(In my creative writing class, we were assigned a story with conflict, resolution, and change that fit on a postcard. I combined a multitude of life experiences and arrived at this.)

We set out for the West Coast as children. My stomach was weak, and I noticed your legs shaking. We talked about people.

The sun began to plunge into the Midwest sky, and I could feel the twilight tug at my soul and beckon to the recesses of my mind. We didn’t say a whole lot through the night, so I guess you felt the same.

Morning broke over the Plains, and I noticed you relax your shoulders a little. Your leg was still shaking, but don’t worry, my stomach was still weak. We talked about ideas.

We paused at the Rocky Mountains, because we knew there was no turning back. I was scared, but your eyes told me you were too. I think we almost turned back. We pressed forward.

You relaxed all the way, and I didn’t want to vomit anymore. We talked about God. We arrived at the West Coast as adults.

 Health & Happiness

Find Love

Meet Justin Bieber

A New Puppy

Saludo y Amor

Inner Peace

Enroll my brother in AA

To become a singer

Spend more time with family

 

We are a kingdom of dreamers. We wish for the improbable, we long for the impossible, and we constantly envision the ideal. Wishing is a risky business, though; if overdone, it can be a tragic flaw. Far too many brilliant minds have wasted their entire lives wishing, dreaming, and hoping. I’m guilty too. I can spend as much time as the next person thinking about where I want my life to take me. It’s important to have a vision, but it’s more important to make things happen. Life begins when wishing ceases.

A common tradition on New Year’s Eve in New York City is to write a resolution on a piece of confetti from the world-famous ball drop. The idea is that whatever you write on the piece of confetti will come true within the ensuing year. In a perfect world, that sounds just splendid. However, a piece of paper is still just a piece of a paper, even with a resolution scrawled on its surface. I would argue that tissue paper is even less reliable. As I stood in Times Square reading the wishes and resolutions that people had made for 2012, I was initially enthralled—caught in the rush and the thrill of wishing and dreaming and longing. The swept-up feeling was short-lived.

I wondered if Health & Happiness had begun exercising regularly and eating better. I wondered if A New Puppy had as much as visited an animal shelter. Had To become a singer at least been singing their heart out in the shower? Had Enroll my brother in AA taken an initiative that could save another person’s life?

I hope they all did. And I like to think that someone has tried to jump onstage at a Justin Bieber concert, or that a small chocolate labrador has just found a new, loving home. I hope that inner peace has found its way into more than one person’s life. But hell, I’m just an optimist.

The moral of this story would be along the lines of: Make things happen. Shake the world. Instead of dreaming dreams, try chasing them. Chase them as vigorously and as relentlessly as you can. Vigorously and Relentlessly. Life may not deliver you down the expected path, but if your heart is in the right place, you will be blessed far beyond your heart or mind’s capacity for desire–and therein lies the true magic of life. Hoping, dreaming, and resolving aren’t enough. It’s time to act.

On the outskirts of Brooklyn, we descended down an army of stairs. As we scurried farther downward, a pungent odor of stagnant water, oil, and age became quite distinct. The platform finally emerged from the depths, and we, along with all the other patrons, waited. A dull hum could be heard, seemingly miles, in the distances. Each step echoed through the cavernous tunnels on either side of the tracks, and bright yellow beams supported the underground station of the New York subway.

Early evening invites an eclectic group of travelers. Mothers and fathers returning home from a long day at work, young couples going into the city for dinner, and bewildered out-of-towners scanning over the Subway map to double and then triple-check their planned route. A guitar starts up, and a young woman with unkempt, dark hair and a flowing linen dress begins belting out lyrics to a Florence + the Machine song. The heartfelt voice and the sanguine strums of the guitar reverberate through the underground station, setting the stage for the fantastical performance that was my first ride in the New York Subway system.

The train pulls up, comes to a stop, and we clamor on before the doors shut behind us. I find a seat, which sets my frame of vision for the 30-minute ride ahead. Although restricted, it’s all I needed.

At the second stop, a mother and her young daughter sat down in the seat directly across from me. The woman was slender, in her thirties. She had sad, hopeful eyes that made her appear aged beyond her years; they could tell a thousand stories, good and bad. She wore a loose-hanging white blouse, grey capris, and silver knock-off converse. The daughter, lost in her youth, scrunched up as close to her mother as she could manage. She had no idea of comprehending how much those sad, skinny eyes loved her, nor how much they had sacrificed for her well-being, but she would one day understand. They sat there, speechless, for about 6 stops before getting off the train, leaving an empty seat.

