Side by Side

This week has been pretty run-of-the-mill in terms of intensives, it doesn’t give a lot of room for variation. As I noted last week, I did get off at 4 on Wednesday and I absolutely loved getting home before sunset and just doing nothing at home (as per usual). That evening also featured disk one of The Return of the King so the week couldn’t have been all that bad.

As a follow-up to my description of last week’s weather, here’s a glimpse of the ‘urban nature park’ on my way to the grocery store last Saturday. The waterfall has been frozen for a while, but it snowed that morning and it looked incredible. The stream was partially frozen as well.

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In addition to watching The Lord of the Rings over the past few weeks with friends (“…side by side with a friend…”), I’ve watched all the Harry Potter movies again. Four movies two weekends ago and the other four this past weekend. I just quickly wanted to say a moment–the only moment–that made me tear up for a sec.

Unpopular opinions: I don’t care that much for Dobby or Hedwig or George, not really bothered by the deaths of Remus or Tonks or Dumbledore, don’t think Snape is a good person and am not moved by his story. Harry Potter is of course fabulous and I love it, so don’t take those as criticisms. However, there was one part that got me, if just for a moment, this time around.

At the end of the end, when Harry is about to go to Voldemort in the forest, he just sort of vaguely hints that he’s a horcrux (spoiler) and only Hermione understands. Then she says, “I’ll go with you.” And that is one of the most beautiful of the many statements that the series makes about death. A friend who will fight beside you, even to death.

So there’s that.

Anyway, here’s our choral music selection. Latin music holds a very special place in both historical and contemporary Western choral musical traditions so I thought it an appropriate category. Some of these songs are quite old, some medium old, and some are much more recent but all of them come from a musical and theological tradition spanning thousands of years. It’s kind of a big deal.

I’ve given the English for the titles but if you’re really curious it just takes a quick Google or Wikipedia search to get the full text translated.

Latin Sacred Texts

  1. O Mangum Mysterium – Francis Poulenc (O Great Mystery)
  2. Ave Maria – Javier Busto (Hail Mary)
  3. Ubi Caritas et Amor – Ivo Antognini (Where Charity and Love)
  4. Absalon, Fili Mi – Josquin des Prez (Absalom, My Son)
  5. Angus Dei from Mass in C minor op. 147 – Robert Schumann (Lamb of God)
  6. Si Iniquitates Observaveris – Samuel Wesley (If You Mark Our Iniquities)
  7. Magnificat – László Halmos ([My Soul] Magnifies [the Lord])
  8. O Sacrum Convivium – Olivier Messiaen (O Sacred Banquet)
  9. Adoramus Te, Christe – Claudio Monteverdi (We Adore You, Christ)
  10. Amen – Henryk Górecki (not really Latin but I’m over it)
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A Weltanschauung of Joie de Vivre

My students the other day thought that there was a mistake on their vocab list, someone had forgotten to translate a French phrase into English, though the Korean was given–it was déjà vu. When I told them it was just a French phrase that we use in English, they weren’t particularly happy. Anyway, I couldn’t not have a title in English, French, and German when the French and German are also just used in English sometimes. If you need a translation, the title is A Worldview of Joy of Life.

So I had a lovely Christmas weekend. Saturday started with serving at a homeless kitchen-type ministry with some coworkers and finished back at the Kelsey’s for our work-friends Christmas party. We had a great time making pomander balls, playing games, making cookies, and doing Disney karaoke. They’re just really great ❤ On Sunday, I went to church and had a white elephant party with them afterwards, it was a lot of fun.

On Christmas day, I essentially did nothing, which was exactly what I wanted. I called my family and chatted with them for a while, and that’s really it. I mostly stayed in bed; I read, watched Netflix, and played Pokémon. Not exactly how I like to spend Christmas generally, but exactly how I wanted to spend it this year.

Going back to work on Tuesday was less than ideal, but I managed. This week is just another pretty much normal work week, and next week will be too, though we also have the incredible gift of having next Monday off too! Speaking of which, I have some meh-level New Year musings for you.

