Monthly Archives: July 2012

The Courage to Live

This is an email I wrote to my best friend today.  After sending it I realized it might be worth sharing with the world.  

Dearest Holden,

Here I am.  Sitting in this little grey cubical at a client I could live with or without.  I’ve sent a few planning emails to clients for my upcoming weeks of travel.  I am executing yet another items request list for yet another client that I have in a few weeks.  So the process goes.

I imagine about right now you are being orientated (at his new job) in some way.  You probably feel a mix of feelings.  A feeling of “I made it” mixed with some excitement and maybe even a little nervousness.  You probably feel some need to rush on to your first project thinking “I just want to get started”.  Oh, and your ambition – your unlimited ambition to be promoted to the next level all to increase that paycheck and put a little more cushion and security between your family and the evils of poverty.

I’ll tell you what I’m thinking.  I am contemplating dreams.  Dreams of giving tourist sailing lessons and fruity drinks on some majestic Island or lake in the mountains.  Dreams of travel, adventure, and excitement.  Dreams of taking one-of-kind photos, writing stories about life, debating the economic and political future of the world.  Dreams where the monotony ends and the excitement doesn’t.  A life so full, so exhausting, and so lived that when I die I will be ready – without regret.

Ask yourself this Holden.  Is this the best your life can be lived?  For myself, sometimes I wonder.  When I die will I look back and say – I should have don it differently.  Or will I look back and say “Damn, that was awesome.”  I hope the latter is what’s in store for my future dying self – I only hope I have the courage to live that way.  Courage.  Courage to get out there and bust society in the mouth.  

Otherwise we’re beat.  We’re beat with the big stick of status quo.  I grin at my 22 days vacation.  I think that’s awesome.  Then I realize the other 250 work days a year I’m stuck wasting most of my time forgetting what it’s like to live a truly amazing life.

We are stuck behind the idea that we are “supposed to do”, “supposed to have”, “supposed to…”, and we so quickly forget what we need.  What we need to live amazingly.  Maybe all that we do is a means to the end – I just hope we realize it when that end comes.  I hope we make the leap.

So here’s to always remembering to be awesome.  Let’s get to it.

Lessons learned in hard times

So I mentioned a couple of days ago that my mother attempted suicide. That was an interesting experience; however, the thing I learned most about the entire event wasn’t how awful the situation is, but instead how these episodes of  life have ultimately shaped me into the person I am today.

On some level the bad days really make you appreciate the good ones.  They humble you and make you appreciative of everything you have.  The good friends, a good wife, all successes, all securities, and even a great group of blog followers who are supporting you the whole way.

Conquering Adversity

I’ve been thinking about my life a lot lately – especially since the incident that happened earlier this week with my mom.  What a duality my life has been.  I remember wrestling for the state championship in high school, being accepted into college, graduating college, getting married, landing my dream job, and a gigantic list of awesome and incredible highs in my life – wow I’m a lucky guy.

On the other hand I remember all of the completely insane things I’ve had to deal with too.  I remember when I was about 9 and my parents would go out and ask for “donations” at local grocery and retail stores for our “youth group” – but pocket the money instead.  I remember seeing all the drugs and alcohol.  I remember my parents arguing and going to my room and praying to God that it would be better one day.  I remember saying to myself when I was a kid “I wonder where I’ll be in five years” and pretending I would be in some awesome place achieving great things – that was my mental hiding spot.

Yeah – I had all of those trials, but what if I hadn’t?  Would I have the drive and will to succeed and conquer adversity today?  Would I be unphased by adversity like I am now?  Would I be as strong or as mature?  I doubt it – and THAT I am thankful for.

Who I am Today

Make no mistake.  We are who we are as a result of each and every experience in our life.  If you frame it appropriately even the worst experience can be an amazing opportunity for self improvement.

When I was driving home Tuesday, thinking about my Mom, a women almost ran me off the road.  She was honking, obviously cussing me out.  Normally, I imagine I would have became angry myself – but not that day.  I took a breathe and told myself “look at what I’m going through right now.  I can only imagine what’s going on in her life too.”  I couldn’t get angry because I realized an ounce of understanding goes a long way.

Maybe that’s the lesson I needed.  To feel a little empathy – something I have admitted in the past that I had very little of at times.  I will never make an excuse for a person’s poor behavior, but at a minimum I can learn to show a little understanding.  Every person’s life is effected by so many variables that it is nearly impossible for us to understand why a person is they way they are.  So instead of getting angry maybe we can just learn to understand that we can’t understand – and accept it.

Thank you

Before I end I just wanted to say thanks to anyone who gave their support to me the other day and those who continue to give me their support.  It means  a lot that a few people that you barely know out there on the internet were nice enough to share a few kind words, prayers, and thoughts.  It is much appreciated.

Food in Guatemala

By popular demand – stuff I remembered to take photos of in Guatemala – that I ate.

My mom attempted Suicide today

My Mom called me while I was at work today. She was upset, but that’s not terribly unusual. She often calls me crying when my father and her have had a fight. I stepped outside to get some privacy and that’s when she said it.

“I just swallowed a whole bottle of Klonopin”.

