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On the Usefulness of Grief December 11, 2014

Filed under: Reflections — acgheen @ 12:00 am
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This has been the best year of my life… and the worst. The ups and downs have been almost staggering by contrast. At the one end my future is hopeful, filled with grand adventures, new relationships, and sparkling opportunities. On the other is the loss of life as I knew it… both in the form of deceased friends and in the need to let go of “the old way” of doing things.

Both joy and grief have intermingled and both have been acutely felt. Oddly enough, in the midst of these extreme and, oft times, conflicting emotions, a chord is struck. And as I sit here at my laptop, words begin to appear. Expressions of thoughts which are often so deep, they cannot quite be spoken.

Some would attribute this phenomenon with my introverted nature. I learned many years ago that if you sit silently for a long enough period of time, someone else will eventually express your point of view for you. And the less your voice is heard, the more it is respected (or at least listened to) when you have something important to say.

But I think that these words are more than that. Grief, in particular, unlocks something within me that joy cannot. It opens the door of my heart to introspection – to a deeper consideration of those things which I so often take for granted. In grief, I find the root of my joy.

Only in the pain of loss do we recognize the depth of our attachment. It is a striking paradox – as though we must first lose in order to win. Our greatest growth is not found in places of plenty, but in the heat of the desert – where we must faithfully seek for those things which will sustain us.

It is a place of both danger and opportunity. Danger from those thoughts which, if nurtured, have the power to destroy, to dampen joy, to cultivate hopelessness and helplessness, to weaken our resolve. But scattered throughout like an oasis is opportunity – as we examine where we have been, how we have gotten there, and where we are going. Grief is a catalyst for growth… and for change.

A new year is now on the horizon. I don’t know what lies in store, nor do I want to. What I do know is that I may choose what to do with the trials that confront me. I can allow them to cripple me or I can turn them to opportunities. In my grief, I can become more than I am.

 

It’s All About Patterns: Why I.Q. Doesn’t Matter November 6, 2014

I’ve always had mixed emotions when it comes to I.Q. tests. Most of these have been related to a strong desire to discover that I’m an untapped genius and a deep fear of discovering that I’m really a dunce. Despite that, at the encouragement of a friend, I finally decided to give it a try and downloaded the American Mensa Brain Test App.

According to a Mensa press release dated 16 September 2010, “The Mensa Brain Test provides genuine Mensa questions of the variety used in official Mensa test papers.” This seemed encouraging, since it was likely that if I did well with the app, it was a reflection of my actual mental acuity.

Much to my disappointment, my first test went quite badly. I did brilliantly spotting the patterns in the shapes and in the words, but completely bombed on the math. The result was an I.Q. low enough to be a genuine embarrassment.

Convinced that I really couldn’t be that stupid, I tried again. This time, I did marginally better. I reviewed the quiz and took note of the explanations for each answer. I was at least able to secure an “average” I.Q. rating which, if nothing else, meant that I wasn’t a complete idiot. (Though it did dash my dreams of becoming a child prodigy – a dream which probably should have been crushed by my 30th birthday.)

I set the app aside for several months and thought nothing more of it until I began re-watching the British TV series, “Sherlock”. I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but on that particular evening I felt compelled to give the practice test another try.

Again, I got an “average” rating due primarily to the math. In fact, I got nearly every question correct with the exception of the numbers. And that’s when I saw it: the number puzzles weren’t about math… they were about patterns. Patterns with shapes. Patterns with words. Patterns with numbers.

I tried the test again and watched as the I.Q. meter climbed… and climbed… and climbed some more until I was within the range of actual Mensa members. Of course, this could have been a coincidence, so I took the test again several times over the course of the next few days.
Each time, the results were nearly the same. And my heart sank. High I.Q. it seems, isn’t a matter of intelligence, but of observation. It’s an ability to see patterns. And it isn’t necessarily innate. I.Q. can be developed. It’s a party trick.

Of course, I’m not ready to discount the potential that exists in an ability to recognize patterns (particularly subtle ones). It’s easier to learn when you spot the patterns quickly. But just because something is easier for some people than for others doesn’t mean that those people are more intelligent, skilled, or knowledgeable than anyone else. (I had an innate gift for musical expression when I was younger, but no one who has heard either my sister or myself play will argue that I am the better player. Through hard work, she developed the skill and now plays at a level far beyond anything which I will ever be likely to achieve.) Raw ability doesn’t equal prowess. Developed ability does. Hard work and a willingness to apply oneself to learning are what make the difference. I.Q. simply doesn’t matter.

 

On Writers and Widgets October 30, 2014

Filed under: Reflections,Writing — acgheen @ 12:00 am
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It’s a room filled with adults who never grew up. To the casual observer, it looks as if, like four year olds, the class is more interested in the toys scattered randomly across their tables than in the lessons being presented by the speaker. Across the room, plastic, rainbow colored Slinkys tumble from hand to hand. Bobble-headed dogs and cats are flicked by idle fingers. Little balls of cheese wax are being molded into cubes and mushrooms. Pens click and keyboards beat out a rhythm better fit for modern jazz than for an astute note taker. To many, it would appear that the room is in chaos. But those of us in the room know better. It’s our company’s annual writers’ conference and the toy-obsessed four year olds are members of our staff.

