Monday, July 26, 2010

That they might have Joy

Last Thursday I spent the entire day in Salt Lake participating in the ceremony of union between my friend and former roommate Jared, and his lovely wife Mindy. It was a magnificent day, filled to the trim with emotion and beauty as we watched these two lives come together as one.

The Morning began with the actual ceremony, taking place in the Salt Lake Temple. The room was filled to capacity with family and friends as we waited for Mindy and Jared to enter what the sealer described as “God’s family room.” I had known this day and moment would be coming for some time, but still it seemed unreal that an event of this magnitude was transpiring right in front of me, and that someone i knew so well was making this tremendous step forward in his life.

Throughout the ceremony i had a clear view of Mindy’s face over the side of Jared’s shoulder. Never have I seen someone so completely overcome with Joy. There is no other word or emotion i can think of to describe what i saw. It was a combination of elation, happiness, trust, and overwhelming excitement, but that description feels cheap compared to what was there. There was something more than this world offers there, something beyond what i personally have found so far in my life. Something so powerful and motivating that it commands that the highest promises of love and fidelity must be made to protect and preserve and nurture it. I think i what i saw was Love in its truest form. More on that later.

After the ceremony there was a luncheon. I had the opportunity to share a few words i had written about Jared and Mindy:

“I’ve lived with Jared for the past year, so I’ve seen his smiling face and bushy eyebrows every single day for quite a while now. However, last November i started seeing less and less of him around our place. We all had our various theories as to his whereabouts. Kendrick, having known him from Chicago immediately assumed it was gang related. Preston, not entirely sure how he knew Jared, didn’t really notice right away. And as for me, the most logical explanation was the weird smells coming from our kitchen.

Well, it turned out to be much more serious than any of us could have imagined. Jared had fallen in Love with and incredible young woman (and yes, when i say young i do realize that she is a grade older than him and i also realize that this may still be a touchy subject) and the reason that we hadn’t seen Jared is best summarized by the words Mark Twain’s Adam said of his Eve: “Wherever she was, there was Eden.” Mindy had become Jared’s piece of Paradise. In fact, in the days leading up to their engagement, Jared would struggle to sleep, not so much because he was nervous or stressed by the relationship, but because reality had become better than his dreams.

Mindy and Jared quickly became inseparable. Whether it was knocking each other over with kick balls or hitting each other on nose during every prayer, they were always together, and always with a glowing light in their eyes. With the clarity of hindsight, it difficult for us to know how we missed the signs prescient of this glorious union. It seems that Jared loved Mindy even before he had the privilege of dating her, calling every girl he met or went on dates with by the name “Mindy.”

Today we celebrate. We Celebrate friendship, we celebrate family, we celebrate relationships and Joy. We celebrate coming together and starting new, more brilliant lives. We celebrate Two souls with but a single thought, two hearts that beat as one. We Celebrate all that is good and beautiful in this life. Love is the beauty of the soul. As Robert Browning said, “Take away love, and our earth is a tomb.”

Jared and Mindy, it has been such a privilege and honor to know both of you, to see the joy you are in each other’s lives. I’ll miss the long sessions of pillow talk and the council meetings to plan Jared’s next move. Our apartment really won’t be the same after today. But beyond any other emotion, I am simply overjoyed at the sight of your happiness.

And so i raise my glass in honor of you, in honor of the love you share. May happiness and joy ever reside within your home and within your hearts is my prayer and wish for you.”

In looking up quotes to use in this speech, i read one from the book “Captain Corelli's Mandolin.” It was too long to use in the speech, and hard to apply in a toast, but it was on my mind throughout the entire ceremony and the rest of the day:

“Love is a temporary madness, it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because that is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion, it is not the desire to mate every second minute of the day... That is just being “in love”, which any fool can do. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Your mother and I had it, we had roots that grew towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossom had fallen from our branches we found that we were one tree and not two.”