I think I’m slowly becoming aware of a shift in my worldview that’s taken place over the past few years. I’ve given up not just on changing the world (in any big, big ways) but also on just expecting the world to be a good place. The world is a pretty unpleasant place. Yes, of course there is loads of good in it as well, and many things are better than they were in the past (though we must never confuse ‘better’ with ‘good’). Let me be clear: I still hope for good in the world, I still hope for change. But I’m done thinking that things will improve, that people will learn from their mistakes, that knowledge and kindness and compassion will  increase and someday prevail. They might. Maybe.

All I have is me. I can expect things from myself; I can certainly expect failure, but also growth. I can educate myself–about current events, racism, ancient Egypt, different varieties of dogwoods, how to make pancakes from scratch. I can attempt, with perhaps childish naïveté and diligence, to suffuse my life with a Weltanschauung of joie de vivre that does not derive joy from the world because it is joyous, per se, but because the world exists at all and every moment of that existence is a literal miracle.

I can teach myself to be kinder; to rescind hurtful words with genuine apologies, to think critically while watching movies, to sincerely care when other people tell me things that give them pain.

I can involve myself with the world; I can serve, I can donate, I can educate, I can listen respectfully even when others are not being respectful, I can have compassion on those who have no compassion for me.

I can be myself; stay home as much as possible, read voraciously, watch good and bad Netflix with equanimity, thoroughly enjoy food even if it’s boring, be awkward and laugh about it, be gay and fabulous, wear bowties on Tuesdays ect. ect. ect.

There’s a certain joie de vivre (if you’ll excuse the phrase) in the exultation of releasing my expectations about the world. It’s like that old line about accepting things I cannot change. When I’m free from all the weight of the world, I can deliciously and leisurely enjoy the simple pleasures of each moment and find it in myself to compassionately and earnestly become involved in bettering the world.

The above may have ended up sounding super self-centered, which is counterproductive so please bear in mind, if it sounded like that, I didn’t mean it to. Anyway. You know that I’m not much one for resolutions because a. we should resolve any and every time not just New Year’s b. people don’t generally keep them anyway c. they’re pretty lame. So let me be clear.

I want to be better, and I will work hard to become so. I want the world to be better, and I will work hard to make it so. I have few illusions about the success I will meet with, so I’ll start small.

And as for all the rest, I’ll act in hope without expectation.

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.

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.

Alonesickness and the Aching of a Tender Heart

The following post I wrote in early 2016, in a particular mood resulting from a particular time and experience. It does not reflect my normal state, nor a state which I tend often to find myself in. But part of me writing this blog is striving to be genuine to myself. If this were a normal journal, it would be over because I’ve already written it. But this is a blog and, having written it, I felt like it ought to be shared. Nothing of note happened this week and I think enough time has elapsed. I mean no disparagement to the friends and family I hold very dear. I simply reflect on my personal experience as an individual often alone, rarely (but occasionally acutely) lonely. Anyway, here goes.

Who do you talk to when you’re lonely? The first people that come to mind–close friends, confidants, parents, siblings–are out. If you felt like talking to them, you wouldn’t feel lonely, would you? I’m an introvert, distinctly so, and I don’t often feel lonely. I once saw a little comic explaining introverts and one frame said, “Often alone, rarely lonely.” And that’s very much true for me. But sometimes, usually in the evenings, often when watching a show or reading a book with a particularly poignant friend moment, I’ll feel a low ache in my chest. Perhaps cry a couple tears. Sigh. Lie awake.

It’s unfair to my friends to say that I lack a solid friend relationships. Because my friends are the absolute coolest. They outshine other friends by many units of whatever scale it is that measures the brightness of stars. Sorrynotsorry to everyone else’s friends.

