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Archive for the ‘Hope’ Category

“For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.”

– Ecclesiastes

This week, a new chapter has begun for me as I started a new job.

Now in this economy, this is certainly good news for anyone. But it’s much more than this for me.

Eight years ago this month, I walked away from the stability of a job and way of life that while good in many ways, in other ways had also become tired and stale, and badly in need of some renovation. Now for some, such talk may sound the onset of a midlife crisis. But in this case, rather than running from something, I felt I was running to something—a chance to get my life back. And the previous year had made clear to me I was to do so by leaving behind all that I knew for a season of rest and soul recovery off the grid.

So selling all my furniture, I moved out of the nice home I owned then in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, and embarked on what would be a one-year traveling sabbatical around the world.

The day I left November snows were blowing, the kind that were readying the high country for the beginning of ski season in just over a week. Two days later, I awoke in my hotel room to the sounds and smells of paradise, on an island deep in the heart of the South Pacific. And so a new journey had begun.

Just like the experience of my sabbatical was for me, we all have a need for rest. But I’m talking about more than mere vacation, or taking time to relax on the weekend. No; what I’m thinking of has more to do with the idea of a season or space in our lives that is spacious and abundant. Where everything seems to fit together in such a way that deep inside you know things are as they were meant to be. Everything is as it needs to be. And you hope that it never ends.

It finds its expression in the old Hebrew word shalom. Yet, as much as we were made for something like this, and need it, it seems to be the case that it is not something that we can easily arrange for, but rather something that we are brought into now and again—as life also has a way of doling out times and seasons that seem to care not whether a sense of shalom is part of the equation.

My year brought forth shalom in ways that have changed me forever. Looking back, it’s almost hard to believe sometimes. Not just the things that I was doing and what I was experiencing during this year. But the way in which it came together, as there is story upon story of one door after another opening to make this thing happen, and much of it without trying very hard.

And then there have been the seven years since, which have largely been anything but this. Very difficult in many ways, where conversely to the time leading up to and during my sabbatical, there is a lot that did not come together as I would have hoped, even when making what I thought were the next right steps. By and large, it has been a season spent outside of shalom.

In saying this, I don’t want to say that these last few years have been without meaning or significance. Far from it. For one thing, during the sabbatical, I realized that I am an artist, and I have remained committed to living out of that ethos, even if not always so well, in the time since, putting my values into action.

And just as light and hope came to restore me during a golden season, periods of darkness in the time since have helped to refine what began in that journey. I bring two snapshots from this interim period which capture this.

From a blog entry, November 2006:

I tell myself often as I’m about to arise from my bed, when finally disrupting those few moments of waking pensiveness leading up to that choice, “Get back on your horse and ride, B.” I say this to myself in a spirit of compassion, because many days I feel that the cost to living in a way that seeks to connect my inner life to my outer life seems too much to bear. Lives lived as journeys are often cases of love in a dangerous time, or life on the run, much in the way that the fugitive David fled from the murderous Saul in the years that would eventually open to a triumphal entry into Jerusalem as king. “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Luke 9:58, NIV).

The only thing that keeps me going some days is a defiant choice to be creative—even if in small ways—to honor my inner architecture… And when I do this, I get a temporary resuscitation of heart. “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it” (Matthew 11:12, NIV). This is no mission for pew-sitters or preaching-to-the-choir types. It is the call to be a “living sacrifice,” not according “to the pattern of this world,” but in a true “spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12: 1-2, NIV). The dangerous life of a pilgrim radical.

From a July 2009 journal entry:

I am different. Feel different. Changed. Defiant—but not some punk-ass sniveling cause. More like “furious indifference”—released unto my true strength—even if I soon slip back into some sort of amnesia. A strength that curiously enough—it seems I had to go to hell and back before I found it, knocking on death’s door, alone in a big cold city where I knew few people… But more curiously still, it is the place that God found me—and I found myself—through “the darkness that introduces a man to himself.” Alone but not lonely… And grateful.

* * *

I intentionally stepped away for a season. I followed this by a return to grad school, exiting right as this recession we’ve been weathering began. So much of what I’ve wanted to do has not been possible for more than short doses, if at all, due to the fact that like many, I have found my wings clipped. And my recession began well before this, because face it, almost everyone’s living tight when they’re in school.

