Unfavorable Circumstances

Looks like favorable conditions to me.

I can think of few better ways to wake up than with the sun streaming through my window and a good day ahead of me. And the greeting is all the better when accompanied by the peaceful sounds of morning coming through the window.

Construction is not one of those sounds – especially not at 6:30 in the morning.

Beep. Beep. Beep. The dump truck reverses into position. A bulldozer revs its engine as it clears the rubble. Noise fills the air as the construction crews tear up our street.

Grumbling, I get out of bed. I’m not a fan of noise – all the more when it wakes me up.

Why do the crews have to start so early? Do they not know people are asleep at this hour? Do they not know people don’t want to hear their noise? Surely they’re out to bother me.

home i go
to see those i know
the trip better not be slow

I’m heading home after a day downtown and am looking forward to getting back. I get to see my wife. I get to see my daughter. And supper will be ready when I arrive.

I walk down the stairs, tap my transit pass, and go through the turnstiles. Once on the platform, I take a quick glance down the tracks. The train’s stopped at the previous station. Excellent. It will be here in a minute or two. Perfect timing.

Five minutes pass. Ten minutes pass. Fifteen minutes pass. Twenty minutes pass. The train remains at the previous station.

Why is the operator not pulling forward? Doesn’t she know I’m not in the mood for waiting? Why is she holding up the train? What’s happened this time?

clearing out
stuff laying about
get rid of it, no doubt

My wife and I have been working hard to get rid of stuff we don’t need. But just because we don’t need it doesn’t mean no one else does.

Someone’s coming soon to pick up an item. Yay for clearing out the apartment. She just called to say she’ll be here in twenty minutes. Perfect. I can read for a bit, run the item downstairs, and go make my coffee.

Twenty minutes turns into an hour. I’m getting impatient. Why is she not coming when she said she would? Why is she not respecting my time?

worn well
so easy to tell
it’s time to bid farewell

My current pair of shoes nears the end of its useful life. After years of wear, I’ve walked them into the ground. It’s time to invest in a new pair.

Picking out the shoes I like, I place an order online. It qualifies for free next-day shipping. Hooray, I won’t have to wait long to get them.

The scheduled delivery time arrives. At last, I’ll have comfortable shoes. Checking the status via the postal service website, I learn that the address listed on the package is invalid. The shoes won’t be arriving today.

What? Why did they mess up and put the wrong address on the label?

today
the water and spray
is the perfect place to play

The water may be cold, but on a hot day nothing beats taking a swim in the lake. Temperatures soar, and a strong wind gusts in from the east, which should also create some decent sized waves.

I put on my swimsuit, grab a towel, and walk toward the beach. On the way, I reflect on other fun times I’ve had in the waves. It’s going to be amazing.

I near the beach. In the distance I can see the white of the crashing waves. As expected, they look big – or at least as big as they get on this lake. It’s going to be fun.

Reaching the beach, a red flag waves over the sands. No swimming allowed.

Those lifeguards, why do they always have to keep people from having fun on the beach? Why are they so overprotective?

***

Circumstances don’t always work out how I’d like. People don’t always act the way I want them to. My response is sometimes to assume the worst – to believe the person is out to make life difficult for me. I blame them.

But, most of the time, I’m wrong.

***

they make noise
the road they destroy
so i can have what i enjoy

The construction crews are working on a major improvement project on the water mains, gas pipes, and sewer lines. Their work is for my benefit. Not only do they combine all three projects into one – and avoid having to tear up the road multiple times – their work is essential to many of the luxuries I enjoy.

Because of their work, I get clean, drinkable water delivered straight to my tap.

Because of their work, I’m able to cook on my gas stove and keep warm during the winter.

Because of their work, the sewers don’t overflow after heavy storms, filling the air with an unpleasant smell.

at last here
with apologies sincere
a greater need was near

The train finally pulls into the station. The conductor apologizes for the delay. She announces that there was a medical emergency on a train ahead of us, and they had to wait for the fire department to help the individual in need.

