March 2012

Beyond the door

by Steve Brock on March 28, 2012

Lock on doorI was just thinking about Keri’s post over on Pop Parables regarding the concept of “slacktivism” in light of the Kony 2012 social media frenzy. Keri explored our tendency to want to make a difference without actually doing anything that does.

It reminded me that many of us do the same thing with travel. Aspirationally, we want to get on a plane and solve the world’s problems directly. But then, little details like finances, work/school commitments or family arise and we settle for signing petitions and wearing bracelets. We write checks and tell our friends about the causes we care about and we figure that’s about all we can realistically do.

But is it?

Most of the time, we don’t engage in helping others because we tell ourselves we don’t have time (c’mon, be honest, you know you’ve used that line as much as I have) or we don’t know how. But opportunities to serve in meaningful ways lie all around us.

If we’ll see them.

Last month, for example, I spent a Saturday with a group of youth from our church distributing food to low-income households in our community. As we went door to door at an apartment building with our bags of food, we would knock. Some doors remained closed, the residents either absent or unresponsive.

Yet for those who did open their doors, they revealed the interiors, places of daily life. Lives very different…yet surprisingly very much like my own.

I didn’t have to travel overseas to understand some of our deep similarities such as the desire to create a living space that is both functional and special, reflecting the unique personalities of the residents. But I did have to be there.

I had to show up, engaging people not in a public setting but in their very homes to comprehend our similarities on a level that cuts through my presuppositions and stereotypes. I had to cross borders I rarely think I’ve erected to realize how stupid yet formidable such borders are.

I’ve driven by these same apartments hundreds of times without knowing (or if I’m honest, even wanting to know) the lives lived there. But that is all different now, or so I hope, because having taking even this one first step to reach out to people I don’t know, I realize that I will be back. I will make the trip that in miles is minimal but in impact, well, who can say?

These doorways are not my destination. They are only a start, a small step in the journey toward deeper relationships. If I don’t follow up, I’m doing no more – perhaps even less – than those who merely text in their support for Kony 2012.

The most obvious realization – that has, to this point been not obvious at all – is this: these people and I all live in the same town. They are, in every sense, my neighbors.

And even though I recognize that I don’t really know the people there that much better than I did before, there is one tremendous difference.

I now know that I can.

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 How about you? Crossed any borders lately in your own home town? Found any ways to make a difference locally?

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Coming home to spring

by Steve Brock on March 22, 2012

This last week, I had two back-to-back trips. Different clients, different parts of the country, each flight leaving so early in the morning that a chart of my circadian rhythms would have resembled a seismometer readout during The Big One.

But now I am home. Thus, I should be happy. And somewhere, deep inside of me, I’m sure that I am. But I’m troubled by one small detail.

In the few days since I left home, the world has changed.

In the short while since I left, spring has arrived or is at least inching its way into our garden. I pull into my driveway and see the first hint of plum blossoms. The forsythia ekes out its speckling of yellow. A few camellia blooms (see photo) make a brave show of it. Even the moss in our grass that I’ve pondered now for several weeks seems bittersweet, glowing brightly even as it seems to realize its days are numbered.

The problem is, I am not ready for spring.

I come home tired and, due to too many time zones, too little sleep and too much “on” I can’t appreciate what would normally delight me.

I tell myself it’s because we had, as did most of you, one of the mildest winters in memory. Thus, spring seems like winning your March Madness bracket by selecting your teams by accident: It feels just a tad undeserved.

But that’s not the real reason I’m not ready for spring.

I’m not ready because everything right now overwhelms me. You could tell me that your Oreo cookie didn’t twist open evenly and I might start crying. You could ask me for $1 and I might give you $10 simply because the extra zero wouldn’t register (but don’t bother testing that one…). If you told me I had to get back on another plane right now, I wouldn’t scream or threaten you with bodily harm. I’d likely just lower my head and sigh.

Travel wears us out. When you travel for work, you force yourself to be up. But when that blessed moment of return occurs, maintaining that same level of focus and energy feels like trying to hold water in your arms.

I love to travel but when spring no longer seems like a long awaited gift, I know that travel has taken a toll and I have forgotten the bigger picture of my life. So I can choose to complain about the drain and toil of travel – and it is real – or I can remember a quote from an aged saint of a woman who had walked closely with God all her life. When asked one day how she was, she replied:

“I am better than I feel.”

And so am I.

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Living through the lens

by Steve Brock on March 14, 2012

Very soon I will begin a series on how photography relates to meaningful travel. But I must confess that sometimes photography gets in the way.

Case in point: The last two weeks I have tried to notice moss as a reminder to be grateful for the many little wonders in life I overlook. It worked well for the first week. But then I fell into one of many the traps related to photography: I ceased to notice the moss and became more concerned with capturing images of it. I became more intent on forming an image than in forming a prayer of thanks or even truly observing the object for its own sake.

We have an inherent desire to possess that which matters to us. It happens at auctions, car lots and high school dances. The most extreme comment reflecting this tendency came from an acquaintance many years ago who, when hearing that my wife worked at an art museum, said this: “I don’t like museums. What’s the point of a museum anyway? You can’t buy the paintings there. And if you can’t buy them and own them and have them in your own house, why bother?”

You may wince at his comment, but if I’m honest, I’m not all that different sometimes with photography. If I can’t take a photo of that clump of moss, why bother stopping to examine it? Such thinking only spirals downward.

So the last few days as I’m out walking or hiking, I’ve left the camera behind. At first, every interesting tree or moss-covered rock felt like a missed opportunity, a loss of beauty. But each retains its beauty even if I don’t capture that in an image. I am finding I appreciate the variety of mosses even more.

My photo fasting won’t last. After all, where do you think the picture above came from? (I confess: after my walk today I ran into the house and grabbed the camera so I could look at moss up close, or so I rationalized). But realizing what it is that possesses me and drives me to possess other things is a big first step.

The hardest thing about all this is that it isn’t a desire to possess what is bad but rather what is good. As we mature, our choices are far less about choosing good versus bad but good versus best.

As we’ll see in the coming weeks, photography can add so much to your trips. It can be a very good thing. Sometimes the best.

Just remember what I sometimes forget: Live life with the lens, not through it.

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Another look at moss

by Steve Brock March 6, 2012

Why focus on moss as a travel subject? More to the point, what do you do with the green things of life like moss? You learn the lost art of appreciation…

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