It’s too easy to mistake being "in love" for real, true, pure Love. The former will slowly fade with time, while the latter grows stronger every day, with every moment spent together. Seeing the sparkle in Mindy’s eyes as she promised her eternal love for Jared sort of shook me, reminding me what it is that i want in my life. Motivating me and recommitting me to be the best person i can in hopes of one day finding my own piece of that same happiness.

On the next "Working Pen": Liz fumbles away her chance at being the next to be wed.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Encounter

The following is a creative piece inspired by the opening lines of Walt Whitman's great work Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, and influenced by the observations of Eliot in his Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. The words have caused me to dwell on the nature of human interaction, the daily, even constant motion between individuals and the harmony of existence. I hope to continue to develop the idea, eventually breaking it from the prose format into something more poetic and expressive in nature.

FLOOD-TIDE below me! I watch you face to face;
Clouds of the west! sun there half an hour high! I see you also face to face.

Crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes! how curious you are to me!
On the ferry-boats, the hundreds and hundreds that cross, returning home, are more curious to me than you suppose;

And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence, are more to me, and more in my meditations, than you might suppose.

-Walt Whitman

Everyday I pass hundreds of faces. I see them and they see me, but what do they mean to me, and I to them? Every face has a story, and each story somehow intertwines into our story, my story. We are the sum of you and I, and the human race is the sum of all. We compile ourselves together and in so doing, we all affect one another. Each step I take will ultimately determine what steps you take, and in some inexplicable way, your steps will determine mine. All this happens in a seemingly invisible way. The changes in course can be so minute that we don’t even sense it happening at all. But what would it be like to see our steps? What if I could see how my steps mix and blend with yours to combine into a three-step waltz or a stumbling, awkward tango? Then we would have a fantastic array, an articulate display of the clockwork between human souls. Then we would truly see face to face.

Looking into the mirror, I see myself face to face; sometimes it feels as though I am yet a stranger, that i must look beyond the glass, slightly fogged as it is to glean some sense of identity. I look into the depths of blue, past the pale inklings of orange that add the depth and meaning of a sunrise to my stare. Through the black pits at the center I look, I search for what is to be, what this day can become. Some days it is hope that I find. Others bring something even more, a knowledge of sorts, and yet others disappoint, bringing only longing for the next. Out the door these same eyes glance, stare entranced, and with colorful perception always enhance what it is that surrounds me. They find you and meet you, incessant in their searching for some sort of contact, or intimacy. This is our intersection, footsteps winding in and out of sync and step: the crisis of moment, the crux of opportunity. Twisting and turning our steps criss-cross over cold, lifeless cement. Spinning and swirling they rise, graceful, gently touching, caressing for a moment then in half that, retreating behind the bat and blink of an eye.

A smile, a grin and nothing more. You have your direction and I mine. What those ways are we have yet to learn. Tomorrow again I will stare at my mirrored mirage and wonder. These eyes will remember the encounter, the thrill of flight, the excess of pounding deep within. Forever altered by perception, your dispersion and reception of light and color, these eyes will again seek, and again find that looming crisis of question, overwhelming, high over our heads as we walk throughout our days.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Indian Summer

One of my favorite albums of all time is Indian Summer by the band Carbon Leaf. The album, is one of the most complete sets of music I have ever heard, avoiding any weak spots of dull moments. Catchy, yet meaningful, powerful lyrics fill the album from start to finish, accompanied by upbeat, powerful melodies that magnify the emotions these songs evoke.
Through my many social networks and contacts, it came to my attention that Carbon Leaf would be performing in Salt Lake at a little place called Kilby Court. When I say little place, that is no euphemism or other piece figurative language. This place was literally a two car garage with a stage in one corner about the size of my apartment’s kitchen.Last summer I had the opportunity to go and see Carbon Leaf perform at Wolf Trap national park for the performing arts. There the crowd swelled to several thousand, quite a different experience from what I and the other 49 people at Kilby were part of Monday night.

Proof that I was close enough to feel the spit and sweat of the band.

