strangers.

Everyone has a purpose in our lives.  Sometimes, it would seem like people only exist to anger us or annoy us.  But there’s a purpose to why they’re there.

Or, maybe we retroactively assign the purpose.

But,

Whatever the case,

There’s a take-away from each account.

Sometimes those people are only people in our lives because we passively encounter them in public.  We may never say a word to them, or even look directly at them.  We might only overhear a comment they make, and then they move on.  That moment might be the only moment in all of history that we are near that person, never to see them again.  But what they say, we might hear it.  And it might stick with us.  And if it angers us, it might become fuel for us.

Today, I am writing from Phoenix.  It is currently 106F.  Hot, yes, but not as hot as it gets in the summer here.  To be honest, I like the heat.  I think it’s because I’m always cold.  People pull me out of the sun constantly, saying “Stand in the shade!”  I just say, “I sit in the shade too much.  I need this.”  It feels good.  It makes vitamins.

I miss the forests.  I miss the moisture and the greenery.  I want so badly to swim, but there are very few rivers or lakes to swim in.  The absence of these things really tear at me.

But I also love the desert.  I love its resilience.  I love the chemistry of its skies.  I love its living geology.  Its biodiversity becomes so much more evident to me as I drive from the Chuska Mountains to the Sonora Desert.  Elevation has an incredible effect on beings.  We must adapt to our environments.

Unless you’re a human in Phoenix.

At lunch, I overheard a conversation about weather.  The man beside me was complaining about the cold.  He insisted living in cold weather was illogical and nearly impossible.  It was too much work to shovel snow off a car.  It was too cold to warm back up again.  All you needed to do was live where it is hot, run some air-conditioning, and feel comfortable.

This person, I might never see him again.  I never looked at his face, just his right shoe.  I don’t know his name.  What I do know is that he has no regard for the environment, no concept of the climate crisis, no idea of how social status affects one’s access to things like electricity and climate control.  Based on his comments during the conversation, he lives in Phoenix because he lives in an isolated, indoor environment, completely detached from the reality surrounding him in the environment, on tribal lands, and on the international southern border.  The woman across from him even described a friend of hers as being someone “interested in environmental rights or whatever you call it”.  Like, what?

This person could easily mean nothing to me, but was he really without purpose?  Whoever he is, he did contribute in one way or another to my view of Phoenix, of Arizona, of the United States, of the world.  It is a valid point that people don’t understand that air-conditioning is no global solution.  It is true that these people don’t realize the seriousness of living the way people live in Phoenix, the heart of a desert enclosed by tribal and park lands to the point that its growth is severely limited without infringing on environmental and/or indigenous rights.

Sometimes, we have to overhear the ignorant comments and conversations.  Without them, we wouldn’t know where to make corrections.  We wouldn’t know how to identify progress.  We would be stagnant.

In a way, strangers represent an entire population.  The majority of a population will likely always be strangers anyway.  It’s the ideas they have, the things they think and say, and their inability to see through other perspectives that become my concern.  That’s where I see the importance of strangers to my career path and my life.  Without these strangers demonstrating street ignorance, I might not realize the severity of such gaps in perspectives and understanding of critical topics.

Yahdilah…y Pa’lante!

saudade.

Nearly the same as the Welsh word “hiwaeth” but without exact English translation, “saudade” is a Portuguese word best described as a deep nostalgia felt for something you kind of know you’ll never have again. Maybe it’s memories of a family member or friend who is gone, or maybe it’s a POW presumably lost to an unknown reason. Today, I feel saudade for something less severe but just as nostalgic: summer.

Growing up, you always had a summer. Even if you had a summer job or summer school, it was still summer. It was like a dam broke and sunshine went everywhere. But when you earn the diploma you finally got after years of struggle and sunshiny summers, you get the reward of a bleak, monotonous, repetitive career of no summer. I used to think summer would feel the same, but it doesn’t. Not when you come home to an empty house, tired, and not even when I played softball this summer. It felt more like a chore. Probably because I had to get myself there on time, remember all my stuff, and pay.

