Being Good Ancestors

This post has a few different threads going on and it might jump among them in such a way as to make for awkward reading. As it contains no life updates, you may be tempted to give this post a miss. I ask you, forbear.

Today, I have many thoughts for you. Thoughts for a time when the world, it seems, is in great peril. Thoughts for you and for me, when it feels like we’re failing in all of our efforts to be the change in the story of our earth. The story is already written, I’m afraid, but it is not yet complete. Ruminate a moment, then, not on the change you want to see in your life or in the world as we see it. Cast yourself a hundred years–a thousand years–into a future built as you might wish it for a beloved posterity.

I was reading an article some time ago, nothing particularly moving or anything but the author used a phrase that I found very arresting. I don’t know if it’s common parlance in environmentalist circles or what, but it’s really something. The author said we were not, and encouraged us to become, good ancestors.

Ancestor, for me, has two main connotations: ancestor veneration (typically in the East Asian sense) and like neanderthal/cave man/Australopithecus whatever (as in last common ancestor, obviously I’m not a science person). I don’t typically apply it to myself. Though I don’t anticipate having children (who knows, life is mysterious) I will, regardless, be the ancestor of some people. I already have a niece. How are they going to think of me? Or even in a general sense: what will people think of my generation, several generations hence?

I also heard an interesting analogy the other day and I think it’s relevant. They were talking about police brutality and such, and a defender of police said that a couple of bad apples shouldn’t make you hate the whole profession. The person responded by saying that they don’t hate the whole profession but it doesn’t matter if every single apple is a good apple if the barrel itself is rotten. In other words, our system doesn’t fail–it’s meant to operate in an imperfect, categorically unjust way. We need a whole new barrel.

Relating to ancestors. It’s not enough to raise good children–give them a moral compass, a backbone, the milk of human kindness–if the world we leave them sucks. This applies to the environment because of course. But it also applies to the systems of our society. I think it entirely misses the point to try to plant courage in the coming generations so that they can face challenges well. Of course we should do that, but we should also mitigate the challenges they will face as much as possible!

It makes me think of Harry Potter. Surprise. A lot of people have noted how the series has set up a generation of activists. Ideas like Dumbledore’s Army and the failed Ministry of Magic planted the impetus to incite young people to take control of crises instead of just taking the world as it is. Consider this: Harry’s parents and the original Order of the Phoenix, essentially lost. Voldemort would have continued a reign of terror if he hadn’t unexpectedly died (kind of). In the wake of his disappearance, did society change at all? Did people become more accepting of people with mixed magical heritage? Were systems put in place to ensure that someone else could not come along with the same ideas again? Did human society reconcile with house elves, centaurs, and other magical creatures?

Obviously, it’s heroic to fight evil forces. But, while Voldemort was evil in and of himself, he also represented a strain of evil present in society at large. And it seems to me that those older characters just let it lie. Brought up their children to be kind, but didn’t really fight systemic injustice. Hermione (because she is incredible) makes this her life’s work in the epilogue. Because conquering a villain, in some ways, is the easy part. Building a new world is hard. But if we want to be good ancestors, it’s necessary.

We mustn’t fight a villain and then rest on our laurels. In the words of the Constitution of the United States, we ought to build a new world “for ourselves and our Posterity.”

All these thoughts were compounded by another article I read just this week whose main thrust was this: if we look at the likely span of future humanity, there are literal quadrillions of people who have yet to be born and, it stands to reason, those lives are a significantly weightier moral object than present day existence. Bearing that in mind, everyday acts of altruism, the writer argues, can and do make a difference in forming and reforming the structure of our world.

I want to live life in such a way as to have a positive impact on the quadrillions whom I will never see. I want other people to want that, too. I want people to vote, organize, protest, and work hard for justice. I want people to protect those who need protecting, to advocate for the rights of all, to refuse to be part of a system that systematically dispossesses and abuses and denies humanity to those who are most vulnerable.

Basically: be good, do good, change the world. May the light of history shine kindly on our efforts in the ages to come.

Time at Leisure

Random thought to start us off this week. I was asked which Hogwarts House I’m in, not for the first time. But suddenly I was like, ‘I’d like to think, at my best, it’s because I value people more than the traits they possess.’ And then I was like, whoa. I am definitely a Hufflepuff (not a recent development). And that is what the House is about, I think. So there you go, take a second to feel good about yourself if you’re a Hufflepuff.