Because the venue was so small the entire show was acoustic. They even fully unplugged for their performance of the song One Prairie Outpost, not even using a mic for the lead singer.

In my opinion, the Crown Jewel of Carbon Leaf’s repertoire is the song What About Everything, a sort of dramatic monologue discussing contentment amidst the uncertainties that life, especially at the stage I am currently in, offers. The following lyrics are the second verse, followed by the chorus. This I feel is the part of the song that relates almost exactly to me in my life and pursuit for happiness.
Get away and come with me
Come away with me and we'll see
If I was right on that night, that a future was made
Before time takes each year, like a knife cuts it clear
It's school, then work and then life that just sharpens the blade
I think about time for fun
I think about time for play
Then I think about being done, with no resume
With no one left to blame
What about fortune and fame?
What about your love to obtain?
What about the ring?
What about....

What about everything?What about aeroplanes?
And what about ships that drank the sea?
What about...
What about the moon and stars?
What about soldier battle scars
And all the anger that they eat?
I am not in need

So that's me on the back up vocals. I apologize if it ruins the song. Look up the real version. It's worth it.

So while I don’t know the answers to how to obtain your love, find the moon and stars, and certainly I do not know about everything that goes on around me, I do know that I have every opportunity to make life magnificent.

The Show itself was incredible, one of the best I've had the privilege to attend. It was awesome to meet the band afterward, talk to them, snap a picture. Last summer they hung out after the show too, even shaking little Emily's hand as we left. If you haven't listened to them yet, do yourself a favor and pick up a CD.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Bachelor Trip

Today, when I turn on the radio I get hit with some interesting messages. I learn that Ke$ha likes my beard, that California gurls will melt my Popsicle, and that you’re only gonna break my heart. Gone from the airwaves is the simple wisdom that accompanied the clean and clear melodies of 90’s rock. Right now I’m thinking specifically of the song Closing Time, by Semisonic, from which we learn that every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. Life is a one-way street and we’re racing from gate to gate as one chapter of our life closes in order to allow us to begin the next. In just a few days, my roommate and dear friend Jared will begin a new life as a married man. It will be a new beginning born from the end of single life and everything he’s known up to this point about this world.

In order to celebrate this step forward in his life, we spent the last weekend driving to Denver Colorado. Jared’s wife-to-be is one of the most wonderful young women I have had the chance to know, but she has one flaw (or strength depending on your point of view): that is she doesn’t share the same passion for sports that Jared and the rest of us men share. Thus the trip to Colorado was centered on attending a couple of Colorado Rockies games at beautiful Coors Field.

We left early Friday morning, an eight hour drive looming ahead of us. We headed east on I-70, following the canyons carved out by the Colorado River. We watched as the rocks covering the canyon walls slowly morphed into the green mountain meadows of Colorado. We drove past ski resorts, their slopes bare from the summer heat and watched men playing golf at the base.Denver appeared on the horizon as the mountains gradually leveled into prairie. We drove to our hotel, only to find that there had been a problem with the room I had reserved, and that we had been transferred to the sister hotel down the street. This was but a minor inconvenience, aside from the loss of the pull out couch the original hotel would have provided. Without the pull-out, we were forced to put the sleeping bags we had brought to good use as two of had to sleep on the floor. We grabbed a bite at a local place called “Taco Bell” and took off to go catch the first of our baseball games.

