Observation 1: Truth is uniquely bound to a soul's witness and interpretation.
Observation 2: In all things, and within all people is a lesson waiting to be discovered.
Observation 3: Perspectives of our God
Observation 4: A lesson can be found when you balance the equation of good and bad
Observation 5: In the grand scheme, we are but a blink. Hopefully in the instant of our existence we have had the chance to positively impact our small corner. The reward is being reunited with those we love in another blink
Observation 6: In all things human, there must be a reminder to fully comprehend and appreciate what has been achieved
My childhood was full of love, support and wonder. Mr. Rogers told me daily that I was special just for being me. I'm sure that to most people I appeared to be a normal kid living with a normal family. While perhaps not terribly exciting to an outsider, Cedar Rapids of the 1980s was a fairly safe place to live and grow. It was a place that extended children a special kind of freedom to explore and discover new adventures. My daily playtime consisted of hikes, playing in the creek, building skateboard ramps, riding BMX to our favorite local spots for supplies (candy, pop, batteries for RC cars, or the occasional Hardees kid's meal), or playing with Tonka in the snow or large dirt mounds. It all depended on the time of year, and whether locusts chirped at night, or whether I was praying for a snow day. At the end of it all, I was called home by my mom's iconic whistle, or by the glow of twilight shaking hands with the street lights. My neighborhood was full of really great families that felt like an extension of my own.
I was lucky enough to have my own family intact. Divorce didn't seem to be as rampant as today - but perhaps I'm seeing the past through a lens of nostalgia. I was close to my parents, grandparents and aunt. They all played a tremendous part in my development as a human being, and I love them all very much. While all very different, and I could probably write a book about each, I could sum it up by saying my early life was surrounded by educators, veterans, a secretary/treasurer and office manager of a pencil company, and by tradesmen, craftsman and builders.
My youngest memories are not seeing star wars for the first time with my parents, throwing my fisher price parachute man off the back deck, scooting down the stairs to get to my Saturday morning cartoons, or cringing and joking with my grandpa about his singing on the way to swimming lessons. On the contrary, my earliest of memories might raise an eyebrow or two, and may even cause some to challenge my earlier statement of being a normal kid. All that said, the fact remains that my earliest memory is from before I was born.
I remember being in nothingness - I don't know what else to call it or how to describe it. In this place, darkness seemed to meet light. I had the impression that I was in a room - although the mist makes it hard to promise that I saw walls or a floor. Light was around me - but I was blanketed by darkness. I was alone, and yet I was able to have a conversation with another.
From what I understood, this was a time for me to make choices. Through the mist, I was shown lives that I could enter into. The options were relayed in a fashion that reminds me of an old time movie. The fidelity was nothing like today's HD movies - perhaps a bit more like watching an old home movie from the 50s on a makeshift screen. I do not remember the details of any of the options I was presented, but I do remember getting a sort of briefing of what type of lessons I could learn from each one.
I also remember reviewing both the good things and the bad things I had been through as a part of past lives. Their relevance was in how they would couple to my upcoming experience, and further compound who I was. This part is fuzzy, but I do remember a little about the experience. In one life, I was a girl living in some sort of castle. I remember a red dress, and watching as I combed my hair in a mirror. Existence was hard - I'm not sure why, and I think I might have taken my own life. In another, I remember living in an apartment with my wife. The rooms I remember were lofted, white and there were a lot of plants. My impression is that one of us was some sort of artist. I wish I could offer more than that, but it is what it is.
After the reviews, I was given the opportunity to visit one of my choice lives prior to my birth so that I could get a feel for the life I would be entering. I went to what would become my childhood church, and watched my parents get married. For some reason, I had to be very careful not to be detected, and remember hiding from others. I must have liked what I saw because my next memory is of coming home with my parents. I remember seeing their loving faces look down at me in the crib. Embarrassingly, I remember having my diaper changed - after which I remember nothing specific for a couple of years.
This probably seems like a very odd way to start a book. My wife has already seen my starting words, and asked me who I'm trying to reach. I had nothing to offer other than a smile. It seems a bit cliché to say I am doing anything to explore the meaning of life - but maybe that's MY midlife crisis; after all the timing is about right. Recently my eyes were opened, and I want to share that with as many people as I can. I cannot offer you facts or promise you that my memories and thoughts are accurate. That said, I think they do offer a great number of things to ponder, and I have faith in them.