The conductor had nothing to do with the situation. She probably wanted to get moving again too. And what about the person in trouble? Wouldn’t I want the train to stop if I had a medical problem? Getting home on time is not more important than that.

doorbells ring
and downstairs i bring
the requested thing

The lady rings the doorbell to pick up the item. As I head down the stairs, I ponder the delay. Who am I to judge her situation? Maybe she had an emergency come up. Perhaps she got sidetracked by a conversation with a friend she hadn’t seen in a while. Or maybe it took longer to get to my place than she expected. I’m sure she has a good reason.

Reaching the door, I greet her. We chat for a moment, I hand her what she came for, and she heads out. She seems like a nice lady.

investigate
before becoming irate
that the packages is so late

Frustrated at the delay on my shoe order, I check the receipt from my purchase. Oops. The mistake was mine. I made a typo when I entered in the address. They just used what I provided.

And when I call to correct the mistake, the customer service team is nothing but helpful. They notify the postal service of the correct address, making sure the package doesn’t get returned.

A few days later, my shoes arrive. They are just what I expected them to be. I put them on and go out for a stroll.

can’t get in
to go for a swim
maybe they have a reason

I stand watching the waves and ponder the decision of the lifeguards to close the beach for swimming. They are probably operating under the instructions of their supervisors. It isn’t their fault.

Moreover, their aim is not to prevent fun, but to ensure people are safe. They don’t want anyone to drown or get dragged out into the lake by the undercurrent. And while I believe myself to be a strong enough swimmer to ride out the waves, many of the younger children who play in the water are not. The lifeguards’ intent is to protect them.

I turn from the beach and enjoy the walk home.

***

Snap judgments of a situation always depend on an underlying set of assumptions. And while those are often correct, they aren’t always. You may not know the full situation. You may have incomplete information.

When people don’t do what you want them to, give them the benefit of the doubt. When circumstances don’t work out the way you were hoping, take them for the best.

That little shift – or not so little a shift – in mentality is enough to make nearly any situation more favorable.

###

PHOTO: Looks like favorable conditions to me. Chicago.

Stories Of My Next Door Neighborhood

An unexpected spot of color.

“I could have taken the bus,” I think to myself as I walk. It would have been faster.

Overhead, the sky still wears its cloak of grey, a reminder of the rain that stopped a few minutes ago. With care, I dodge the puddles as I make my way northbound.

I’m going to see my friend, Ronn, who works at a non-profit in a nearby neighborhood. The North of Howard Area – named after the major road that marks its southern border – has a reputation of being a poorer and rougher part of town. Confined by the train yards, a cemetery, Howard Street, and the lake, it is alienated from the rest of the city.

Although it’s not that far from where I live, today is my first time visiting this neighborhood. I’m excited to finally make the trip.

***

Make a visit to a nearby neighborhood
Well and good
Walk the grounds you’ve never seen before
Something more
What you see may yet surprise you
See what’s true

Arriving at the building, I knock and am let inside. Ronn greats me with a smile. We begin to talk about the neighborhood. As he describes Good News Partners (GNP), the organization he works for, I sense his excitement about their work.

He tells me how GNP serves the community by providing low income housing. They own and manage several properties in the neighborhood, giving a home to people who would otherwise have to go elsewhere because of the rising property values.

After giving me an overview, we grab our coats and head outside. It’s time to see the neighborhood firsthand.

Walking with Ronn, I notice something odd. Where I had expected the buildings to have a dirty and crumbling appearance, they are clean and neat. Some of them look nicer than the ones on my street. I find my perceptions of the neighborhood shifting. They will shift again.

We pass a community garden. Squash, tomatoes, corn, and a host of other vegetables fill this island of earth amid the gravel and concrete of the city. Flowers rush in to fill the gaps between the vegetables. Rich and colorful – this is a place of life.

On its gate hangs a sign: “No alcohol, drugs or violence”. It is a place of life, indeed.

The garden echoes the story of the people who live here. They desire the same the same things that I do. They want health and safety. They want the freedom to live in peace. They are not so different from me.

We keep walking.

Ronn tells me the history of the neighborhood and points out buildings of note. Each of them has a story. They are interesting stories – stories worth hearing.

