What is the story I want to tell?

I see a scene of late summer, early afternoon and the air dry and restless. The grass has grown long and the weeds tall across the hills. Kneeling on the ground, near to a scrub oak, she carefully considers the remaining supplies in her pack and takes a bearing. She knows she needs to make a couple more miles before nightfall, and she’s being deliberate. She’s young, maybe twelve or thirteen years old, and I don’t know why she isn’t with anyone else. Something terrible has happened and this is her way forward. She is not in immediate danger, but she knows she is not in a place of safety either. She must be vigilant. There’s a seriousness to the situation, but she is not panicking.

I’m not sure where she came from. I don’t know where she is going, and I’m not even sure why it matters. When I tried to write about her story it seemed so jumbled, so scattered, that I didn’t enjoy reading the few lines I put down.

Maybe I will put down some more lines, and this story could yet reveal itself.

Spaces

I was incredibly fortunate to be a child with open spaces all around me. There was a pile of old haybales in the loft of our horse barn. I rearranged the pile in such a way that there was a space for me to sleep with soft hay below me, and walls of bales all around me. Occasionally during the January winter nights, I would go sleep on that hay pile. I can still remember one night in specific. My dog Esther was with me, and we could occasionally hear the rustle of one of the goats in a stall below us, or the gentle bellow of of one of the cows (yes we let our beef cows use the beautiful horse stalls). On that night it was snowing, and when the wind picked up, I can still see the way the flurries came dancing and gliding under the eves and settled on the cold oak floorboards.

This was only of the many spaces that I had claimed as a young man. There was also the massive limb of a giant white oak tree that grew on our neighbors’ hill. That one limb was as large around as many decent trees ever grew to be, and it had a perfect bend and arch to it that let me lay on it and watch the woods from a short distance up. I once asked a dendrologist about the possible age of those oaks. From their location, size, and history of logging in that region of Ohio – he said they could be around two-three centuries old.

When I went to University, I found the available spaces to be much less common. My alma mater had an absolutely delightful Arboretum (the other “Old”, and mostly forgotten, Arboretum had a rich history, but I’m talking about the “New” Arboretum here), and I spent oh so many evenings there with my thoughts to accompany me. Many times I went there with my closest friends, and other times it was the place to find solitude. On one occasion, there was half a dozen of us that went up late one Friday or Saturday night. When the dawn drew nigh, we climbed the hill and sat on the roof of a small storage shed, that was situated under the campus water-tower. This shed was a stone’s throw from a hedgerow that lined the backyard of the President’s house. We sat there and watched the sun rise up over the city.

I was some months later at a dinner with President Nellis, and I told the First Lady (Ruthie) that I loved the Arboretum tremendously, and how once I was with some friends sitting on the roof of the old shed and I apologized if we ever got too loud when we were so close to their home. She said “oh we can hear you students in the middle of the night, but it doesn’t bother us too much, we love and enjoy the arboretum too”.

But the UI Arboretum wasn’t even the space where I had my most memorable moments. That most precious space was Alice’s Room. Way up on the fourth floor of the Commons building (now called the Student Union), Alice’s Room was a small place of beauty, with wood panels and a wall of glass that looked out over Phinney Hall. You could see a long way from up there.

In the cold winter nights, the air was crisp and clear and there were a thousand points of light out in the night. There was also a steam plant down below on Line St, and the floo gas rhythmically drifted up and curled out into the night. It was mesmerizing. Sitting in that room, always in silence, gave me new perspective. When the tempest raged in my head, I could escape to Alice’s Room and ride out the storm of emotion and the chaos of thoughts. More than once I desperately hoped the janitor would forget to check the room, and instead just lock the door. That way I could spend the entire night in there, but just a few minutes before locking the building down, he would always find me in there and kindly tell me he was about to lock up.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get back to any of those spaces, and if I do, they won’t be the same. My memories are not of simple physical places, but of the stage I was in and how those spaces were interwoven with my life. Those spaces are part of my story now.

Aging

You’ve changed and it took me a moment to recognize you. Your hair once thick with the hue of a late autumn forest, is but a thin forgotten gray.

They speak of the years being kind and of the days pleasant, but on your face the years have drawn deep lines, and on your cheeks the days have worn long.

Yet I see the same old friend when I look into your eyes. The life-flame within you grows still strong.

Overwatch 2001

This has nothing to do with the incredibly popular video game Overwatch. This post is about the game I first played in 2001 – “Halo: Combat Evolved”. It was an incredible experience for me. The first night I had played it, when it came to go to bed, sleep eluded me. I am one that often has no memory of turning the light off (in fact I frequently have fallen asleep with the light still on). On that night, sleep eluded me. Instead I had eidetic memories of battling grunts and jackals.

I had never played a video game with such a responsive enemy before. The intelligence was creepy. Yes the NPCs had their starting positions, but they moved and responded to me in such a way that it felt like I was really there. I got lost in the game for a while, they had at the first passed my Turing test.

Eventually I traversed the uncanny valley and the game took a much more mundane role in my imagination. The AI was scripted and bounded. It was, after all, hollow and dead inside once you had dug deep enough.

And yet there was still magic to be found in that game, not by the games designers, but within our own imagination – in recreating a moment that had impressed me as a boy a couple years before.

This scene.

An excellent story of honor, love, sacrifice… I recommend watching that film in its entirety. It will move you.