But still. Every once in a while I’ll get a feeling that I can’t shake. That I lack the quintessential ‘best friend.’ Or even the non-quintessential one. There are a variety of things that go on in my life and I’ll think, “Ah, I need to share this with X.” A funny quote (or a depressing one), a conversation, a feeling, complaint, or joy. Other things, though, I’ll think, “Ah, I need to share this with….” and no one fits the bill. It’s not that I need to share everything with someone, necessarily, but that I want to be able to share anything with a particular someone. Maybe that’s a byproduct of my voracious consumption of story-media. In stories, there’s so often the friend character that the main character knows is the one. Their relationship isn’t perfect, but it’s clear. And when they’re upset late at night or excited about good news or just bored and want to chat, there’s no hesitation. It’s obvious who they’re going to call. Maybe it’s my own inadequacy in not knowing who to call. Maybe the people are actually there and I just can’t see them properly.

Then there are other lonelinesses where I know who I want to talk to, but they’re thousands of miles away and electricity is an insufficient parody of real life-to-life contact. Sometimes the distance, the pixels of written words easily deleted, makes communicating hard things better, softer. But other times every mile is like another fracture in an already tender heart. And it’s not homesickness exactly, but an alonesickness that strikes, perhaps, even deeper.

I don’t know. Probably these words won’t make it to my blog. But I’m writing them all the same. Sometimes the only person I can talk to when I’m lonely is myself. And so I’m here, writing. Writing words that can’t take away the hurt, but can soften it. Make it intelligible. Baring darkness can be painful and scary, but it can also be a release. A freedom. And even if I never publish this, having real words–at least, pixels on a screen–is a way of revealing. Sometimes loneliness is crushing, paralyzing. And here, even though I’m still alone, I’ve summoned up another spirit of myself to talk to and for now, that is enough.

Things, More or Less

A thing that I said to a close friend during a conversation about general life ills: “I’m not really complaining, I’m just complaining. If you feel me.” Luckily, she did. And I’d just like to say a quick word about that.

I complain a lot. And I recognize how harmful this can sometimes be. But I don’t think of myself as a negative person. I think it’s because I find pleasant emotions simple to work through. Unpleasant ones are less so. Bemoaning petty things does truly make me feel better most of the time. It is a privilege of not truly suffering. And complaining gives me an outlet for more deeply felt emotions that isn’t really that negative.

So I will strive to complain less. But at the same time, I recognize complaining about little things as a way to process bigger things constructively. Maybe. I don’t know, but there it is.

A recent message from a different friend contained several precious pictures of Captain Kirk, featured on this blog once before. So here’s a little update for you, looking very cute in the early morning light.

So this week. On Sunday, I was happy to briefly host a friend who had an extended layover at Incheon. He was pretty wiped from the preceding week so we pretty much just hung out (which was 100% in line with things I like doing). It was great to catch up with him and just chat with a good friend for a while. I’m not what one might call a fast friend maker, so it was sort of a relief to be with someone who just already knows all sorts of things about you without you having to explain.

On Wednesday, I had a surprise day off and so went in search of flowers and, hurray, found them. I heard tell of a nice place to see cherry blossoms on the other side of town and set off. I wasn’t actually certain where I was going, but I assumed the green blotch on Google Maps was the place, and indeed it was. It was, in fact, a theme park sort of thing next to a ginormous mall (I cannot describe to you how ginormous) circling around a small lake. It was lovely and the weather was nice and it was just all sorts of good. I took a book and read a bit in between walking around and admiring.

It was truly a pleasant day. Not perfect, of course. Plenty of little things to complain about. But the little complaints enabled me to enjoy what there was to be enjoyed. I could take it all in, soak up the little things that made me smile mixed with the little things that made me frown. I didn’t get lost in the maze of deeply troubling things going on in the world about which I can do nothing.

Certainly, I still think about those things. But I don’t obsess like I know I could. These are troubling times, especially here, but I’ve done what I can to be prepared. I follow the news, but I don’t want to rehash the same conversation a million times. I’d rather complain about the breeze being too chill.

I am not sure how coherent this post sounds. I wanted to tell you about my lovely time at the lake but also include everything else. It is what it is, I guess. I’d like to leave you with this lovely tune because I like it and I think the world could use more alleluias and fewer of the other things. More gratitude and fewer complaints. More peace, less war.

Good luck with that.

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.