My eyes couldn’t leave the empty seat, a middle-aged woman soon scurried onto the train and sat down. She fit every stereotype of the sect of women known as ‘Cougars’. She was combatting her age with thick lipstick and a tight brown dress that hugged her full figure, and exposed just the slightest amount of intentional cleavage. Her eyes hid behind by big, round sunglasses—which aided her in looking about the train discretely. For what she was searching for, I don’t know, but she was only on the train for a short time.

Replacing her, almost immediately, was a young middle-eastern couple. The girl was beautiful, with smooth caramel skin and deep brown eyes. She was in her late-twenties, and had a cup of Baskin-Robbins ice cream from which I never saw her take a bite. She wore a purple sari wrapped around her head to hide her hair. She leaned in close to her boyfriend. He was dressed much more western than she, with a blue, plaid button-up shirt and sneakers. He insisted on showing his affection for her by playfully hugging, kissing her cheek, and holding her hand. The entire time, her expression and rigid body did not register correctly. She looked either longful or exasperated. It could be that she was realizing she was in a hopeless relationship, or she could have been tired from a long day in New York. Just like the others, they soon left the train.

The empty seat, which had already told me three interesting stories, was soon occupied again. This time, by a young black woman. She wore a black dress, with a black belt cinched around her waist, with black shoes, and black toenail polish. Her hair was freshly done, and she wore gold hoop earrings. There were no discernible emotions on her face. She could have been headed to a five-star restaurant, to a night on the town, or to a music video shoot. Ever the mystery, she soon disappeared from the train as well.

I looked away from the empty seat only momentarily, and when I returned, it was occupied by a tan-skinned, 40-something, well-to-do couple. Both of them were pretty people. She had dark, smooth hair pulled back into a pony tail. She had a floral blouse with black slacks. She had even skin with only a small amount of make-up. He wore a polo shirt with jeans, and square-rimmed glasses that hinted of both intelligence and wealth. Both had on a backpack and sneakers, presumably for travel. As they departed, the wife handed her husband walking-braces to aid in his travels. For all I knew, he hadn’t been able to walk in months or years. The couple’s yuppy impression quickly gave way to a story of pain, companionship, and determination. They got off the train, and several stops later, so did we.

I observe people. It’s how I make sense of my surroundings. It’s not to be nosy. Rather, it’s to better understand my place in the world around me. The people sitting opposite me on the Subway were just faces, but those faces have stories behind them. I don’t know where they were going or where they were coming from, but I saw them. I caught a very brief glimpse of 5 different stories that day. And for that, I am thankful.

Humans are interesting in that way, we have the unique ability to be conscious of our path–our story–overlapping with another’s. We also have, and often make, the unique decision to ignore that overlap. And it’s a shame, because there are so many captivating stories on this earth yearning to be told. Stories of longing, stories of passion, stories of despair, grief, happiness, jubilee, ambition, pride, and so many more. There are lessons to be uncovered and morals to be adopted, all we have to do is look. Really look, like it’s the first time we’ve ever laid eyes on another soul.

The first portion of the New York Subway was operating in 1869, and has grown drastically since. In the past year it has provided about 2 billion (that’s  2,000,000,000) people with rides. That’s 2 billion separate stories, all overlapping, all intermingling, and all intersecting, in just one year.

And that was my first experiences on the New York Subway.

Alright, this post is sort of a culmination of my thoughts and feelings about our nation’s capitol. It’s a little scatter-brained, but I believe I made a disclaimer in a previous post that my mind works sporadically. I ask you to bear with me.

I’m going to spare myself the trouble of trying to link all my thoughts together seamlessly, and I’m going to save you the time of trying to figure out where one thought starts and another ends. This means that, once again, it’s time for a list of bulleted points, each denoting a separate thought.

(1) As we got off the Metro at the National Mall, I was immediately rapt in amazement. The first building my eyes fell upon was the U.S. Capitol, and as I turned my head to the left, I saw the Washington monument. I even went as far as to bring up a picture of each on my phone, and hold it up next to the real deal. Across the grounds were several Smithsonian buildings and other national landmarks. It’s like Washington, D.C. had walked up to me and punched me in the face so that I would be forced to take notice. I’m
not mad about it. It’s crazy to have something you recognize only from pictures and textbooks actualized right before you. To say I was captivated would be an understatement.

