Forgettable

 

I have a terrible memory. I can memorize song lyrics, country flags, stuff like that. But my actual life, as anyone who knows me can tell you, is pretty vague in my mind. I was talking to a couple of my parents recently about places we had gone as a family and they kept listing places and I would just shake my head, “No, I don’t remember that one either.”

I felt awful at the time. It must be a little bit crushing to have gone to the effort of ‘making memories’ for your children and then learn that, in fact, no memories were made. But I think I’m putting together an alternative perspective that might make you, parents, feel better. Of course, I’m in no position to offer parenting advice but since when did having no authority stop people from giving their opinions?

I think most of the meat of life is actually pretty forgettable. It’s like on the spot describing for someone what you did at 6 pm last Tuesday (maybe you’re great at remembering that sort of stuff, good for you). Oddly, though, I’m starting to think that being able to forget the little stuff is a kind of blessing.

I don’t remember a lot of the things we did as a family when I was young but there’s no doubt in my mind that we did them. I couldn’t give you details but I know that my family did things together. I know my family is my family. And I think that’s probably more important than the details (however expensive or trying those details were). Some people aren’t sure of their families, regardless of things done or not done together.

It’s easy to get lost in searching for the Major Thing that will Make Memories. Nothing wrong with those things, of course, but they will not make up the great proportion of the substance of our lives. It takes a great deal of understanding to acknowledge that the small, mundane, forgettable moments are what we are actually made of.

It takes humility and courage to seek those moments, to be ready to participate in them, knowing that they will never really be a Big Deal.

I’m also going to take this opportunity to thank people–mostly but not exclusively my parents– for the moments they’ve had in my life, whether I remember them or not. They’re the foundation of our relationships and I’m very grateful for them. Those all-too-often forgotten (by me, at least) and exceedingly ordinary acts of service and presence matter. They matter so very much.

It probably won’t take long for these periods at home since graduation to fade into generalized recollections that aren’t quite memories (that’s how I do) but even so, they matter. So thank you also, family, for letting me come home. Twice. For just a lot longer than any of us expected. You let me just kind of do my thing but also made sure that I was still involved in family life. It matters.

I’m trying to be ready for boring moments, now that I’ve thought of them this way. By their very nature, it will be difficult. But I think that if we all put a little more meaningful presence into the ordinary, we just might be able to build the extraordinary without realizing it.

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In Our Grasp

I almost wanted to start by saying that this week has been crazy, but it hasn’t actually been anything of the sort. It’s been a pretty normal week–and I mean that in the worst way. How could the week before Christmas be any kind of normal? But it has also been a nice week, and I’m grateful for the positive things that have happened. I’m also feeling a little contemplative now that my first Christmas in circumstances like this is finally here.

On Monday morning, it snowed quite a bit–our largest accumulation this year, I think, though it was probably only about an inch. The main thing is that it did not all melt immediately. Some of it did, but it’s been pretty cold even through the snow so a lot of it has stuck around all week. On Wednesday afternoon, we were graced with a further dusting of fairy-light snow which I was fortunate enough to be able to dance in for a few moments at work.

Tuesday night was our once-a-term staff dinner (on the company) and we did a little secret Santa exchange, which was precious. It’s nice that, as much as I don’t like working there, it does have its moments. And certainly it is better than it could be, so there’s that.

Monday night has become a routine movie night at the Kelsey abode (married coworkers of mine) for many of our teachers and though it’s normally too late for me to commit, we’ve been doing Christmas movies in December so I’ve been every week. This week was Scrooged and, no offense intended, but it wasn’t my thing. But I thoroughly enjoyed the time spent together. Also, I watched Arrival last weekend, quite a movie. I haven’t bumped it into my top-five-in-no-particular-order ( at least not yet), but it was good. My main, topical take-away from it was just listening. There should probably be more listening in the world.

Okay, as this is my last post before Christmas, I have some Christmas thoughts to share. This is, as I’ve said before, my first Christmas without any family or anything around and  it’s been an interesting time. I have friends here, but it’s different. I was working last year, but it’s different. It’s just a thing. And honestly, I have been swinging wildly between loads of Christmas spirit (especially when there’s snow and/or singing involved) and totally forgetting that Christmas is coming at all.

Let nothing that follows indicate that I have anything but the highest regard for the original How the Grinch Stole Christmas movie. Because it truly is a wonder. I have been singing the Who Christmas song on and off since I made my classes watch it during the snack party at the end of last term.

However.

“Christmas Day is in our grasp so long as we have hands to clasp.”

