cheaper by the dozen.

You know, good friends are hard to find.


I’ve been trying to tackle the bad habit of comparison for quite some time, and one of the things I always seem to trip over is friends.


I don’t have a huge group of super close friends that I hang out with every other night.  This became more and more evident this year when I spent some sizeable time with a new friend.  He hangs out with so many people that he has known for such a long time.  It made my life seem bleak in comparison.  Because not only did he have that group, but each friend seemed to have his or her own group too, and so it was one huge friend family.


It was so much like a family that, as I spent more time with him, I began to realize it was too much like family.  They had familiarity on their side, but even my friend told me I’ve been his closest friend since I moved here at the end of summer.  And we just met.


How is it he could say that?  Well, maybe because it’s his situation that has become the bleak one, should any comparison be made.  Maybe mine is small, but mine is rich.  Rich in character.  Diverse.  United by qualities, not by quantity of time together (which still has its perks).


I think it’s easy to keep an old group of friends, but how can you expect to grow and still be as close by the time you’re in your 30s?  My opinion is that you rarely can, unless you stunt your growth or your friend’s growth.  I feel like growing apart is natural as you grow up and become you.


And meeting new friends can be hard.  We have developed and we know more what we want, what we need.  It’s less about sandboxes and more about support.  If his friends haven’t been providing him over the last several months in the way I have already, his friends aren’t very good friends.  It stings to realize that.  But really, what are friends for?


You can’t choose your family, but you can choose your friends.


This became all so clear to me yesterday on my birthday.  My real friends were the friends that took genuine care to remember my birthday without a Facebook reminder (which I removed), the ones who took a minute of their day to share with me how much I mean to them.  Even if some forgot, my real friends were also the ones inviting me or accepting invitations willingly to meet up with me, no matter how much of an inconvenience it may be at times.  My real friends are the ones giving me rides when my car breaks down and I have to be at work by 8am on the other side of the city.


And so I realized, wow, my friends are great.  The company you keep, right?


I may not have a family of friends, but I have more than I realized.  And my “family” is a Cheaper By the Dozen ordeal made up of a wide range of adopted children.  I pluck a good one like an apple from every tree I can reach.  They’re all good apples and they all have their best qualities.  And even if they’re from far apart, I can throw them in the same basket and it’s comparing apples to apples.


I will be testing that theory tonight at my party.


Finally, I am grateful that I am so meaningful to my friend because I am so grateful of him and all that he does for me.  Out of all the ones I’ve got, he is probably the cream of the crop.  Sure, he drives me crazy sometimes, but I have so much more patience because I see a little bit of me in the things he does.  He always takes the time for me and he always has me in his thoughts.


My friends are witty, smart, driven, caring, compassionate, active, and they’ll go the extra yard.  Thank you, friends; I love you.


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the company you keep.

“Do not set foot on the path of the wicked or walk in the way of evil men.  Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn from it and go on your way.” -Proverbs 4:14-15 NIV

“For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.” -2 Timothy 2:2-5 NASB

I don’t care if you don’t believe in the Torah/Bible/God; scripture can offer some really good advice if you know how to read it.  For example, in this quote from Timothy, take “God” as a symbol for living peacefully and good.  It provides the same meaning and is certainly applicable to any faith or faithlessness.

How did I get these quotes?  Well, I Googled quotes that could demonstrate the idea of “the company you keep”.  And these were my favorites.

Today, I became (yet again) a victim of online bullying.  It was a rash, brash, offhand, unprecedented comment from an uninformed, unimportant individual.  In the past, I would have blown up over it.  I would have sobbed, raged, replied, and probably done a lot of things I would have regretted later.  But that was me before I started paying attention to these kinds of things.  That was me before I began thinking about the company I keep.

It made me realize the company I choose to keep does not behave like this person.
Meaning he meant nothing to me and he couldn’t hurt me.
Meaning he doesn’t know the truth but the people who matter do.
Meaning I don’t keep his company because he is not considerate, respectful, classy, and of good sportsmanship.
But the company I do keep is all of these things.