The truth is, I've wanted to write a book for a long time but I always seemed to lack the inspiration and/or discipline. Recent events have contributed to me wanting to write even more. Perhaps it is where I am in life, and hoping to switch my focus. Whatever the case, I prayed for inspiration and was answered by a handful of statements or thoughts that will makeup the chapters of this book. They seem to fit together like puzzle pieces.
In my adult life, I have questioned the importance of Church - not of God, but of the organizations that are meant to respect and worship him. I have not regularly attended service or Sunday school since about the age of 12. My own experience with organized religion has led me to believe that too often our own human pettiness often gets in the way of the experience and intent of church. From my own experience, a college Christian group almost destroyed me with guilt in order to control me, and I witnessed a kind and giving minister get ousted from his church for having the nerve to get divorced. … But I was recently reminded that I shouldn't let a few of these types of experiences define me or my relationship with God. A final aside to set the stage if the reader will humor me…
I belong to a non-profit organization that works towards helping people improve themselves, and does a tremendous amount of philanthropy work. One of our fundraisers is the classic pancake breakfast - which we normally hold at the local VFW. Last year, we found out that the VFW building was sold to another group. We wondered if we would still be able to use the facility for our fundraisers. With some investigation, we found that the building was bought by a Christian organization that was planning to build a gathering place called, "the Bridge". I must admit, my history with church made me think that our fundraising days were over - or at least we'd need to look for another venue. I didn't really want to butt heads with people that would try and convince me that I need to repent or accept Jesus Christ as my lord and savior even though I was already a Christian. I certainly didn't want to hear why the church I grew up with was evil because they allow gay people into the church - which unbelievably happened at a different time, place and venue when discussing churches. My sense of duty to those who we help caused me to push on, and meet the members of this organization.
My reservations couldn't have been more unfounded. The founders of the Bridge are some of the kindest and accepting people I have met to date. Their vision was to create a non-denominational gathering place to celebrate God and Jesus. There was kindness, live music, tables and coffee. It was like a coffee house in honor of the Lord. I was instantly in love with the concept. Needless to say, there wasn't a problem with ongoing pancake breakfasts, and there was no judgement in us asking.
One of the things that the Bridge likes to do is break into groups, and explore topics in small groups. That night, the topic was, "Why are we here." In my typical nature (perhaps because I'm a bit shy toward new people), I listened to everyone before I spoke. I heard a lot of great feedback about service to God, and service to others. I was shocked that I didn't hear anything in alignment with my own thoughts - which went something like this:
We are brought into this world with free will and a physical being. We are surrounded by a tremendous amount of resources, and only a little time to get things accomplished in our lifetime. Perceptions of joy and woe surround us throughout the time we are here. We can only control how we respond to those events. Everything we do, build, and gather are left behind when we are done…
Doesn't it make sense that the whole reason for our existence is to learn and grow as beings?
People seemed to think this was a pretty good idea. Fast forwarding to today, I think this is a great frame for this book. I would ask us to think about this: though many may have tried, we can not take anything with us into death except memories, lessons and perhaps love. These are the gifts and lessons taught to us by our important journey through life.
--- Chapter 1: Observation 1: Truth is uniquely bound to a soul's witness and interpretation.
"Truth is uniquely bound to a soul's witness and interpretation", is one of the first phrases that came to me. When I started getting inspired by things to write about, I began to write them on my Facebook wall (so that I wouldn’t forget them). This one surprised me with the controversy it stirred. Something so innocent, and a topic written about for so long really brought out high emotion on social media. My first exposure to the concept was probably when I started studying philosophy in high school. At that time, I found the topics interesting but probably rolled my eyes a bit at the subject matter. At 16, I didn't have enough context in life to be able to apply the meaning in anything other than the literal, and I will admit that I didn't fully grasp the genius behind the [philosophical] text.