So fast forward to the present. After a long, long period of undulating unemployment or underemployment, and then precious few promising opportunities coming my way, just over three weeks ago, I simultaneously had four promising job opportunities come my way, and all of them connected to core passions and long-term vision. And as I begin one of those positions this week, I’m a bit floored to see how things are beginning to come together again, not just for the needed provision of the job itself, but how I see it setting me up for success in other areas.

When God rains, He pours.

There’s just something sweet about a taste of redemption and freedom that is made all the more so in proportion to the struggle and suffering we experience on the road to get there.

Shalom, Y’all.

The Best Scene from One of the Greatest Films Ever

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“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” — Philo of Alexandria

It appeared I was in for a rough landing as I arrived into the new weekend last Friday morning. Not feeling so well, I almost canned my trip to the gym. But while a release of endorphins in a yoga class set me in a better frame than before arriving, it would not last.

Back home, I knew I must have some sort of stomach bug. So I found myself doing the best thing I could do: I rested. Sinking into the sanctuary of my mattress, I spent most of the day there, occasionally falling into slumber, all the while watched over by a playful, gentle spirit inhabiting the body of a calico cat named “Fiji,” and periodically getting up to take nourishment with my new diet of chicken noodle soup, toast, and Gatorade.

It was a space for grace.

Illness is the body’s call for us to surrender, and allow it to work its own recovery as we rest. I remember how the surprise of this hit me when over five years ago I suddenly found myself hit with pneumonia. While this illness was no picnic, paradoxically, lying in my hospital bed at that time, I found myself experiencing a rest and peace that I had not had in months.

And following a day of rest Friday, the next day I arose in a better place.

Logging into Facebook, I was surprised by the drop-in live chat by a newly added friend. It was someone I’d not spoken to in years, that is, until a few weeks earlier when he sent a friend request. But my last memories of this person were not so fond. Casual friends for several years, we’d enjoyed some really good moments together in the company of a larger social circle when we both lived in another city and state.

And then recently reunited a few years ago under new circumstances, it was not long afterward when in a time of need my friend invited me to speak with him about possible employment leads for which he was well-connected. We had an initial exploratory discussion which went well, and I left with a sense of renewed hope as he invited me to continue the conversation.

But it never happened. While calling and emailing multiple times, all attempts to connect went unacknowledged. I felt feelings of dismissal, like I’d been played the fool. And some measure of self contempt for having hoped. While clearly, these were deeper issues that went much further back than this experience—and served to trigger such feelings—regardless, I had no problem justifying my anger in this situation. And I invested some energy in what I might say (none of it pretty) were we to cross paths again, as my original expectations had been upended. That was then.

But flash forward more than four years. And now this. What to do? Go off?

Accept or decline friend request?

Or take it, fake it, and act like nothing had happened?

Or run, and risk stirring up an old pot anyway?

Or use those rehearsed but now tired old lines which seemed a bit out of place?

Ugh. I hate such quandaries—even more when I risk seeing something of the prison I’ve put myself in by accepting them as my only options.

Forgiveness, with no exceptions, ensures peace.

What’s that?

Accept; don’t expect.

Oh yeah. The words of a former teacher were coming back to me. And then another line:

Don’t react. Respond.

Not easy to hear, but they brought badly needed perspective. And I realized that I had a choice, when after several weeks of doing nothing, I shot out a message to my friend from long ago. Having prayed about it beforehand, I felt that it was legitimate to respond with some super brief acknowledgement of my previous anger, but only if in doing so I was ready to risk opening the door to relationship again, and not trying to make it an issue and then disappear.

And now a few days following my message, he was contacting me.

I don’t want to discount the sting of the earlier offense, nor minimize what I’d done with it in the time since. But I’m glad I listened to a different voice of wisdom the day I responded to the friend request. As it turned out, years earlier when I’d tried reconnecting, my friend’s world was crumbling around him in that season of his life, of necessity diverting his energies with issues which had nothing to do with me. And he has been in a long journey of recovery since. Of course, how could I have known this? I didn’t. Humbled, my heart began to move out of darkness into light as over the next hour I was invited into my friend’s story.

