Reince, Story of a

I wrote this this evening on a prompting from my nephew’s Facebook post: “Are there other humans with the name Reince?”   I, being a bit apolitical, missed the reference to now White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus.

Instead, my immediate thought was that such a person would be ridiculed as a child.  And being a smart-ass that I am, I would imagine that no child would live long before bullies would get to them.  The short answer to his query is none; no one is named Reince and is alive.   A gallow’s humor response for a late Saturday reply.  For whatever reason, Üter Zörker of The Simpsons sprang to immediate mind.

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Sparrow Story

I first published the below on my personal Facebook page back on December 24, 2016.  I wrote it on the way from Wenatchee to our home while Marit drove.

It is, I imagine, the start of a story, as it were. In my respites I have in my mind a recurring theme of light and sound seen through a hazy summer day.  A hollowed home, more transparent than real.  I can see through the house’s very walls to a gorge and forest slumbering.  There is no one in my world at the moment other than myself.  There is no loneliness, just recognition that it merely me and the sound of sparrows outside.

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But a Key

At a time when decimals deeply mattered, I was a kid of 11.48 years bereft of everything I held dear. Some thirty years ago my parents moved us from Fairport, New York. It was situated outside of Rochester, an engine of industry right up till digital photography burned down Kodak in a green-flame heap of celluloid. But I digress. We moved form Fairport to a small town on the eastern edge of Finger Lakes appellation by the name of Skaneateles, a town of some seven-thousand inhabitants nestled amongst rolling hills at the northern end of a sixteen-mile long lake.  Picturesque.  Quaint.  Charming.  Everything you might want from a New England town.  But for me, as a kid disoriented and feeling abandoned, it was a desert and I surrounded by philistines.  I found myself in a school system where everyone knew everyone since kindergarten. I was a stranger, a ghost, a kid alone who did not have the social graces to fit in. Sure, I would eventually make friends. Kids do that. We bounce. But as was my wont, I was soon looking out to when I could rejoin civilization.

Civilization is filled with universities, libraries, museums and bookstores, or so I deemed as a kid. Nowadays I think about such things differently, but I am getting ahead of myself. But still, that story, the story of seeking civilization persisted with me for quite some time after my graduating class’ diasporas when we either went abroad or university or both. Still, as a kid I had an insatiable curiosity for knowledge.  Skaneateles seemed the farthest thing from anything, my own Tatooine as it were.  What I thought I needed was a world of knowledge and culture.  As a means to that, I used to sneak on the Greyhound bus that stopped near our house in order to go into Syracuse, some forty-five minutes away, to visit the university library and read books. For those too young to know, I grew up in a time where inter-library loans controlled the flow of information, and online bulletin-board systems were still in their infancy, so getting your literal hands on books took a bit of adventure.  And adventure it was! It would be seven more years, as a first year of undergraduate studies at Purdue University, that the World Wide Web would become a twinkle in the public eye … and everything with respect to the concentration of knowledge and wealth in city centers would start to be challenged.  But that is a story still playing out, and it is, as they say, another story, even if it is nonetheless intertwined into this story.

Before I got to where I am sitting now, on a patio looking over the town of Chelan, Washington, let me mention another story. A year before moving to Skaneateles, I saw WarGames. It would be an understatement to say I idolized Matthew Broderick as computer-genius. I wanted to be him. I ached to be his character. It is likely I also was infatuated with Ally Sheedy who played his girlfriend in the film. When I saw him on a bike riding out into the Washington state pines of the Puget Sound, I felt an instant connection. Years later, much to my mother’s disbelief and likely heartbreak, I told her my destiny was to live on the West Coast.  It would be decades later still before I finally understood my truer motives, but as a kid of ten I thought it was a sign, seeing those scenes of mountains and rolling greens telling me where I belonged.  So when my path converged on the University of Washington graduate programs to study technical Japanese and computational fluid dynamics, it is not hard to imagine I thought Destiny had come to my door and knocked.