I remember what summer was, that concept that only gets farther from my mind as time passes. To me, summer is humid air, cicadas, baseball, and the tail end of tropical storms whipping across Pennsylvania. My summers began in June and ended in September. June was wet, July was hot, August was smoldering, and September smelled like fall – at least that’s how it stuck in my mind.

Summer was green legs. It was several acres of fresh cut grass in a semi-damp June, my brother and I fresh out of school, throwing our bags on the porch and running into the staining yard before we even changed out of our uniforms. It was long, sunny nights full of catch, ice cream at the Sundae Barn, and jars of lightning bugs. It was letting the dogs run through the yard. It was the sound of air conditioning and the feeling of no bed time.

June was also the Pennsylvania State Shoot. Our camper would be pulled into the parking at our house. We would climb onto the roof from the side of our house and scrub it down with earth-friendly wash. Then we would pack it up – two weeks of clothes, mini packs of mixed cereal, Yoohoo, Gushers, canned peas which I always thought tasted better than fresh (I also used to think it was the trailer water that made them taste that way),… And soon we spent the end of June in Elysburg, my dad shooting, the smell of exploding shells, the campground my brother and I would bike around endlessly. The candy store at the gate where we used all our money to buy candy cigarettes. The campground pool where we met with our friends. The pond where we fished. The speed bumps we did tricks over. Coming in for taco dinner against our will, but then being happy dad won a medal, hang cat lights on the awning, and make s’mores in the fire. Biking to the ice cream shack with Winnie and laughing as kids fed baby comes to our dog. And, of course, Knoebels and fudge shakes.

Then before we knew it we were asleep in the backseat, That Darn Cat or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or Bed Knobs and Broomsticks or whatever playing in the VHS slot of the TV mom bungee corded to the front middle seat. I remember white out rainstorms where we couldn’t even pull over because all we could do was follow dimmed tail lights. And I remember the click clack of the driveway drainage gate as our truck heaved our 5th wheel up our driveway and vacation was over.

But it wasn’t really over.

Summer continued through a hot July. Sometimes we saw fireworks, but usually we just sat on our porch to watch them explode in seven different towns simultaneously. The perks of mountain life. Usually this time of year our grass burned out – and sometimes our well did too. Without water, we had to lug pails up and down the hill to water our corn. The dairy farm next year always had corn twice as high as ours. “Knee high by the Fourth of July”. Well, Dave had his corn to my shoulders and ours was shin high.

By July, the wild berries were either picked clean by birds, trespassing kids from the neighboring trailer court, or fries on the jaggers by the sun. July was the time at home for play, for dirt biking and building tipis with the hides dad had given us the past winter from his deer kills. This was the time to swat Mosquitos from our perch in the tree house, or maybe to hide from the sun in the wicked cool air vents, reading a book or playing games.

We also visited our grandparents. Kyle and I would climb Grandma M’s Catalpa tree and feed birds, or bike up and down the lane, delivering fake newspapers we had typed on her old typewriter. And Grandma D’s, we would play in the barn, making witches’ brew in the rusty cattle trough, balancing on steel beams, searching for cats in the hay loft or spiders in the corn bin, or watching uncle Mike feed pigs. We would also play in the abandoned pump station and “surf hay bales”. We threw rotten apples down the old well and walked down the lane past Indian Paintbrushes to get the mail. At night, we would gaze out over the twinkling lights of Uniontown at the base of the mountain visible from grandma’s bedroom window. At both grandparents’, we would explore the gardens and ride our bikes on trails.

In August, Aunt Jean and Uncle Craig would be picking vegetables in the garden they set up at the bottom of our hill. We used to stand on the porch and blow a silver whistle so they would look up and wave. But August wasn’t spent at home for long. We usually took care of the horses down the road, then handed over our keys to friends and took our own trip away from home. This time, it was the Grand American. Until our last attendance when it was in Sparta, Illinois, we found ourselves sending two weeks in Vandalia, Ohio.

