Strangers & Sonder

The world is smaller now than it once was, and I revel in the things that make it at once bigger and smaller. The discovery of new species makes the world seem bigger. There are things out there that we don’t know, things I hope we’ll never find. Parts of this earth need to stay wild. At the same time, the formation of new friendships makes the world smaller. One more face that feels like home. One less stranger on this earth.

Strangers. As children, we’re told to never speak to them. As adults, speaking to those we don’t know almost becomes a necessity. I was shy as a child. Still today, I frequently have to push myself out of my own shell. Because today, strangers present themselves in the form of interviews, dates, friends of friends. Sometimes even former friends, those whom at one point, I couldn’t imagine life without. Now, I remember them illuminated by headlight circles and bonfires, yelling Bohemian Rhapsody into the Colorado night. And I hope that they are well, wherever they are.

That is my version of ones that I once knew. We all carry versions of each person we encounter every day. There’s a driver who kindly let you into their lane, and another driver filled with holiday road rage. Two fleeting instants. Two people remembered in two different ways. Such moments could be a mirror of a person’s everyday self, or they could be completely incongruent with one’s character. Nine times out of ten, we won’t know. We’ll never find out. Yet, every person lives a life just as complicated as our own. There are no formulas. Each life is filled with its own beauty, its own trials, its own joys, and its own sorrows. So much so that even on your darkest days, there is never an excuse to practice anything but kindness.

Kindness has a way of making things better, on both sides. The giver of kindness will feel good about their actions. The receiver will appreciate these actions, and often feel a need to pay it forward. So today, and every day, embody kindness. Maybe you’ll reach an understanding with someone facing difficult times. Maybe you’ll turn a stranger into a new friend. Maybe the smallest thing that could happen is helping to make someone’s day just a little brighter. And as the holidays approach, why not try to be merry and bright?

 

Strangers – The Trishas

White Christmas – Bing Crosby (I always gotta love the Bing version. Classic.)

Power Through

“I don’t want to think about it.” I heard this line coming through the radio as I was sitting in the beginning of rush hour traffic. Maybe it was because I was tired, or maybe it was because I hadn’t been in anything remotely close to rush hour in many months. I hadn’t been listening to the radio very closely until that moment. I hadn’t even heard the song before. (By the end, I decided I liked it, and now it’s in my iTunes library.) But something about that lyric set me off.

“I don’t want to think about it”, but what happens when you have to face the thing you don’t want to think about? You’ll be blindsided, unable to weigh out all the options in the situation. Your procrastination will cloud your ability to think clearly and make a decision. Of course, there’s a difference between thinking about it and dwelling on it. But you have to prepare yourself for the possibilities.

Why do we put off doing things that are difficult? Ignorance is bliss, it’s true. Yet we choose security over challenge. Rather than strive for greater things, we opt to stay in a relatively safe comfort zone, even if it doesn’t bring us true happiness. And we all do it. Procrastinating difficult things only begets laziness, passiveness, and further procrastination. I believe that it’s better to just do the undesirable things and get them over with, instead of knowing that you’ll have to deal with them eventually. Doing the things we don’t want to do creates discipline. It creates work ethic. It creates efficiency, and it creates a better ability to overcome challenges the next time they come around. This can lead to increased pride in your work and greater self-esteem.

So my challenge to you, and to myself, is this: tackle an obstacle head-on. Have that difficult conversation. Overcome challenges. Get something done now, instead of putting it off. Power through the tough stuff. Do things the hard way. Lean in. Do not stand idly by; rather, get after it and make it happen. From the bottom, it seems impossible. But the view from the top is sweet, and I can almost guarantee that the climb will benefit you in the long run.

 

Love Me Now – John Legend

“Work smarter AND harder.” – Mike Rowe

Road Trip Reflections

I left Colorado about three weeks ago, but just got back to Michigan this past weekend. It took me a while. I decided to turn my drive home, usually a straight shot across I-80, into a road trip. I wanted to see everything I could see while I was “in the area”. Of course, it took me about as long to get to Missoula as it would have taken to just drive back to Michigan. Some would argue that such a distance doesn’t qualify as nearby. But I didn’t have anywhere to be right away, so why not make it into an adventure?

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My last morning at Badger Creek.

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m awful at road trips. Whenever I go anywhere, I just want to get there as time-efficiently as possible. Anything that slightly inhibits my progress is frowned upon, even if it’s a necessity like refueling. I never want to stop, especially when I have a destination and/or timeline in mind. I wanted to break that mindset. So while I had some key stops on this trip (I’m looking at you, Laramie, Missoula, and Idaho Falls!), I tried to keep my itinerary as open as possible. I wanted to have time to experience things along the way, things that caught my attention on the road, things that I could stumble upon and explore with no prior knowledge. I would drive until I felt like stopping – for a few minutes, for lunch, for the night.

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Wide-open Wyoming.

This became an exercise in patience for me. It took a couple days to get into the swing of things. I passed by Leadville, Colorado – what seemed like a lovely town – for no reason, aside from the fact that I was going to Laramie. Shortly after, I zipped past one of the most incredible mountain views, because I was on the phone. But after a while, I figured out how to road trip. And while I sometimes got bored with driving, or lonesome for company, it was such a fulfilling experience.