We arrived at the corner of 20th and Blake in Lower Downtown Denver after construction forced us to take the scenic tour of residential Denver. There was a small line already formed to buy rockpile tickets, the $4 bleacher seats above straight-a-way centerfield. We got to the end of the line only to learn that there was a much longer feeder line we had to wait through before we could get in the short line and buy the cheap seats. Through some inexplicable stroke of luck, we made it through both lines and bought the very last 7 tickets on literally the last row of the stadium. The game still didn’t start for another two hours, so we went inside to watch batting practice and take naps while lying down on the bleachers. We woke up from our naps to sound of fame calling our names. The pre-game broadcast had begun on FOX sports rocky mountain and the broadcast booth was right behind the bleachers where we had been laying. We stood on the top of the bleachers and waited for the red camera light to come on and etched our faces into the archives of history. Anyone watching FSRM that evening will recognize these faces for years to come.
As game time approached we headed up to the top of the stadium to enjoy the game from a bird’s-eye view. After watching 6 innings and spending some 4+ hours in the ball park, we were hungry and ready for a change of scenery, so we headed out to find a place to eat. We decided on a sports grill that looked pretty fun, but unfortunately one of us had lost his drivers license and therefore wasn’t granted admission. Rather than leaving Kendrick to sit by himself on the curb, we decided to go to a restaurant that wasn’t 21+. Unfortunately the nearest one was a good 5 blocks further down the street, a place called Old Chicago. So there we were, a few guys from Provo, in Denver, eating at Chicago. A pretty diverse evening. Inside we ordered food while a live band set up to play cover songs throughout the evening. While we waited for our chicago style pizza, Brad and i went and shot a little arcade basketball. Unfortunately the shuffleboard table was occupied because i consider myself a first rate shuffler. We ate our food as Hit List continued to play songs from every era imaginable, aside from maybe the baroque.
We finished our food and exited back to the streets of LoDo. Girls definitely not from Provo walked up and down the street past us as we made our way back toward the car. The energy of the street kept us moving as we passed people on the corner offering fortune readings, bike rides, and who knows what else. We drove back to the hotel and all collapsed from exhaustion.
We slept in the next morning, getting out of the hotel around noon. After the long lines for the previous night’s ball game, we decided that our first stop would be to buy tickets for that night’s game so we could have the full afternoon at our disposal. Soon we were on the road west, to Boulder, Colorado, the granola capitol of the free world.

As we arrived in Boulder, we found the tail end of that morning’s farmer’s market. In a city so enthralled by organic foods and home-made products, the Farmers market is the place to find locals. We hung around the stalls and sights of the market for its final half hour, sampling various foods and seeing the various products and services the people of Boulder have to offer. I tasted cheese that burned my mouth because of the mold content, had some of the best basalmic vinaigrette i have ever tasted (made with pure dark chocolate) and tried sweet and sour mustard which was remarkably delicious. Kendrick had an aching in his green thumb and ended purchasing a mint plant as his souvenir of the trip.

Once the market shut down, we wandered across the street to the Pearl Street Mall. In downtown boulder, there are 3 city blocks blocked off the motor traffic and turned into a walking outdoor mall. Though the shopping and food is good, the main attractions there are the street performers who make their livelihood wowing the groups of tourists and shoppers strolling down the street. We watched a couple of performances including a man from St Chris, an Island in the Caribbean, who folds himself into some of the strangest positions imaginable. This guy is a regular on Pearl Street, having done the same act for the past 18 years. I remember watching him fold into his 20 by 20 inch box some 10 years ago when i lived in Boulder.

After our fill of people watching and entertainment, we got in the car and headed back to Denver for the baseball game. Again the Rockies were up against the Padres and again they came out victorious. This time, we had planned ahead and entered the stadium with increased stamina and lasted until the final out. We filed out of the stadium towards the exit gates looming as gallows waiting to strangle Jared’s singlehood. We marched through and turned down the street, once again passing the bars and clubs of LoDo, making our way to the Wynkoop brewing company and chophouse. There we shared a final meal of buffalo meat and in-house brewed root beer. Very manly indeed. We drove back to the hotel and gave Jared our parting gifts. Due to the nature of these gifts, they will not be discussed in great detail, it will suffice to say that Mindy will be very pleased with our choices.

Sunday was the world cup final, which we had to watch. After going to a sacrament meeting in the morning we drove to Preston’s cousin’s house to watch the match. After 116 minutes of scoreless soccer, Spain was hoisting the trophy above their heads and we were back on the road west to Provo.