One building has received the whole spectrum of use. Starting as a residence for the homeless, it transitioned into low income housing. From there, it became a cooperative. It stayed that way until the residents decided to turn the units into condos. For all the desperation of the area, people are, step by step, moving out of poverty.

As we walk, we meet people. Ronn usually knows them, and he greets them with a smile. They return the greeting, and say hello to me. This place is not my home, and I expected to be uncomfortable. But I feel welcome.

Each person has a story. Some work for GNP. Others live in the buildings they own. The rest are neighbors. I’m glad to catch a bit of their stories.

Nearing the end of the tour, we pass the new fitness center and school wing. The city added them recently to raise the standard of living at the area. But the story is not completely positive.

Three hundred units of low income housing disappeared with the additions. People simply lost their homes and were told to go live somewhere else. Those that remain in the area find their rent increasing as the property values go up. Ronn says he’s worried that the poor will be forced out.

Organizations like GNP work to help those poor. They give their stories the value and attention they deserve. They help them take the next step in improving their lives. The story of this neighborhood may yet have a happy ending.

***

For everything you have an expectation
Your creation
That guides how you treat those you do not know
Friend or foe
Open yourself to thinking differently
Chang how you see

Returning home, I ponder the visit. Half of what I thought about the place turned out to be wrong. Many of my expectations proved incomplete. But I wouldn’t have learned had I not come.

In your mind, you have a story for everything. Even if you know little about a subject, you’ll fill in the gaps with made up information. This is a useful ability as it lets you process and react to the world quickly. The danger though is that those stories influence how you see people. And how you see people directs how you treat them.

Make an effort to learn the real story. Meet people. Look upon their faces.

Visit places you haven’t been to before. Often, you won’t even have to travel far. My journey only took me a few blocks from home.

Let what you see dash your expectations. Allow the writing of a new story. See how the stranger is not so strange after all.

###

PHOTO: An unexpected spot of color.

Within to Without, Water and World Domination

The world is yours.

It hardly rains during the World Domination Summit, but water is everywhere. There is power and energy – the deep force of an ocean wave. There is connection – a life-giving shower falling down upon us all. There is humanity – calm water reflecting back what is lovely. There is the story – a river flowing from what is within, the individual, to what is without, the community.

***

I sit in remembrance
Of who I am
And who I am not
Calm
Gentle
Stillest waters
I stand in remembrance
Of where I am
And where I come from
Light
Playful
Rippling water
I walk in remembrance
Of where I go
And who I go with
Deep
Alive
Moving water

It is worth giving pause to remember – to appreciate the elements and beauty of your life. Sitting in silence, listening to what someone says about you, catching an echo in the wisdom of another – each is an affirmation.

Remember your existence. You are a human being. You are alive. That is worth something. It is worthy of celebration.

As Andrea and Jen say, your existence gives us hope.

Remember your roots. Where do you come from? What lives weave into your story?

In the first session, we stand by where we come from. So many nationalities. So many cultures. So many families. What great richness.

Remember your skills and talents. What do you have to offer the world that no one else can? While other people may have similar skills or overlapping talents, no one else has the combination that you do.

You may find uses for those skills in unexpected places. Jodi took the lessons and growth from her career as a lawyer to travel the world. Anna is a doctor who is planning to help business travelers stay healthy on the road. Brigitte now uses her expertise in public relations to get the word out for small businesses. Be open to possibility.

Remember the path you are on. Your decisions and choices take you on a journey. Although other people come in and out of it, it is a story that belongs to you.

In conversations with others, I share my story – growing up in Kenya, leaving my work as an engineer, and becoming a wanderer and storyteller. Everyone responds with affirmation and congratulations. They celebrate it. What a beautiful gift.

Remember your dreams. What are the things you wish to leave behind? What great acts do you still wish to do? What beautiful art do you wish to create?

Write them down. Create a list of your dreams. But just as important is to create a stop-doing list. Put everything that is a distraction to your vision on this list. Clear the space to make the dreams happen.

And from your remembrance – from the affirmation – comes power…

Waves from deep within
From the ocean’s heart they come
Be as the water

Be assertive. If someone attacks who you are – if they come with the intent to do harm – protect yourself. You are valuable and worth defending.