She was sobbing almost uncontrollable at that point and the adrenaline hit me in the face like a hammer. I almost started to shake and I could feel my lungs contract a little because my body was preparing itself in a fight or flight sort of way.

“Mom, call 911 right now.” She refused. “Mom, for your only son, please call 911 right now.” She refused again and the crying became more intense. “I just want to go and see Jesus” She said. The crying became uncontrollable at that point so I hung up. I took a deep breath and knew it was essential that I stay calm so I could handle the situation; however I couldn’t for the life of me remember my Mom’s address to call 911.

By the time I was able to reach 911 I was informed that parametics were already on the scene. Apparently my Mother also called her sister. I honestly believe that her “attempted suicide” was more a call for help than anything else. She didn’t really want to die.

More to the Story
Oh, but the story gets more interesting. After rushing to the hospital some hours later I find my aunt who has interesting news for me.

“They found Meth in your Mom’s system.”

My only question was who is she getting it from. “She’s getting it from your Father – he’s addicted to.”

So great – though my parents are separated they occasionally share a few hits of Meth together – how romantic. I can’t say I’m surprised though, I’ve had to deal with this shit my entire life. Fucking druggies and liars – you can’t really have one without the other. My parents are both.

I immediately called my father to get the whole story because as it turns out my aunt is a notorious liar too. I have to be a goddamn CIA agent to get any truth out of anyone. So my tactic was to seperate each, question them, and compile the truth from each of their corroborative stories.

Not surprisingly my Dad lied. He first said he had no idea what I was talking about. He said it so convincingly I’m sure he believed it himself. After about a half hour of questioning and begging him to simply “man to man, level with me” he came clean. He has himself been on Meth for years and occasionally shared with my Mother. This is not surprising since each of my parents have done stints with drugs that they finally admitted to me over the years. My Dad, though he does Meth daily and will not quit, claims he is not addicted.

So here I am – a guy trying to live his life. A mother who attempted suicide today, a mother on Meth, a Father also addicted to Meth – and just wondering what the hell I’m supposed to do with this mess. I have shielded myself and my wife from my family with a veil of selfishness – a refusal to recognize my parents’ problems as my own and continued successes in my own life. I refuse to bring myself down because of them. I’ll handle this shit just like I do everything else. If/When I have kids one day – they will never have the burden of their parents to worry about.

I think the helping my Mom to move closer to me is out of the question now, but we’ll see how this plays out. The idea of bringing that kind of trouble into my life may be worse that leaving her to rot in her own soup of destruction. This requires more thought.

She was asleep when I arrived at the hospital so I didn’t even speak to her. The hospital refused to wake her because she was “extremely aggressive” when they brought her in. More good news.

What’s Next
So for the next few days my Mother gets to stay in the hospital. I get to drive 60 miles (one way) to visit her and eventually they will transfer her to some sort of mental hospital for a week or so. At least I’ll have something to write about for the next year decade.

Religion’s Flexibility Proves its Improbability

Flexibility in region has been one of its strongest allies when it comes to conversion – especially when the religion you are talking about is Catholicism. I find this strange, especially if you are a Christian who believes and teaches that the bible and your traditions are the result of a one true and infallible God. To me a religion’s ability to change, fundamentally change, in order to gain followers at any cost is more evidence religion is more about power and an innate desire to belong than it is proof religion is a supernatural phenomena.

Church in Guatemala with a number of Christian and Mayan symbols and practices.

For example, while I was in Guatemala, we ran across church after church which had implemented aspects of the Mayan faith in order to gain acceptance of the Catholic church by the local residents. The result is an almost hybrid tradition of Mayan legends, imagery, and stories seamlessly integrated with Catholicism. Sometimes to the point where the former Christian and/or Mayan tradition is almost unrecognizable as its original form. Yet, the Catholic church completely accepts them as Christians and proud members of the church body – a further extension of the power of the Vatican. If there is one true religion, on true law passed down by a supernatural God, then do these hybrids qualify?

Human NOT Supernatural
The fact that most of the world shares a belief in a supreme and supernatural power, but cannot agree upon which supernatural power is “right” leads me to believe that the answer lies within ourselves rather than the supernatural.

It is natural to desire a feeling of transcendence and connection – even if that means making up a religion, a God, or a tradition to develop that connection. Native American tribes did it, the Romans did it, and so has everyone else – the one difference – no one agreed about who is really in charge up there.

Similarly with the Catholic/Mayan hybrids these developments were for people – no the supernatural. They were designed to recruit followers, to empower the already powerful church – NOT to celebrate a strict set of laws written in the Bible.

I get it
I want to draw a clear distinction in my argument. I am not arguing that what the Catholics did was wrong, nor am I arguing that their conversion tactics somehow violated the laws of their religion. Rather, I am arguing that this sheds light to the fundamental nature of mankind and their desire to follow a group. Whether one worships a Mayan, Christian, or Sky God makes little difference as long as the need for community and transcendence is fulfilled.

It seems to me that if there were one true God and religious law there wouldn’t be so much variety in religious experience. If God created men, revealed himself, and created a natural instinct to know him wouldn’t we all be Christian’s by default? However, this isn’t the case.