That was some seventeen years ago, and in that time I graduated, worked at three major hometown enterprises, bought a condo, and even got married three times, all while living in Seattle. I have been busy, what can I say. I was all about Seattle. I commuted through neighborhoods by the bus and by foot. I spent both my mornings and evenings at cafes reading books and doing artwork. Some days I quaffed up to sixteen shots of espresso, a poster-child of a Seattle hipster who was tens years too early to be of that generation. I spent summer weekends listening to Shakespeare in the Park, and my winters and springs at Benaroya Hall listening to symphonies and Nat Geo Live. I walked through museums with a sketchbook in hand, and through the zoo with a camera. I soaked in civilization. But then something happened. It waned. I found myself forever over-stimulated, the constant traffic and crush of people overwhelming. I could not breath, as it were. We were all strangers to each other. It is true I had found civilization, but discovered that what I — we — needed was community.

A little over three months ago we moved ourselves to Chelan, Washington. For over two decades I was chasing after civilization, only to end up in a town half the population of Skaneateles.  Nor is it amongst the lush forests of western Washington, but instead nestled at a end of lake, much like Skaneateles, albeit surrounded by the high desert of central Washington.  It is a town not unlike my adolescence.  It has the same ebb and flow, the same energy and vitality and even socio-economic struggles. My spouse’s parents live just down the road, and I feel a bit rudderless if I do not see them at least once a week for dinner, watching TV together and just hanging out in each other’s presence. There is regret, too. I now recognize that the very same motivations that brought my parents and I to Skaneateles, are the same that bring me and my spouse to Chelan. I can, for the first time, see the virtues of the place my parents have now been at for some three decades.  And to add to all of this, I am now of the same age my parents were when they moved to Skaneateles. I find myself suddenly in the shadow of my parents, and from that I now possess a key of sorts.

We have replaced the trappings of civilization for the comforts of community. My mornings no longer include a forty-five minute trot to get to a bus, but instead a stroll out amongst the hills and river that flow from the end of the lake. I have emptied my iPhone of my bus schedules, and rarely use it if at all. There is but a single cafe to choose from. A single bookstore, too. Sure, there is a town museum to visit, albeit it is not one where I’d take a sketchbook. The zoo has been replaced by yard goats and a rodeo down the road. When I go into town, I walk out the door with a single key around my neck and tucked under my shirt.  I put on my headphones and jam to Daft Punk or listen to NPR … it depends on my mood and fickleness … something, I am told, that happens in your forties.  I do not carry a wallet, cash or even a credit card since I can get everything I need from the local grocer on credit.  I walk into town for yoga, or else get a crepe and coffee, or else stop into the local bookstore to make a new acquaintance.  I carry a simple messenger bag to gather my groceries, and I avoid using my car except on stops to the recycling center at the edge of town. And I find myself singing “to da dump dump dump dump dump dump dump” in the vein of the Lone Ranger’s opening theme song, not so unlike my own father whenever we took the garbage to the Skaneateles Dump. I look upon all the tourists, and hope they enjoy the town and at the same time hope they do not change its sedate way of community.   And I think more keenly and fondly on the town on the other side of the country where my parents still live. I get it now.  I get what I missed some thirty years ago that only now I can start to appreciate.  I am sorry, mom and dad, for not understanding nor appreciating what you trying to find and create.  I feel the key now pressed into my palm. I turn it and something inside of me clicks, and a door long locked slowly parts. Thank you, even if it has taken me some thirty years to appreciate the gift. Thank you.

Legacy

There is life, even Life.  And there is living, even Living.  But neither of these – life and living in either capital form or not – are necessarily related to each other.  To have Life does not mean you are living, unless you are also truly Living.  I have been coming to this conclusion over and over again this past year.  I am 41, and  I have been living, but I am pretty sure I have forgotten what it means to be Living.  Or to put in the modern vernacular, then consider Daredevil on Netflix:

Matt Murdoch: I’m not afraid of dying.

Priest: A lot of people aren’t when it comes right down to it. It’s living that scares the holy crap out of them.