It’s a scene that you won’t see played out in many other professional forums. Here, the speakers recognize that the sign of an engaged audience is activity… and that the activity often has little to do with the topic at hand. We are tactile people and our fingers are inexplicably connected to our brains. In fact, for many of us, thoughts flow more freely through our hands than through our mouths. Ask any one of us to answer a question out loud and, at least for a moment or two, you’ll be met with silent stares. Request that we pick up our pens and compose an essay and we’re on it in a heartbeat!

Sadly, what keeps a room full of writer’s focused isn’t always appropriate elsewhere. So I sit in class, doing my best not to distract a professor by the excessive flipping of a pen between my fingers. I strain to keep my note-taking to a minimum. To make no sound. To avoid movement.
As I do, my mind wanders. What does my schedule look like for the rest of the day? How much reading do I need to do when I get home? Should I consider writing a Facebook post about this?

My name is called from the front of the classroom. I can’t recall the answer to the question, so like a Sunday School student who knows that the three acceptable answers to any question are, “God”, “Jesus”, and “The Bible”, I blurt out the business equivalent: “The Dynamic Environment”. Good enough for now, but it won’t be when it comes time for that next test. If I want an “A”, a solution will need to be found – one which releases the inner child who ran so freely at the writer’s conference, but doesn’t distract students and faculty.

I contemplated the issue for some time before settling on what seemed a brilliant idea: therapy putty. Designed to help medical patients improve their grip, it has much the same look and feel as the silly putty I used to play with as a kid. I can feel it mold to the form of my hand, smooth out at the touch of my fingers, and take on the shapes I envision. More importantly, it’s easier to hide the putty (even the rainbow colored variety) under a desk than it is to hide a cell phone. My hand is moving, but no one can tell what’s inside. And with my fingers active, my brain is tuned in.

The plan worked and I was able to pull straight “A’s” through the entire semester. But it didn’t stop me from missing that big conference room with all its sounds and color. Or the presence of others who, like myself, think with their hands. In my mind, there will never be anything quite like the overwhelming cacophony created by writers with widgets.

 

Reflections on Friendship October 2, 2014

Filed under: Reflections — acgheen @ 12:00 am
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Tomorrow morning, I have an appointment with a friend. I have to confess that I’m looking forward to it. Our last dialogue had a special rambling quality to it. A half-hour chat turned into two hours discussing a selection of topics as varied as socks and Socrates. It was a delightful exchange of thoughts and insights on everything from the trivial to the profound. And I walked away with several dozen fresh ideas with which to occupy my waking hours.

Among these was an unaddressed, but important thought regarding the nature of friendship. As a youth, I was quite confident that a true friend was someone who stuck with you through the hard times. They were someone you could call at 2 AM in full confidence that they’d drive half way across the State to help you out of a pickle. They could be relied upon to protect you when you were unfairly accused and, oft times, even when you weren’t. Like a wall, they stood between you and the world, giving you the chance to rest and recover your senses. They were there when things got rough… not just when it was convenient. And they were the sort of person who would be a part of your life forever.

As I aged, my perspective became more refined. I faced the startling realization that relationships change as we, ourselves change. People move out, move on, and pass away. Sometimes these transitions are gradual – a slow drifting over time. Other times, they are violent, premature terminations which leave us in pain. Those we thought would be there forever often aren’t. Yet even in their physical absence, they and what they have meant to us remain.

For good or for ill, I can still envision the faces of the friends of my youth. I can recall their names and the sound of their voices. I remember what they taught me and how their presence changed who I was an altered who I would become. While I may not have appreciated the parting, I can say earnestly that I do not regret the relationships we had. With Shakespeare, I would argue that it is “better to have loved and lost, than to have never loved at all.”

Still, there is another aspect of friendship with which I find myself even more perplexed – that not all “ill weather” friends are truly friends. Those who are with us in times of grief or pain aren’t always available when the sun is shining. Indeed, if I were to be hospitalized this afternoon (my laptop having exploded from overuse), I could immediately count on the care and concern of at least a hundred individuals. (Perhaps more, but I’d hate to overstate my case.) Each would be there with visits, phone calls, and offers of assistance.

What I can’t count on is that any of these individuals would be there when there was no dire need. Grief makes expressions of friendship a necessity. Joy does not. Indeed, I have found very few who make time for relationship when no pressing need exists. Too few seem willing to sit with me in the sunshine simply for the sake of enjoying its warmth. The result is that I have amended my youthful claim that, “a true friend is someone who is there for you when things get rough” with the words “and has time for you when they aren’t.”

Friendship, it seems, is a tricky business. Even the best of my friends won’t be here forever. But the recollection of the time we spent together, enjoying life for its own sake always will be. The warm memories will never fade.

 

 

A Tribute to Herb June 26, 2014

Filed under: Reflections — acgheen @ 12:00 am
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I’m sitting in an office today. It’s not really mine. It’s a loaner that a couple of friends arranged. An escape from the tiny space I work in at home. It’s quieter here. No one banging dishes in the kitchen. No dog barking at the squirrels. No sound of traffic in the street. Just me and four walls. A place to focus, to think, and to remember.