But as Pam demonstrates, being assertive doesn’t require making a strike. Her first move is to a position of safety. If the attacker continues, she is ready, but aggression is the last thing on her mind.

Her “opponent” makes his move. And as one standing in the face of the wave, not meeting it head on but letting it pass underneath, Pam deflects the energy of the attack. To use the words of John Unger, she redirects the momentum of the disaster.

True power is love.

Make no excuses
For you are responsible
Your choice is freedom

Out of your strength comes the ability to take what Danielle calls radical responsibility.

Take responsibility for who you are. You are beautiful. You are noble. You are magnificent. You are powerful beyond belief.

Take responsibility for your choices. That means accepting the consequences, whatever they may be. If you fall short or fail, pick yourself up and move forward. Learn from it. And if you succeed, celebrate. Raise the bar and move forward.

Responsibility often takes on the imagery of burden. But there is also freedom and lightness.

***

Open windows
Take in all of the beauty and grace
Let the light fill this sacred space
Open doors
Wander into and out of this place
Walk lightly for there is no need to race
Open hearts
See eye to eye and face to face
Love floods in and out and all the fears erase

When what is within is in balance, you are able to be vulnerable. You are able to open up. Speak from the heart. Give your art. Be who you are.

What is without also comes to balance. In giving, you also recieve. Take in their words. Admire their art. See who they are.

Openness is what it means to be on your edge. It is one of the greatest human resources (thanks Danielle). It is the transition between ourselves and others.

***

A thousand droplets
Blessings rain down upon me
You are one of them

Mark describes connection as receiving. You accept the beauty of the other person. You take in their humanity.

Each connection is a drop of blessing, filling you up. Haba na haba hujaza kibaba – little by little fills the measure. I have the honor of receiving many people.

I think of Steve. We exchange deep conversation and ponder difficult questions. What makes you excited? How do you help people? Will your life be different after this? How do you sneak a grizzly bear into the UK?

I think of Ellen. Our interaction speaks the story of who she is: full of fun, on an adventure, and bursting with hope. Her joy spreads.

I think of Dave. We stroll through the farmer’s market, enjoying the flavors and nutrition of our lunch, basking in the perfection of the sunny afternoon, and admiring the culture and character of Portland. We share what it is to be alive.

I think of all the others that I meet. Each is another thread woven into my story just as my thread now weaves into theirs. I am blessed.

As you connect, your cup begins to overflow. To others you become a blessing. You give. And in the giving comes not just satisfaction and joy, but a hunger to give from deeper within.

Ya’at’eeh
I see you
Ya’at’eeh
What goodness I see

Ya’at’eeh
I see you
Ya’at’eeh
What beauty I see

Ya’at’eeh
You see me
Ya’at’eeh

Moving water. The goodness of others flows around you like a mountain river. It’s alive. Look for and admire the wonderful. Every person has a story, and each story is beautiful.

Rippling water. In the lake’s calm, the disturbances stand out – the splash from a rock, the jump of a fish. You notice what is not like the rest. People are like that too. The beauty is in their differences (thanks Karen).

Still water. You connect and give from yourself. As the water on a still day reflects back the beauty around it, you reflect back to others the beauty of who they are.

***

Holding ever in the balance lightly
Giving of you to all people freely
And taking in from all others rightly
Hoping to be more than fair ideally
Standing in the tension of who you are
Are you uniquely you and you alone
Or are you one with all those near and far
For neither side can you in truth disown
Living in the question of what you’re worth
Being one of power beyond measure
And born to fade into the dust of earth
Are you rust or are you heaven’s treasure
Within and without, the two rivers blend
On both of them does your life depend

World Domination is the intersection between what is within and what is without.

You change people. You touch them with your art and humanity. From that place of generosity and openness they come away affected. They are better people than they were before.

But to touch the life of another is to be touched – to let them touch you. From that sacred space of vulnerability you come away affected. You are a better person than you were before.

As the World Domination Summit draws to a close, someone asks us to raise our hands if Chris has affected us. All of us stand. All of us raise our hands. All of us join them together in applause. We are moved. We are affected.