Anyway.

On Sunday, for Mother’s Day, we ventured a little down the road to a lovely little park that led to the beach. We were greeted with an excellent view of Mt Rainier, it being an exceptionally lovely and clear day. We spent some time beach combing and just generally enjoying ourselves before heading home. Kudos to all the feminine parental figures in my life, and two in particular. Don’t want to be gushy but they’re pretty grand.

The following day, I returned to the secret park I first visited a couple weeks ago and was rewarded for my fidelity by a stunning view of the Olympics range in its entirety.

 

 

So I spent a while reading on the beach, occasionally looking over the top of the pages to marvel at those mountains. As usual, the pictures hardly do anything justice. I am by no means a photographer of anything approaching skill. Rest assured, it was an incredible scene and a day of pretty total contentment.

The remainder of this week hasn’t held much else. My downtime continues unabated and I’m still trying to enjoy it as fully as possible, even with the sort of background dread of joblessness ever near. I was happy to receive a formal rejection email this week. It was a let down because seeing the email I got all excited only for my hopes to be dashed. But happy because most places don’t ever bother with the three seconds it takes to send that message. I could almost certainly count on one hand all the rejections that I’ve gotten in my life, out of all the many many jobs I’ve applied to.

It’s really something that makes me very angry but I don’t think I really want to rail about it at this juncture.

Instead, I’ll just move on to music. This week’s list is pretty eclectic. I mentioned that I put all my selections into a randomizer and then just broke it into groups of ten so the genres and time periods are whatever my randomizer thought sounded good together. Have fun, give one or two new ones a listen.

  1. Just Give Me a Reason – Pink feat. Nate Ruess
  2. Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales – Car Seat Headrest
  3. Ultralife – Oh Wonder
  4. Faithfully – Journey
  5. Heaven – Troye Sivan
  6. The Way Old Friends Do – Abba
  7. Tidal Wave – Hedley
  8. My Friends – Oh Wonder
  9. Honey – Kehlani
  10. Carry You Home – Ward Thomas

 

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)

368

I’m going to write this post as a day-by-day account of my training week, just to give you a taste of what’s been up since I’ve arrived.

I landed at Incheon on Sunday afternoon and, after a bus and taxi, arrived at the hotel around 7:30. I did not sleep at all on the plane because I am foolish. I was able to stay up for a bit, eat a cinnamon roll from SeaTac for dinner, and go to bed at 9:30.

Monday morning I was due to leave on a shuttle at 7:30 for a medical exam. It was incredibly comprehensive in that they tested really everything (and recorded my chest measurement because…?) but was also pretty cursory. From there, it was to the training center, an introduction and overview, then down to business. The format will be mock teaching in the mornings and prep in the afternoons. Back at the hotel, ate an actual dinner, still have homework. Super tired. I thought I was done with homework.

Tuesday. I’m feeling so much better about things than I was last night. This training really is pretty brutal but also they’re trying to make us into teachers in four and a half days. So. Anyway, we’re moving through material and learning stuff. Homework for tonight (and the rest of the week) besides prep is to watch videos of ourselves mocking and write up an evaluation. Joy of joys. Korean experience of the day, I rode the metro and got my metro card. I also saw Gangnam Square (with a statue commemorating the eponymous style) because the hotel we’re staying at is just outside the Gangnam metro stop.

So Wednesday held pretty much more of the same. I’m feeling more and more confident with the material so naturally I’m more and more nervous. How does that work? I had triangular kimbap today for lunch which was good. Have not done homework yet. We’ve spent this whole time preparing one lesson and now we have to do two for tomorrow morning. Cool cool cool. Also, it snowed a teensy bit this morning, but mostly rained. It’s cold, but not as cold.

And here we are on Thursday. I can write this at the end of the day because in seventeen hours ahead of Washington. I’m late enough that it’s your Thursday too, if only barely. So. Training is essentially over. We have an evaluation tomorrow morning then it’s off to the branch itself and, I’m pretty sure, moving into the apartment. This week has been pretty grueling and the with aspect has dragged on and on. But in other ways, this week has absolutely flown by. I hope I am a teacher now, I guess, because there’s nothing else. I’ve gotten my schedule, I’ve gotten my room number. On my next post, I will have had almost a full week of teaching. I just hope I’m ready. And that I survive.