Trust me, I have not been afraid to checkbox off a lot of living.  5 earned degrees, 4 of these conferred and 3 of those Masters of Science in engineering-physics, technical japanese, and applied computational mathematics.  I’ve lived abroad multiple times, and traveled abroad even more times.  I’ve ate and drank my way through cities, countries and even cultures.  But I am not sure I’ve ever known Home even if I was home. I’ve been involved in large, well-known projects including Boeing’s 787 program,  Microsoft’s Xbox One, and Amazon e-commerce.  Throw in a handful of shared patents, too.  Heck, as an overachiever I have been divorced twice, and now happily married for a third time.  Yeah, that is a life, but is it Life?  Sure, I’ve been living and even making a living, but is it Living?  What am I truly afraid of?  Because it is sure as hell not dying – not anymore, not really ever.  What am I afraid of? Isn’t it obvious?  I have been checkbox-living because I have been afraid of Living.  And now I fear living another 30 or 40 years only to end up still not having Lived.  You following?

But how do you stop living and begin Living?  By answering the essential existential question.  It’s the only existential question, really.  The question, of course, being: What is Life?  Hmm.  Yes, I agree with you.  It is a child’s question that we leave behind in adulthood, having learned it to be too immense a wall to scale.  So we stumble away from it, instead picking up our latest handheld device to read a wall of posts.  And those posts, this post even, don’t answer much of anything at best, and at worst a whole lot of nothing.  Still, we post about a myriad of life’s doings in the hopes we are heard.  So that question – The Question – comes to us without any seeming answer, and we yield in mute response.

I cannot speak for you, so please forgive me any generalities.  Let me step back into my own living, my own life and tell you how I got here:  I have spent four decades hanging my coat and hat on someone else’s pegs.  I looked for recognition in my father, my mother, my family, my friends and even my managers and colleagues at work.  I counted the number of reads and likes of posts, and I amassed my degrees and my accolades like Smaug hoarding treasure.  I got rid of all the mirrors inside of me, and instead hung you all up on my walls to tell me how pretty I am.  I am pretty, right?  I put down my pencil.  Then my pen.  Then my brush.  Then finally my words.  I burned them or else tucked them away, up on bookcases and in boxes.  Then finally I went to sleep in this den of my own making, unwittingly having cut myself off from the rest of the world to await the footfall of my own doom.  I had no idea what I had done, since living and Living seemed to be the same thing until now, when I see ahead to another four decades spent cowering under the weight and banality of that kind of living.  What remains around me is all baubles now, having no hold nor charm over me.  What was once an immeasurable treasure is now worth very little other than to be melted down and hammered into a key to open a door, a door to Living.

So yes, I’ve been a coward. I never realized that I already had all the wealth I ever needed.  But it was not the kind of wealth I knew to look for.  I looked outward, and so became blinded to who I am.  A beautifully imperfect human.  More so, I’m a beautifully imperfect brother, son, friend, colleague and spouse.  I only ever really needed what I was born with.  This soul given a Life so that I might pluck, feather by feather, the quills to write my own story for myself to read.  It is just a story; it may or not be worth reading.  But it was my story, and I forgot to read it, let alone write it.  That was the first misstep from Life to life.  And the second was not sharing it with the people I love, with the world around me.  And so I lost Living to living, left Life behind for a life.  Truly, the cake is a lie.  So then, what is not a lie?

Again, I do not know what all of this means to you.  Why title this post Legacy?  Well, now we get to the meat of the matter!  I used to think legacy a four-letter word, a thing that amassed estates and children alike to act as billboards posted along the road-side of history to proclaim to others: “I was here.  I will not be forgotten!”  And that was exactly what so much of my own living was about, even if I did not realize it at the time.  I wanted to be heard.  I wanted to be acknowledged.  I wanted to be remembered after death.  I wanted to be seen while living.  But how can anyone see me, if I am blind and mute to myself first?  I now know that was neither living, nor a legacy worth working toward.

I will admit that I began to recently think then that Legacy was having children, and that Living was raising a family.  In a way, it is, but not as ends, but only a means.  Bear with me here for a moment.  The greatest gift we give ourselves is ourselves.  The answer to Life is a simple refrain: Here I am.  In that refrain we give ourselves the permission and strength to have a voice for everything worth saying, “Here I am.  I love myself for who I am.  I love you for who you are.”  And then is not this the greatest gift to give our children?  It’s not estates or wealth or even ourselves, but instead we give them our compassion and love so that they might join the fray to say “Here I am, too!”  Yes, our legacy lies in our children and our families, but our true Legacy is that we might Live and Love so that they might join us in really the only refrain the Universe, Life, Living and Love will ever utter: here I am.

Here I am.