“Christmas Day will always be just so long as we have we.”

Such admirable and timely sentiments. Truly. And so heartwarming and seasonal and cozy and nice. When I was younger, I considered them some of the loveliest statements of Christmas feelings. But if I’ve learned anything this first Christmas apart, it’s that those sentiments are false.

There are no qualifications for Christmas. There are no conditions. Christmas Day is in our grasp. Christmas Day will always be. Christmas doesn’t come from a store–it does, in fact, mean a little bit more. But its meaning does not stem from loving each other, as good and right and lovely as that is. It comes from being loved.

If Christmas were about us–us loving, being joyful, coming together, lifting each other up–it would be a pleasant but ultimately weak holiday. Because we are, at best, imperfect lovers. The strength of Christmas is that, together or apart, we are all loved perfectly.

I hope you all have a merry and happy Christmas; cherishing time together, the weather, the food, the presents, the decorations, the all-around atmosphere. And if or when you feel the imperfection of it all becoming a little too much, remember that there is perfection in Christmas and we don’t have to do a thing to receive it.

God loves us.

Strike the Harp

First, a little look at the cats because it’s always a good time to look at cat pictures.

Very cozy, I’m sure.

Second, on Wiktionary (the Wikipedia dictionary, extraordinarily useful and interesting for a person like me) there are three English etymologies for ‘troll’ and the third lists one meaning to indicate “to sing loudly, freely or in a carefree way.”

On Friday, I had a number of extended video chats with family members and it was lovely. I just like my family, they’re pretty neat. It’s always a bit dizzying to be passed around a room on a little screen but it’s worth it. I continue to be surprised by and grateful for the wonders of technology that allow such communication and contact. I’m also very excited to meet my new little niece when I get back to the US.

ALSO, I can’t believe I forgot, it snowed on Friday morning and it actually stuck for a few hours so that was absolutely lovely.

This week has been rather on the hectic side but I’m still alive and that’s really what matters. I guess.

The first week of my last term so let me give you a little rundown on what’s going on for me. My first class is the lowest level I’ve taught (aside from that bonus extra fun-time lovely joyous class from the summer term) and that’s less than ideal. My other class is a pretty high level and this is the third time I’ve taught it, second time this level and this course. So that one should be okay, even though most of my favorites leveled up.

I have surprised myself by doing mostly alright, I think, with the very small people. I have one class of that low level with fifth and sixth graders but the other class is a couple years younger. That bonus extra class from the summer had some younger ones but that was one hour twice a week and three hours on Wednesday, this class is three hours twice a week which is a lot. But like I said, we’re all still alive. All in all, I’ve actually had some really nice classes with my students already and I think it bodes well for a mostly positive final term.

There have been a number of things recently that have been really less than ideal at work, though, and they’ve really soured things (more so than in the past). Some of them have been mis non-communications and general huge problems from corporate. They have made teaching pretty unpleasant even though my students have all been mostly good. Other things have been specific to our boss who just keeps making unpleasant choices. Which. Whatever. I think that’s about all I can say about it without exploding.

On a much better note, we got a new teacher. He’s from Australia, hired to replace our Welsh teacher who left which keeps our non-American population the same. He’s a nice guy, should fit in just fine 🙂

It’s also after Thanksgiving now so people can’t stop me from being super Christmasy. I mean, they couldn’t stop me before, but now they can’t even try.

I know Christmas time isn’t a happy time for everybody and that makes me sad. There are totally valid reasons for it, of course, but I wish everyone could feel like I do around Christmas because it’s honestly the best. Of course, as Muppet Christmas Carol instructs, I try to make the feeling last all year. But it’s so much easier during Christmas. Sometimes I feel like I’m just going to burst it makes me so happy. Which is cliché, but clichés are cliché because they’re true.

Even in my sad times when I remember that I’m not going to Christmas very much this year, it still such a cozy, warm, happy sadness. Christmas, obviously, is important for many other, much more important reasons but the one that I’m grateful for today, in this moment, is the simple, commercial–even secular–Christmas spirit.

I just want to strike the harp! My coworkers can attest: I often troll yuletide carols. And you should too.

Join the chorus. Fa la la la la la la la la.

Thank You for Saving the World

So I know today is Thanksgiving, and I’d like to address that. But I’d like to start with something else because I finally watched Wonder Woman with some friends last weekend and the more time that elapses the more I appreciate what a film it is.

In particular, I’d like to collectively ponder a quote from the end of the film. It doesn’t give away any plot, though I guess it does reveal the psychology of the ending so if you haven’t seen it yet, go and do so before continuing.

