August 2012

“…notstop looking”

by Steve Brock on August 28, 2012

Thanks to a healthy backlog in my Netflix queue, I finally saw the film, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” this weekend.

I have heard others say that it is a hard film to watch. The main character, Oskar Schell, is a boy living in New York whose father, played by Tom Hanks, dies in one of the Twin Towers on 9/11. So the inherent sadness of a story in which a child mourns for his father makes the movie painful. Yet that very pain is what makes the film so powerful.

Even before 9/11, Oskar sees the world in a unique way. He does so in part because he shows indicators of Asberger’s Syndrome, a kind of high functioning autism. Yet through this syndrome, we behold the depths of the father’s love for his son in scenes that take place before the tragic loss of life.

Oskar’s dad understands his son’s gifts and his limitations. To build on the former and transcend the latter, the father devises a special expedition – a kind of quest – for young Oskar.

The father tells his son about the “lost sixth borough of New York.” Oskar’s challenge is to find it or at least evidence of its existence. The father presents a series of clues that require Oskar to do what is uncomfortable for the son: to talk to others and to seek out items in unfamiliar places.

When Oskar complains that searching for clues is hard work, his dad replies, “If it was easy, it wouldn’t be worth finding.” With his father’s encouragement and enthusiasm, Oskar makes great progress on this quest. But then his dad dies.

Initially, Oskar is devastated. Then, one year after the tragedy, Oskar ventures into his father’s closet and discovers two things.

The first is a newspaper clipping he has seen before, one where his father has circled the words, “…notstop looking” a kind of credo for Oskar despite the missing space between “not” and “stop.” The second is an old key in a small envelope hidden in a blue vase.

The search for the lock that fits the key becomes a final quest from the father to the son. And what happens on that quest is what makes the movie so brilliant. You’ll have to watch it yourself to find that out.

I’m usually wary of attempts to read into a story more than was intended. Yet here, I cannot resist making comparisons of Oskar’s journey to our own. We may not have a form of autism, but we all have our issues. And we too, have a Father, a heavenly one, who knows our strengths and our weaknesses better than we ourselves do. He has given each of us a quest and has left clues behind for us to find. And with each discovery, we come closer to understanding both Him and ourselves better.

But the beauty of this story, and ours as well, is that we do not travel alone. Oskar can only complete his quest through the kindness and assistance of others. Some of the most poignant scenes in the film are when we witness the impact that Oskar has on the many, many people he meets. In their response to him, they gain much more than they have given.

The sweet irony of his journey is this: It is not in spite of, but because of his brokenness and his “disability” that he is able to complete his quest. He is welcomed by strangers who are disarmed by his blunt innocence and who empathize through their own post-911 loss Oskar’s need for closure.

We too travel more completely in our own incompleteness. The very things we shy away from – vulnerability, dependability, incompetence – are what make us most human, and most inviting to others.  If we travel in such a manner, however uncomfortable that may initially feel, we find, as Oskar does, that our fears dissipate and our connections increase.

And like Oskar, we may reach the end of our quest only to find that what we have discovered is different and yet more powerful and fulfilling than what we thought we were looking for.

But we only find it, as did Oskar, if we are careful to not stop looking.


P.S. As my son pointed out after experiencing the movie, God is not only like Oskar’s father in the film, but like his mother as well. I’ll say no more to avoid giving anything away. But watch the movie and see just how stunning that insight is.

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The ongoing nature of discovery

by Steve Brock on August 23, 2012

Discovery starts with a single point of awareness.

It’s the realization that you’ve encountered something new – or at least something new to you. But discovery doesn’t always end with our initial finding. Sometimes, our discoveries unfold over time and provide us with ongoing revelation, insight and meaning, often of a very personal nature.

This continuing nature of discovery reminds me of an old illusion from years ago when I worked as a professional magician. The effect went like this: The magician takes a simple bowl or jar and pours water from it, emptying it and setting it aside. Moments later, he picks up the bowl and again pours more water, again emptying the bowl. This happens repeatedly, a seeming inexhaustible amount of water coming from this magic bowl.

The illusion was called the Lota Bowl. I’ve heard the word “lota” pronounced with a long “o” but also with a short “o” so it sounds like “lotta” as in (as one magician explained it), “There’s a lotta water in that there bowl.”