In the "Allegory of the Cave", Plato and Socrates describe a group of prisoners chained to a wall with their backs to a fire. Their whole sense of reality is based on shadows casted on a cave wall, and they are doomed to know nothing other than what their senses allow them to understand. They asserted freedom comes from understanding in that which we look at is not truth, but shadows. As humans, we are confined to this limitation and if we somehow broke the chains and saw the truth, it would likely overwhelm us. I'm not sure we'd know how to process it. In the words of A Few Good Men, "You want the truth?! You can't handle the truth!"
This is an interesting thought. As children, I'm not sure we know enough to question the shadows that we are given. As we progress in life, I believe we have more experience that causes us to question what we are seeing, and ponder a greater meaning in the experiences we go through. Don't misunderstand me however: while most children may not have the context to question a greater meaning, I think their innocence and openness causes them to see things that adults dismiss regularly. Their interpretation may not be evolved, but they seem to witness more than adults.
In the story of Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, we are told of a protagonist that loses touch with "reality" and fancies himself a knight. Famous for the phrase, "tilting at windmills," there are many that think this is a humorous tale of a man that has lost touch with reality. Others believe it is a story of never losing sight of your dreams, and of making the world into what you want. Perhaps it is both - but whatever the case, your interpretation of the author's intent is what makes the book special to you.
We are born into an unkind world and God was merciful enough to give us family as guides. Along the way, we learn and take notes of the things that positively impact us, and what hurts. We learn to go toward the things we like, and avoid the things that cause pain. … At least, that's how it all begins. Later in life, we learn to have discipline and chase after a greater good while enduring things that do not bring us much enjoyment. Some say that this is what causes many of us to die inside - a pursuit of money and perceived safety in the name of something bigger that we are chasing. Perhaps it is family or future plans of travel, big houses, fancy cars; all of which may never come or can be taken away.
My grandfather gave me a quote when I was a child. I'm not sure if it was something of his creation, or something he borrowed. It goes like this, "Reach for the stars, my grandson. The world is a place of vanity and fleeting desire. You can lose everything you own in the blink of an eye. But there's one thing they'll never take away from you, and that's your brain. Make your life a great intellectual challenge, and let your riches be those of the heart and mind." It's funny - I was never inspired to write about politics; though that's how many took the name of this chapter. Perhaps that is a statement about how we are chasing the wrong things in life.
For some reason, stories of false news and hate are all the rage - and everyone seems to be happy explaining how wrong everyone else is. In a world like that, how much can we really know? … Worse, and perhaps more horrifying: society has become complacent - perhaps oblivious about fighting for equal voice and why it is important. I wonder how many big thinkers are silent for fear of how they will be judged, or the consequences of their thoughts. It is a shame that we are losing that opportunity for another perspective. We are cheating ourselves of important lessons. Have we become so jaded that we do not believe that the intent of our fellow human-beings is one of goodness? Do we really value stories of horror and violence over stories of love and acceptance?
I am a scientist, and subscribe to many established "facts." That said, it was once a fact that the Earth was flat, and the center of the solar system. Things we one "knew" are now seen as superstition today. I find it amazing that I cannot really know/see what others are experiencing. It seems to me that everything I know is told in the first person. Yet people are all to quick to criticize the thought that this journey is unique to the individual. Truth and reality is their understanding, and nobody else's. There are still people that would assert that there is no room for alternative interpretations. Evolution is real, and there is no room for intelligent design. The loudest of scientists say this is the truth, so it must be so - but is it?
I would assert that we have to use our best judgement based on our own experiences. If you believe in evolution, I won't convince you of intelligent design. If you believe in intelligent design, you won't believe in evolution. Perhaps you are like me, and believe in both. While it is true that I've never exited our atmosphere on a rocket, or seen the curvature of the earth first-hand, I do believe it to be true that the earth is round. Even more specifically, I believe it is more like a sphere than flat. There are works of other scientists or logic that I can borrow from that help me build this belief. It might be an ancient Egyptian way of calculating the circumference of the earth based on geometry, shadows and a known distance between towns, or because I have circled the earth on an airplane. These seem like simple reasons to believe that the earth is round. As Occam's razor states, the simplest answer is probably the correct one. There was a time when scientists would've said this is ridiculous, but it was based on a different set of understandings and information.
