Zurich, Switzerland – Day 1

I am taking a Social Studies class for my engineering degree that takes us to Switzerland, Italy and the French Riviera!  As preparation for the trip we had to read Dante’s the Divine Comedy and watch a couple of Italian movies.  We also need to keep a journal and write a paper when we get back – researching whatever questions we came up with on the trip.  So I am keeping all my thoughts, hopefully, on my blog.

I have to start by saying that I am impressed with my classmates.  I was a little nervous about the fact that its a college crowd – 18 and 19 year olds loose in Europe.  I was further concerned how I would fit in.  But my fellow Vermont Technical college guys and girls are hardy, Vermont country types.  We might not be the book-smartiest of the crowd or the artsiest, but we are handy and hardworking.  The guys always help unload the bags, they hold doors, and are really considerate.  We are mostly all attending Vermont Tech in some engineering or construction capacity, and we all turn to look at equipment and tractors as they pass by or inspect construction zones or just be interested in those things in general.  It’s funny to me, too, that I haven’t heard anybody say anything about shopping – most people were excited about the lakes and mountains and such.  I feel like we are all very similar types of people and that goes a long way to making us all feel at home with each other.

Yesterday, we departed Boston and flew into Zurich, Switzerland.  Interesting enough, Switzerland doesn’t have an official capital city, but Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland and could be considered the business capital. We met up with our tour guide, Frank, and with very little persuasion from Professor Strokanov, he took us on a walking tour of Zurich – even though that wasn’t on the itinerary.  It was really neat to see Lake Zurich where so many of my friends have participated in marathon swims.  I was sad to not be swimming, myself as it was about 70 degrees yesterday!  Walking through the city was spectacular and Frank, our tour guide is so knowledgeable about so many things.  I don’t know enough about architecture to describe the different styles of it that we’ve seen, but the churches in particular are fascinating to me.  Throughout the city, special care was taken to make everything look beautiful – doorways were decorated and ornate either with woodworking or metalworking or even just phrases in German or maybe other languages.  Flower boxes were everywhere, too – there were some really, really small flower boxes!  It was almost like any opportunity to add flowers was seized with gusto.  Beauty is such an easy part of a society to discard because of time and cost, but I am just really appreciative of a people who invest in expressing beauty.

Most of everything was in German (even my Google home page!), and I don’t know German – but so far everyone is very kind and accommodating and friendly so I don’t feel intimidated by the language barrier.  I appreciate the way people dress.  In general, it seems that people dress in Europe not to make radical statements but to represent themselves well.  It’s a refreshing contrast when you see so many Americans wearing pajama bottoms in public.  I didn’t see one pair of pajama bottoms in Zurich.

I had espresso for the first time in my life!  It was so dark and thick and rich and good.  It’s amazing!  I can’t wait until Italy – I’ve heard fantastic things about the cappucino!  At first, I missed my large cup of coffee, but after sipping the espresso … I’m not sure I can go back to having so much water in my coffee.

After leaving Zurich we arrived at the hotel in Emmetten – the landscape is breathtaking. I am just enchanted by Switzerland.  It’s so moving with all it’s mountains and lakes.  We had dinner – a wonderful three course traditional meal.  And breakfast this morning included the most fantastic homemade bread.  The food has been so good!  I am excited to try something new at every meal.

We went for a walk last night up the hill outside the hotel and watched the sunset.  There is a beautiful church and the bells toll so sweetly every quarter hour.  It was a long dusk – the kind that lets your eyes slowly warm to every single color so gently that you don’t even realize that anything is changing until it is too dark to see.

Peace

“I found it!” he said as he closed his fist,
On the piece of his soul he had always missed.
Held one-handed.
While the other extended
And clutched the ledge of the precipice.

“I have no need, nor want, nor whim,”
His smile radiated from within.
Chased and pursued,
Lost, broken, imbued,
Now! Rewarded with joy unspoken.

He did not see the chasm below,
Or feel the wind or taste the snow,
He did not mind,
He’d found his find,
Nothing mattered anymore.

He took his long lost treasure,
Opened his soul for good measure,
He twisted the key,
Slid in his last piece,
And smiled to himself with great pleasure.

So he dangled above the vast unknown,
To him, for once, he was finally home,
He smiled at the view,
And at the snow, too,
And he said, “I am the luckiest man that I know.”

How to Date an Engineer

I have four exams this week: Physics, Environmental Engineering and Science, Calculus for Engineering, and Mechanics of Soils.  When my brain becomes saturated in calculations a weird thing happens – I HAVE to write.  The words push themselves out and I can’t help it.  Due to overexposure of engineering types and based on a few of my own experiences, I have decided that this Valentine’s Day the world can benefit from this non-comprehensive manual on how to woo your favorite engineer.