In thinking of the company I keep and who I want to be, I debated my options.  I could delete the comment and move forward.  But maybe this person was making a point?  Maybe I had overlooked something that had evoked his reaction in the first place.

Aha – indeed, I had.  I realized he was either being completely tactless and cutting me down without reason, or his tactlessness arose from a misunderstanding in what I was saying.  And yes, this was all about hockey.

First, I chose to leave the comment.  I didn’t reply.  I won’t reply.  It’s not worth it, and it exposes his lack of anything human.  And it makes me look better in the meantime.

Second, I e-mailed the captain of the team.  I thanked her for her candor, congratulated her team for their season, then made her aware of the situation in case someone else might have taken what was said in the wrong way.  I know I didn’t have to do it, but I felt like it is good to clean things up and it can’t hurt nipping a potential problem in the bud.  It also gave me a chance to explain why I left the one team for another: sportsmanship.

The comment that was left and a teammate’s supportive, subsequent reaction to that comment were the perfect parallels to the situation.  It showed how my old team lacked the sportsmanship and respect I craved and how I gained so much more in those fields and others by switching teams.

It reminded me of this past Sunday when I spent time with a friend.  I’ve gotten along swimmingly with his whole family and realized there’s a reason for that.  Kind of like there’s a reason why I can throw my closest friends from all over the world in a room together for the first time…and they love each other.

We always tend to migrate towards the same kinds of people.  And I’ve been trying increasingly harder to base my “kind” of person off of his/her character.  His/her goodness.  His/her positivity.  Even though I haven’t always been the most positive person, it’s amazing how letting go of a little negativity and surrounding yourself with good people will really change your outlook on life.

You really can change your life by the company you keep and surrounding yourself with good things.

As the quote above from Proverbs tells us, don’t be tempted by that evil path.  Just because others act one way does not justify your reaction in their footsteps.  You have to own what you do and you are responsible for the consequences.  Every step you make should be towards the kind of person you want to be, no matter how big or small that step is.

And this person’s bullying is exactly what Timothy’s quote is describing: This person may have been reacting from a misunderstanding, but it was still completely uncalled for, demonstrates his lack of good character, and proves that he is insecure about another’s accomplishments.  He had to cut me down for my pride in the wonderful people I have discovered on my new team and by the honors I’ve received for being a part of their society.  Clearly, I have a LOT that he lacks.  And he doesn’t like it.

While I can’t change him and it’s not my responsibility to try, I can just hope to lead by example and to continue supporting my teammates, choosing better, and maintaining a close watch over the company that I keep.

you’re almost there.

I broke both laces on my dance shoes last night in class.  I’d never broken a single lace in my 16 years of dancing, so it was surprising and also extremely frustrating.  Nonetheless, I took laces from an old pair, restrung my new ones, and got back up to finish class.  Then I stayed after class… making practice about twice as long as usual.

On the drive home, I was thinking about dancing.  How Scottish Highland can really suck sometimes.  You’d think dance is just dance, but I tell ya… First, you have practice.  Long, long practices.  It’s generally the same dances week after week which means you’re working either on stamina, grueling details, or both.  And no matter what, you’ve got to be trying your hardest – even in a practice run.  If you don’t, you’ll either not improve or pick up bad habits or both.

Then there’s competition.  Most competition is done in the hot summer months.  Our costumes are several pounds, namely the traditional kilt.  I’ve got yards upon yards of pleated fabric, knee-high wool socks, and a long-sleeved velvet dress.  You sweat a LOT dancing outside in that stuff and you have to be strong enough to elevate with your weight plus the kilt.  Growing up, that was especially challenging for me because I didn’t wear a dance kilt but instead a heavy military one.

So what’s my point in all of this?

Well, I was imagining practice.  I was imagining competition.  I was reliving that feeling of keeping every muscle tense, every movement precise, every jump as equally high and perfectly timed, even maintaining the right look on your face (performing smile or determined countenance)… and I remembered the mantra that always plays in my head.  I never noticed it before, but I most certainly am constantly chanting to myself while I dance:

You’re almost there.  You’re almost there.  You’re almost there.