The Scriptures counsel us to “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another” (Romans 13:8). How often I have failed at this. But I am grateful for the act of faith that led to my having an alternative experience bearing much fruit that I would have missed had I acted on my initial feelings. All I can say is—thank you, God.

And a day that started well ended well, too, as stories of redemption continued into the evening.

On Saturday night, I had the privilege of helping out with a fundraiser event for a most worthy organization here in Orlando called Samaritan Village—for women caught in cycles of addiction and prostitution. It was born out of one woman, Rhonda Stapleton’s, vision to offer a safe transitional space for women coming out of jail or off the streets, as in her work she found they often had nowhere else to go except back to cycles of violence, death, and shame they’d been living in. She wanted to offer a refuge that would help them to unlearn old patterns, which takes time. And moreover, not just to help leave behind an old life, but to offer a chance at learning a new one.

The catering was top-notch. But the best feasting took place as some of the women of Samaritan’s Village shared stories of changed lives, bringing the face of a vision and organization to life. At close, you could feel an energy in the room palpably greater than before.

It was another space for grace.


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“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

– Hebrews 11:1

The other night I received a call from an old friend whom I’d not talked with in a couple of years. Over the course of the next hour, we played cross country catch up on the intervening period since our paths last crossed.

Then Josh, my friend, asked me a question that caught me off guard: “Are you still doing anything with film?”

Two summers ago, not long before the last time we’d spoken, I’d flown out to Los Angeles to study for a few weeks under a modestly successful filmmaker there who was offering takers the chance to make their own short films while soaking up an industry insider’s perspective, and for dirt cheap. People from all walks of life showed up: some already working in the industry; others wanting to break in; some already enrolled in good film schools; and even one socially active senior who wanted to raise awareness on a neglected population living within his community by making a documentary.

The philosophy of our instructor: “Just do it.” Start making film, as nowadays you shouldn’t have to go to an expensive film school in order to enter the industry and do good work.

A few years earlier, I couldn’t have imagined such a wild lark. And even when going, the idea of the LA Dream Factory was not all that appealing to me. On paper, as a recent graduate from a counseling program, it almost didn’t make sense. Yet having time in my schedule as I was unemployed, and offered an invitation that spoke to something deep inside, I headed to LA.

But to my friend’s question—with the brief exception of beginning a screenplay turned novel last year—I answered with a quiet “No.” That that part of my life is on the shelf for now.

On one hand, it wasn’t easy to hear Josh’s words because they elicited an ache. An ache underscored by feeling called to live a certain way over the last eight-plus years which for the most part has been hard and had relatively few outward signs of success, where there have been many brick walls, disappointments, distractions, and temptations while seeking to honor this sense of call.

But this isn’t a story about film; it’s a story about desire. And being invited into my story by a friend who knows me—who sees me, and gets me—was a great kindness. Though recognizing my difficulty, Josh was glad that I have not deadened myself to desire. That I still live with it.

As I put it to him, I’m at a place in my life where there are certain things that I have no other possible way to reckon them now but by faith. They just seem too impossible, and out of reach. Foolish.

To live by faith is to live with the ache of desire. It is the calling to live as an artist—seeing into being those things which do not yet exist, carried by what William Blake called a “firm persuasion.”

When drawn into territory where there are no clear road maps, can you be a fool? Will you be a fool?

I’ve often been tempted to be too practical for my own good, and at some of the worst possible times. But due to the apparent foolishness I’ve succumbed to in recent years, why begin now?

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Lent Season is upon us.

Those of you familiar with the Christian faith and tradition likely know this. But I don’t want to assume anything.

See, I should know this firsthand myself. And I do. Yet, it wasn’t always this way, but rather became so only recently.

Around this time a couple years ago, I was speaking with a local businessman about a particular matter, when I noticed during our conversation that he had this big smudge of grease or ink on his forehead. Not wanting to leave him to the snickers of other noticing folks like myself, I was about to tell him about it to help him save face. But for whatever reason, I didn’t.