Here’s a video I randomly pulled off of YouTube, so I’m not necessarily endorsing the magician, his performance, costume or that fine soundtrack. I chose it simply so you could get a visual sense of how the Lota Bowl (or in this case, Lota Vase) works:

Our trips are like the Lota Bowl: In the hands of God, they provide us with an almost endless supply of insights, memories, and revelations over time.

  • We recall small details years after we return.
  • We make connections between experiences we didn’t realize we’d had.
  • We become aware of instances unrelated geographically or in time that somehow, in a flash of intuition, now seem inseparable.
  • We process and clarify discoveries from our travel experience long after we have returned home.

There’s a lotta meaning in that there trip…

Have you ever had an experience on a trip that may not seem all that meaningful at the time but that comes back to you later? That connects to multiple other “unrelated” experiences and starts to reveal a pattern or perhaps a message, something you realize you’re meant to learn?

Heed those small blips on your consciousness because that’s often how God speaks to us. He uses something that happened on a trip, perhaps one traveled in the distant past, to make us aware of issues in our lives that we need to deal with…today.

Discovery can go on and on, kind of like the Lota Bowl only without the fancy props. But we do need to pay attention…


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Meaningful lessons – Part 2

by Steve Brock on August 15, 2012

Last time I noted the second anniversary of this blog. Two years seems like a ridiculously short time to celebrate, and yet I’ve learned a great deal in that time.

In addition to the points noted before, here’s one of the biggest realizations for me over the last 24 months:

This blog has both helped and hurt my travels. Helped in that it forces me to think about the deeper aspects of travel and how God uses it to change us. Hurt in that I sometimes think more about how I’ll describe an experience on a trip for others rather than just having the experience myself.

San Gimignano Twilight Walk 2

I recall a lunch meeting with John Medina, author of the bestseller, Brain Rules. Since John is a neuroscientist, I wanted to pick his brain (pun intended, unfortunately) about how we think while we travel. We discussed issues of how we process sensory information in a foreign place, how déjà vu works and how our memories often distort what we remember about a trip.

At least I think that’s what we talked about…

I then told him about an odd experience last year while driving through Lima, Peru. As we rode from downtown back to the airport, I was conscious of trying to mentally record all the signs and sights that whizzed past us. I knew that within a single curious billboard lay the stuff of a great story, the raw materials of an interesting blog post.

And yet, there was more than I could take in or process. The very act of being aware of what I might write about diminished the experience itself.

On hearing this anecdote, John confirmed what I already suspected: Despite all our claims at multitasking, the brain can only focus on one primary issue at a time. In my case, the lesson was clear: you can’t simultaneously filter an experience for your audience and be fully present to it yourself.

So I have to catch myself now when I’m on a trip and I think, “This could be a great story for The Meaningful Traveler.” If I’m not careful, the experience slips by, not fully observed for the paradoxical reason that I tried to observe it rather than simply being present to it.

So of all the lessons I’ve learned over the last two years with this blog, here’s probably the biggest. Enjoy travel. Just enjoy it. Be fully present: to the moment, the place, others, yourself and especially, to that still small voice of God who may be speaking in a language of your deepest longings to you in that place.

There are layers upon layers to the simplest of trips and I’ve also come to realize just how much God is a part of all of this. But in the moment is not the time to analyze all that. I know that and have known that long before this blog. But I need to remind myself of this simply thought:

The best way to enjoy the journey is to enjoy the journey. You can figure it out later.

And maybe even write a blog about it.

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Meaningful lessons – Part 1

by Steve Brock August 7, 2012

Today marks the second anniversary of The Meaningful Traveler. So what have I learned in two years of writing this blog? Find out…

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Another chance to remember

by Steve Brock August 3, 2012

Stop. Right now. What aren’t you grateful for that you should be? Take a minute. Remember moss and other things that aren’t all that visible right now. You don’t have to wait for that next trip. Give thanks. Right now.

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The allure of secrets: Train Wreck – Part 2

by Steve Brock August 1, 2012

Finally making it to Train Wreck outside Whistler, BC revealed more than crashed train cars: we discovered something very unexpected…

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