From the front of the room, Chris stands, taking it all in. He is overwhelmed with gratitude. We have affected each other. And so we have taken over the world.

###

The world is yours. I made this photo in Portland, Oregon.

Wandering as Kings in the Land of a Thousand Villages

Castle's Crowns

When in distant lands you wander
Time does seem to fade away
When in distant lands you wander
You must forge a different way
When in distant lands you wander
In their beauty you may wish to stay

Adventures start with the unfamiliar. It is mysterious, exciting, and often beautiful. Traveling to Slovenia is an adventure. All around is beauty.

There are the caves – the cathedrals of the underground. Stalagmites are the pews. Stalactites are the chandeliers. The torches’ light illuminates as if through stained glass – dim and uneven.

There are the mountains. Only snow dares to grace their towering peaks. Silent guardians, they watch the land below.

There are the castles. Some stand watch from mountaintops. Others take shelter in caves. Thick walls stand in defiance of any army daring to invade – of which there have been many. Yet for all the echoes of war and violence, they seem peaceful – a protection of life within.

There are the villages. On nearly every hill a church stands as a beacon. Little houses congregate around each of them. Colored walls and tiled roofs testify to a beautiful community inside.

These form the setting of the wandering. They are the backdrop of the story. But though the they are important, they are not the heart of it all.

***

Lands are made of culture
Culture is made of tribes
Tribes are made of people
People of the land

On your wanderings you will encounter many people. Cherish them. They are what give the journey color and life. Do not fear the stranger. Their culture and humanity make all the difference.

Beginnings. For centuries Slovenia was under the rule of foreign powers. It now nears a mere twentieth birthday. The newness echoes the spring – the budding of life. Opportunity and possibility lie open before them. Yes, there are also struggles and challenge, but those are the marks of growth.

Roots. There is a deep connection with community and land. Slovenia is a country of villages. There seems to be one on every hill. The people plant their own food. Community is the heart of life.

Language. For the people of Slovenia, who have been oppressed for so long, language is the bastion of culture and identity. The difficulty to learn it reinforces its importance. If you speak Slovenian, you are Slovenian.

Honor. Even from the beginning of my wanderings, I meet many wonderful people. Most have a minimal part in the story – a waiter or clerk. But that does not make them any less significant.

Noblemen. Our quest receives aid from many local leaders. These are the people bringing change in this land. They are the hope of a new nation. They are the builders.

They are people like Carlos, who gives us a tour of Ljubljana. He leads a community of Spanish speaking Slovenians, immigrants, and visitors. His smile and excitement echo the possibilities ahead.

They are people like Ales, who we have coffee with one sunny morning. He explores and teaches about what it means to live a life of simplicity. In one recent experiment, using his garden, he lived on one Euro a day of food. He reminds the people to hold to their roots.

We are priviliged to partake in such life. We are blessed to give something to them, even if it is as small as a smile. But although these people are important, they are still not everything.

***

Of the fellowship of four, tales shall be sung
Slayers of dragons
Wandering Kings and wandering Queen

Wandering is best with friends. They are what make the journey special. In the assembly of friends you find victory. In their company you become as royalty. That is my experience.

Among us is Marcos the Magnificent. What other word can describe our host – Slovenia’s acting ambassador for the week? His hospitality and generosity are a blessing to us all. Even though in a distant land, I am at home.

Among us is Frank the Free. Such is his generosity – boundless. Sharing expertise and knowledge, he teaches us much. Using technology, he empowers people to do what they could not do before. He empowers us.

Among us is Bronwyn the Brave. Leaving her homeland, she set out to build something – to forge a new life. From her challenges are a courage to live and inspire and help others. I suspect her bravery rubs off on us all.

And what of me? I’ll leave that up to someone else.

***

Most quests have a moment that tells the story of the entire journey – a time that weaves the major threads into a single event. Ours has two.

We often stay up so late that the castle ghost even goes to bed. On one such night we raise a toast to our fellowship with a bottle of sparkling red wine. No, that’s not correct. We toast with three quarters a bottle of sparkling red wine.