Now I’m not generally the type of guy who will let something like this go on while  some pour soul becomes the laughing stock of his or her peers. But whatever held me back this time, by doing so, I was the one who saved face that day.

I come from a non-liturgical tradition that never really observed Lent, certainly not on a large scale. And while I may have heard the name dropped every so often over the years, I remained blissfully ignorant about the significance of Lent to my heritage.

Now it seems I’m not the only one to fall prey to such folly. The other day, Vice-President Joe Biden, and President Obama were making an appearance for a press conference, where the Catholic Biden visibly bore such a mark on his forehead. On CNN the following day, audio was played from a couple of journalists for Britain’s Sky News speculating about it as they watched news feed for the conference—apparently mistaking the mark for a bruise (I wondered this, too, at first, from seeing a small photo from the conference online. What is meant to be the mark of the cross in ash sometimes ends up being an amorphous blotch. Still, even the less descript marks are synonymous with Ash Wednesday for those who know.).

At any rate, I now know about Ash Wednesday as the faith community of which I’m a part practices Lent. The significance of the season is to anticipate the resurrection of Christ, which for many, makes Easter even more important than Christmas. Lent takes place 46 days out before Easter, or the biblically significant 40 days when not counting Sundays. Traditionally, people give up something—some food, drink, or practice—as a willing sort of self-denial.

For my first Lent last year, I gave up caffeine (no easy feat!). But it’s about more than just giving up something. It’s about getting something in return. Replacing it with something good which hopefully will draw one closer in their relationship with the Lord.

This year—the coffee stays. But I have been more mindful about the why (drawing closer to God) behind the what (what I’m giving up).

To bring my folly full circle, the other night I walked into work not long after attending our Ash Wednesday service. A few minutes later, my partner on the night shift made a comment regarding my forehead—“Ash Wednesday, huh?” (You kind of forget it’s there after awhile). Then mused, “Good ol’ Catholics.”

I started to take exception—not being Catholic—probably more than anything from some long-standing issue going back to childhood where I feel I have to correct someone who misunderstands me.

But then I had to catch myself. And smile a little, moreover glad at the general recognition that got it right. Of being identified with something I had chosen to willingly identify with. And risk a little ignorance if needed, no doubt which my business friend was well familiar with that day a few years ago.

And it takes me back to the what and the why again—both in what I seek to give up, as well as what I hope to gain. If it were merely discipline or religiosity I was looking for, I could join a class at the gym, or attend a seminar. But I’m already happy enough with the fitness routine I have. And as for gaining more knowledge, I’m trying to make better use of that which I’m already acquainted with.

No. This is more about presence and connectedness in the here-and-now. Awareness and encounter of realities outside of myself—Holy Otherness—without any sort of self-editing for whoever may be watching. Real journeys are like this, off-the-beaten path sort of affairs that while possessing public and community dimensions, nevertheless take their journeyers into very personalized experiences.

Granted, this sometimes feels elusive, and not always my actual experience. So far, my 40 day season is not off to the best start. But there are moments that this awareness and encounter happens. And the aim has a way of focusing the general movement in the aim’s direction, where even the common has a way of becoming holy.

Last year, I did notice a positive difference in myself at the end of the season. It wasn’t one of those dramatic changes that takes place overnight. But I was happier, and more spiritually connected…

I’m hoping history repeats itself this year as I look forward with great anticipation to something new.

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Unless you’ve been off living in a cloister somewhere—or comatose—I’m sure that like me you’ve been hit with a barrage of images and sound bites the last few days of the tragic impact of the earthquake in Haiti.

Once in awhile an event happens that captures the pity, shock, sorrow, even anger, of a much larger group of people than those immediately impacted. Two events in 2004 did this—Hurricane Katrina and the Indonesian tsunami. (9/11 is no slouch, obviously. But I’m thinking at present about natural disasters and the seemingly inordinate disparity of tragedy experienced among the poor) It’s looking like Haiti is the newest universal touchstone of tragedy as we enter a new decade.

Well I was watching CNN today when a story was told of a young Haitian teen who was pulled out of the ruins alive. It was a rare story of celebration that has been popping up here and there amid such overwhelming sorrow. I was more struck by her response to the interviewer. It was clear to the assembled press that she was joyful. When asked about this, she basically said that God was with her, and glorified Him for her rescue.