I used to want to save the world. To end war and bring peace to mankind. But then, I glimpsed the darkness that lives within their light. And I learned that inside every one of them, there will always be both. A choice each must make for themselves. Something no hero will ever defeat. And now I know that only love can truly save the world. So I stay, I fight, and I give, for the world I know can be.

First, I think it’s so mature and accurate to real life for a superhero movie to just say straight up that heroes can never save the world because people suck. In the end, we just choose. And choose every day, every moment, how to comport ourselves, how to speak to other people, how to act and think when no one else is looking. And, all too often, we will choose poorly.

Second, only love can save the world. I have no commentary for this.

It’s Thanksgiving and I would just like us to take a moment and pause to make a deliberate and heartfelt choice. To choose light and love. To enter into the greatest love of the God who came near and share it with another. And know, for that small moment, that we are living a part of saving the world. We will fall short of goodness again and again but, in the words of C. S. Lewis, “to this moment’s choice, give unfair weight.”

That is what I have for that. But this week has been pretty full so you’ll forgive me if I include a little more before getting to Thanksgiving, even if this post becomes cumbersomely lengthy.

On Saturday, I had some friends from church over and we played Settlers of Catan. I really love the game (a board game of… settlement and building if you’re not familiar) but haven’t played in ages. We had a lot of fun. I finished in the middle of the pack, but would have been a strong contender for first if we had rolled like Any sixes the whole game. I’m not bitter though, don’t worry.

It snowed on Monday, not for long and it certainly didn’t stick, but the flakes were large and wet and delicious. Yes, I caught a few on my tongue, heinous air quality notwithstanding. My friend caught me on video enjoying a bit of a frolic. She wanted me to upload the video but I’m too technologically un-savvy to figure it out, I’ll put it on Facebook and that’s the best I can do. Sorry Blair.

We also received our schedules for next term (*MY LAST TERM*) and it’s not terrible but it’s not great. I’ll tell you more about it next week when I’ve actually taught my classes. There was also a small breakthrough regarding Christmas but, again, more on that later.

Anyway, Wednesday was a half day as per usual. After work, we gathered at one of our apartments and had a small Thanksgiving-ish sort of time. And it was wonderful. (I refuse to the term Friendsgiving because a. we are not giving friends b. we are giving thanks c. one of the things we are giving thanks for is friends d. friends are a normal part of Thanksgiving e. it’s dumb).

It was a bit of an eclectic mix. Korean fried chicken, pizza dip, Kraft macaroni and cheese, dumplings, fig jam, and Costco pumpkin pie. In other words, exactly as Thanksgiving should be. In a pretty tame game of most likely, I was voted most likely to know how to dispose of a body and become a brutal dictator, and tied for most likely to start my own fashion line. All of which I took as the compliments they were.

I truly am grateful for my coworkers. For a place where I don’t I like working very much, I value my time at school substantially more because of them. They really have made a world of difference for my time here. I’m grateful for my church home here in Seoul, for opportunities to serve, for Paris Baguette, for just so many things.

I’ll be video calling my family tomorrow because it will be Thanksgiving in the US on Friday here. So that will be nice. Now that I have a few non-family Thanksgivings under my belt, it’s not such a strange feeling. Christmas, I’m sure, will be an entirely different matter, but I’m feeling pretty good for this Thanksgiving. I know people around me love me, and I hope they know I love them. I’m grateful, I’m grateful, I’m grateful.

That’s all it is, really. I’m so thankful to have people in my life, present with me physically and virtually, who choose love. Maybe not every time, but as much as possible. Maybe not perfectly, but as best they can. According to Wonder Woman, you’re saving the world. So thanks for that.

Long in City Pent

I kid you not, our guide on Jeju was a Russian from Vladivostok. His name was Viktor, which was also my name in Russian class. Obviously, I’ve gotten way ahead of myself but I had to tell you about him straight away since I was literally taking about Vladivostok in last week’s post. Anyway. Allow me to backtrack a sec for you.

This week I have some family visiting: my younger brother, step-mom, and her mom who is Korean but has been living in the US basically since the Korean War. So we’ve done a bunch of touristy things (including a number of things I’ve been meaning to do but had been to lazy to do alone). It’s been great so far.

We started on Monday with a pretty full schedule of running around Seoul and seeing as much as we could. We visited Gyeongbokgung Palace (the main palace of the Joseon Dynasty), a number of mountains around Seoul, Namdaemun market (where I had actually been before), and a variety of little sights around the city. Lots of driving. Like I said, very full.

