chains.

Today, we had a human chain tossing bags in a line when a worker shouted out a quote that I often forget exists:

“A chain’s only as strong as its weakest link!”

What a great saying. But really. It’s succinct and it got me thinking.

Chains don’t have to be human links passing things from one to another. Chains can also be teams or even connections with people. Getting very one on the same page, up to speed, working together.

Relationships work like this too, both of friendships and of togetherness. A relationship only holds up if everyone is on the same level, or else it will bend if not collapse when the weaker link is being pressured over capacity.

My friend is still heartbroken today that a friend hasn’t acknowledged her “happy birthday” wishes. She’s questioning the strength of their friendship, what she has done wrong. But the way I see it, she shouldn’t be so self-conscious because her friend is the weak link in the chain. Their friendship is only as strong as the less willing person is willing to upkeep it.

But I think it’s important to differentiate between a weak link and just plain old differences.

Sometimes things don’t always go over smoothly between people because they pick out flaws that aren’t flaws but instead differences. Just because someone wants to stay close to his brother his whole life doesn’t mean he’s not adventurous or is too attached – he could also just be loving and find family too strong of a bond to abandon. Just because someone doesn’t text or call back doesn’t mean she’s a poor friend, maybe she’s just distracted…or not wanting to be distracted by technology.

I think I’m going to use my chain theory from now on to identify weak links and to differentiate the flaws from the differences. To embrace the differences and to help my peers get up to par where we struggle as a whole. And to do so with understanding because I know there are times when I lag behind.

I guess weak links in the chain are just an opportunity for learning and testing love and patience for one another.

Advertisements

worth.

I have volunteered on projects my whole life, whether it’s a cleanup, fundraising, habitat for humanity, or construction work with Engineers Without Borders. I’ve slowly come to realize, as I’ve said before, how much money might have value, but time has something more. Not only is personal involvement more, well, personal, but it has an unmeasurable amount of worth to those affected.

How do you measure the worth of something? Well, it’s all relative.

When I was standing in a dusty yard in a small Cameroonian village watching children kick a torn soccer ball and I pulled little Belinda aside to give her a slightly used pair of lady’s shoes, no dollar sign could represent the emotion she had for the shoes. She literally grabbed my arms in shock, timidly put a shoe to her foot – a perfect fit –
then flat out collapsed in my arms and tucked her legs into the air. There I was, standing against a wall, holding a dangling child by my forearms who was so humbled by a simple gift that she buried her face in my stomach and couldn’t even look me in the eye. Then she grabbed the bag and ran home to her hut faster than an American child to an ice cream truck on a hot summer day.

How do you measure that?
Shoes, $50.
Visa, $140.
Plane ticket, $1,864.

Or…
Time spent in Cameroon, 3 weeks.
Time spent on project, thousands of hours.
The look on her face, UNMEASURABLE.

When I paid twice the price for a loaf of bread in Ouidah, Benin, the grandmother who couldn’t even speak French communicated by the happy tears in her eyes and her clasped hands. For an extra 200 francs. Or 40 cents.

Playing games with the children in the village last year…and then returning over a year later to the same children, slightly taller, wearing the same clothes (just more tattered), screaming my name and dancing the dances I taught them. Priceless. Their joy, for nothing, with so much worth.

Even better than the feeling of feeding the poor and sitting with them on Thanksgiving is taking a tag off of the Salvation Army tree, putting serious effort in picking the best gifts for the anonymous wishes, then dropping the bag off. You don’t know where it goes, they’ll never know who you are, and that secrecy feels so selfless that it’s selfish. And worth a LOT.

But even more simply, sitting here on a worksite, on a cold Sunday morning, covered in mud, one has a new appreciation for the DuPont suits given to the workers. They work so hard and so long, harder than I, and they are overwhelmingly appreciative when I give out company stickers for their hard hats. Because they earned it. Because it’s their badge of honor. But it’s just a silly sticker that I have complained about so often, one that is such an awkward shape that it doesn’t stick smoothly to the plastic. But things mean so much more when you’re a dedicated immigrant, happy to have a job and to live in America.

Finally, myself.

This is the kicker, my self-worth. How I measure myself. Well, how I have beenmeasuring my worth and not even realizing it.

Social media. How many likes I get. And it’s not just me! So many friends I talk to agree, we evaluate ourselves by the feedback we get when we put ourselves out there on social media.

I post something I love. I get little to no likes. On Facebook. On Instagram. Retweets or favorites on Twitter. Views on this blog.

My worth becomes the quantity of likes I receive. The quality? Some of these people I don’t even know…yet I still do it…

I compare myself.
He has more likes. She ALWAYS gets likes. What does that mean?? Do I have less friends? Am I not as interesting or popular or loved?? What does it mean???

It shouldn’t mean anything, but I have to admit that it means everything. Whether I want it to or not. And I hate it.

But at the same time, when I put something out there that I think is meaningless or controversial…. And people take my side – that is so incredibly empowering.

I guess we just need to get a grip on what something is worth, lest we continue to harm ourselves or under-appreciate things that could be a total game changer to someone else.

ribs.