Later there was a story about Florida woman, Mimi Dittmer, who was trapped in a Port-au-Prince supermarket, going down on her knees to shield herself when the quake struck, and locked into this excruciatingly painful position for the next five days. Similarly, when asked about her thoughts on being pulled out of the rubble against great odds, from her hospital bed she said “Jesus Christ saved me,” and spoke of reciting the Psalms to keep her spirits up in the midst of her ordeal.

I’m not overly sentimental, but these stories got me to thinking about how I (and we as a nation) might respond to such chaos like this. After all, Haiti was already known as being the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere before this happened. But I was thinking, for instance, Would our God survive in a place like Haiti? An American belief in God, couched in comfort, blessing, protection.

I think of another story: an American nurse of Haitian ancestry who went down to volunteer and how she has to turn away often to cry as she’s trying to help dying children. I think that such joining of others in their suffering would help us in the West to erase the categories of division we usually live under, with our common humanity becoming more important. But therein lies a bind; for what separates us is more than the overall greater economic and social privilege we have here, but how these very things can insulate us to being vulnerable—the very thing that will be needed if we risk opening our hearts to the realities of disappointment and despair. It is difficult, yes. And yet, I can think of few things that facilitate such connection like this as shared grief. And grief will be needed in order to rightly see the light of hope.

Do Americans as a whole get points for this? Not to downplay some of the amazing outpouring of generosity that’s taking place as people open their homes and purses to help. But after the celebrity telethons have settled down, can we legitimately share in the claims of solidarity if we are not participants ourselves in the grief? And are we afraid to truly engage the response of this young girl? Vs. saying, “Heh, heh, that’s nice. Now, run along, dear.” If so, perhaps it’s because nothing unnerves us like looking at our own fear, disappointment, and anger if similarly challenged. Or more—than daring to name God in the face of these things, particularly in view of his apparent silence.

… Speaking of finding hope amid the ruins, I was very encouraged recently to learn about a group call Jobs Partnership of Florida (www.jobspartnershipfl.org). My friend, René Vazquez, a staff member at Summit Church, was telling me about it and invited me to come to an informational meeting the other night. Basically, Summit is working with JP to bring hope to the residents of Orlando’s Old Cheney neighborhood, many who are unemployed and locked in grinding cycles of poverty and dysfunction. Cheney was once a thriving community back in the day when the naval base was here, but has become something of a ghost town economically, with lots of empty businesses lining Colonial Drive, even worse now in light of the current economy. And while nearby Baldwin Park has sought to inject some new vitality to the area, many of the folks in adjacent Old Cheney have not directly benefited from it.

I was moreover struck by the sense of commitment to have a vision for impacting lives with more than short-term solutions, but lasting changes. Stories of reluctant businessmen who opened themselves to getting involved, and in the process, found themselves changing as they sought to help change the fortunes of others in need. And of other neighborhoods where participants went looking for a job, but in some cases, found a career and a sense of calling, dramatically boosting their sense of worth. NPR actually did a story on it awhile back (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5317076).

As local business leader, Eddy Moratin, gave the history of Jobs Partnership, he and René spoke about the systemic issues surrounding dying neighborhoods. Moreover, I was encouraged by both men’s daring to dream on behalf of an area that has been written off by many as dead or dying, and committed to seeing a generations-long process of restoration—as it does so by personally touching one life at a time, by meeting very real here-and-now needs. Sort of like the old saying, “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish, and feed him for a lifetime.”

And I was challenged by an attitude to go beyond the typical models of community improvement that have flourished during boom-time economies and here in particular—that of infusing venture capital into new housing and business developments that quickly skyrocket in value while furthering the divide between the haves and have-nots. I’m all for “the invisible hand of economics” when it works like it should. It’s just nice to know that a kind and visible human face can be attached to it at times.