We arrived back at our apartment exhausted from the weekend’s travels. Jared quickly scampered off to Mindy’s, anxious to see the only person he had thought of the entire trip. For three days things had been how they once were: Jared was again one of the guys enjoying a game of baseball. Now with the future looming he was back in the world of white dresses and tuxedos, eager to step forward into a new beginning of a more beautiful, fulfilling life with the girl of his dreams.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Perfect Day

Matthew Arnold wrote that that “the pursuit of perfection, then, is the pursuit of sweetness and light.” To me that’s summer has become: the pursuit of perfection. We spend our days seeking the light of the sun and the sweetness in life. Perfection comes to us in moments throughout our lives when we can feel the cumbersome, weightier parts of life melt away and we are free to simply enjoy our existence. However, because “life is not a work of art… that moment can’t last” forever. But it can be stretched to the brink of breaking and made to last as long as possible. So with the office chairs and school desks looming with the next day’s dawn, we took a moment of perfection and pulled and stretched it into full day.

In celebration of our great nation’s birth, Monday came without the normal stresses of daily life. Classes were canceled and offices closed, giving us the opportunity to take full advantage of the summer sun. The morning began early for me as I had volunteered to provide muffins for members of our ward who would be watching the city’s Fourth of July parade later that morning. Putting my culinary skills to use, I invented a new type of muffin: Blueberry Chocolate Chip, by mixing together two packs of Betty Crocker Muffin mix. Needless to say, they were a hit.

After dropping off the muffins at the parade route, PT and I headed off for the first of the day’s adventures. We fought traffic delayed by parade goers and 5k runners as we drove out to Rock Canyon. We grabbed our bags and headed up the trail to a rock formation known as “The Kitchen.” Over the past year or so, PT has been collecting rock climbing gear and getting more and more into the sport. This summer I began going with him, invoking memories of Enchanted Rock down in Texas where my Dad would take me climbing in my younger days.We spent a couple hours taking turns scaling the rock face as the morning sun warmed the air around us. Once our forearms couldn’t handle any more pain, we pack up the gear and headed back to the car to get ready for the next phase of the day. We got back to our apartment just as the parade was ending.

Now a little background: on Saturday afternoon i had a little stroke of genius. We had wanted to do a Fourth of July celebration barbecue, but Saturday ended up being a really busy day for everyone so we never had a chance to have our cook out. However, while pondering ways to get my fill of fire cooked meats, i recalled being told about some ponds 45 minutes south in Mona where there is a giant rope swing. “What better setting exists for a summer barbecue than at some rope swings?” I thought to myself. I pitched the idea to my roommates and got them on board.

So back to Monday, the time was now 11:00 in the morning. We had an hour and a half until people weer gathering to head down with us to Mona for the epic Rope Swing Cook Out. We ended up caravaning in 5 cars down to Mona, with Brad’s truck packed full of burgers, hot dogs, and my grill. We listened to any patriotic songs we could find on our Ipods to keep up the celebratory mood of the day.

We arrived at Burriston Ponds to find that our idea was a popular one. Our group of 25 added to the already large crowd waiting turns to fling themselves 20 feet into the air over the pond. There are two rope swings at Burriston Ponds. The first, and largest, has you swing from a platform nailed to a tree about 18 feet in the air. It’s a little bit nerve racking standing on the edge of the platform try to catch the rope as a spectator throws it up to you.
The second swing, though not as high, is still a thrill. Swinging from it involves walking about 5 feet out on a branch about 12 feet in the air. Just as fun as actually swinging is watching others swing from the rope, or at least attempt to. If your form is off and you lack the proper arm strength, you are likely to break your fall with your face or your stomach. There is plenty of documentation of that on youtube is you search for Mona rope swing.

I think Brad's face really sums up the experience better than any words I could put to paper.

We stayed at the ponds, swinging, swimming, and eating for 3 and a half hours. By then the sun had sucked all the energy from our bodies, making the drive home a struggle to stay away. Once we walked through our door, PT and i collapsed on our couches and immediately fell asleep. After an hour of power napping, we arose for phase three of the day.