This dream isn’t feeling sweet
We’re reeling through the midnight streets
And I’ve never felt more alone
It feels so scary getting old

We can talk it so good
We can make it so divine
We can talk it good, how you wish it would be all the time


I want them back (I want them back)
The minds we had (the minds we had)
How all the thoughts (how all the thoughts)
Moved round our heads (move round our heads)

Did you know nostalgia is sometimes just an exaggerated memory, like somewhat of a figment of your imagination mixed with reality?

We make things we remember feel better than they are.

Those summer memories weren’t as sweet as you remember them.

But what makes us? If our bodies are replaced completely every 5 to 7 years with nutrients from the food we have eaten, we aren’t even the same person we were. If you haven’t seen someone for 10 years, they’re literally a new person.

Yet if our brain cells are all rebuilt as well, what are memories made of? How do they stay? Does replacing the material actually cause alterations that lead to those exaggerated feelings, to nostalgia?

I believe we are our memories and experience more than we are ourselves in the physical sense. A little scary. A little invisible, we are, if we are only our imaginations, our minds.

It makes our decisions and choices seem so much heavier if we are what we do and not what we exist as.

And we are getting older. Rebuilding. Elements perpetually changing. How can we cling to what we are? To have a sense of identity which provides belonging and, in turn, purpose?

In other news, I made so much OT money this week that I bought myself a pair of Toms. Many of my shoes have holes in the bottoms or their soles stapled on. And I couldn’t stop thinking about my little ones in Cameroon and their shoeless feet.

20140329-090539.jpg

Now someone somewhere will theoretically have shoes and it’s not like it cost me much to buy mine. Besides, it’s all relative. And I’m feeling better giving myself purpose and making a difference, no matter how small.

continua and the familiar.

What is it with change that can be so scary? Or how time can so gradually alter our feelings or view of something that it no longer is or affects us like what it used to be?

I feel like our emotions are always so closely related to our survival instincts and that we have to remind ourselves of that occasionally. Fight or flight. Fear of the unknown. Being blindsided or not being able to fully grasp a situation causes our defensive instincts to kick in and startle us. Deep down, we are just animals trying to survive. But our complicated brains, hormones, overwhelming emotion…those can cloud our perception and cripple us.

Yesterday, I was thinking a lot about the universe. About being small again, and about changes and choosing better in my life. Those personal emotions are scary because they make me feel vulnerable yet grounded. That’s instinct. That’s my body fearing danger and susceptibility even when I’m sitting safely in a work tent, surrounded by friends, help, and the necessities.

But what about the universe? I also began thinking about what I am and where I come from. I thought about religion. I thought about how so many people answer my questions about life with “Well, God.”

But I think explaining a question about life with an answer of religion…well that’s answering a question with the same question.

Where does matter come from? What are quarks? Are they made of something? Is this an infinite loop of smaller elements?
Well, God.
But what is God? What is God made of? If he’s the answer to where matter came from, then what is his matter and where did that come from? Who made God?
Well, God. He’s God. He does whatever he wants, and he’s God.

I’m sorry, but that’s not an answer. Maybe God made this that and the other thing – but that’s answering my question with more questions. Celebrating God may keep him from destroying you, but using him as an answer for the origin of life and where the universe comes from… Well he would still be part of that universe, so I’m not buying it.

God is such a catch-all.

As humans, we hate the unknown. We seek solace in the familiar. We want to have answers for everything and, when we can’t find an answer, we turn to a god.

You’re single and sad. Well, embrace God’s choice for you.

The cancer is taking your mom. Well, it’s God’s choice and you have to trust him.

That huge storm that just killed a bunch of innocent, technology-less people? That’s not global warming, God’s just angry at us.

No, no, no. I don’t believe that at all.

I believe we have free choice, that using God as an excuse is turning a blind eye to our character flaws or how we are destroying the planet. Saying, it’s all good, Jesus will return and God will save us.

When we can’t explain something, we turn to God, to a familiar, to a continuum. Like with me trying to explain matter as being made of infinitesimally small pieces, or thinking maybe atoms are small universes and the cycle never ends… Picturing death or the end of the world… WE CANNOT PERCEIVE THOSE THINGS, so we transpose the familiar onto a continuum. Continua keep the answers we want comfortably within our knowledge and potentially within our control.

But they’re lies, making up reasons and putting faith in them. Denying our faults. And we refuse to learn from it.

This reminds me of the Book of Judges in the Old Testament. God seriously loves Israel and keeps showing the people grace despite their insubordinate behavior and continuous disobedience of his clear laws. They repeatedly turn to Baal and other gods despite his keeping them safe and alive and guiding them and warning them not to do just what they’re doing. His solution is to send a judge to the people.

Joshua has died and the people of Israel are without their strong leader, so they go astray and risk defeat by the Canaanites. God sends a judge to fill Joshua’s void. The people idolize the judge, win wars, celebrate their lord, and all is well. The judge lives his (or her) life out, dies, and it’s history repeating. This happens about twenty times and God keeps forgiving and trying again.