Time itself seems to slow. Perception sharpens and senses intensify. And as Frank undid the wiring, the cork decided it had enough.

POP!

To across the room, the cork takes flight.

A bubbling geyser jets into the air.

The bloke on the other side of the room nearly has a heart attack.

We don’t stop laughing for the rest of the night. We probably won’t ever stop laughing.

The second story comes from our first night at the castle. In the midst of a full dining room, a group of Italian tourists dance and laugh to blasting music. Joy abounds. Bronwyn and I enjoy a meal together.

Over mushroom soup and other fine foods, we chat. Hopes and dreams and life exchange in these hours. We talk about the adventure before us and the roads behind us. We talk about dragons, the deep challenges and fears that stand in our way. Some are slain in that short time. For the others still to come, we equip each other with armor and weapons to defeat them. And when the staff finally kick us out, we have gained far more than a meal.

Such moments are typical of our adventure. Life. Beauty. Joy. Laughter. Friendship. Fun. Hope. Challenge. Victory. Such threads weave through the story in countless ways and in endless circumstances. It is these times of magic that we live for.

***

Fellowships affect those involved. They bring each member closer together, teach countless lessons, and leave a mark that lasts forever. Of the ones I am aware of – many only touch the subconscious – three such marks stand out:

Giving binds people. Be it competing to settle the bill at dinner, advising on plans and dreams, or slipping a little candy into another’s palm, we seek to outdo each other in generosity. And since we often cannot repay such gifts, all that is left is to draw closer.

Dragons are scary, but they can be slain. They are terrifying, but you have what it takes to bring them down. And if you don’t think so, rely on others. They can see in you what you cannot see for yourself. They will fight by your side.

Live as if all men and all women are valuable. When you choose to see the good in others, they will be good. When you choose to see the beauty in others, they will be beautiful. When you choose to see the love in others, they will show you yourself.

***

All fellowships have their ending. I feel much like Samwise Gamgee as Frodo and the elves bid farewell on the shores of the sea. The saying, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” doesn’t seem to fit at the moment. Someday I will smile at the memories. But for now:

Pattering rain chants in solemn song
Goodbye my friends, my heart aches that it is so
Tears pool in glistening eye
Threatening to join the falling rain
I let them

###

Castle’s Crown. I made this photo in Slovenia. You can see more pictures of the trip here

Oh, the People You’ll See

A place where the people travel.

Should you ever wander beyond your normal paths and chart your way to some unknown destination, you are bound to meet interesting people. My trip to Slovenia is no exception. Many people come to mind.

I think of the man in the Admiral’s Club lounge. An older gentleman with a gray beard sits reading in the quite room. I offer him my unused drink card. “Maybe you can use this,” I say. He smiles and says thank you.

I think of the girl chatting with two other travelers while we wait at the gate to the flight. Eyes shine with excitement. She is on the way to study language for a semester in Madrid. Off on an adventure is never a bad place to be.

I think of the Italian businessman I sit next to on the flight to Madrid. Crisp, direct, no messing around is his style. Mostly serious too, he spends much of the flight working away on his laptop. From a brief glance at the articles and papers he is reading, I have no desire to ever become a business executive – way too much boring business speak for me.

He seems important. Or maybe that was just the aura he presents to the world. But I do catch him smile a few times.

I think of the lady on the flight to Budapest. After taking my seat, I pull out my book, Dancing in the Glory of Monsters, an account of the war in Congo. It’s a good read, and it better be considering it weighs a pound and a half. The woman asks me about it. I give my recommendation. She’s headed there for work in a few months.

Turns out she works for the UN. Three days of meetings await her in Budapest. Amidst the tiredness – and who isn’t tired after a day of traveling – we exchange stories and memories and joys. We sit awestruck at the beauty of the Alps. We try to figure out where we are based on the view from the window. And we both take a nap at some point or other.

I think of the three ladies from Spain that sit in front of us on the way to Budapest. Out to see the town – they are. How much they will remember, who knows. They may be older, but they sure pack away the wine. I guess they’ll have lots of pictures. They take about one hundred of them as we land.