Now they had booked an actual tour deal, but it was just us. This meant basically that we had most of our time fairly scheduled, but that we got a cool, personal guide. It is very different from how I usually travel–I also usually travel alone–but it was great. Our guide in Seoul is rad and it’s nice to have someone who knows where they’re going and can take you there witout much ado.

On Tuesday, we flew out to Jeju Island, which some have called the Hawai’i of Korea. It was absolutely lovely. As I’ve stated, our guide on the island was actually Russian, do that was neat. But mostly, Jeju is just wonderful. We visited natural wonders: waterfall, lava tube, cliffs, crater, beach ect. We also saw a wonderful temple (all the way from the 1980s!), historical governor’s palace thing, a stone park with lots of cool rocks and stuff, and a traditional folk village. We had some tangerines, for which the island is famous, and some fried chicken, for which it is not. I got sunburned (thankfully not too badly) and we climbed a mountain in torrential rain and strong wind.

Nothing we did was actually super impressive or absolutely amazing (not to disparage it at all) but the thing I loved most was just being out of Seoul. It was astounding how much I reveled in being surrounded by green. I guess not astounding because of course, but still. Sea breeze. Trees that are actually true green. Everything so, so lush. Driving along country roads with the windows down.

Everything was made of black volcanic rock. There were some columns that looked like a baby Giant’s Causeway, some cliffs that reminded me of Carrick-a-Rede. There was a crater on the coast that, from a distance, looked like Howth, even with the little low-lying isthmus connecting it to the main island. So basically I was in a hot, Korean Ireland.

I truly had a wonderful time there, in all the different weather. It really felt like a vacation. But I’ve just flown back from Jeju tonight, a couple hours ago, and I’m sort of pooped. So I’ll write more next week, I promise, and maybe include a few pictures. Tomorrow we’re going to the DMZ and I probably won’t say much about that, but we have a few more things to see on Saturday, and my brother and grandmother are leaving on Sunday and my step-mom is leaving on Wednesday.

Anyway. I know I talk a lot about city/nature but golly. I really needed this green. If you have green around you, please appreciate it on my behalf. I won’t be leaving Seoul (at least not for more than a day or two) until March. So read some Keats (that’d be the title) and nature as much as you can.

On Failing and Succeeding to Combobulate

I hope you all have been having a wonderful holiday season. As it comes to a close and we face the looming prospect of another go-around with the world, I have some thoughts I’d care to share. Per usual, they’re not the most coherent thing in the world but they’re thinks that I’ve thought.

My favorite Christmas movie is It’s a Wonderful Life. You may recall it is in my top 5 movies ever. Watching it on Christmas day, I was basically teary-eyed the whole time. One of my favorite things about it is this: it’s not about how one moment, or a thousand moments, can change your life–it’s about how a life can change a thousand others. In fact, it’s not even really about how it can, it’s about how it does. George Bailey is a pretty extraordinary character (though he’s plenty ordinary, too) but every life has an impact on countless others. Because that’s how we work. We’re inherently social. Even if you were abandoned in the woods as a baby and never encountered another human being, you still have effects on, for example, your mother and, through her, a variety of other people.

There is no wasted time because all time spent is time spent, if you catch my meaning. Anything that is done is a thing that is done. Even the decision not to decide is still a choice. We are always moving and doing and spending time, whether or no. And in all that moving and doing and spending, we are among others. It’s like that tale of the thread tied to everyone’s ankle connecting them to everyone they ever connect with, forever.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is. Something. I’m not sure. So we’re going to abandon that and move on to story time instead, perhaps that will make things clearer (for the both of us).

My sister was planning on flying in from Genado, Arizona on Christmas Eve. Instead, there was a blizzard, the airport was closed, and she was stranded in Flagstaff. Naturally, we video called her and played Scattergories. The next morning, she walked two and a half miles through calf-deep snow to the train station where she caught a shuttle to Phoenix where she caught a flight to SeaTac where she was picked up to be driven about two hours to home. Upon her arrival, we had Christmas #3 with #4 to follow the next afternoon. With all the comings and goings of family and things, it was a bit hectic, as I’m sure many of your Christmases were.

With such things being such things–things. That’s what I feel about it. But at the same time, it is absolutely extraordinary that she was able to a) come despite a spate of cancellations and b) we were able to talk with her and play a board game while she was still in Arizona. I don’t understand the people who think technology has made us less social. Differently social, no doubt, but no less. Indeed, I think these technological means are critical to a young generation raised in an increasingly mobile and global world (at least, for middle-upper class Americans, but that’s another issue altogether). Of course while I’ve been very concerned to spend as much in-person time with her while I can, I’m so extremely appreciative of the time we spend together virtually.

