“So this is the New Year…” –Death Cab for Cutie
It has occurred to me that my blog has been missing things that are typical to most other blogs, such as regular updates (see Footnote 1 below). It’s weird because I don’t really read other blogs very often; I find most of them to be boring or painfully self-absorbed. Which…mine is too, probably. But, I don’t read that one either. And yet, despite my lack of involvement within blog culture, I have noticed that 98% of them (a rough estimate pulled from absolutely nowhere) consist of lists. If it were possible to catalogue and archive blogs of the world, I am convinced we would replace the word “blog” with the term “random lists of things that people with internet access have compiled.” So, at the dawn of the New Year, as I take some much needed time to pause and reflect (see Footnote 2 below), I was suddenly compelled to do two things: A) update the blog, with a re-commitment towards making that a regular practice and B) creating a “Year in Review” type of list (and, I am hopeful that will NOT be a regular practice).
My Year in Shoes:
1. On New Year’s Eve last year, I was at Boston Common watching the Boston New Year’s Parade. Hands down the best parade I have ever seen. I was out there for hours, and I slowly began to notice that the cold was grabbing hold of my feet and strangling them. My shoes were powerless against the melted snow and rain and winter temperatures that were working against my toes, so I immediately found the nearest department store and used some Christmas cash to buy a decent pair of Snow Boots. My feet were warm and happy for the rest of the evening, and the boots continue to serve me well to this day, holding strong deep into their second winter. The laces are rapidly fraying, but the shoes themselves keep the cold and wet at bay, and I still have ten toes. What I had not anticipated was how this purchase would be the first in a series of shoe purchases throughout the year. I don’t buy shoes often, usually just when old ones fall apart; and other than my rock climbing shoes I purchased a few years ago when I lived down the street from a rock climbing gym, I can’t remember ever before purchasing shoes that served a particular function. 2010 was a huge year for me in many ways, all of which are exemplified by the shoes I wore, and the places I walked in them.
2. Being the stirdiest things I owned, I took the new snow boots (which, to be fair, are multi-purpose boots, good for hiking, walking, all kinds of outdoorsy and/or cold things) on a ten day mission trip to Honduras with the good folks of Hancock United Church of Christ. The boots served me well there, especially since “hot and sunny Honduras” was, for the most part, neither of those things; but while I was there, we toured some local businesses, and one of them was a shoe-making business run out of someone’s house, employing most of the people in the neighborhood to make high-quality, highly affordable footwear. Both to support the business and to give my feet some breathing room on one of the few warm days we had there, I purchased my sandles. These are the most comfortable shoes I have ever owned, and other than a pretty bad blister over the summer, they have treated my feet well. I have walked countless miles in them on tours and hikes through downtown and inner-city Boston, the wilderness of Wyoming and South Dakota, the coastline of Massachusetts, the desert of New Mexico, the farmland of Iowa and Nebraska, Four Peaks Brewery and my first Kneipe in Germany.
These shoes proved most important to my life this year, not in the places they went or the terrain they covered, but as a constant reminder of the communities I learned about, the people I met, the truths I discovered in Honduras during my all too brief trip. These shoes served as a constant reminder of the folks who struggle every day to feed their families, of the miles walked each day for drinking water and water for their farms, the long distances students travel everyday for the privilege of attending school, the space that children and parents traverse as they leave each other to find low-paying, dangerous jobs in nearby cities and villages, unsure of when or if they will see each other again. As Arizona erupted in bizarre politics and outraged citizens on both sides of the Immigration issue, I was constantly thinking of a young man I met in Honduras named Ariel, who attempted to go to America in order to earn money for his starving family. Ariel hopped a train, which is a dangerous and deadly way to enter the country, and he injured his leg, praising God that nothing worse had happened to him. He still walks with a limp, several years later, and he said that he is too grateful to still be living to try something stupid like going to America again. We asked him if the situation with his family had improved, he said, “We struggle every day, we are improving our farm, and we are hopeful. But to go to America is impossible, that is certain death. So I live here and I pray.” I journeyed with the stories I collected in Honduras all year, every step in my sandals branding their faces, their laughs, and their struggle on my heart. Attempting to understand my life in relation to the lives lived by the people of Honduras became a reason to walk this last year, and it is a walk I continue into 2011.