But sometimes I’m not really almost there.  I just have to tell myself that.  I get through the first half of Step One and I tell myself, “Excel through the turn!  You’re almost there!  You just have to do it on the other side!”  Step one, I’m saying this.  Then I say it for Step Two.  Step Three.  At Step Four, “You’re halfway done!”  And when Step Six arrives and I just want to drop my heels and lose my form, “You’re seriously almost there!  Pick up your elevation!  Make this the strongest step!”

I definitely hit a wall dancing.  Nearly every time I compete, I get to about the middle or 3/4-point of the dance and I just want to slouch, slack, quit.  I have to talk to myself to make myself pick it up, telling myself I didn’t work all this time and all this dance right now to quit.  I already dressed up and did my hair, too, and that’s a lot of work!  So go!

Then when I finish the dance, I feel horrible.  I’m sweating, I’m sore, I’m panting and I can breathe because my vest is so tight…but I walk off and feel such a wave of relief that it’s done.

And I tell myself, “You’re almost there!  Three more dances left.”

You’re almost there.

That gets me through more than just dancing.  It also gets me through the following:
-a track workout
-a XC workout
-a hockey practice
-a sprint
-a timed mile
-a 5K
-a half-marathon
-a hockey game that my team is winning when the score is really close
-kickboxing
-PLANKS
-basically any kind of physical labor
-musical performances
-driving
-a day with a long, time-sensitive to-do list
-work
-cleaning my room
-essays or reports
-a book, especially if I don’t like it much
-school
-anything checklist worthy
-anything I look forward to and write on my calendar
-etc.

Yes, any time I feel like my strength, endurance, patience, motivation, determination, whatever is being tested, it’s a matter of almost being there, of pushing aside walls, making up checkpoints, and constantly crossing them off as I reach them.

It’s amazing how much You’re almost there can help me get through anything.

judging a book by its cover.

You’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, or so they say.  But is that always true?

Well I say – “that cover looks really interesting”.
Maybe the author designed it?  Made it?  That’s cool!
Or maybe the author just chose the design.  Or inspired it.  Or selected the person who made it.
Maybe the cover resonates with me the same way the book will.
Or the same way it did for the people responsible for the book.
The book filled with ideas,
of that same stream of thought,
which I will be reading with a similar resonation.

Of course, sometimes an author puts a lot of work into a cover because there’s no other hope of selling it.
The book wasn’t really up to snuff,
it’s not going to appeal to the right group of people,
there’s something lacking that we can compensate for by making the cover look like this…

In my experience, the cover can be judged – as long as you know how to judge it.
You can judge a cover all you want if you look for its underlying intentions, or message, or motives.

If the book is designed to demonstrate what’s inside,
to capture the eyes of those and only those who know how to respect it or dare to try,
or even if it’s simple, unimpressive, and quiet……
Those are the books that want to be picked up by the right people.
Those books aren’t trying to impress.

But those books that are trying to look better than they are,
the ones striving to meet some elegant standard when the content itself isn’t worthy of that status,
when the cover is tailored perfectly but the inside is empty, bleak, dull,
Those books are trying to impress, and they’re shallow.

JUST LIKE PEOPLE.

And I’ve thought about that a lot lately.
How we judge people by their covers.
And how it’s actually okay to do that – if you know what you’re doing.

If you can perceive why someone is dressing/decorated/mannered the way he/she is,
and if you can consider his/her environment, drive, and most importantly message,
then you might really start to see people in a different light.

True, some people have a lot of tattoos.  And piercings.  Or dress very strangely.  But there’s a reason why they do it, and it might not be so obvious to you, the judging eyes, the person hiding behind your thoughts who could never be as brave as to dare to be that different.