Native Americans, Mayans, Buddhists, Christians etc. had no inclination each other existed before they bumped into each other throughout history. They had no idea that one group served multiple Gods while another served one. There was no feeling of wrongness for their beliefs, no questioning. This variety of belief, even in geographically close proximity, is evidence religion is a human creation not supernatural one.

“Guatemala Changes You”

Central America is the kind of place you sit back and enjoy the slow pace, enjoy having an extra button undone on your shirt, and maybe have another cerveza. If you make that cervesa a morning coffee, add in a few 400 year old buildings, and surround yourself with the most beautiful mountain and volcanic landscape you can think of then you have some understanding of what it’s like to be in Antigua, Guatemala. But it’s more than that.

Gringos on Arrival
I remember touching down in Guatemala. We hustled through customs and upon walking out of the airport we were bombarded with people – people trying to sell their items and services to tourists. People begging to sell you a bracelet, give you a ride, or just help out a little for a modest tip. I didn’t know who to trust, so I just waited for my ride. Finally my “shuttle” pulled up. By shuttle I mean a 1995 Honda Accord.

My wife and I hoped in and it wasn’t long before I realized we weren’t getting on the interstate. We were pulling into a neighborhood. A neighborhood in Guatemala City. The driver didn’t say anything, he just honked the horn. All the things and warnings I had read began to shout themselves in my head. This was it – we were going to be robbed. I acted cool, but started shoving identification and credit cards into my shoe just in case they took everything we had. If I was nervous I could only imagine the terror my wife must have been feeling.

Then it happened. A guy opened the passenger door. “Sorry Guys! I’m Late” A guy from Azerbaijan hoped in the car. He was running late and was sharing the shuttle to Antigua. We later found out that he even knew a mutual friend of ours. What a small world.

Then on the radio, a sports program, Guatemala scored a goal. The driver screamed “GOOOOAAAAALLLLL!” For the first time I saw him smile and I knew Guatemala was going to be alright.

Antigua is another planet situated perfectly at home inside of Guatemala. It is beautiful. Not just visually, but also evoking all other emotions it is possible to feel. There are 40 churches, each of them older than anyone living today. There are traces of tragedy and opportunity on every streets. Columns laying where they fell reminding everyone of the earthquake and volcanoes that rule the landscape – but a city to perfect and valuable to give up to nature.

Antigua is a foody’s dream, an artist haven, an architects museum, and a travelers Oasis. It’s the kind of place you visit for a few days and contemplate life and wonder why you spend so much of it in an office. Every street is lined with cobble-stone, every building reeks of history, and the the faces of the residents and visitors all melt together in some strangely constructed way that somehow makes perfect and wonderful sense.

Lago de Atitlan
Lake Atitlan is about 2.5 hours outside of Antigua. Upon arrival we took a boat to three villages which surround the lake. Each with a particular culture of their own.

The first was a village ran by Mayan women who produce textiles. They were among the most friendly and lovely people I have ever encountered. My wife befriended them immediately – even with broken Spanish and a lot of hand gestures they were able to communicate almost flawlessly. It is encounters like these that make such an experience priceless.

Without ruining Atitlan by an attempt to briefly explain it and its awesome beauty – hopefully sharing it will do more good.

The Guatemala Experience
Trying to explain Guatemala in a few hundred words is impossible. I can’t really explain what is what like to wake up every morning, walk down the streets of Antigua, and sip on coffee in the Parque Central – I can only say that I did it. I am not skilled enough a writer to describe the scene at Lake Atitlan, or the smiles on the Mayan women’s faces, or how every door in Antigua had more character than the most modern suburban home – I can just show you a few pictures and say it is so. I can’t even tell you how being in a Guatemala changed my outlook on things, changed the way I feel to live in this “modern” society, and helped me grow if only a little – I can only say it happened.

Over the next few weeks I plan to continue sharing photos and posts about my experience in Guatemala.

People around Antigua, Guatemala – Day 4

Antigua is a true place of beauty. Among all of the students, wealthy elite, and people scrambling to sell to tourists there are people just living their lives. Doing what they do every day.

Guatemala Day 3

More walking around and a lot of eating. My wife and I celebrated our Anniversary today and I decided to splurge by going to the nicest restaurant in town. The food was perhaps the best I have ever had and cost a “whopping” $40 including 2 drinks and tip. (Hector’s in Antigua, Guatemala)

Click to view larger.

Antigua, Guatemala Day 2

A 3 hour walking tour took me to a few of the most famous churches, crypts, and museums around Antigua, Guatemala. I tried to capture some of the amazing things we saw, but a camera can never quite do it justice. I also scheduled a trip to the famous lake Atitlan, Pacaya Volcano, and 3 surrounding Mayan villages for Friday. I look forward to sharing that with you all too.

Guatemala Day 1

I found a cyber cafe and decided to take advantage of the opportunity and share a few pictures from my first few hours in Antigua, Guatemala. Hopefully I can update daily and recap the whole experience when I get back state-side. So here’s a look at (rainy) day 1.