My main take away from point number one: I realized within about 30 seconds that Washington, D.C. is where stuff happens, like it or not. Whether you agree or disagree with what happens, whether you align as a Democrat or Republican, and whether you see our federal employees as public servants or self-servants; D.C. is where it all goes down.

(2) Once the initial wallop of wonder began to subside, I began to take notice of the people around me. Individuals of every race, religion, and class were walking the same grounds as Patrick, Corey, and I. Name a state, country, or region, and I guarantee it was represented on the grounds that day. Corey noted that it was like a small snippet of what an ‘ideal’ America should resemble, and I couldn’t agree more. People of different cultures, creeds, and perceptions living together harmoniously. We weren’t all sitting around in a big circle, holding hands, singing “We are the World,” but we were simply existing while allowing others to exist in the same space, without quarrel. Of course, I was overcome with the urge to take photographs of individuals and ask them random questions about their life experiences, but I refrained. Lest Patrick be mortified.

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(3) After seeing the Capitol and the Washington monument, we made our way to other memorials and monuments, including the WWII, Korean, Vietnam, Lincoln, MLK Jr., and Washington memorials, the Capitol, The White House, The Supreme Court, two Smithsonian buildings, and maybe something that I’m forgetting at the moment. These had a deep impact on me. Even now, I can’t out rightly place a label on the correct emotions that bubbled in and out of my mind, or wherever it is that emotions go. It was something like a mix of reverence, humility, sadness, admiration gratitude, melancholy, excitement, anticipation, grief, appreciation, and so on. Obviously, I was a basket case. In fact, I believe that might be the exact definition of a basket case of emotions.

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(4) Out of everything that we saw, I have to say that the Vietnam War Memorial had the most profound impact on me that day. That era of American History has always mystified me in a sense. It was such a dark, dismal time for America, and as an avid movie watcher, I’ve seen it reflected in movies such as Full Metal Jacket, Platoon, the Deer Hunter. All are movies that I’ve seen once and I don’t know if I’ll ever watch again after witnessing the bleak themes they portray. Unrest dominated the social climate during that time, and it seemed that the Vietnam War was at the center of it all.

I saw all of that reflected in the Vietnam War Memorial. The monument itself is so minimalistic: a series of black walls with names of casualties engraved. It’s simple, it’s basic, and it makes sense. There are so many names on that monument. So many names. It’s astonishing, bewildering, and indelibly haunting. I’m a 20-year-old college student with a job, a loving family, an inspiring base of friends, and many opportunities that I often take for granted a little too much. I’ve done little to deserve these things other than being blessed enough to be born into them. I greatly enjoy history, and I’ll admit that I don’t often enough think of the events that took place long before my time on earth. I’m almost always one to recognize how fortunate I am to be in my position, but seeing that monument knocked me on the floor with humility.

I took one picture of the monument that sends a chilling feeling up my spine. It’s a close-up of the monument, in which you can clearly read a handful of names. Reflected clearly in the monument, though, is myself. It just further drives my main thought behind point number 4: that the events that took place in American History have had a direct effect on the world in which we live today.

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(5) Another sub-thought on the Vietnam monument: as I was walking around the structure, I was compelled to walk slowly. It was really the only feasible way I could think to show respect for the names on that wall. As you can tell, I was overwhelmed with emotions and thoughts. Anytime this happens, a common reaction of mine to turn my attention to my surroundings in a very visceral manner. Every footstep has its own beat, and every bend in the wind has a unique touch; I guess I let my senses do the thinking that my mind can’t comprehend. In this instance, I turned part of my attention to the conversations occurring between individuals around me. Most people were making idle chatter about what monument they had to rush themselves to next or what their dinner plans were. Some people, however, had some very meaningful things to say. Some were searching for family members, friends, or members from their military unit, and there was a mixture of emotions and comments emanating from them. There was one conversation that struck me at my core, though.

A middle-aged man and his daughter had spent some amount of time looking for a particular name on the wall and eventually found it. Whether the name on the wall was the girl’s grandfather, great-grandfather, an uncle, or even a family friend — I don’t know — but the conversation went as follows:

Daughter: What did he look like, Daddy?
Dad: Like a normal guy. He just looked like a normal guy.