I once saw a wonderful TED talk where a scientist was asking why water in a beaker (over a burner) was boiling. He explained the scientific reasoning, and got into what was happening with the liquid in the beaker when heat was applied, and why boiling water was the effect. Then he told the sciences that the water wasn't boiling for these reasons, but it was because he wanted to make tea. I thought that was a brilliant illustration of Cause-and-effect. I ask that you to be open minded as you go through the pages of this book. They are my experiences - you get to decide what you can relate to or learn from based on your experiences.
I saw a post the other day that asked something along the lines of, "Remember a time when you could say Nazis are bad, and the Earth is round and nobody would think you are crazy?" My honest answer is, "No." I remember Geraldo getting his nose broken on national TV by racist skinheads - the media covered it, and allowed them on the show. Sure - most of us has a few colorful words to describe these people, and I think that was sort of the point. I remember listening to late night radio talk programs where people would call in and make all kinds of crazy claims. In all of this, it was up to the listener to decide if the caller was nuts. Both were free to say what they wanted to say, and we as a people could decide if they were worth listening to or not. There was good debate - perhaps with a dash of sensationalism that was pretty well understood.
I don't think that part has changed. The real difference is that now everyone has a loud speaker to a global audience through social media. People have a tendency to speak with tremendous conviction, and jump to judging others when they don't agree. Perhaps the real truth is in the old days, we didn't have a great insight into the thoughts and feelings of others. We assumed everyone agreed with us - except "fringe groups", or perhaps those evil people on the other side of the aisle. We are now learning and witnessing first hand the true great diversity of the human mind, and diversity in its thought processes. While perhaps jarring, it can lead to wonderful things if we remember to love each other, and that the definition of patience is in understanding that people don't know what they don't know.
I am a humble servant of our creator, and my fellow human-beings. I am not perfect, and freely admit that I make mistakes. Most people in this world do not know me, do not know the path I've travelled, do not know the experiences I've been through, or the causes I've fought for and why. I'm asking you to try and get beyond any bias you may have based on your limited understanding of me. Try to believe in me, my intent, and the love I have my fellow human beings. Read what I have put to paper, and try to put yourself in my shoes. Ask yourself why I am sharing this - and focus on what you think my intent is. My hope is that those of you that stick around will see a bigger picture through my eyes; A beautiful picture - painted with contrasting hues because after-all, that's what makes the picture pop.
Lets start with this: the friends that know me best know that I try to use social media as a medium to spread faith, hope and love. They know I am here to listen. For you to understand my perspectives, you need to understand a bit about me. I don't ask that you believe me, I only ask you to respect me. To do that, you need to know a little more about me and how I became me.
My grandpa is a hero of mine and there are a number of reasons for this. Ronald B. Moore touched a lot of lives while he was here, but I'm not sure the readers of this book will know who he was. Those that did know him probably remember one of his signature pens that he was so proud of, or his passion and love for the game of golf. He is one of the few people I know that would look into your eyes, and you could see the genuine love and gratitude for his time on this planet. My grandma was the same way. I loved to ride my bike over to see grandma and grandpa at their house only blocks away from my own. Their address still holds a special place in my heart: 3206 Bever Ave SE.
Ron was the kind of guy that was no stranger to hardship. While I think his life was largely happy, I remember the stories that he told me while we played Uno together at the kitchen table. When he and my grandma were first married, he made a whopping 50 cents a week driving truck for 7up. I remember he and grandma laughing when he told me that he hated Spanish rice, and grandma used to make it because it was cheap -- until the day that grandpa fessed up and gently explained, "we don't need to make that anymore."
I'm not sure why things turned out the way they did - he started dentistry school but for some reason things didn't take him in that direction. Perhaps it was the depression - or perhaps it was the war; whatever the case, that wasn't the plan. He never expanded on it. Grandpa was happy - if nothing else because he was married to the love of his life: my grandma Clara Pietzsch. Everyone knew her as charismatic, kind and proper. She was a real "Peach", and that nickname stuck with her the rest of her life.