I think of the stocky fellow at passport control in Budapest. He looks up from his magazine.

“Do you have anything to declare?”

“No.”

“No cigarettes or alcohol?”

“No.”

“Let me see your bag.”

I open one zipper and show him the clothes within.

“OK fine,” he says, returning to his magazine.

“Thank you,” I say.

I think of the kind woman at the counter of the airport shuttle service. She offers a look of genuine sympathy at my error. I missed the shuttle I was supposed to take. No worries though. She puts me on the next one.

I think of the gentleman at the hotel in Budapest. Sharply dressed and professional, he checks me in. A smile frequents his lips throughout the conversation. I thank him and go to my room.

I think of the two cleaning ladies that show me to the iron. Full of laughter, they exchange jokes. Not knowing how to speak Hungarian, I can’t understand too much, but I smile and nod anyways.

When we get to the closet, a mouse scurries out. One lady jumps back. The other calmly pulls off her shoe and proceeds to whack it. Into a plastic bag the dead mouse goes.

One of them turns on the iron, shows me how to use it, and watches me as I iron my pants and shirt. It is strange to have someone watch you use an iron, especially someone you don’t know. But life is full of surprises when you’re out on an adventure. I finish ironing and thank her. She smiles and carries on joking with her friend.

I think of my taxi driver from Zagreb to Castle Mokrice. His stories of culture and advice on beautiful places to visit make the short ride fly by faster. He even gives me a few jokes about Slovenia. Upon arrival, I am not annoyed to have to pay the fare.

So many people. So many stories. So many beautiful stories. I’m honored to be a part, however small, of all of them.

###

A place where the people travel. I made this photo in Budapest, Hungary.

When the Tent Gets Wet

Story of the Storm

The mighty storm rides in. Rain falls in sheets. Lightening flashes like fireworks. Thunder echos like a big drum. It is magnificent to behold. But not if you are sleeping in a tent.

Everything is a scramble. You and your friends rush to seal the tent. Open flaps that were giving the tent a much needed airing out are now a liability. Zzzzzt – zippers close. Each second delay means yet another shirt will need drying in the morning.

Once the tent is closed, it needs reinforcement. The wind is strong, and soggy earth doesn’t hold tent pegs too well. With the help of your friends, you place heavy stones to anchor the perimeter.

They say you are supposed to place the tent on higher ground. But sometimes there is no higher ground. So you rush to place all of your possessions on the highest parts of the uneven earth beneath the tent floor. And then nothing more can be done but wait.

And wait you do. The waters rise, snaking their way to the low spots and pooling in the edges of the tent. Rain strikes the tent sideways, urged on by the howling wind. Some of it finds its way inside. You worry and fret and pray with all your heart. You feel powerless in the face of the mighty storm.

Worry and anxiety finally succumb to the weariness of the day’s work. Sleep rushes in like the storm raging outside.

***

The morning comes gently. Birds sing songs of joy. The light breeze dances through the trees. Sunlight streams with hope.

Your friends are already up, and they have fire going. On top of it, a pot of water boils for tea. Breakfast is ready.

Over the warm meal you recount the night. Exaggerations abound. Laughter fills the air as your friend describes the look on your face as you scrambled to close the tent. He wishes he had his camera to memoralize the event. You retort that his camera would be underwater if it weren’t for you. More laughter.

Following breakfast comes work. Everyone joins together. You string everything you have out on rocks, trees, and higher patches of earth. The sun will make quick work of the dampness. The tent flaps open wide. It will need airing out again.

Life moves on. The storm is nothing more than a story.

***

Your life will have its share of storms. Death will bring you sadness, events will challenge your thinking, and problems will test your strength. In those times, remember three things:

You are not alone. It may feel that way sometimes, but you will always have friends and family. They will be there for you.

Storms make the best stories. We don’t recount the days where the sun shone and nothing happened. We remember the difficulty and the challenge. We remember how alive we felt. If you are going to have an adventure, you’re going to get wet.

The sun will come out. No matter how distant it may appear to be, hope will come again. May it shine on you like the morning sunlight.

###

Story of the storm. I made this photo in Torit, Sudan.