… I keep rereading the conversation. I still think it’s an inspirational, tragic, insightful, and beautiful exchange. I can’t exactly explain why this struck me as so important, but I think it’s one of those things that if you get it, you get it, and it needs no explanation. Ultimately, I keep arriving at the same conclusion. The Vietnam War was real, and the people fighting were real. They were normal, and some of them died. Real people died. Normal people died.

On both the American and Vietnam sides.

Anyway, that’s about all that I can muster for this post. It’s rather lengthy, but writing this entry has been a great chance to revisit these thoughts and make a little more sense out of them, but I think it’s best to draw it at an end here. In short, I loved my first visit to D.C., and I can’t wait to go back again.

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I’m almost too exasperated by this trip to write about the last couple visits. However, my excitement about being back in the Midwest just might be enough to sustain another post from the road. We’re currently traveling on I-70 West in Indiana. Soon, we will cross into Illinois, eventually making our way back home to Cape Girardeau, Missouri. We’re completing the circuit, coming full circle, clocking out, finishing our round, what have you. We’re almost done. Almost home.

We visited downtown Indianapolis last night as the sun was setting. After being in major metropolitan areas for so long, Indy was a breath of fresh air. We were able to drive into the heart of the downtown area and find a parking spot in about 20 minutes, a feat that would have taken at least an hour in New York or Boston. I found Indy a pleasant ‘small’ city; it has all the large urban amenities, but without all the hustle and inconveniences of being densely populated. I knew that I liked Indy when it started raining on us downtown, and instead of being miserable like I was in NYC, my heart grew lighter like a child. I came alive.

Indianapolis is a unique location. War monuments are interspersed among corporate buildings and indie coffee shops, all a short walking distance from the state Capitol building. A small canal also runs the length of the city, with walking paths on either side. You can rent kayaks to take on the water, obviously I was beside myself with excitement at this discovery. If only there was an optional BYOK policy. Gardens and light posts lined the canal walkways on either side, creating a serene setting in the middle of a fairly urban town. I fell in love.

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And after the last night spent during our travels, this journey is quickly coming to commencement. America has been visited, and it has been an incredible adventure. It’s also been exhausting, stressful, hilarious, ridiculous, unbelievable, strange, and any assortment of other modifiers. In a very short amount of time, I will no longer have to listen to Patrick’s music anymore (or his singing for that matter), but I also won’t have the fellowship of my friends and brothers. I’ll head home and go back to work, but I’ll hold on to the memories of these past 9 days for the rest of my life.

This afternoon, in an Indiana Cracker Barrel (Patrick’s choice, of course) we had a conversation about the significance and implications of what it means to “come full circle.” Some can interpret the phrase in a 360-degree fashion, denoting stationary movement with no distance covered and no growth. In this sense, one has merely turned around without taking other perspectives into consideration, and he or she is no better off than before.

On the other hand, I take the phrase to mean something slightly different, something more significant, which I think can best be explained in the form of an anecdote.

During this road trip around America, we have quite literally went in a giant, 3000-mile circle. It has served as a glimpse at how other Americans live. We’ve seen how others travel, what they eat, where they work, what they wear, and what their communities have to offer. We’ve submersed ourselves in their culture, albeit short-lived, and after 9 days we’re returning back to our normal lives, in our normal routines, in our normal homes. There’s been growth though. We’ve taken others’ points of views into account when evaluating the pros and cons of each community. We’ve all thought critically about how we see our place in this huge world, and we’ve thought even more critically about what path we’ll take next. We may be standing in the same place at the end of today, but we’ve truly had to travel to get there.

Admittedly, I’m a Midwestern college male, mostly with Midwestern college male beliefs, attitudes, perspectives, and views. This trip has allowed me to challenge all of those. Some of my perceptions have been confirmed, while others have shifted. I’ve learned that I could never, ever live somewhere like New York City, but I can appreciate its role in our society better now that I’ve seen it first-hand. This isn’t the first time I’ve exposed myself to other ways of living, and it most certainly won’t be the last. From here, I will continue to pour through books, articles, essays, music, film, radio, creative undertakings, and as many other forms of learning as I possibly can. To give up learning would be to live my life with less purpose, and life is meant to be carried out with vigor, with meaning, and with intention.

In short, expectations surpassed. I would encourage anyone to do something similar to what Corey, Patrick, and I have done on this trip, and I would gladly listen to their stories and read their blog posts.

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