3. Flash forward a couple months to Germany, where I was given a type of shoe that I had never considered owning before: Galosshes. Galoshes. Guhloshes? I don’t even know how to spell it. But they are lovely, and my favorite color green, and incredibly useful. When I moved to Germany to study, I had the privilege of being welcomed into the home and life of Inka Scherhans. Inka has a dog, Pedro, who needs to be walked three times a day. Inka and her mother gave me a place to stay, food to eat, and all kinds of fun things to do, asking nothing in return…except that I help walk Pedro when I can. Walking Pedro has become one of my favorite things to do, in all kinds of weather, at…most times of day and night. We mainly walk Pedro in the field behind the family house, because we can be alone there and Pedro doesn’t get along with other dogs. The field there is always wet, and anyone who walks there most often finds her/himself ankle deep in grass, snow, or….slightly disgusting things. I had no complaints, but Inka’s mom gave me my galoshes anyway, seeing them as necessary for the job of walking Pedro. These shoes have given me a new appreciation for what it means to “get down in the muck,” going that extra gross distance to serve someone else. Pedro doesn’t get out much, and because of his social handicap, he is housebound most of the time. These shoes allow me to get out to where he likes to be, in the mud, the water, the knee high snow, running wild and semi-free. These shoes make a fascinating “slush-shlewp” noise when you walk through thick mud. As my awareness of others grows, and my desire to serve deepens…this noise is a helpful reminder: love and service is not always pretty, it usually means going where you’d rather not, and appropriate footwear helps.
4. The last pair of shoes I would come to own in 2010 were also a gift from Monika, Inka’s mom, and her partner Eugen, this time for Christmas: slippers. Hausschuhe. Because Germany is THAT cold in the winter, and the buildings are not designed to have heaters that waste tons of energy so that I can pretend I live on a beach somewhere, and you actually have to wear shoes inside the house if you want to have warm, or even comfortable, feet. They also made a big deal about how they keep you from getting sick, which, for everyone not keeping track of my health record this past year, is very much a reality for me. I spent February-April dealing with bronchitis and other cold-related illnesses, and some of those old symptoms made a revenge tour and knocked me out for a couple weeks in November and December. It’s possible that these slippers, on top of being comfortable and amazing, are keeping me from dying while remaining indoors.
One of the first things I was introduced to when arriving in Germany was a concept called “Wahnfried.” The opera genius, Richard Wagner, named his house in the south of Germany “Wahnfried” which, I was told translates roughly as “freed from life’s delusions.” Since then, I have seen the word “fried” or “frieden” used in many different ways; the one that sticks with me most is that Leo Tolstoy’s novel “War and Peace,” in German, is called “Krieg und Frieden.” So “wahnfried” is not just being FREE from delusions or illusions, it is also being at PEACE. It’s not just separating yourself from the lies of the world and the delusions of your own mind, it is being at peace with that separation. It may be that I think about this too much. I’ve been to Wagner’s house, and it is cute and pretty, and it sits within a gorgeous park with lakes and ducks and awesome, old trees. I don’t know what “delusions” he suffered from in his life, or how this particular location freed him from them…but it is easy to see how he would feel at peace there.