Luck changed for Ron and Peach as a friend took a chance on my grandpa, and made him an office manager and treasurer of a pencil company. Financially things became better, and eventually the couple adopted my mother and gave her a good home. I have heard many stories about how they impacted so many others throughout their lives - taking people under their wing, and making them a part of their extended family. While I knew them as proper and polished, their humble background and beginnings never left their sight.
My grandparents' love for me was unquestionable. Early on, my grandma was the one that spent most of her time with me, and I have more early memories with her. At this time, my grandpa was still working. Grandma was an elementary school teacher, but by the time I was in her life, she moved on to be a home maker, and community volunteer. I remember her encouraging me to learn and conduct experiments in her kitchen. She taught me how to cook. She spoiled me with toys, M&Ms, Kit Kats and Strawberry Quick. She tutored me in math and English, and supported my artistic interests. Although working, grandpa was around. He gave me my first pocket knife, encouraged me to explore the woods, took me to my swimming lessons and let me drive his golf cart. We enjoyed joking about his bad singing. … The irony is that I would give anything to hear it again now that he's gone. I loved them both so very much.
When I was about 11 years old, my dad used to play slow pitch softball for the Cedar Rapids city leagues. On one of those nights, I had been watching my dad, and reading my comic book (probably Groo or Spider Ham). I started to get bored, and decided to venture down to the playground so I could play with some other kids. I ran into a group of kids that wanted to play down by the creek and I was on-board with this plan. As luck would have it, I was wearing my brand new (white) Reebok tennis shoes. Needless to say, as it would be with any respectable 11 year old boy, my shoes were covered in mud by the time I was done. When dad wrapped up with softball, I was in trouble. Being that the hour was getting late, I clapped the shoes together (breaking off dried pieces of mud) and went to bed.
The next day, I went to visit my grandma and grandpa. My mom and dad told me that I was stuck wearing my dirty shoes – maybe because they knew what would happen next. My grandpa came out on the porch, gave me a hug, and immediately saw my shoes. He frowned, went inside and came out with a contract. The contracted bound me to always keep my shoes cleaned and polished. He made me sign and date it - though at the time, I must admit, I didn't understand the significance. I get it now: take care of the things we have, and remember the impact of first impressions. Shoes are a good metaphor for how we approach the world, and we should do our best to keep ourselves unspotted before it.
My grandma Moore was a schoolteacher in her earlier years, and I remember that coming through quite vividly as a child. When I had problems in middle school math, it was my grandma that tutored me. She encouraged every single creative outlet that I had – and took a keen interest in what I was doing to learn how to be an artist. It was my grandma that was insistent that I get music lessons, and that I was introduced to the symphony and community theater. I remember really disliking these activities as a child, but as an adult I realize how much of a treasure these experiences were, and how much they contributed to who I have become as an adult; namely someone that has a tremendous amount of interests and pursuits.
I will never forget the infectious laugh that my grandma had. Although there was a side to her that was very stern and serious (like a school teacher), when you heard Peach Moore laugh, you couldn't help but join in. The same was actually true for my grandpa. I think this is why so many people adored them.
Each year the extended Phelps family would meet in the Amana colonies to celebrate Christmas. My great Uncle Morris made toys for the kids, and gave them out at the gathering. He was a talented wood worker, and we were always so excited to see what the toys would be. I remember touring the taxidermy exhibits in the upstairs of the Ox Yolk Inn with my great uncle Mart and great aunt Vivian, and I remember the stuffed bear in the basement - it was right by the stairs, and outside of the bar.
Like my great uncle Morris, my grandpa Phelps loved to make toys for me. I think it was his way of giving me a piece of himself. I'm glad he valued this because I didn't get to know him for long - he passed away when I was five. That said, I am blessed to remember him. I remember going fishing with him, Mart and my dad. I remember going to the park, and sharing butter finger candy bars - something I'm not sure my grandma knew about. I also remember him putting together a toybox, and a fighter plane. I still have both, and I treasure them.
We are innocent and foolish as children. I'm saddened by of one of my last interactions with my grandpa Phelps. I remember him being very ill with cancer. We had gone to get Wendy's, which was something that my grandpa Phelps really loved. My aunt Pam was feeding grandpa his frosty, and a bit drizzle down his chin. I laughed. I guess I didn't really know any better, but I'll never forget the look in his eyes as he looked up. I'm certain he didn't judge me, and I hope he knows how very much I love him, have called on him, and I wish I had more time with him.