But I see so many people in collared shirts who scoff at others, who earned top grades at school and can’t admit when they’re wrong, who study straight out of the book and lack total creativity, who LIE to people’s faces to win their favor, who SCHMOOZE to work their ways up corporate ladders,… Sometimes I see these people as fancy book covers, the ones who meet all the criteria of being something they’re only pretending to be.

I’m not saying I condone being one way or another because I believe a person has a choice to be how he or she wishes, I just feel like there’s too much hatred towards people who are different because, in reality, they’re daring and unafraid and completely their unconstrained selves.  And that scares people.  It threatens them.  And it’s so much easier to put down those who think outside of the box and dare to be different than it is to accept that cookie-cutter people aren’t always the best, most honest, good-hearted people.

Because they’re often times not.
I’ve worked with enough of them to know.
Enough to see that I want the people I surround myself to be whoever they are.

Whether they look cookie-cutter like, or if they look like those little cookie dough tidbits all stuck together again that didn’t quite make a whole cookie…
Whether they’re intriguing silent book covers, bright and flashy ones, or elaborate works of art…
Whether they dress from only one palette that suits them or if they wear whatever fit their budget that week at the store…
Whether they wear their hearts on their sleeves and come to me or if I have to slowly earn their trust for them to open up…

I just want them to be what they don’t need to try to be, and I don’t want them to try to be something that they aren’t.

lent.

Today is Good Friday.

It got me thinking about my days in my private school when this time of year was all the rage.  We’d have a reeeeaaaallllyyyy long Spring Break and everyone would be talking about what country their family was vacationing in.  But that wasn’t all they’d talk about in the March and April time frame.

This year, Ash Wednesday came on the 5th of March.  Although this year I saw no Catholics celebrating, in the past I recall the vast majority of my friends having ashen crosses drawn over their foreheads at school.  Yes, they would get up and go to church before our first class started.  Their whole family would.

Okay, so no one really talked about Ash Wednesday like they did Spring Break.  But what they did talk about was their abstinence rings…and Lent.  Specifically, they’d brag about what they were giving up for Lent.

Today, I was reminded of Lent season after reading a few articles about what people were giving up.  Things like Diet Coke, for example.  I was also reminded as I observed many people eating meat on this Friday.  I don’t care what people choose to do, but there are certain people who rigorously celebrate Christianity, so I was in a way appalled when they hypocritically consumed animals for lunch.

But Lent – the season of sacrificing something and honoring Jesus.  As if that does ANYTHING to really honor him – and that’s just it.  DOES IT?

Again, I don’t care what people want to believe.  I don’t care how people celebrate.  Furthermore, I tend to have one view then, if someone down the road presents it from their point of view, I can totally reconsider my own perspective.  But I still have a stigmatism for LENT!

As I said, I read today about people giving up soda or Diet Coke for Lent.  In the past, my friends always gave up chocolate…well, most of them did, anyway.  Either way, both things are TREATS that we OVEREAT.

I guess to make what could become a long story straight, I just wish people would consider giving more meaningful, more sacrificial stuff.  (I personally think smokers should give up smoking.  It’s that kind of sacrifice that really means something.)  Like… why wouldn’t a smoker want to give up smoking for Lent?  Because it’s too hard.  Which is why so many people give up Diet Coke or chocolate.  Well, that’s “hard”….on a totally MATERIALISTIC level.  The point of Lent is to equate what Jesus allegedly did for sinners, so shouldn’t people be making some serious sacrifices?  LIke picking something they DO NOT want to give up, then making themselves give it up anyway?

That’s my two cents at least.

what-ifs and truths.

“I felt kind of…convicted when you said that.”

I remember that conversation in January…part of a valley surrounded by peaks that had been defining the coexistence between me and another person.  I remember the conversation for its weight but also for that expression.  With all of the books I read, can you believe I’d never known how to used “convicted” like that before?  And yet I keep reading blog entries of others saying how “convicted” they felt at revealing something of themselves.  Hmm.

Well, then it happened: I felt convicted.