I remember miniature golf games and shopping at Meijer’s or Kroger’s. I remember staying up late because the newest Harry Potter book came out. I remember crossing the road to go to Friendly’s for ice cream sundaes, or to that creepy King-themed restaurant with the hot air balloon inside. I remember miles of trap line and thousands of campers. We watched airplanes leave the airport and dad break birds all day long. We biked endlessly, as always. Some days, I hid under my camper with my Harriet the Spy kit, writing down all the things I saw my neighbor doing. Which was never anything interesting. (“He filled the dog bowl of water. He went back inside. He has been inside for twenty minutes.”). In the evening, the whole family biked or sometimes roller bladed until we were ready to drop. Some nights, we sneaked out and bagged thrown out shells for dad to reload later. Other times, we went to see a demonstration of a guy who would throw watermelons and other fun things into the air and shoot them under the bright lights that showed off hundreds of moths.

I remember running to the score board to see dad’s standings as we walked around all day at the vendors. My favorite vendors included a guy from Australia with an accent and stuff koalas/kangaroos, Uncle Ray who wasn’t my uncle in real life but who sold colorful shooting lenses and squishy modeled ear plugs, the Navajo jewelry tents, and the random guy who gave me and my brother lollipops and our first taste of pistachios. I also remember the bathroom sinks, shaped in a circle with a water pedal and powdered soap.

Then August ends and we are home everything’s slowing down. Trips to the library, summer homework, and the weather changing to a cooler summer – at least until those couple shock weeks when the temperature would shoot back up to the 90s plus.

I miss shucking corn in the yard and picking pattypan squash from the garden. Softball games. Eating on Aunt Jean’s covered patio, licking melting fudgesicles, and turning the Skittle dispenser. Playing Don’t Break the Ice. Playing Monopoly, Sorry!, Uno, and Yahtzee! by candlelight when the power went out……. How can one season hold so many memories?

Well, there’s a taste of my saudade for you. I could go on forever.

weather reminder.

Just yesterday afternoon, three friends and I were sitting in the scorching sun at the Reds stadium, eating Skyline Chili and paying $4 just to eat a dripping snow cone that would give us a 3 minute relief from overheating. While sitting beside home plate, cheering on the Pirates, I began recalling all of my favorite memories of summer in the past. They were always revolved around camping, trapshooting, and baseball. I thought, could it be? With the exception of actually PLAYING a sport, hockey is not my favorite. It’s actually baseball. Why? Well, I’ve been playing it longer, my dad played and would play with us in the backyard, and…IT IS OUTSIDE.

In that moment, I was feeling the hot sun and the open ceiling, realizing I was subjected to the sky overhead. Someone shouted, “Wind’s in your favor!” to the batter at the plate and I realized how human and animalistic this outdoor sport can make you feel. In hockey, it’s artificial ice in a closed room as sunlight blocking and biological clock cloaking as a casino. Here, even the wind controlled the game – not just then players.

And then the high wind warning struck, blowing in a horrific thunderstorm that forced everyone into the shelter. Radar lit up the screens, lighting split the sky, thunder threatened to bust out skyscraper windows, sheets of rain drenched bystanders, and a man caught an umbrella midair as it whipped through our huddled section next to Hebrew Nation’s dog stand. We waited and waited and finally it blew over. We returned to wet seats, watching the World Cup on the big screen until the tarps were lifted and the game resumed, the air rising yet again with humidity as the temperature spiked back. The rude people with umbrellas sat back in front of us, removing ponchos.

I love these games, the excitement of a home run or loaded bases – regardless of whom they’re in favor. The nachos with jalapeños, the peanuts. The stupid songs, mascots, and fan trivia. The huge screens with more information than you can process. And also…the earthiness of it all. The reminder that even pleasures in life are not separate from the dangers of a dictating natural environment. We are small, even smaller than a packed baseball field makes you feel with it’s open outfield overlooking the Kentucky banks and its home plate overshadowed by enormous buildings.

I really love baseball.

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.

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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.