  1. Plans.

I’ve always heard it said that when you are dating, you should make plans that include dates, times, transportation, etc.  When you have your heart set on an engineer, though, don’t just have a plan:  you should have an entire set of plans.  I am not talking about simply coming up with an creative idea and romantic execution to the last detail of something that is individually designed for the object of your affection. (Which you also must do.)  You must, in fact, have a plan for almost everything.  Engineers love plans. Engineers love plans more than they love people. Read more

Conversations with God

I was in the Rutland Magazine recently.  It was an article about my Channel Swim.  I haven’t read it, yet.  I never read any of the articles about myself.  I try and I always think to myself that I will do it.  I should. I know I should… but I never do.  It makes me feel weird that other people want to tell my story over and over again.  Embarrassed.  Strange.

I am glad they do tell the story.  Er, rather, I am glad the story gets told. In whatever way they feel compelled to tell it.  I am always honored when people ask me to speak and educate and inspire – it was always meant to be a gift to my community and I love the impact it continues to have. That is what the story is for – to continue to testify and edify.  

That is the purpose of the story. Any story. It might even be my story – but it isn’t me. I am not there anymore.  I am not in that chapter of my life, any longer.  I am different.  Things are different. I have grown and changed so much in only the two years that have passed since then.  I want to share who I am now – the now me and all her depth and creativity and ingenuity and insight and courage and intelligence. I am keenly aware of the people nearest me who see me and allow me to be who I am today.

Some days, the now me wants to tell the story of my English Channel swim because there is a new lesson in it I have just uncovered.  A new depth.  A new place it has brought me to.  Some days, I don’t think about it at all.  I think about school and work and building a future that makes a marked difference economically and socially.  There are some people that I long to tell about it with words meant only for them.  Let me tell you the story this one particular way, just this one time.  I will speak every word as it flows from the deepest parts of the now me founded on the person who lived that story with the understanding of the now person across from me who is my audience of one.  It’s my gift only for you.  Nobody else.

The articles will always do for the masses, but you have the chance to know me.  You do.  The now me.  And I long for the chance to be known.  Today.  Tomorrow.  On Christmas.  New Years. Every day after that.

I wonder if Yahweh feels this way – kind of strange or embarrassed that people tell stories about who He was thousands of years ago while He is waiting for people to recognize who He is in His profound revelation and relevancy today.  Who is the now Him?  What is it like to be engaged with Him in all of His creativity and ingenuity and insight and courage and wisdom and love?  How does He wish to connect today?  Tomorrow?  On Christmas?  New Years? Every day after that?

What if we let Him tell the story this time – whatever story He wants.  Every single day of our lives as we live them together.  In growth and change and empowerment and excellence.  With courage.  Tenacity.  Intelligence.  Kindness. Love.

What if we let go of religion so that we can have conversations with God?  Conversations about science and our earth.  About medicine.  About government and education and media.  Justice.  Health.  Economics.  Business.  Maybe He still has something to say about that – in whatever way He still speaks in and through you.  Maybe He doesn’t want to talk about your issues.  Maybe He longs for somebody to converse with Him about the things that are important to Him now. Maybe that should be both our gift and our resolution.  Today.  Christmas.  New Years.

Every day after that.

 

Giving Thanks

I am ever so entirely grateful for this life I get to live.

I am grateful that when I wake up, that I am real.  I am in this moment as honestly as I will be in the next.  I am one whole being – heart, intellect, spirit – and perhaps not pure or perfect, but I will continue in my pursuit of right wholeness.

I am grateful that I don’t have to live in fantasies or dualities or lies or dreams.  There is no imagination, no fantasy world, that I can conceive that could ever compare to this real, present life that is mine.  There is no lie worth purchasing at the expense of my soul.  There is no dream that I would prefer more than the ones already added to my pursuit of the kingdom. I am exactly on the right path to the exactly right person I want to be.

I am grateful that I am single.  I am grateful that I don’t need to be in a relationship to find meaning and fulfillment.  I am grateful that I know love – real, true, deep love – and that it fills me up and overflows into every aspect of my life.  I am grateful for the strength it has produced within me – the strength to be alone and not lonely, to let go, to achieve, to pursue the best things.  I am grateful that at the end of the day, when I lay my head down and close my eyes and allow my spirit to sing me a lullaby – that I know this place and time and hour is all perfection.  It is well with my soul.  If I am meant to be alone all my years – it would be a joy and an honor and delight to continue on the journey I see before me.  I would not trade who I am for anything.