I’ve left the door open into the hallway and can hear people come and go, all silently as though they were in a library. And, outside, visible through my one large window, is a sky that looks as gray and dreary as I feel. I’ve just lost a friend. No… someone who is much more than that.

Throughout our lives, people come and go. Some leave a mark and others don’t. Very rarely do any of those relationships last for long. But this one has lasted twenty-five years. My heart is not sure how to handle its loss. So much of who I am, I owe to Herb.

We met when I was five years old. He was the pastor of the church my family attended. I remember thinking he looked a bit like a giant teddy bear… even with an electric guitar in his hands. His wife, Jeanette, would give me gummy worms after church each week if I could recite a Bible verse for her. It wasn’t long before I felt that we were friends.

Mentor. Guide. Fellow conspirator. We’ve had some great adventures together. Like the time when he decided to take my on the light rail from Sandy, UT into Salt Lake City. All he had in his pocket that day was a collection of large bills. I watched as he slipped one into the ticket machine and out came the change… in change. Over $20 in $1 gold coins. The look on his face was priceless.

Then there was the night we stayed up past midnight. We’d watched a basketball game together. Or, more precisely, he had watched the game while I wrote in my journal. After the game, we sat and talked for hours. Our discussion wandered from theology and I recall sitting on the couch while he read me lines of poetry from a battered volume off his shelf.

I used to accompany him to the office on occasion. Till my dying day, I will believe that the best hours of my life were spent sitting in a pastor’s office, watching him work. Sitting there listening to the rhythm of church life.

I recall one particular afternoon when my presence attracted an abnormal amount of attention. He’d just accepted a call to serve a new congregation. I’d been in his office all day and one of the church ladies kept glancing at me as though she wasn’t sure why I was there. Finally he introduced me, “This is my daughter, Anna.” He waited long enough to get a good reaction before clarifying that I was his daughter “In the Pauline sense”. I will never forget the expression on the poor woman’s face!

He was a sort of sage full of both the spiritual and the highly practical. And I couldn’t help feeling that if someone really did follow Christ, they would look a lot like Herb. So I did the one thing that pastors don’t want members of their congregations to do: I imitated him. I said what he said. I did what he did. And today I’m sitting here drinking Dr. Pepper… because that’s what he drank.

We didn’t always agree. I didn’t always take his advice (though sometimes I wished I had). But I know that, at my core, much of who I am today is attributable to him and the example he set. So I’ll raise my Styrofoam cup: to the best Christian I’ve ever known. To Herb. I’ll see you on the Other Side.

 

 

A Matter of Perspective – A Treatise on the Nature of Adventure April 10, 2014

Filed under: Philosophy,Reflections — acgheen @ 12:00 am
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As I consider my past blog posts, I’m forced to recognize that a good portion of them find their humor in my personal foibles. I highlight my failures as often (or more often) than my victories. And I share the lessons learned… not in the hope that my readers will feel pity for the sometimes humiliating or outlandish predicaments in which I find myself, but rather in the anticipation that perhaps… just perhaps… they might relate.

Why take this approach? Quite simply: because it works. Despite my lifelong dream of growing up to be a superhero, I am quite aware that deep down where it matters most, I’m just an ordinary person living what, in many cases, is really just an ordinary life.

While grand adventures do occasionally come my way, the true adventures in my world aren’t to be had in exotic places or in the presence of famous people. They are the result of experimentation and a willingness to try almost anything (with the notable exceptions of drugs and just about anything considered to be illegal) at least once. They occur when I least expect them and often arise from the most innocent of circumstances. And they lay claim to my heart not because of the innate quality of the adventures, themselves, but because of the qualities they reveal in me.

Adventure, you see, is very much a matter of perspective. It is not about a specific activity or location. It isn’t about untold bravery or life-altering acts of sacrifice. Instead, it’s about the subtle art of finding the quality of the hero both in others and ourselves. The true mark of a hero isn’t invulnerability to pain or failure, but an ability to face the things we fear with courage and integrity. It’s about making a difference in the lives of others. And about allowing them to make a difference in ours.

In reality, most of us will never change the world. Our names won’t go down in history and few may ever remember that we lived at all. But while we may not be heroes to many, each of us has the opportunity to be a hero to few. One hug, one phone call, one shoulder to cry on, one friend to laugh with, one set of ears to listen, one set of eyes to see. One life can make a difference… and often does. It is in this relationship of shared humanity that the true adventures take place: as we play the role of hero to others and allow them to be heroes to us.

So to everyone who has ever lived an ordinary life – here’s to you. Here’s to your victories and your failures, your trials, your struggles, your smiles and warm hugs. Here’s to the opportunities you’ve missed and the ones you’ll soon embrace. Here’s your ability to encourage and motivate and to your power to make a difference. Here’s to the adventure… and to the hero who lives within us all. Here’s to everyone who ever wanted to save the world. And to everyone who in the course of their small and ordinary lives actually is.

 

 
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