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“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so, on the road.” – Jack Kerouac

I pulled over on interstates to take pictures of old barns in the golden hour light. I was able to visit with friends and family across the west, laughing about old memories while making new ones. Shoot, I got to watch the Cubs win the World Series with one of the biggest baseball fans I know. I got to see a breathtaking mountain lake, while simultaneously setting what felt like a land speed record for hiking, and I know that we’ll laugh about it when we’re old. I once again got to ride my favorite horse in the world, and eat at my favorite cowboy bar in the world. I got to stargaze from my tailgate with a good friend and a glass of whiskey.

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When I couldn’t beat the self-timer.

It wasn’t always fun, though. I became overwhelmed by frustration when I ended up in Lander instead of Pinedale. Then, after a few phone calls and decisions, I felt that frustration wash away and be replaced by gratitude when I fell in love with Dubois, Wyoming, and drove through the Bridger-Teton National Forest at dusk. That reroute gave me the chance to pray, the chance to hike in the mist and snow of the Tetons, and the chance to visit the National Museum of Wildlife Art. If I had gone the route I planned, I never would have spent the night in Jackson. I wouldn’t know how great the town can be in November.

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Dusk in Bridger-Teton National Forest

Then, the winds of November came early on the Mackinac Bridge, and almost claimed the cover from my truck bed. All of my belongings were in the bed, so you can imagine my fear when I saw the cover flapping in my rear view, knowing there was no way to stop and secure everything until I crossed the 5 miles of bridge spanning the Great Lakes below. I imagined worst-case scenarios and whispered frantic Hail Marys. But when I made it back to solid ground, I met two of the nicest men who worked for the Bridge Authority, and they helped me fix my truck. I also got to visit Mackinaw City, while buying duct tape from the local hardware store. The kindness and generosity of the people who helped me gave me hope for a world so racked by negativity. I continued down I-75 feeling restored.

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Back in the mitten!

I felt the thrill of crossing state lines that I had never crossed before. I appreciated the quietness of the Wisconsin woods at night, and the silence of silos backlit by the Big Dipper. And all of this made me come to a great realization.

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Looking out at North Dakota’s badlands.

The past two years, coming home from Colorado was a negative thing for me. It meant school. It meant a winter away from the lifestyle I loved. It meant putting up walls and avoiding too many new friendships, because I’d just be leaving again in the spring. It was a great weight to carry. But now, I know that the best anyone can do in life is to make the most of every situation. So this winter will be different.

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Winter settles in on the Tetons.

We are all called to love. We can’t do that if we are closed off, hiding behind our own perceptions of the world, trying to make things happen on our own. All that does is create self-fulfilling prophecies of negativity. But if we change our mindsets into one of love and hope, there is no end to the joy we can spread. Even if it starts out small, joy is like a ripple. If we let it, it can become a wave. Let love and Light rule your life, and see how the ripple can grow.

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Ripples.

Recommendations from this trip:

The National Museum of Wildlife Art, Jackson, WY

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, ND

Craters of the Moon National Monument, ID

The Bitterroot Valley, MT

The Nova Cafe (especially the California sandwich), Bozeman, MT

May We All – Florida Georgia Line

How I’ll Always Be – Tim McGraw

“There’s no room left for darkness, when you’re filled with the light it comes out.” -Let It Rain – Zac Brown Band

Common Ground

The land rolls on uninterrupted as far as the eye can see. Herds of buffalo appear in far-off meadows like ghosts, before vanishing like so many of their ancestors. Bands of wild horses are even more elusive. They call these the badlands. I think they’re anything but. In our country’s time of manifest destiny and westward expansion, this land was passed over because it was less desirable than the rich arable plains of Kansas and Nebraska. I’d be lying if I said it was a shame. If this land had been settled, it would have removed its wildness. The badlands’ unspoiled splendor is a testament to the man this park is named after. I wonder how many others before me have perched on this same cliff and wondered at the vastness surrounding them.

It is like living history.

Today, we are living history in many ways. 2016 is certainly one for the books. There is no doubt that there’s a lot going on in our world, and so much is focused on the negative, especially in this election.

These are our lands. This is our country, and regardless of what happens in this election today, it is still one of the greatest countries on earth. The people we are voting for are not our leaders. They are representatives, and it would do us well to keep that in mind. Yet a major theme these candidates have represented throughout this election is one of polarization. We can’t afford to be divided. We need to stand together, to find common ground regardless of who we voted for today. We can find similarities with each other, and that will be the beginning of a culture of kindness and compassion so desperately needed.

So as those results come in tonight, no matter who wins or loses, let’s come together as one vast country. Vast in landscapes, diversity, interests, and backgrounds. Let’s find our common ground, and come together as Americans.

“Darkness is a harsh term don’t you think, and yet it dominates the things I see.” – Roll Away Your Stone, Mumford & Sons

“The world, it don’t feel right. Love would win if it would fight.” -Hold On, Gospel Whiskey Runners

The Wound by Gospel Whiskey Runners