I am grateful.  I am grateful for the truth that has grown up in my spirit and produced such abundant life.  I am grateful for the things I have achieved, for the glorious and impossible things I have done.  I am grateful that I do not have to wish or want for a day that might have been, nor do I have to sit on the platform of my own achievements – but that, ahead of me, the best things lie in wait.

I am a peculiar treasure hidden in the heart of my God.

For that I am breathlessly, profoundly, deeply grateful.

The Dog, The Heart

I have been afraid, lately.  I am facing a very long layoff this winter and with the investment of time and money for school – it troubles my heart more than my mind. My intellect sees the risk and the reward  and I am looking forward to navigating the future with excellence.  I am excited to make the most of this gift, but the emotional weight of it is heavy.  I have been exploring the option of leasing my house and moving away. It feels like losing my home.  My safety and security.  My comfort. A place where I belong.  Home – it’s my home.  And, ultimately, along with that home is all that hope I had for a family of my own.  I feel like I am losing all of that.  The feelings are not true, but they are real.  I feel like a failure unable to care for that which is mine, which is also not true.  This is a season and it will pass.

I spend a lot of time ordering my thoughts – over and again.  I haven’t been so successful at being a well adjusted human being this week.

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The other night, I decided to go for a walk.  It wasn’t cold, yet, but the moon was sharp and bright.  I left the farmhouse and walked down the driveway, past the pond.  My restlessness was not a friend to me, but the fresh air and the stars were.  On this particular moonlit walk, I watched as Guri scampered ahead to play.  Her sleek form went stalking through the grass and bounding through the brush.  She would resurface on the road some paces ahead and turn to look at me.  Her tongue hung out of her mouth, panting for joy as she waited, quivering with delight, to see where I would go next.

“Are we still going this way, mom?” She seemed to ask.

When my feet continued forward, she took her cue and bounded into the grass and brush again.

I watched her watching me.  I watched her awareness of me.  She kept me in her sights, kept me in her senses.  She was content to roam around me without bolting to some wild freedom.  I am her anchor.

She is tied to me.  Without leash.

Here, she can roam and run freely because she is safe.  There is nothing to hurt her here on the happy land that is the farm where we have found our temporary rest. That brown dog was such a picture of what I wanted for my poor, pathetic heart.  She doesn’t care where we go or if I happen to leave her for a time.  She trusts me.  She knows me.  She knows I will come back.  That I am doing what is best.  If only my feelings could be so certain that I am going to be okay, that this is not failure…

Someday, I want my heart to realize that my spirit is its anchor.  Not a house.  Not a farm.  Not an idea of a family someday that it so desperately hopes for.  None of those things.  In fact, I will let them all go for the path that takes me toward my purpose. I want my heart to keep me in her senses and awareness… to not be so afraid that it can’t do anything except fight against me with all its might.

Because we must go forward, little heart.  Because this is the best option.  Because it will all be okay in the end and maybe it won’t be what you expect… regardless, there’s nothing to fear.  Nothing.  Nobody will let you fall.

Trust me.

A Misty Morning Walk

 

I love the morning.  The still silence before the people interrupt with their machinery and voices.  The quiet of the woods as the shift from night to day begins.  The time for reflecting on dreams and planning for the day.

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Today, the mist was thick, shrouding the future with its solemn mystery.  Fog is beautiful in the way it makes you focus on what is immediately before you.  It reminds me of a child in its wonderment, “You have to see this!  No, look at it!  This, this, and only this!”  Indeed, it is all you can see; what is right before you.  Don’t worry about what is ahead, my dear.  Look at how beautiful this place is.  This place.

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It is beautiful, isn’t it?  The birds have returned from winter’s home and fill the trees with song.  The leaves have opened.  The path is full of fading, graying memories…

Why do we grieve so hard for the living?  Because there is nothing wonderful, I suppose, about the death of connection – sometimes it’s murder and sometimes it’s suicide and sometimes it’s natural causes that compel our distance.  There is some deep place of suffering when you are no longer welcome in the place you called home.  It was the place you called home… but don’t come back. I wonder; does everyone lose that place at some point or another?

I am reminded of the fragile nature of strength when my back buckles of its own choosing and I stumble.  Every muscle is called on to keep me from collapsing to the ground.  The pain steals my breath away.  I long for tears to cry.  How I wish there were tears to be cried.

But no.  No.  It is too early for tears.  It is too early for anything but hope.  Hope and dreams and coffee and silence and plans. Today, I plan to heal just a little bit more.

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In only a moment, the air fills my lungs again.  The dazzling pain is quieted.  I straighten back up.  I find the steps forward along the path of gray memories in the most pleasant company of the birds and the trees and the mist.

“Look at this!  Look at it!  Isn’t it beautiful?!” The fog asks.

That it is, my friend.  The most beautiful place I have ever been.