Football is Life. Or is Life Football?

Who cares where it's played?

This isn’t an easy post to write. This past weekend, my team’s chances of winning the league suffered a major blow. Arsenal may be “the greatest team the world has ever seen”, but they’re not looking set to win this year.

Yet for all the disappointment and frustration of being a football fan, I’ve learned much from my experiences. The lessons are metaphors and examples of humanity. Football is more than just a game.

Community is everything.

To be a football fan is to be a member of a community. We have our own lingo – names for teams we don’t like and nicknames for players. We celebrate together when times are good. And we mourn together in the face of a loss. But the community goes far deeper than just a love of the team. We care for each other as well.

I am a participant on one particular Arsenal site. Twice, a close family member of a regular commenter has died. The comments that followed were filled with support and encouragement. A few times there have been births in the family of a supporter. Hearty and genuine congratulations were offered. We are a community of human beings. And human beings look out for each other.

Injustice unites people.

All sorts of people comprise the support of football clubs. As such, we disagree a lot. We have differences of opinion on the way the club is run, how the players are doing, and what players should be brought in at the transfer window. This often results in heated discussions on blogs and forums.

But those differences fade in the face of injustice. When a referee fails to give a penalty – or gives an undeserved one to the other side – we unite in criticism. When we feel the media is unfairly commenting on the team or one of our players, we unite in opposition.

Injustice and hardship aren’t fun. We often wish they would never happen. They do though. And they make us stronger. They bring us together.

The support of others makes all the difference.

One-nil down at home, ten minutes to play. Nothing seems to click. Passes go astray, and shots blaze over the crossbar. By all accounts, the game seems over. But then the crowd raises the level.

In unison, they sing anthems of support and belief. Boosted by the twelfth man, the players push forward.

Free kick. Oooooo, what a strike. One-one.

A ball flashed across goal. A header. Get in there you beauty. Two-one. We win.

When all seems lost, the support of others can give you the belief you need. They can be the hope you can’t see yourself. They can be the difference.

Effort counts.

The opposition looks certain to score. Only the keeper stands in the way – a lone soldier in the path of the coming onslaught. But then the hero arrives. Sprinting from the other end of the pitch, the defender makes the tackle. The chance is gone. The crowd roars with approval.

We surge forward, attacking with numbers. Quick exchanges dart between players. Mesmerizing. Sweeping to the flank, a pass is misplaced. Although a sprint would keep it in play, the player only musters a light jog – staring idly as the ball goes out of play. The chance is gone. The crowd groans with frustration.

Nothing frustrates fans more than a lack of effort. For effort shows commitment. Commitment shows respect. A player who is having a bad game can erase much criticism by giving his best.

To be sure, skill and ability and knowledge are important. But in the heat of a game, nothing can be done to improve those. When the going is difficult, choosing to give everything we’ve got is the best we can do.

Play relieves stress.

Somewhere between Mombasa and Nairobi, our train broke down. Since the train was operated by Kenya Railways, we had no idea how long it would be before we continued. It would have been easy to get worked up about it.

But a few of my friends didn’t. Instead, they tied up a few plastic bags and started a game of football. Boredom gave way to fun. Stress gave way to laughter.

Sometimes, in the middle of a hard situation, the best thing is to take a break and play. Take a walk. Bike. Play cards with friends. The difficulty won’t disappear, but you’ll be better able to deal with it.

The heights make it all worth it.

A year ago I was watching Arsenal play Barcelona in the Champions League – a cup of all the top teams in Europe. When Arsenal scored the opening goal the bar erupted with joy and excitement.

Sadly, we went on to suffer a big defeat. But I didn’t forget that high. Somehow moments such as those make it worth dealing with the bad times.

Life is like that too. It’s filled with lots of downs. Loved ones die, people hurt us, and plans fail. Yet, there are moments of love. There are moments of joy. Those moments make it all worth it.

***

I’ll get over the disappointment of this weekend. I’m already looking forward to the next game. Life moves on. So does football.

###

Who cares where it’s played? I made this photo somewhere between Mombasa and Nairobi in Kenya.