As I said last week, Christmas is just a strange thing. That post mostly talked about the strangeness of the first Noël, if you will, and this week I’m struck by how strange it is still today, even outside of the religious sphere (if one could say such a thing). Coming home for Christmas, there is much competition for your time and it can be overwhelming. At the same time, though, there are a scattered (sometimes few) moments of complete and perfect combobulation. Many are familiar with the ill effects of discombobulation, but when you get the combobulation just right, sitting with your family, eating cookies, watching a movie, playing a game, just talking… there is nothing quite like it.

As I head into this new year, I will hold onto that feeling which I fear will be felt all too seldom in the months to come. None now know the next or the next or the next and for me, I’m feeling much more intimidated than excited for things new. However, knowing that combobulation can be achieved is perhaps enough to see me through periods of irksome discombobulation.

At any rate, I at least have some candy to last me a few weeks, if I scrimp.

I’ll see you on the other side of the closing of the year. I wish for you all the happiness that can be wished, not because I want your life to be easy but because I want your life to be joyful in the midst of discombobulation.

Gather

So I know I’ve been a little etymology crazy on here of late, but that’s just because I’m that way in real life and it’s finally bleeding through on here. But anyway. Thank. Same origin as think. I quote, “The Old English noun [þanc–thanks] originally and chiefly meant ‘thought, reflection, sentiment; mind, will, purpose;’ also ‘grace, mercy, pardon; pleasure, satisfaction'” (from the OED). Any thinking creature should be thankful. I think therefore I am? I thank therefore I am. Gratitude is living.

The etymology of gather is pretty straightforward, it’s basically always had the same meaning. Interestingly, the very distant root is not only shared with together which has a similar sort of meaning, but also good. Things are good when they are whole and complete and together. This same root also led to an Old English word that we no longer use, gæd (fellowship, companionship) and it’s partner gædeling (companion). 

How’s that for a Thanksgiving post opener? Anyway, things that aren’t etymology.

Closed doors are not things that I typically think of being grateful for, but I am, I guess. Those closed to me rather than by me (I suppose there are some of those too). I do not think it would have been bad if I had gotten the job I applied for in Budapest or if I had stayed in Ireland to look for work or if I had started work at a private school in Santa Fe. But because none of those things happened, I am grateful that I have wound up where I am, doing what I am doing, rather than something awful. Truly, what I’m doing is not what I would call ideal but it is nowhere near awful, not at all. So I’m grateful for the closed doors that led me here.

I’m also grateful for my family. They weren’t all able to make it up to our house this year, but it’s a pleasure to see as many as I can. I’m thankful that I know my family, and know them pretty well. I don’t have many cousins, so it’s not super hard, but I’ll definitely never be one of those people who hears years later of the marriage or death or whatever of a distant cousin I’d never met. And that makes me glad. We’ll always have each other because we’re just sort of inextricably bound up together whether we’d wish it or not (and most of the time I wish it 😉 ).

My friends are also a great source of gratitude. They’re so cool. Friends old and new (though not too new because I’m real slow at making friends). Those who have stayed in touch across many miles and a variety of life changes. Those who have stayed in touch 24/7 because we need each other kind of a lot, not just because we send each other cat pictures and discuss doughnuts. Those who make a commitment to Skype or call or text or whatever because we care enough about our friendship (even when neither of us are quite organized enough to stay on schedule, it’s the thought that counts 100%).

There are many other things I’m grateful for, but I also want to take a second to think about people too far outside my circle for me to be directly grateful for. A friend recently posted on Facebook asking us to look beyond our own blessings and wish joy for someone else. So I’m grateful for those at Standing Rock peacefully hoping (and acting in that hope) for justice; I wish them success, protection, and perseverance. I’m thinking of the people in Syria and Iraq who so desperately need so much; I wish them protection, health, hope, and a peace within and without.

This strange holiday that we Americans and Canadians have has plenty of historical (and contemporary) baggage, I won’t deny  it. And it is problematic in many ways. However, the very fact that we have nationally celebrated holidays literally called thanks-giving is important, I think. We should give thanks. Lots of thanks, because we have lots to be thankful for. I have been blessed in so many ways and I pray that I can be a blessing and, perhaps more importantly, that I seek to bless others very far away and very different from myself.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends and family, hiwscipe and gædelingfar and near.