Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Intensity of Moments

Hollywood gets it. They make millions every year because they understand what moves us... often better than we understand ourselves. The movies we remember and desire to watch over and over again aren't always the ones that had the best overall plot or character development. In fact, we rarely think about our favorite movies in their entirety, but as a collection of memorable snapshots. Often, a favorite movie is as such simply because of as little as a single moment that moves some facet of our emotion. When I say that we are moved, it does not always mean a life-changing epiphany either. One example of this for me is Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (a Christmas classic if you ask me). The remote gets a lot of attention when this DVD is enlisted.

The scene that stands out for my wife and me is when the hotel staff, led by the bell captain, chases Kevin up to his room. They are met by an excerpt of the audio portion of "Angels with Even Filthier Souls" as Kevin plays back several lines as if an adult male (presumably Kevin's father) is angrily addressing the pursuing mob while brandishing a Tommy Gun. The interchange is hilarious. But the single funniest moment to me is when the entire group is led to believe that if the don't do as they are told, they face eminent gun fire. Per instruction, they all recite the words "I Love You" in dramatic unison. We watch that over and over again, the laughter builds with each playback. It's priceless!

Of course this does not illustrate what one would call an intense moment, but it is a great example of my point... that it is this few moments that most frequently jumps to mind when I think about this movie. There are others but this one is just hilarious to me!

In my experience, just as in movies, life's greatest moments are just that... moments! They usually exist within a particular experience or chapter of life. When we are asked to define ourselves or our strengths and experiences in resumes and interviews, we tend toward the big accomplishments and list our work experience and education in outline form. In essence, we condense the big chapters of our lives into bullet points. Instead, we should remember that life is better defined by those, often unexpected little happenings that beg to be expounded upon.

It was 2:00 on a January morning a number of years ago. It hadn't snowed here in the Chicago area yet that season. I was leaving the next day... I wouldn't be coming back. I was moving to Phoenix. I have always loved when it snows. My sister knew that. I was asleep. Did I mention I was going to be driving a bit the next day? From within a dream, I heard my sister calling my name. Once I was fully awake, I realized she was standing outside the door, not inexplicably and suddenly part of an already incoherent story that I couldn't remember much less explain.

She woke me to tell me it was snowing. She knew I wouldn't want to have missed it. Strange, it wasn't supposed to snow. How could the weather man have been wrong? The weather reports here in Chicago are always so accurate. Hmm? Wonder what happened. Anyway... it was snowing. In fact, it was snowing quite heavily. I wanted to be fully awake for this... I probably wouldn't see snow for quite some time. I looked out the window a few times and then stepped outside for a minute to make sure it was going to last. (I am an expert in these things) Once I determined that it looked like it was going to be around for a while I went back inside to prepare properly for the impending experience. Anyway my bare feet were turning blue. I took a shower and got dressed. Several layers.

Once I got a fire started in the fireplace (for stage two of the ritual) and tightened the laces on my boots, I quietly opened the door and stepped out into my private midnight utopia. I stood in the driveway for a minute and just took it in. I could feel an extra measure of life filling my lungs with each breath. It was dark and I couldn't see much. I could, though, feel the elements. It was absolutely still... not the slightest hint of a breeze. It wasn't very cold either. I could feel the snowflakes settling on my face and the top of my head. They were huge, nearly weightless. I stood there and just tried to become part of the landscape. I breathed. I listened. I began to consider all that I was grateful for. It was incredibly easy to do. In that moment I stayed.

I began to walk. Down the driveway listening to the gentle, yet crisp, sound of my feet crunching the initial layer of the seasons first snowfall. When I moved away form the house and my eyes adjusted, I realized that it wasn't that dark. The night was enveloped in a pale blue glow that had no apparent origin. I looked straight up first. My field of vision was filled with the intricate dance of millions of the new descending additions to the landscape. A few more steps brought me to to the end of the driveway into the rural cul-de-sac that we lived on. From there I could see several of the lamp posts that garnish the neighborhood yards. In the glow of one of these silent sentinels I could see that my senses had not betrayed me. The snow was heavy with the biggest snowflakes I'd ever seen falling nearly straight down, yet so slowly.

I walked for a long time. I began talking to my friend who had quietly joined me for the trip. We discussed the beauty of each detail of the gentle snowfall. The tree branches that grew ever whiter yet unmoved by any weight, the thick blanket beneath my feet that offered no resistance whatsoever, the slowly changing texture of the freshly plowed farm field to the south, the sound... the silent crystal sound of the snowflakes greeting the surface that filled the night. It was everywhere. I tried to explain it to my friend... he just listened and walked alongside and slightly behind me. We walked for a couple of miles. We considered each and every vignette created by the event and discussed how each impacted us. Lot's of stops along the way.

I didn't worry about anything that night. I just walked, witnessed, and expressed wonder and gratitude. As we parted, I said goodnight and thanks for the snow. I believe he said it was his pleasure. I went home and sat by the fire watching the snow as it fell in the woods behind the house until the daylight replaced the night. It kept snowing all day. I had to wait an extra day before I could leave for Arizona. I'll never forget that night.

Friday, November 12, 2010

I Set Goals, I Made Plans... What'd I Miss?!?

Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.