Anyway, that scene had especially impressed me and my younger sister, Elizabeth, and in cooperatively replaying Halo many times over, we had found a way to recreate that scene. In fact I can still remember exactly how we did it,

We would sit in the room upstairs in my mom and dad’s house, the old room with pink carpet and thick walls, that had once been part of the original log cabin. I had an alarm clock that was also a CD player. It had a cracked screen. It had a function to increase volume until the snooze button or shut off was pressed, and it would occasionally get all the way to maximum volume before waking me up. Unfortunately for my dear family, it would wake all of them up at that level. On one occasion, I finally woke in a panic because my family was yelling at me to shut it off, and in my haste to do so – I knocked it off the table and cracked the screen.

Elizabeth and I would play together, over an hour through one of the longest stages in the game, Two Betrayals, and make it to the Final Run.

Two Betrayals. Halo: Combat Evolved

A legion of enemy warriors, including even two armored tanks and a dozen dug-in infantry troops, waited for us at the other end of the valley.

We would then put, into that old CD player, the soundtrack (that we probably had downloaded from Napster) of the “The Last of The Mohicans”.

Most often I, but on occasion I would allow my little sister to do it, would sneak out ahead and steal one of the flying ships from the enemy. Ideally one would use the powerful weapons of the flying ship to bombard the entrenched enemy position, or at least to take out the heavily armored tanks, but in this case we would park our vehicled on a very high ledge and instead pull out the sniper rifle.

The other player, previoulsy watching and patiently waiting, would now arm themselves with the shotgun and an assault rifle, and with the Last of the Mohicans Music resonating in the room, the person on the ground would let out a battle cry and charge the enemy position. The trick of that person was mainly to avoid the massive cannon blasts from the enemy armor and to charge straight for the door on the far end of the valley, all the while the person up on the bridge sat in overwatch.

Up on the bridge I could see the full battlefield and I would use the sniper rifle to protect my friend from the attacking infantry. We made believe that we were the legendary Uncas and Hawkeye while we provided cover for our brave hero that was face to face with the enemy.

That is a most precious memory of a shared experience with my sister Elizabeth, and one I will continue to treasure.

The Foreignness of a Newborn Babe

I have seen hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of newborn Holstein calves over the last 3 and a half years.

Back in veterinary school, I saw a black calf with white spots, or vice versa. Now I see so much more in a calf.

I see chest and hip shape, muzzle curve, ear angles, neck length, elbow rotation, fetlock breakover, craniolateral position of the eyes and more. I am not even trying to look at those things, I just see them now. It fascinates me because it was happening over time without my full knowledge.

There is some part of my brain that collects, stores, and compares those measurements and observations, without me even aware of it, and it is working all the time. It’s a process that builds, and even as it conitinually ran in the background of my brain, I never really noticed it until my daughter was born.

Katarina taking her first of many naps

In that moment that I saw her present to the world, I realized, like Jon Snow, I knew nothing. It was humbling to see this little life and not know anything about how a brand new human looks. It was a token moment, feeling like the moment the window pane trembles, and the walls shudder, under the lashing rain and burgeoning gusts of a thunderstorm. In that instance, you realize just how much the window and walls mean to your survival.

Seeing her for the first time told me very clearly that my life had crossed some threshold and would never be the same.

Our ship had found itself in new waters.

I Found You!

Parenthood has forever changed me, kind of like marriage did.

Back when I was a single man, I had so much time alone. Evening after evening, if I didn’t have plans with friends, I went to sleep in silence. I often ate my supper alone. I watched the television program that I wanted to, or listened to the music that I wanted to (I must have played Emotionalism a couple hundred times). My bathroom cabinet was stocked only with products that I used. The blankets and sheets on my bed were the blankets and sheets that I chose. Yes I was limited by budget and location, but other than that I had full autonomy. I could get anything I wanted from the local Salvation Army, and decorate my apartment in the best way I saw fit.

After marrying, I found a forever date. Dinner out – now always for two. I get to consider someone else in every decision.

Now that we have a baby, the dynamic has changed again.

It’s a whole new level of taking another into consideration.

Even when my wife and I step out on the porch for a few minutes of coffee and contemplation, and our little one is happily playing with her cousin and auntie Emily, she will find us. She is not easily dissuaded.

Made a Mistake

I made a mistake last week.

A friend set up a training session for some fellows in our new church plant. These guys have signed up to volunteer on a specific team, and they need to go through the training before they are cleared to volunteer.

I am the coordinator for that team in our new church, and we are very short handed, so it was a great help to me that my friend set up the training. An older fellow agreed to do the training, and I had two guys on my team who said they could go to the training.

As we got closer to the date of the training, Sunday at 9:00 am, I confirmed the RSVP with the two guys on my team. I had hoped for more guys to be able to make it, and I didn’t want to waste the time of the older fellow.

Everything looked like it was going to turn out well, and then Saturday morning I got a message that no one showed up for the training.

The training was Saturday morning, not Sunday morning.

I had misread the message and put it on my calendar on the wrong day. I had told those fellows the wrong day!

Because of my mistake a significant amount of time was wasted. I felt so bad, I called the fellow that was to lead the training and apologized, I called the fellows on my team and explained the mix-up.

Still I felt bad.

I felt like I shouldn’t have stepped up to coordinate the team, like they would be better off without me. I felt like I was the reason for much pain in these fellows lives – but that isn’t true. I made a mistake. I did not intentionally cause these men any trouble.

If this had been the other way, if someone had stood me up because they misread my message and they had the wrong date, I would understand and I would not think ill of them.

So why do I feel so much worse, about myself, than I would about someone else?