This story is thousands of years old, but we do the same thing to this day. We are inspired, like when America became patriotic after 9/11, and then we forget. Is it that the Israelites didn’t know danger? That God was always there for them? That they couldn’t see failure and knew, subconsciously, that he would be their catch-all and always save them?

The judges became a familiar and a continuum. God was the continuum of Israel. No one could picture defeat and they took advantage of it.

That’s like our excuses today, our passive concern. Because, without comfort of a familiar, we continuously revert to the next best safety net for our emotions. We can’t stand the vulnerability of change and the heaviness of responsibility.

Well, I think we all need to start owning up, on a personal as well as environmental scale. To start acknowledging our flaws, our faults, and our susceptibility to the uncontrollable unfamiliar. To realize the gravity of not having a safe continuum to rely on. To recognize the signs of history repeating, whether it’s in a personal relationship or on a large, international level of respect.

Out with the old, in with the instincts and the common sense. Let’s pull it together, folks.

rain.

Tomorrow, it’s going to rain. I’ve been through short blizzards, bright and sudden sun, frozen mornings, and incredibly strong winds just in a few short days on-site…yet we all dread tomorrow’s rain.

It’s not fun when you wake up in the morning, pick out one specific set of clothes to wear all day outside and which still meets safety regulations, then you get caught in a downpour. And your only set of clothes is wet. But it’s only the morning and you have sampling runs to finish all. day. long.

Haha, water falling from the sky. And I’m afraid.

Bring on the rain. Have you seen how sad the tree buds are? How desperate the ground is to thaw? The rain is a sign of warmth and spring, of life finally returning to the plants. The woods. The crops.

No rain means no life.

But rain is also a sad, humbling moment when the rooftops sing and you’re forced inside to reflect. Rain is music. It is a rhythm in life. It is necessary.

And like my friend Jo said, without the bad times the good times wouldn’t be so great.

That’s the same with rain.

We gripe about rain because driving becomes more dangerous, clothes become wet, we feel cold, we can’t run freely outside, and all nice things and hairdos become soggy masses.

Without rain, we would die. It is the vein in life. All things revolve around rain like the core of the planet.

I’m glad it will finally rain. Rain over snow. And I’m thankful for the frozen mornings because it’s their chill that makes the afternoon feel warm at 30 and the evenings feel refreshing after the “heat wave”.

So bring it, rain. I need you.

control.

Here I still am, out of town to work for an indefinite amount of time. I’ve had to cancel dance class already and I’m dreading how many other commitments I can’t keep this week. In fact, I began dreading it so much that I was torn in my mind between staying here, away from my problems, or being sent back in time for at least some number of things I have. I began stressing out over what I perceived as the perfect scenario, but that perception kept changing as I had all day to think or new things come up.

Then I said STOP what are you doing?

Why do I always have to try to control control control an outcome that I have little to no say in? Why have I always stressed myself out over the inevitable unknown? I can’t control a single piece of it!

I’m so good at making myself unnecessarily stressed out and worried. But for once I’m just going to let it go.

I can’t control when this ER will be done.
I can’t control what shifts I get.
I can’t control how many hours of driving I have from home.
I can’t control the weather.
I can’t control how life will go on without me at my commitments.
I can’t control much of anything, really.

But you know what – I’m thankful I can’t control all of those things. I’ve stressed out enough trying to control them to realize having that many responsibilities would indeed be a stress nightmare.

So I will not try to control the uncontrollable. I will just let it happen. And mourn, in the meantime, that my friend has told me my favorite dinosaur (brontosaurus) is actually not a real dinosaur at all. Ugh, my childhood aspirations are dashed…

feeling so small.

I’ve shut out some friends lately who have become damaging. I noticed their absence more than ever today when I sat alone in a frozen cow pasture.

I just got back from two weeks overseas, but I filled my weekend with travel and distraction from what’s been eating me alive. Well, last night I had four hours of sleep before finding myself driving towards Wheeling, WV, Frankie Ballard blasting, then the stillness of a hilltop field as I waited for my subcontractors.

No one. Anywhere. Just the birds and the frost and some lonely cows. I could have been home again.

That freeness reminded me also of the vastness of the world, the humbling sensation of feeling pathetic which travel often instills in me. Like when I hiked the Calanques solo last July, emptied my canteen, and realized how easily I could die in that desert and no one would know. Or this month when I stood on the Bettmer alp and beheld the frozen cruelty of Swiss altitudes and how small I am.

So small, in fact, that what are my woes? What are my complaints? Who are the tiny people who hurt me and bring me down?

All those people I left behind when I drove to the cow pasture, they could stand before me and still be as distant and small. I am small and so are they. And there are so many more of them because this world is full of people who could treat me better or worse in the snap of a finger.

I am small, and not just because my construction clothes in XS short are still too baggy and long on me. I am small because I represent so little of the matter on this planet, so little of matter to a stranger. But I can control how much I matter to someone just as much as I can control how much someone matters to me.

And now I’m in Columbus traveling towards the Indiana state line and I’m still as small, but my accomplishments are big. My strength is bigger. And those mean, selfish pains in my side I left in Cleveland are diminishing with my distance and my apathy.

It is so humbling being small.