There are 368 days until my contract ends so, barring some dismal failure or unforeseeable event, that is how long I will be in Korea. I say this not as though I’m counting the hours until I’m outta here, but because I know too well how short time truly can be. I still have no idea what I’m doing here (at this company, in this country, with life in general) but I want to count my days carefully. I don’t want to come to the end and find myself to have gained useful work experience but in every other way to have wasted a year. I want more than that out of this time.

If you’ll permit me another Harry Potter reference, I’ll direct you to Dumbledore’s directive to Harry upon giving him the cloak of invisibility. My time here is limited. I want to use it well.

The Wand Chooses the Wizard

Certain someones were not pleased with the cat omission last week, so I thought I’d settle that right off the bat. Bubba, being precious in front of the Christmas tree (and you can even, like, see his face) and then me enjoying some two-cat love.

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I hope 2017 is off to a reasonable start for you. We woke up to a lovely coating of snow and had a white New Year’s Day, I guess, in lieu of a white Christmas.

Over the past several weeks, my family and I have been rewatching the Harry Potter movies (I also plan to reread the books). I just really, really enjoy them. They’re not perfect (especially episode V) but they’re great nonetheless. There’s so much to them that resonates with me and that just generally endear them to me. Also, definitely have a #1 for books and movies–Goblet of Fire. In this particular go around, I’ve been replaying a line from the first movie in my mind, one that’s just cool, that foreshadows so much, and that I’ve decided applies to my life right now by a sort of convoluted rationale. But.

First, let me say that this is in no way intended to be an explanation of fate, my beliefs on predestination, or anything remotely of the sort. Instead, please understand this as a metaphor for things that I don’t really grasp and don’t really feel the need to.

So here’s the thing: I’ve gotten a job. I hesitated to say anything earlier because I felt (still feel) like it can’t be true. Something will go wrong, most likely a mistake on my part. Because after so many applications I struggle to believe that I’m employable. But anyway, I definitely am and I know it. I won’t go into that too much because it just makes me too ugh. What I want to say, though, is that I have applied to approximately eight million jobs, in twenty seven fields, in (literally, actually) five countries. And in those eight million applications, as one might expect, were not only jobs that I don’t think I would like (it’s my first job, that’s fine) but also jobs doing things I really had no intention of doing ever in my life. And so, of course, that’s the job I got.

In the next couple months (hopefully), I will be moving to an as-yet unspecified location in the Republic of Korea to teach English to middle and/or high school aged students. The contract is for one year, possibly renewable. And so.

It feels a bit like impending doom because I have actually no idea what to expect. I know very, very little about the country/language/culture/everything (except for the food which I have sampled many times in my life and heartily approve of with the prominent exception of kimchi). Also, I’m not certain I really want to teach. Or teach English, at least. Or, at least, in South Korea. But I’m staying positive about the whole thing for several reasons:

  1. It will be cool to see a totally different part of the world than I have heretofore seen.
  2. The pay is decent and I really need an actual job.
  3. I like students. Mostly. I think.
  4. Friends, family, and God will not desert me if I’m a miserable failure at it.
  5. No experience is ever wasted.
  6. It is actually pertinent to other things I want to do, definitely a solid résumé builder at the very least.
  7. I’m 22 and it’s only one year.

There you have it. It’s a bit of a shocker to me still, but it is what it is. And don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely excited about it too. There are so many possibilities for this to be a really cool, if unexpected, journey and I look forward to seeing where all this road may go. Certainly, I must always be on my guard against default cynicism and skepticism, but I’ve done a fair bit of traveling in my life thus far and I feel like I’m pretty game for taking risks and trying everything. So I’ll definitely be eating unknown food; been there, done that, still alive. And I do like working with students, and language, so here’s hoping.

Anyway, my point is this: October 2016 and I would not have believed this was where I was going. And here I am. Going into unknown territory in more than one sense. And as much as I like to know things ahead of time and as much as I consider myself a homebody, when it comes down to it, I will always choose the horizon over the harbor.

The wand chooses the wizard. It’s not always clear why.

With that, I leave you until next week.