I have many fond memories of my aunt Pam. She was several years younger than my dad, and a lot of fun to hang out with. We often played with Spirograph, or other board games kept in my grandparents' basement. On Saturday mornings, I watched Saturday morning cartoons with her (sometimes with one of her high school friends that had stayed the night). She introduced me to both Greece, and the band Queen. I remember playing dress-up and make-up, and my parents were always "thrilled" to see me made up like a clown, or a very young and unskilled drag queen. It was Pam that took me to see Flash Gordon in the theaters. She was a key player in teaching me to be me, and to be proud of it.
My grandma Phelps had to live a significant portion of her later years alone. She lost my grandfather in 1980, and lived about 35 years longer. Every time I went to visit her, she was sure to have bottles of 7-Up waiting for me. I remember her going to the freezer to pull out frozen strawberries – something she knew I loved. I remember the bottle opener that I used to open the 7-Up, and I remember her making popcorn the old fashion way on the stove top. She wasn't much for buying new toys in the store – although as a bratty young kid I used to beg and plead. There were a few occasions that she caved, and I remember those toys well; but the thing I really remember was her playing Army with me once when I came to visit. There weren't a lot of children in her neighborhood, so she came out to play with me.
What can I say about my parents? Both of them were wonderful, and no nonsense. In my adult life, I have tried to emulate them - showing my kids the same sense of structure and love. My dad was a little bad ass, or at least that's how I saw it. I remember him coming to school and bringing me things that I had forgotten in his leather jacket and aviator sunglasses. He worked overnights because that was the best way to make ends meet, and make schedules work out. In those days, my mom did a lot of different things - babysitting, working in the mall, banking and eventually she made it back into teaching special education. I know mom and dad gave up a lot in those years to make sure that our family would be successful, and make sure I had everything I needed.
I will always remember dad calling my "boy-son" or "sonny boy", and including me in his building projects while listening to "his" music. I remember staying up late to listen to a syndicated oldies program, along with it's call-in jingle: 1-800-6345789. I will always remember my mom giving me comfort - and the hugs I got when she picked me up after being away. She hugged me and comforted me so often, I can remember the smell of her coat from having my face pressed into it.
It's hard, but I should also mention my sister for a minute. I don't remember much about Cara - except I had to visit my Grandma and Grandpa a lot during the time she was here. She was born with a heart defect, and did not live. I know it was hard on my parents - they don't talk about her much (even today). As a parent myself, I cannot imagine the pain. What I do know is that I visited her a few times at the University of Iowa hospitals, and I would try to sing "the little green frog" song to her through the glass. She had a bluebird crib toy that sang, "bring in the clowns." Mom showed it to me when I was a bit older, and I still can't hear that song without getting choked up. She passed away while my grandparents were traveling in Germany. Nobody wanted to tell them, and spoil the trip -- but my grandmother sobbed uncontrollably while overseas, and didn't know why. That just goes to show the strong bonds that we all have to each other -- especially when it is family. Cara, I call on you as well - and when I do hear "bring in the clowns" now, I sometimes think you are watching over me.
My parents were also goofballs, and their friends were like extended family to me. Names like the Dotas, Quasses, Braksieks, Gundersons, and Logans stick out. They knew my parents for who they really were, and I have many fond memories with them. My parents must have appreciated them too - because when I was a brat, they made me go to their houses the next day, and personally apologize. This was also true for anyone in the neighborhood that I had wronged or treated poorly.
In 1989, my dad started building an addition onto our house the nearly double its size. Mom and dad had me move into this new addition because they thought it would give me my own space, and make me happy. They were always selfless with me. One year they bought me a water bed even though it was their bed that needed to be replaced. They were strict, but did a great number of things to make sure I was happy - even if it meant sacrificing their. Everyone said my Grandma and Grandpa Moore spoiled me (which they did), but I don't know if everyone knows how much my parents did for me too. There were times I didn't appreciate it, and I really regret that now. I can only hope that I do better as an adult, and show the same level of patience with my children that they showed me.
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