book I read about doing epic things. It is not on my Goodreads list, but I have only used Goodreads to catalog my reading for a few years so…
The book was about people taking on big challenges. Some of the examples were more personal, like blogging every day for a year. While other examples were life changing, like climbing a mountain when the person was 60 years old. The main theme was about taking on a goal that stretches one’s skills while making us face emotional aspects, like fear or patience. (If you recognize this book, please share the title with me on Twitter or in the comment section.)
I just finished another book (which is on my Goodreads list), 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die. I have read 182 of the books on the list. I have an epic challenge and I only have 26 years to complete the challenge, according to the data from Statista about life expectancy.
I found an epic challenge.
But I also have another epic challenge, based on another book, The Late Starters Orchestra. Which is the story of Ari L. Goldman’s journey of playing the cello with The Late Starters Orchestra. No, I am not going to learn to play the cello, I am going back to the piano. I have some musical background. I learned to play the drums in fifth grade. I taught myself how to play a few songs on the piano in junior high. I came back to the drums at a school I used to work for a couple of years ago. The band director and I both had the same planning period, so once a week he would let me practice on the drums.
Sometimes when I write a poem, I can almost hear a song with it. I have had the privilege of working with P.R. while creating my poetic projects Stargazer and Just. He does an amazing job connecting music to my poetic lines. (Some new projects are in development.)
I doubt that I will ever be able to really write a song, but I want to try. I want to experience the beauty of creating music, to add another level of joy to my life, even though I will go through some rough spots learning to play the piano. That’s learning though.
So here is to my two new epic adventures in my life. Are you heading out on an adventure or in the middle of one? Share your story with me.
Why did you follow the link? What did you expect to see or read? Are you already tempted to X out of the tab and move on to something else?
I understand that I used a clickbait title to lure you to this blog post. And that is what I want to talk to you about in this post. The emptiness of clicking in our interactions with others and the shallowness it brings to our lives.
Can I ask a few more questions, just to get you thinking about the topic?
How many heart icons, thumbs up icons, or retweet icons have you tapped today?
Did you interact with the person in the comment section or leave a reply?
Now, I own up to the same behavior. I am just as guilty of retweeting a bunch of #vss365 (Very Short Stories 365) stories on most days. I tap the heart icon on Instagram pictures, too. I will read a blog post and hit the like icon (and usually the share buttons too).
But I’ve been trying to interact more with the people behind the icons. To build connections, however small, with others. To let them know that their words, their pictures, their small windows they share with the world are not simply viewed and forgotten.
Because I know the empty feeling one gets from social media. The feeling of screaming into the abyss we tag with the ironic label “Social Media”. But I’ve been thinking about the other side of the abyss, the emptiness I get by just scrolling, by hitting an icon that is supposed to mean I love something… yet, I don’t really love that image. I thought it was cool, yes, but it was forgotten in minutes. I agree with a blog post but the writer doesn’t see me nodding my head.
Let’s add a layer to this idea; how much time is lost filling in icons that don’t really match our feelings at that moment? How much of our daily life is filled with empty motions that don’t fill our emotions?
I’m afraid of the answer. I’m afraid of the cost to our sense of purpose and even the simple joy of being connected to people when our only connection is a blue thumbs up icon. We are more complex as people than an outlined icon that is filled with a tap. Joy and belonging are built through connections, even digital ones. We can handle emotions like heartache and loneliness because we have people in our lives that can take some of the weight of those emotions from our heart, but only if we have true connections with people.
Social media is an incredible tool. I actually enjoy using it (been on Twitter since 2008) to share my talents… and to make connections. I think we should spend more time fostering those connections instead of simply scrolling past the content other people took the time to share with us. I bet the reason they shared it was in the hope it would make a connection with someone (at least that is why I share my writing).
I am sorry for using a clickbait title. If you are actually still reading this, I am grateful. Thank you. Leave a comment, let’s connect.