Thankful Thursday 8 – Song of Myself

Grasses_in_the_Valles_Caldera_2014-06-26

Picture from wikipedia. ‘Cause that’s where I find everything.

I was reading Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” today. When I studied Whitman a little bit in high school and undergrad I remember not liking him. I don’t have any good reasons for that (at least not any that I remember), but a distaste for his work has stuck with me. Regardless, I was looking for a quote that I remembered, (which might appear in another post if I get it edited to my liking) and I found that it was from this poem.

The work isn’t something that I’d give to a kid, since it gets a little erotic in places, but I found the piece incredibly moving.

His meditation on grass in section six (I put the text at the bottom of this post) was particularly striking, perhaps because mortality is something I think about a lot these days. I love all the meanings he ascribes to something so simple: a remembrance of the creator, a symbol of the basic equality of all people, or the words of the dead communicating with us.

The whole tone of the poem is so hopeful. It embraces the potential and the nobility of humanity, and I’m always a sucker for stuff like that. It’s worth taking some time to read it. I found the whole thing online here.

Today I’m grateful that I could steal a few moments to think and reflect about my life, and I’m grateful for Whitman’s inspired and inspiring words.

6

A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;

How could I answer the child? . . . . I do not know what it is any more than he.

I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropped,
Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we may see and remark, and say Whose?

Or I guess the grass is itself a child . . . . the produced babe of the vegetation.

Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,
Growing among black folks as among white,
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same, I receive them the same.

And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

Tenderly will I use you curling grass,
It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men,
It may be if I had known them I would have loved them;
It may be you are from old people and from women, and from offspring taken soon out of their mothers’ laps,
And here you are the mothers’ laps.

This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old mothers,
Darker than the colorless beards of old men,
Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.

O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues!
And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths
for nothing.

I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men and women,
And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring taken soon out of their laps.

What do you think has become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and children?

They are alive and well somewhere;
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceased the moment life appeared.

All goes onward and outward . . . . and nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.

Thankful Thursday 6 – State Holidays Edition

I was looking for a picture of Gene, but I don't have one, so here's one of the kids with their Nana-his oldest daughter.

I was looking for a picture of Gene, but I don’t have one, so here’s one of the kids with their Nana-his oldest daughter.

Happy 24th of July! I’m not really much of an exclamation mark guy, buy that sentence looks weird without it. If you don’t know me personally and you’re reading this, just imagine Eeyore delivering that sentence and you’ll have a good idea of how I’d actually say it.

Just now I was curious how many state holidays actually exist, and there are more than I thought. Here’s a list. Did you know that Indiana celebrates Lincoln’s birthday as an official state holiday, but that they hold the celebration the day after Thanksgiving, instead of in February when it actually was? That’s odd, right? Thanks for the factoid, internet.

So today in Utah it’s Pioneer Day. It commemorates the day that Brigham Young and the first group of Mormon pioneers entered the Salt Lake valley in 1847. I’m grateful for the pioneers and their sacrifices. Whenever I get the chance to really think about what they did, I’m just blown away.

Today is also an important observance on Bonnie’s side of the family: it’s Grandpa Gene’s birthday. Grandpa Gene is Bonnie’s maternal grandfather. He passed away before I joined the family, but by all accounts he was an amazing and inspiring person. I’m grateful that my wife and kids have inherited such a fantastic legacy.

Finally, we’re also right in the middle of a family reunion with all of Bonnie’s brothers and sisters. We’ve spent most of the week up at their cabin in Provo canyon, so I’m stealing a few minutes to get this post out. It’s been a lot of fun, and deserves its own post, but I’m grateful that we’ve had the opportunity to spend time together. Also, apologies to anyone who commented in the last few days, I haven’t been near my computer for a bit.

So like I said, there’s much to be grateful for today. It’s been a good week, and we’ve still got a few more days of reunion to go. I’m looking forward to it.

Thankful Thursday 5 – Hiking

This is a view of one of the peaks as you start out on the trail.

This is a view of one of the peaks as you start out on the Slate Canyon trail.

I decided to set some goals for myself while I’m in  Utah. I need to have some direction and control, especially when I don’t have much control over other areas of my life at this moment.