Lately I’ve been beating myself up to seek out the perfect truth to everything.  I’ve been driven by this concept that there’s a perfect way to live, to think, to be and that I must tear down every wall to find it.  I must clean every slate and read anything I can get my hands on and try to see the world completely open-mindedly.  Because I wanted to find the  truth.

Then I somehow stumbled upon The Order of the Star…and its dissolution.  I was confounded by the words “Truth is a pathless land” until I read this article.  And I thought wow have I been confused.  And it made sense.

You see, the more and more I’ve been trying to find the “truth” about anything and everything, the more muddled and confused I’ve been feeling.  I’m suddenly finding myself checking off lists in my head to see if my logic is precise or my methods of evaluating a situation are according to my standards of open-mindedness.  I’ve been picking apart everything I observe based on two streams of thought: humans as survivalists and humans as spiritualists.  But for what?  It has only made me more confused and surely appear more callous and dull to my friends.

Yet, “Truth is a pathless land”.  There is no truth.  Truth is just an idea that grows into a restriction, into a box out of which to live.  Truth becomes a religious doctrine.  Truth is a lie that sits idol and constricts.  Truth is the reason why the Order dissolved, because truth becomes religion and religion becomes convicting regardless of circumstance.  And I can say that safely after having read several church sermons (okay, mostly UU) which tell this story:

The devil and his friend were walking down the road.  A man in front of them picked something off the ground and put it in his pocket.  “I wonder what he found?” asked the friend.  “A piece of truth,” said the devil.  “Oh, well that’s bad news for you,” said the friend.  “No,” said the devil.  “I’ll let him make a religious following out of it.”

So, in other words, living with absolutes restricts growth.  Seeking that black-and-white answer to become better can actually make us worse.  I know many will disagree, that there is a set list of principles to follow, etc., but I always come back down to intention.  You can follow whatever practices you want, but if you go through the motions then you’re not really practicing anything.  When you pour everything into something, that gives it meaning.  Even when you slip up, it’s the distance you’ve come and the intent in your heart that matters way more than saying you belong to a particular group.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being an individual, group-less good person.  One who finds his own “truths” which he does not raise up or of which he does not hold others accountable.

And now that I’ve eliminated truth, it’s hard to explain my feelings of what-if.  As an engineer/scientist, I want to say FACT, FACT, FACT – yet I believe religion and science are exactly the same thing: they are explanations for the same phenomena and all consist of THEORY.

Examples of accepted facts (which does NOT equate to “truths”):
-gravity is 9.81 m/s2
-the earth is round(ish)
-I must eat to stay alive
-water boils at 100C
-humans don’t have wings

These accepted facts are, well, accepted based on how we define our words and the things we have managed to observe.  But they canNOT be absolute.  Especially when you can only prove something is true by, well,…The truth is, you can only prove something to be wrong, can’t you?

And what about the what-ifs in my life?
what if i hadn’t said that just that one time
what if i had tried harder
what if i hadn’t been late
what if i had made another choice
what if i had been a different person

Well… I can never know what is true from this list since truth doesn’t exist.  But I’m thinking we’re all better off that way.  As my friend said, “The hard times make the good times better.”  And if we had all of the answers and if truth were real, we wouldn’t have any of those unpleasant or pleasant surprises to be thrown at us!

out of body, out of mind.

While waiting for our dinner to be served at the Titlow Tavern and Highland House, my family and I started reading “The Titlow Times” with a supposed 1940 copy of Mr. Titlow’s obituary on it. As I read it, something struck me funny.

Mr. Titlow came by to chat with the judge.

Mr. Titlow said not to forget the reunion next month.

Mr. Titlow fell to the floor, dead.

The body will be returned to the Johnson Chapel…..

Hmm, the body.. Is that not the weirdest thing? How the instant we die we are no longer us? So what makes us us must truly be the spirit and not the body, or whatever makes up our thoughts and decisions.

Kind of like in a past post when I mentioned our bodies rebuilding themselves. How we are still us when our bodies are completely rebuilt. Why is that?

So I am who I am while I am and no more? Scary thought. And now onto dinner.