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A letter from my first week home this year

by Steve Brock on February 22, 2013

There's a reason the words travel and travail share the same root..

Dear Travel,

You and I, we’re not doing so well.

I think we’ve been spending too much time with each other.

I used to look forward to being with you. We’d go everywhere together.

Now, after the first week so far in this year that I haven’t had to be on the road, I find I rather like it. Sorry, Travel, but you kind of wear on me. No matter where I go, you’re always there. And you always want more.

I know your moods and your little idiosyncrasies. Like how there’s no perfect way to arrive at an airport. I’m always either waiting or running, or so it seems. Or how you lull me into a sense of complacency and then pull the rug out by canceling a flight or giving me wrong directions. That’s a nice one.

But oh too familiar.

We used to have fun together! But I can’t recall the last time I laughed on a trip. Let’s face it. The spark is gone. The ol’ magic just isn’t there.

I think we should be seeing other people.

No, we can still be friends. We can, maybe, still see each other. Sometime. Just not like everyday. Not now at least.

You go hang out with some other folks. How about all those college grads who think you’re the greatest thing since the wheel or Instagram? All they talk about is you. Spend time with them. Let them get to know you as I do. Introduce them to the wear and tear of constant business trips. Then we’ll see how enamored they are with your exotic ways and your “we could go anywhere!” attitude.

For me, I just need some distance. Yes, I know that’s your specialty. You’ve been singing me that tune for far too long. I’m talking emotional distance here, not miles. I just need to spend some time with this other friend, Home.

I’ll let you know how it goes. And who knows, we might even take a few short jaunts together into town or around the neighborhood. I know you want more, but that’s all I can give you now. I need my space, so don’t push me, OK?

What? You’ve heard me talk like this before? And I always come running back? Don’t get too cocky, Travel. We’ve not spent this much concentrated time together for a long while. Enough is enough.

So you go your way (you always do) and I’ll not go any way or anywhere. I’ll just hang. Spend time in one place. Get to know my own furniture and family for a change.

Maybe I’ll call you.

Or more likely, a week or two from now, you’ll call me.

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On the other side of a hard trip

by Steve Brock on February 8, 2013

The poet comes home from a long day working with kids who value the power of words as much as they do leafy greens or dental floss. She peruses the fridge and settles for some unmemorable leftovers. When did she make these? She lets that thought drop.

She extracts a glass from the drying rack by the sink, uncorks the bottle and pours herself a healthy serving of what she calls her “word juice.” She hurries through her meal, replenishes her red wine and cradles the glass in both hands as she saunters all of eight feet to her computer.

The words begin to flow.

*******

The businessman has wrestled for a full week on how to close the deal. He can find no way for their firm to deliver the project on time with the additional requirements from the customer. The workout at the gym helps unknot the growing tension, but still he feels stuck, stymied. The customer needs an answer by 10:00 a.m. the next morning. He’s got nothing.

In the locker room, he undresses and steps into an available shower. The hot water streams over him. He just stands there. Eventually, he reaches for the shampoo, more from habit than conscious volition. His hand never makes it to the dispenser.

In a flash of inspiration, he’s solved his problem.

*******

ShowerDoes alcohol make us more creative? And what is it about a hot shower that seems to foster these moments of insight and revelation? Do we just think better under these influences?

The reality is not that we think better. We think less.

The sedative nature of both the wine and the warm shower still the competing thoughts and voices that rage through our minds most of the time. We live in a world of distraction and so-called multitasking. Too many issues vie for our limited attention. As a result, no one thought gets the focus it needs until we quiet our minds.

Alcohol and hot water flowing over us will do the trick sometimes (but not too much or together, otherwise you end up passed out and looking like a prune on the floor of your shower). But so will travel.

Hard travel.

I love the line in the movie “180 Degrees South” which chronicles the journey of a young man who sails down to Chile in order to eventually climb a mountain in Patagonia. The narrator is told that the word “adventure” is misused by most today for, “It’s not an adventure until something goes wrong.”

On hard trips, something – possibly everything – goes wrong. They aren’t much fun at the time, but they make for great stories later. Yet another benefit of a hard trip is that in the immediate aftermath of the difficulty, you’re left almost numb.

All the worries and concerns, even dreams and ambitions, get silenced because you don’t have the mental energy to contemplate anything more than what lies before you. Presence is delivered with garnish on a plate and served to you whether you ordered it or not.

I’ll give you an example next time from my own recent trip, but how about you? Ever had a trip or hard situation that left you so stunned or grateful to be alive or exhausted that immediately afterwards everything around you seemed more real?

I have some friends who have faced life-threatening illnesses and each of them says the same thing: After something like that, you see life differently. You value each moment more.  You become more focused.

Hard trips can do the same. They just require a bit more planning and endurance than a hot shower…

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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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Rest and relaxation – Part 1

by Steve Brock October 31, 2011

As I discovered in Cusco, Peru, we may pursue rest and relaxation on a trip but not achieve those because of something we brought along with us: Us.

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One more thought on returning

by Steve Brock August 20, 2010

Return brings with it a sense of accomplishment, completion and re-creation that we find only at the end of our journeys.

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Return and Presence

by Steve Brock August 16, 2010

Being present to others on a trip often requires effort. But when we return home, we find a different kind of presence where we can find God’s comfort and peace – often unexpectedly.

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