One area I need to work on is physical fitness. I’m not in particularly good shape. I’m not hugely obese or anything, but I’ve definitely got a few extra pounds. I can’t run fast. I can’t jump high. I’m a terrrible swimmer. I’ve never done a pull-up…

You get the picture.

On the other hand, I’ve always aspired to the ideal of the Renaissance man. I’m a pretty talented person generally, but if one area in my life is neglected, physical fitness is it.

With that in mind, my physical fitness goal is to hike the summit of Mount Timpanogos. I’ve lived almost my whole life looking up at that mountain, and I’ve never hiked to the top. I’m giving myself a couple months to get into some sort of shape (round is a shape, right?), and I’ve started doing some easier hikes in the area. Last week I hiked Battle Creek with the kids, which is a short, easy hike to a waterfall. This morning I tried hiking Slate Canyon by myself.

I did not make it all the way through the trail (I mis-typed that as trial initially, which is close enough); I don’t even think I made it halfway through the trail. It was steep and I can’t breath at elevation yet. However, I still had a really nice time. How many places have views like this just ten minutes from home?

This is looking out of the valley on the way down.

This is looking out over the valley on the way down the trail..

If I was in better shape I would have been singing or humming, rather than gasping and huffing, but I had two songs going through my head as I did the hike: For the Beauty of the Earth and Wolf’s Fußreise (here’s a translation).

Fun Fact: If you time your steps to fit with the beat of the song you’re imagining, then the song will get slower and slower in your head as you tire out. I was walking to the most dirge-like For the Beauty of the Earth that you can imagine.

The truth is that Utah wilderness is sublime. I’m grateful that I have some time to explore it and see how amazing it is.

Thankful Thursday 4 – Silver Linings Edition

W-23We finally arrived in Utah after our long road trip. We had a great time, and I’ve got a few more posts coming about that in the next few days. However, it’s Thursday, so it’s time to talk about gratitude. There have obviously been a lot of challenges this month, but I’ve been surprised at how many things have worked out well. For every bad thing, there are a lot of reasons why it was the best possible time for that bad thing.

Bonnie was talking to her Mom yesterday about how well so many things have worked out. For instance, Clark and Wayne were already planning a road trip through Cleveland, so we were able to meet up with them and spend some time in Kirtland and Nauvoo.

Most people expected Laura to go on a French-speaking mission, since she’s studied it a lot. Instead, she got called to Taiwan, which means that she spent twelve weeks in the MTC instead of eight. In addition, she put in her papers in December, but didn’t leave until April. All of these things meant that the timing of her mission coincided with Bonnie getting sick. Because of that, she can take a break for a transfer to see Bonnie without the massive inconvenience of travelling from Taiwan to Utah.

A particularly noticeable bad/good thing happened last night: our car failed catastrophically. Go 2014! Obviously that’s bad, but the timing of the failure couldn’t be better. We drove that thing almost 3000 miles in the last two weeks. Then when we got here, we drove it back to Provo and then up to Pleasant Grove. It did (relatively) fine for all of that.

Last night, however, we drove it a distance of maybe two miles to see Gran. When we pulled into the parking lot, I heard a sort of hissing/fizzing sound. We looked under the car and green fluid was spraying everywhere, while smoke leaked out from under the hood. I’m not sure what’s wrong yet, but it couldn’t have happened in a better place. Gran has a van that she doesn’t use a lot, so we were able to move all the stuff from our car to hers and make it back home.

Like I said, this is the silver linings edition of Thankful Thursday. Just moment ago I typed out this sentence, “Of course, I would be happier if all these things hadn’t happened.”

As soon as I typed it out, I stopped. In reality, I don’t know that that’s true. I’m not glad that Bonnie is sick, and I’m not glad that our car broke down, but I feel like these little things illustrate what seems to be a common theme for Bonnie and me these last two years: even when things go wrong, they still work out. You can still be happy in the middle of all of that. I’m not even sure if the happiness comes in spite of or because of the challenges.

Think about it for a second. What really makes you happy?