One confession about my friends and I: we have World Cup Fever. Because of that, we play soccer two or three time a week. So we put together a great plan for the evening, we would go and play soccer for 2 hours, come home and shower, then go see How to Train Your Dragon in the dollar theater.

The soccer was fun, yet exhausting after a day full of sunshine. I am still amazed that these long days allow us to play well past 9 o'clock. The movie was better than any of us could have anticipated, full of non-stop action and laugh-out-loud moments. Seriously the writers for these animated movies are worth every cent they get paid. We walked out of the theater just as the clock ticked past midnight, officially ending what was a perfect day.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Springville Art Museum

Yesterday I got a text message from my friend Oliver “the Juice” Johnston alerting me that it was “College Day” at the Springville art museum. Naturally, because of our deep affinity for culture my roommates and I decided to go and check it out. Now the cultural devotion to which I am referring is not actually a love for painting though we, some more than others, do have an appreciation for the arts, but rather a love of Mexican food, and the fliers announcing the event proudly advertised “generous refreshment provided by Rubios.” We loaded up in the minivan, rolling seven deep, and drove to the museum.

Rubios has great salsa. For those of you not familiar with the place, it’s really the exact same as Baja Fresh. They serve the same roasted chipotle salsa and guacamole, which is fantastic if you mix the two together. Also on the refreshment menu was my personal favorite, churros. I love these Mexican delights. In fact, on my mission, because Ukrainians have never really heard of Mexican food, for our Cinco de Mayo celebration, I made homemade churros. They are simply too delicious to go two years without.

After our fill of free chips and salsa, we decided to go look at the art work. I never realized how big a collection they have at this museum. It was really cool. Especially neat for me was that the Springville Art Museum houses the largest public collection of 20th century Russian impressionist and realist paintings. Looking at these pictures took me straight back to Ukraine. I had actually gone to the birth home of Repin while over there and a few local galleries and seen some pretty similar works as those housed in Springville. But most fascinating was how though many of these paintings were created 50 of 60 years ago, not much has really changed about the country. Here are a few of my favorites that I have found images of:

This picture is titled Sevastopolis Fishermen. Sevastopol is a city in southern Ukraine, on the Crimea, originally part of my mission, but split out when the mission boundaries changed. The picture was painted in 1960, yet those very same guys could be sitting at any table in Ukraine today. They would be dressed the same, eating dried fish and probably talking about the same thing. It really is a timeless style.

This one is called Enemy at the Door. I love the look on the little girl’s face, and how tightly she clutches her doll. The grandmother lies sick and helpless in her bed. I can’t decide if it’s an apartment of a hotel room, not that there’s much difference between the two, but again the buildings have not changed in the last 60 years there. I think that the focus of the picture is the strength of the child. I was talking with Oliver as we looked at these paintings about the resiliency of that generation. There were several pictures of babushki, with their weathered hands and face and we were talking about the tough lifestyle that brought them to that point.

This picture, Election Day at the Collective Farm, shows another aspect of why life was so difficult for that generation: collectivization. The soviet government turned all the farms into collective farms and took all the food from them, effectively creating a famine for the working class. Death tolls are in the millions, and the full extent of the damage is not known as the Soviets did well to keep it covered up to the rest of the world.

This one is called “Gray Day.” The title alone reminds me of every winter day I spent over there. Colors all seemed to melt away from the world around us and blend into one gray existence. The sky, the ground, the trees, the buildings, all of it was just gray and barren, like this forest.

Last there is this piece: Curious Onlookers. The children over there are adorable. I particularly remember the daughter of one investigator I worked with. The girls name was Dascha. It was the cutest thing to hear her speak Russian, and it was always fun to play with her while her mother studied at our English club. The children are so bright and cheerful, especially compared to the circumstances that surround them. I had the opportunity to, on more than one occasion, work with some orphans, some of whom were being adopted by American families. Visiting the orphanages was an incredible experience, definitely a highlight of my time over there. If there is a hope for Ukraine, it has to lie in the future generation and their optimism and drive for happiness.