Wenceslas, Cold Feet, and Finding Blessing

As a quick follow-up to last week’s post, I just wanted you to know that it snowed again last Thursday night and with much more gusto. It was still not much for someone from, like, Chicago but I was plenty pleased! And it lasted much longer even though it started raining immediately after. Anyway, I like snow. On to new things for this week.

First, this cat picture because a cat laying on a cat is about as cat as you can get, I think.

Also, some of you may wish to listen to this song on repeat while reading the remainder of the post in order to achieve maximum enjoyment. Or at least, maximum Keegan empathy.

Some among you may know from experience that I have had Good King Wenceslas stuck in my head for, not an exaggeration, like eight years. Not just at Christmas–all the time. I get other songs stuck in my head and I’m not always singing it, but if I’m not thinking of anything in particular for a while, chances are it will start playing in the background of my mind and I will likely start humming it. Again I reassure you, this is not an exaggeration. People around me can confirm that I am always singing this song and have been for years.

Making matters worse (or maybe better, who knows) is that I only know really the first verse, and even struggle to remember all of that. I’ve looked all the lyrics  up many times, they just never seem to stick. But last year we sang it caroling with Choral Society and, at least to some extent, I learned more words. And, for the first time in quite a while, I could read the whole story of the carol right there and finally get what it was about. It’s sort of a strange song, as carols about medieval Czech saints are wont to be, but it’s nice, it’s catchy, and I do think there’s a point to it all.

Without going into the actual story of the saint Wenceslas, I’ll just give you a rundown of the tale told by the tune (because I’m not going to reproduce all the verses here, though I encourage you to look them up if you wish). So the king and a servant are hanging out, whatever, on the feast of St. Stephan. It’s cold and snowy outside and the king is shocked to spy a peasant going about his business in possibly a blizzard. Wenceslas calls to his servant who tells him that the peasant lives like three miles away up in the mountains. The king gets the servant to find some food and wine and they set out into the storm to feed the poor peasant and get him warmed up. The servant, though, is having a tough time because, you know, blizzard, and he’s like, “Sire, it’s dark and freezing and I’m gonna say we stop.” Then the king is like, “Nah, just step in my footprints and you’ll be right warm.” And that’s basically it, surprise, I guess Wenceslas is a saint because his footsteps were warm in the middle of a blizzard.

So. Reasons to write a blog post about it, other than to share my involuntary mania with you. Let me give you the last little bit and then I’ll explain. The song ends by saying,

Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye, who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing.

And now the title all comes together, yeah? That was the idea. Anyway.

So there’s this whole thing commonly (in my circles, at least) called the prosperity gospel which is basically the idea that being a good Christian automatically results in being healthy, wealthy, and wise. Needless to say, I do not believe this to be the case. Possibly it is what the lyricist of Good King Wenceslas had in mind. But perhaps not.

See here’s the thing, you may have heard it before. Doing good is good for you. Blessing the poor may not make you wealthy, but it can make you rich– in love, mercy, compassion… the milk of human kindness. Additionally, the poor can be defined in many ways. Certainly we should give to the physically poor, whether it be with food, housing, clothes, medical care, friendship, legal representation, common courtesy. But in the same way as there are many ways to give, there are many to give to: the poor in spirit, the poor in health, the poor in relationship, the poor in hope.

I’m rewatching all the Harry Potter movies (and will reread the books too) so you’ll forgive a little HP analogy. At the end of the first installment, you may recall, the Mirror of Erised grants the Sorcerer’s Stone (or Philosopher’s, if you prefer) to one who seeks it but does not wish to use it. When we give without expectation of receiving anything in return, we not only bless others, we ourselves find blessing.

The carol is not about the cold peasant, in fact. You’ll note that the song concludes without the king and page having actually reached the poor man. Instead, the song is about the journey (woo, we’re all about journeys here 😉 ). The story told by the carol is not one of doing good works, it’s about trying to do good works and getting cold feet. I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again: doing good is hard. Often, it involves a great deal of discouragement, disappointment, and darkness. But, strangely enough, when we seek out opportunities to do good, even if they are confounded again and again, there is blessing in the warm footprints of those who have gone before.

If nothing else, Jesus. Because when all else fails (and all else will fail) he’ll keep your feet warm. He is the God With Us and that’s a big part of what he came for.