  • Feeling connected to others
  • Sensing God in your life
  • Feeling like you matter
  • Family
  • Friends
  • A purpose
  • Security

You can probably add a few things of your own to the list, but the truth is that a major catastrophe like an illness in the family can improve most of those things (with the exception of security). I’m not saying that Bonnie getting sick is some awesome thing that has made me much happier, but it hasn’t destroyed my happiness like you might expect. More than anything it’s given me perspective on life and what I want to do with it. I’m grateful for that most of all.

Thankful Thursday 3 – Radio Silence

radio-silence-L-M8qvlZI just finished writing a different post and was about to hit publish when I noticed that it’s Thursday. Which means that it’s Thankful Thursday. I decided to postpone that other post and actually get a Thankful Thursday post published on Thursday. I’m just improving at this blogging thing every day.

Bonnie and I (half-)jokingly decided to go radio silent on our car trip. No calls or texts to other people. While we haven’t exactly been perfect at it, we’ve done pretty well. It’s probably a bit annoying to our respective families, but it’s been fantastic for us.

We do really appreciate all the calls and well-wishing that we’ve gotten in the last few weeks, but with the number of people who want to talk to and visit Bonnie, we could just spend all our time talking to other people who aren’t even really part of our everyday lives anymore and miss out on talking to each other.

Happily, we’re both introverted enough that we avoid that tendency. We’ve had the chance so far on our trip to joke around and laugh with each other, to sing songs and read stories to the kids, to have Bonnie read to me from David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell as I drove, and to have some really good, deep conversations. We might have missed out on some or all of those things if we were constantly calling everyone back and answering texts.

If we’ve ignored you all this week, I’m sorry, but the truth is I don’t feel particularly bad about it. Once we hit Utah it will be a pretty steady stream of visitors and family gatherings. Those will be nice things too, but before all that begins I’m thankful that I have these ten days or so to just be with my little family having fun and enjoying each other’s company.

Thankful Thursday 2

washing-feet-JesusThis also a Friday edition of Thankful Thursday, but that’s because I spent much of Thursday at the hospital with Bonnie, and then our internet went out in the evening when I was going to write this. Faced with such a daunting obstacle, I gave up and watched “Jeeves and Wooster” with Bonnie. Intent counts for something, right?

This week I am thankful to all of the kind people who have helped us in the last while. On Wednesday a bunch of ladies from the ward showed up and packed up our living room and our whole kitchen. They were amazing and cheerful as they packed up  all our junk (As a side note, if our house burns down while we’re in Utah, it totally wasn’t me).

There has practically been a parade of cheerful and helpful nurses and hospital staff. I don’t even remember all their names, but they’ve all been kind, helpful, and accommodating.

Various family members have sent money or offered to fly out to help us as we drive cross country.

Our contact at the Olcott Cancer Center was originally going to get us some free flights to Utah from Angel Flight, but when she found out that we wanted to drive she contacted a different group (who do not appear to have a website) and got us some gas cards.

Everyone wants to help, and even though things can suck, a little lift is sometimes all you need.

Thankful Thursday 1 (Friday Edition)

IMG_20131127_165956155After yesterday’s downer of a post, I thought I’d do something more positive today.

I used to have a blog where I would try and write something that I was thankful for every day. My history of failures with topical blogs is something I’ll talk about another day, but with this blog I very quickly ran out of original ideas. It’s possible that I’m an ingrate, (I wouldn’t rule that out), but coming up with something insightful or clever or interesting to be thankful for every day just wasn’t in the cards for me. That blog really jumped the shark when I started trying to use things that I was learning about in school as posts. (“I’m thankful for polymers because they make life possible…”)

The truth is that the things that I’m thankful for don’t change all that much day to day. I’m thankful for Bonnie and the kids, I’m thankful for my house, for the country I live in, for my chance to attend IU. I’m thankful for Christ and the gospel and the scriptures. I’m thankful for books and learning, for a naturally curious disposition and for all my great teachers. I’m grateful for a supportive and loving extended family, ward, and community.

Even though a daily gratitude blog isn’t in the cards for me, I think it’s still worthwhile to take some time and express my gratitude for the many, many good things in my life. Therefore this is the first installment of what I will call “Thankful Thursday.” Yes, I know it’s Friday. Stop being so literal. Now, knowing how I am, there will probably not be a gratitude post every Thursday, but I’ll make it a somewhat regular thing.

Probably.