- John Lennon

I've never quoted John Lennon before but this particular insight is far more profound to me than most of what he has been know to say. For most of us, including myself for a long time, the likes of this are often recited with a well-rehearsed upward glance and an inflection of egocentric wisdom as if the speaker has attained some rare cosmic awareness that all listeners should receive with awe.

All that said, what I thought I might do is simply try to apply it and at least add it to the criteria by which I measure my own success as I take a daily inventory. To this end I devote this blog...

I left my job a few months ago to pursue other things. Unfortunately, things didn't go quite as planned. Now I have to manage the situation. BUT, this is where my situation and that of many others cease to differ. Once you find yourself in a difficult situation, even a situation that is not your fault, it is, more often that not, your problem to solve. As I am not attempting to write a how-to guide on finding a job in a slow economy, I'll leave it at that.

The last several weeks have, though, given me the opportunity to learn, or at least reinforce, three very important lessons that life often tries to teach us....

1) In time, we can solve (or at least improve) most of our problems we are faced with if we put all of our resources to the effort.

2) Don't always mistake an unforeseen change of circumstances as an automatic tragedy.

3) Take notice of everything that is going on in your life, because that is what life is!

It seems the third lesson is the one that we seem to have the most difficult time getting our head around, especially in this age where success and value are measured by salaries, titles, bank accounts, and investment portfolios. We all have a way of focusing our energies and agendas on what will make us successful. I will be fair and concede that many have defined success in more ways that just personal gain or recognition. Many goals are quite noble or beautiful. But they are still goals to be attained. At least that is how it has been for me. I seem to be always in pursuit of something, constantly striving and pressing. Sometimes as honorable as academic achievement or a service project, or often as self-centered as pointless recognition or financial gain. And everything in between. I have started so many conversations by asking about projects or business endeavors or looking for the first opportunity to tell someone of my latest success or accomplishment.

Recent choices and unexpected results have set me up for some setbacks and opportunities. I have, in fact, made some plans as a result of the unexpected. Not the least of these plans have been a new business start up. As a matter of fact, I am working on a business that I have been considering for quite some time. I am indeed giving that a lot of time and effort. But that is not what I am here to talk about. Right now I am more interested in what is happening around me while I am planning this phase of my life. The business may or may not be a success. More than likely, it will look very different than I envision at this point.

I did get a new job. I work at a nearby Trader Joe's grocery store. Compared to what I did before (at least the salary) I could say that I'm underemployed. But that isn't true. It's a very rewarding job that, not only affords me a new set of opportunities, it also bestows an amazing new resource for experiences. I already have a number of cool stories to tell. But interestingly, one of my new life experiences was there all along. Right there before me, and it took all of this to make me me very grateful for this experience that I have the joy of experiencing every day.

It's about Teddy...

Teddy is my dog. He's a seven year old Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier. Oddly, not a breed I would have chosen. I always fancied myself more of a Retriever type (whatever that means). Anyway, Teddy is very energetic and passionate. He knows what he wants when he wants it. It's always a very good idea to keep all food that is intended for human consumption pushed way back on the kitchen counter. Anything near the edge is eternally in the corner of his eye. He knows better. He understands the cost of eating my Tombstone pizza while I'm in the bathroom. But, to Teddy, that pizza is worth any verbal abuse that may come his way. He likes his crate anyway. I regularly buy two (their usually two-for-one anyway). Works out well for both of us.

It's not that I didn't have time to spend with Teddy in the past. It's also not that I never did. I did, he's my dog. I just never found myself planning my day around seeing Teddy. I never stopped to pick up a treat for him on my way home. He's just a dog. But lately, now that I have this new job where I work in the evening and come home late at night, things are different. Every night when I get home, all I want to do is sit down, eat a pizza (really!) and watch TV. Teddy joins me. He's a big part of the ritual. He get some of the pizza. I actually give it to him. I've heard tell that some dog experts says that pizza is not good for a dog. Teddy disagrees. After I've been home a while and Teddy has had enough pepperoni and mushroom, he does that stand-up-spin-around-sniff-spin-around-again-for-no-reason-that-he-can-explain and then rolls over to the other end of the couch. Teddy needs his personal space for sleeping. Scratching Teddy's back during this little get together is also a bid deal. When I do it, he repeatedly licks the air above his head. I have no idea why. I think he knows that it entertains me and I keep scratching.

One night I got home and Teddy wasn't there. At first, I didn't think much of it... just figured he went out to get a pizza. A few minutes later, I got a text from my sister-in-law who live's here part time (a whole nother story). As it turns out, she decided to take him with her to her friend's house for the night. I tried to just let it go... she's actually really good with Teddy. Nope, not gonna work. My sister in law doesn't like to talk on the phone. She prefers texting. She says it's not safe to TALK on the phone while driving and such. This said, we had a two and a half hour text conversation (6 or 7 actual texts) about her bringing Teddy home. It was two in the morning when they got here. She wasn't happy... I was though. Teddy slept on the couch by my feet. No pizza that night.

The point? I still have some problems to deal with. I'm behind on a lot of bills. The new job isn't gonna pay them all. I need to keep my plans moving. I do have a life happening everyday. Lot's of great things to be grateful for, not the least of which is Teddy and licking the air. Life is good today. Gotta take the dog out now.