For me, however…
It occurred to me this year that I have moved once a year, every year since graduating high school. Sometimes it was just a move across campus, sometimes it was just down the street, but still, I have gone through the act of packing, moving, and unpacking–going from one home to another–every year for 10 years. I never stopped to think about it, but…I think that does something to you. All the traveling, planning, evaluating, reacting…the only constant thing in your life becomes change and movement. I’m not complaining, I love my life, and everything I have done, everywhere I have gone has added to my journey in phenomenal ways. But it wasn’t until this concept–Wahnfried–that I realized that all this movement IS a journey, that I am on the move towards…something. I have now named “Wahnfried” as the target destination. ETA…only God knows. Because, for me, that is how I have come to understand my faith journey, as a white, strait, 21st-Century American male, the journey towards greater knowledge of God and how to serve God in the world is a journey towards freedom and peace from the illusions of the world and the delusions of my own mind and ego.
It is a journey that can only be traveled by putting one foot in front of the other, by going on the walk, and caring enough to adopt appropriate footwear along the way. I have often found myself functioning in a very manic sort of way; I seem to oscilate between intensive periods of work and long periods of rest. This is a frustrating way for me to live because when I am hard at work I kick myself for not taking more time for family, friends, fun; and when I am resting and learning and appreciating life I kick myself for not working harder. What I have come to appreciate is that the only thing that really matters is moving, walking. We can’t wait until we understand everything to take action, and yet we can’t take action without understanding. It’s a balancing act. If you get too consumed with the map, then you miss the road in front of you. Focusing on the road without a map can get you lost, or at least make you needlessly late. You get the point.
My faith is articulated in my continuing journey to break free from the illusions of the world and the delusions of my ego, and to be at peace without them. That is how I meet God, and that is the life God calls me to live. So, here’s to a new year, as I continue my walk. Destination: Wahnfried. I want to go to there.
Footnote 1: So, originally, I wanted to post, not just regularly, but constantly, as a way of keeping up with the constant onslaught of new experiences and information I was being pummeled with. I didn’t want to miss a second of this experience, and i wanted to synthesize it and put it out in a way that others could benefit from as well. This was a spectacular failure. I think I can mainly chalk it up to hubris. When I first got the blog going, I had nothing to do. I was walking Pedro and that was it. When school started, I lost time. When the pressures of living abroad and keeping up with life and dealing with perpetual winter darkness all piled on…it was all I could do to get up in the morning, let alone attempt to post all the time. I have 25 partly written blog posts saved on my dashboard, all of them needing updates and work; all of them are things that I think are genuinely fascinating, and a lot of them don’t have anything to do with me, they’re just things I think other people should know about. So, in short, I have been rather manic with the posting, followed by long periods of sleep and confusion. So, this is the New Year, so we’re going to try things a little different: 1) The Blog has a new name. It’s not that I’ve given up my border crossing metaphor, it’s just that…I find this particular journey, Wahnfried, to be a better metaphor for my year. So, new title, new focus, New Directions (enter Glee song here). 2) One post a week. That’s the goal. It’ll probably be long, sprawling, potentially confusing. But once a week, there will be blogging! Versprechen.
Footnote 2: It’s much needed time because, as stated before, when the insanity of studying in a foreign language, while learning that language, while living far from home, while attempting to make friends and learn about various other things…and keep from going insane myself…when that all came crashing down around me, things got weird. And still are. So it has been really nice to have the holiday break to hole up, read for fun, sleep a lot, do fun things, have parties, sing songs. It’s been nice. I feel next to normal again. And it has helped me assess where I’m at, what I want to accomplish, and what I need to do to make that happen. So, changes will be made so that I can enjoy my year in Germany–aka My Life–and press on in a more productive fashion. I believe that we can only be free, truly free, if we live within a certain structure, that keeps us committed to a certain way of life, so we don’t spiral out of control into apathy and “what does it matter anyway” thinking. But some of the things I committed to while in Germany, in an attempt to create that structure, ended up being more toxic than helpful. So, I’m reassessing. Some of the things I’ve been attempting to keep up with–a lecture I didn’t understand or have time for, my cook group, things like that–are going to have to be let go to make way for other things that aren’t just draining: once a week blogging, stronger adherance to daily prayer and reflection, walking, making regular dates to talk with friends and family, and flossing.