… I was more or less a blank slate while going to this informational meeting, though hopeful of what I would find. And I did find an appreciation for what it is on its own terms and am genuinely heartened. But looking at it sort of like with my questions around finding hope in Haiti, I realize we need programs like JP more than for the obvious good they do for others and for the system as a whole. We need them for ourselves, to make us believe there is still good and light in the world. I think these guys probably said it in better and less crass terms than I do here. But we need it to believe and to hope and to not lose heart—apart from the immediate and most important good it effects. Is that not a worthy value? Even if far from altruistic?

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The Broken Truth

I’m no poet. But sometimes I will do something like this in response to a creative writing prompt for my Morning Pages…

“The Broken Truth”

Where do the broken places go,

When all hope seems removed?

Pushed beyond rightful limit,

To a life in exile,

Yet always hoping for return.

But stubbornly stealing through dark shadows

Of time and circumstance until someone says,

“Come out of there.”

__

Where do the broken places go,

When the world they knew no longer exists?

And a return represents a start over,

More frightening than hopeful.

When all’s not right with the world.

Where “new” means from the ground up,

Not just some cosmetic touch.

__

Fitting that the ground would be broken

For this new thing to take place.

I guess that’s how it naturally happens,

I just never knew it would hurt so much.

__

So I’m looking around and beginning to wonder

At the life taking shape—

How it looks different than the one I once imagined,

And how the “how” of change does, too.

But that’s not all bad.

It’s just a view from a far different place,

With a far different feel than the map I was given.

Like some “Greetings from the Grand Canyon” postcard

That—while inspiring—does little to tell the true story.

__

So where do the broken places go

(Because they do have to go somewhere)?

They can either stay stuck, imprisoning their holders

To years of chaos and woe,

Or… they can be found, looked at, and invited in,

Actions that are grounding—and make a soul.

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Happy New Year, y’all. I’m scribing this from my cold northern outpost of South Carolina—relative to FL anyway. But cold nonetheless, where it’s been dipping down into the 20s and 10s here. Brrrrhhh! Give me some balmy Floridian 40s!

The singles event at the Museum of Art was very nice. My expectations were modest. I knew of only one friend ahead of time for sure, my college roomie, Michael. Funny how the little things feel like a lot when you’ve been out of the loop for so long—having long given up those expectations of seeing everyone you ever knew from your old life. I really didn’t know who would be there. It would be a mix of people across a span of years beyond my time here, where I might quickly get lost in an unknown crowd. Only when showing up at the door did this occur to me, and my old insecurities around strange social gatherings begin to flicker.

A guy named “Event Coordinator” greeted me on my way inside. I presented my ticket, then zoomed by tables full of people enjoying dinner, by-and-large avoiding eye contact, choosing to direct my attention toward the buffet serving line. I needn’t have worried for anonymity’s sake, however. I soon heard a familiar voice from one of the tables: “Brian Bragdon.” It was Rachel… Whew.

And so I began to connect with friends old and new, sitting with Rachel, and mingling with some of her friends there. To my left was a distinguished-looking African gentleman. I recognized his photo from a Christmas card off Michael’s refrigerator. Recalling what I thought was apparently his nickname, I blurted out, “Hey—You’re Fatty, aren’t you?”—so wanting to be in-the-socially-poised-know than the Gomer Pyle-ish rube I was quickly making myself out to be. Fatty (actually pronounced “Fah-tee,” and whom I learned was from Gambia) never corrected me. He just good-naturedly smiled as he welcomed the friend of friends—me only later catching my faux pas. I needn’t have worried. He was a gentleman, as I say.

Everyone was dressed to kill. Excellent food, too—special nods to the prime rib and carrot cake. I slipped into a short spell of catch-up with Rachel, and was introduced to quite a few cute lady friends. Then got a Debbie alert from Michael. Going over to say hello to her and her mystery girlfriend, I got quite a shock when this friend called me by name and (re)introduced herself. Leslie Evans from TCA days. I had not seen her seen her since graduating, and would not have recognized her had she not said anything (after all, she was in junior high then). Saying small, small world somehow seems inadequate. But dang.

