I have this friend named Dan. He's a pretty cool guy, as people go. I've never met anyone like him, but that's not saying much, since I have never met anyone who is like anyone else. Anyway, I like him because he occasionally says things that blow my mind. Often, this is quite accidental on his part, and usually the accidental ones are more fun, but sometimes they're intentional, like the other day when he sent me this text: "Think about this when you get a chance: the farther away you move from a 'normal' life the more challenging it is to connect with 'normal' people."

Okay, I'm thinking.

(I love it when people do this. I wish I had someone who could be my Challenging Thought of the Day Person. Send me a text like that at 6AM everyday and watch my brain supernova...)

What I'm asking is: what is normal? Let's define some terms. First, kick out the connotations of "average" and "ordinary," because those are not the point. The point is perspective. Consider the difference between a giant and a dwarf. They see the same things, but from totally different altitudes, and that makes a huge difference in what they perceive as problems and how they go about finding solutions. For the dwarf, reaching things stored overhead is a problem that requires more steps than it does for the giant who does not need an intermediary assistance. Likewise, for the giant, a game of Limbo involves a challenge of flexibility that a dwarf (and most likely everybody else) would laugh to see.

The difference between normal and abnormal comes down to a difference of perspectives. The former is trapped in the mundane, like those people whose lives are spent waiting: for lunch break, for the work day to end, for the weekend, for summer vacation, lather, rinse, repeat. They spend years in the hamster wheel of anticipation until one day they fall off and wake up to find that they've anticipated away hours of valuable heartbeat. "She hates time, / Make it stop; / When did Motley Crue become classic rock?" The minutes tick away silently, and we miss them unless we make a point of holding our eyes open.

The abnormal perspective, which is probably better termed "extraordinary," is that which dwells in two time streams simultaneously. While it is also aware of the present, it is not a passive participant being carried by an inexorable current. Oh, the current still will not be stopped, it is true. But the extraordinary perspective is also cognizant at a higher level of the impact of the past and a vision for the future, both of which can be brought to bear upon the present moments, shaping and directing them as a potter molds the clay on the wheel.

The distinction between the two perspectives is fluid enough that the same person may readily drift between them at different points in his life based on a variety of circumstances. In part, this fluctuation occurs because an extraordinary perspective requires energy to maintain, and often we find it easier to get lost in an opium dream than to face reality head-on and exercise practicality and patience over time.

And the thing is, Dan was right. When you dare to be different, it can be very, very isolating. I once wrote about what it would be like if we didn't know that spring follows winter and that all the plants that seemed dead come back to life. In that world, the high priest would be the farmer, for who has more faith than the man who casts some of his precious store of food into the ground, buries his treasure where no one can see, and then prophesies the miracle of future abundance? Like Noah waiting for rain, he would be shunned as a dreamer at best or an idiot at worst, because tomorrow's bread cannot feed today's hunger. There is a degree of discipline and sacrifice that are necessary, and without the immediate prospect of reward, we do not always have the gumption to deny fleeting pleasure. For those who do have that gumption, the common grounds for conversation begin to dwindle, and eventually, you figure out who your real friends are or maybe you get new ones, because neither perspective finds it easy to understand the other.

It is never easy to be different. But then, easy was never as much fun anyway.

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win... Therefore, I run in such a way as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.  {1 Corinthians 9:24, 26-27}


The Seeds That Fell

It's an adrenaline kick, right there are the edge of everything. Your vision narrows. Your heart races. And somehow your feet follow, one after the other, right up to the precipice and into space. You can't stop to think, because if you do - if you pause for even a moment to consider what you're doing - the journey of a few steps can take a lifetime. Die to yourself for a moment, and gain new life at the bottom.

That was something we learned early on in my high school literature classes. Water always means life. And when you're jumping off of a cliff at a waterfall in Brazil, suddenly all of those lectures make sense. It felt like flying and falling and a heart attack and there was pain when I landed wrong, because even good things can hurt. Then, after all of that, after getting sucked by my momentum deep deep underwater, after swimming for the surface but not quite knowing where it was, I emerged weak and gasping for air. And oh, I felt so good.

Life is scary shit. Sometimes it's really, really hard. Sometimes it looks like a cliff that you're walking over, and you're not sure what's at the bottom. But no seed that ever sprouted into a tree could do it without first letting go and falling. The gravity that holds us down helps us up.


First Things

Eyes open to the light on things:
dim morning, raindamp air and open window,
only evidence: a pillow wet with dew.
Like a face that said good-bye too many times,
the tears wore a riverbed in your velvet cheeks
and evaporated.
But not forgotten,
the sweet scent remains,
of memory and of the dream:
a promise unfulfilled,
a promise that-will-be-kept.


Guts and Glory

I don't like politics. That's not much of a starting point, I guess, since lots of people don't, and it's a guaranteed conversational stink bomb, but there's a reason why I rarely choose to comment on current events. It is like a game that brings out the very best and the absolute worst in people, so maybe it should come as no surprise that it turns into such a vicious free-for-all. All of that desire to do good mixed up with a powerful drive to be the one to do it. Like a lighter to thermite, this baby's gonna blow.

The major problem -one of the major problems, for there are several- one of the many major problems with governing people is that of whom you get to do it; or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them.

To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it. To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job. To summarize the summary of the summary: people are a problem.
(from The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams)

I was reminded of this quote as I was reading God's Long Summer by Charles Marsh. His topic of discussion is quite interesting (to me anyway): the "use" of God by the civil rights and anti-civil rights movements during the early 1960s. While I'm a mere 37 pages in, it has already been an enlightening journey, and I'm only on Marsh's first biographical sketch depicting the life and activities of a Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer. During the summer of 1964, she traveled with the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party to Atlantic City where she and her companions hoped to win a voice for the severely underrepresented African-Americans of the Mississippi delta at that year's Democratic convention.

And as they fought an uphill battle, what was the incumbent Lyndon Johnson's response? "He was irate that Joseph Rauh, a long-time activist in the Democratic party, had agreed to represent the MFDP as its lawyer. He was angry that the Freedom Democrats had even come to town. When Johnson saw Mrs. Hamer on a news broadcast leading a group of people in the chant 'eleven and eight, eleven and eight,' he called Senator Hubert Humphrey ... and barked, 'You tell that bastard goddamn lawyer friend of yours that there ain't gonna be all that eleven and eight shit at the convention.' ...He worried that excessive patronizing of the MFDP would cost him the entire southern vote." (Marsh)

Granted, I don't know much about that particular election. I don't know much about the politics of Johnson's opponent, Goldwater, although a quick Wiki glance tells me that he voted against the Civil Rights Act. But when I read of such tensions as that or hear about this or that president who was unwilling to stir the waters because, wait for it, he was hoping for re-election... I'm not very convinced that he should be re-elected.

Oh, perhaps he could do so much good in other areas if he were re-elected. But? If he's not willing to take a possibly controversial stance on something that matters, all because he doesn't want to sacrifice a successful bid for power, what sort of willpower will he bring to office? Will he ever accomplish anything worthwhile or will he merely seek to pander to the people?

And that's all I have to say about politics, because any moment now I expect Nathan to text me and tell me that I'm an ignorant child who knows nothing about real life. :)