Then there was Brian Helms—one of the friendliest faces on campus back then and once probably half my size he was so thin. Still friendly as ever—and bigger than me now, all filled out. He’s become something of a entrepreneur in Charlotte, managing several properties. I’d never have guessed this of Brian then. He’d come across Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad, Poor Dad in an English bookstore in Romania during his adventures abroad and started educating himself. He talked, too, of his former exp’s in Amway. Never got far with it but how he loved the positive attitude, personal growth, and camaraderie. I spoke of my own business venture this past year, and despite a similar story, we both agreed there was payoff beyond the outward experience of success or failure with any program.

Out on the floor, a lot of dancing was getting underway. The DJ had a great selection of hits old and new—the more familiar the tune, the more I found my rhythm. I’d get inspired for a few seconds and my friends would be screaming, “Brian!” Meanwhile, it didn’t take long for my lower back to start joining in, too—“Brian!” Firing off dead lifts at 275 a couple days earlier was coming back to haunt me. But try explaining that to a mostly younger crowd. Better not let them see you wince! Not an easy thing when you’re supposed to be having fun.

I did get that visit into the Ansel Adams gallery. Amazing. Many of his best known works on display. Getting the story behind the shots, as well as his thoughts on looking for the elusive perfect moment. There was a shot with this plain of boulders in the foreground with the giant Sierras rising behind. Actually taken from Manzanar, a Japanese internment camp in WWII. Adams was sensitive to themes of dislocation and loss rising out of the clashing issues of politics and race—feeling that while the harsh environment surrounding the camps echoed the residents’ suffering, it simultaneously offered an almost other-worldly comfort with beautiful views in the distance to help sustain their spirits. He tried capturing this juxtaposition of emotion on film with what he felt the experience of its residents might be. Find out more at http://www.hctc.commnet.edu/artmuseum/anseladams/details/mtwilliamson.html.

I overheard this one gal in the gallery playing docent to a group of people. After her friends wandered off, we struck up conversation. Denise is living my dream life—she’s traveled all over the world as a photojournalist, and currently teaches some photography courses at USC. Where other people might see just pictures, Denise sees stories that need to be told. As if in echo to Adams, she told me about one assignment she did following a group of Somali refugees as they transitioned from their lives in an equatorial refugee camp to a suburban Chicago winter. Only a 48 hour trip, but worlds apart. The far longer journey was from one exile to another in search of hope, where terms like “culture shock” didn’t even begin to capture their experience. You can check out her work at http://denisemcgill.com/ .

Back on the dance floor, Michael Bush was the star of the show. Maybe because he’s my good friend who’s never stopped cracking me up in over 20 years. And genuinely one of the coolest guys I know. But he did own it—all heads nodding their respect and clapping hands as he struck some pretty groovin’ moves while sporting some wacky strobe light shades.

The DJ brought in midnight at the end of “1999.” He fudged a couple minutes to let the song play out, I think, but no one seemed to really notice. When he did the countdown, it suddenly occurred to me that hugs and kisses would soon be following amid the cheers. Standing next to me was a really attractive blonde, a friend of Rachel and Mandy I’d not met. In the spirit of the new year, I smooched her like we were well acquainted, introducing myself later to “Dena”… Hey—one of the few occasions I could get away with this. I wasn’t going to waste it.

There was an after hours party over at a guy, Steve’s, apartment. There was breakfast, then more dancing, as me and the other Brian groaned and succumbed to defeat, sitting on the couches, good-naturedly accepting our lots as “old guys.”… The best part to me was when Steve had everyone take a moment to share what they were thankful for in the previous year, as well as what they were hoping for in the year to come. I was struck overall by the level of friendship in this group, a tight-knit bond showing much love for one another. There were many stories of loss—divorce and job loss were common themes—but underscored by renewed hope, made possible in large measure by the support they had found from each other. I felt both a gladness and an ache. A gladness that is unique to standing in the center of a community like this. And an ache that I have long missed experiencing anything like this…

It has been a rather slow time overall on my vacation. The subtle seduction of inertia here compromises my ability to do daily disciplines well—like this writing, e.g. And prayer. All the more reason for short visits, though it’s been good visiting with my folks and grandmother… The other focus of my time—working on James’ chapter—which is still in progress. Hell and high water apparently were not enough to rush it through.

Back on the road tomorrow. Will post next from O-Town.

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