August 22, 2009

The WHY and the HOW

"Downtime - BAD. Leads to introspection - BAD" - Henry Rollins

As disruptive as it might be to the narrative, I want to skip ahead to present day, which is Saturday (a full week after when my last post takes place). I promise I will get back to the story soon enough, but I feel like deviating a little bit. I hope thats all right.

Saturdays have historically been days for reflection for me; reflecting on the dreams that only come in the late morning after sleeping in, reflecting on the hazy events from the night before, reflecting on where I am in relation to where I want to be. On this Saturday, as I am walking down busy Zihyou Rd and across the bridge that leads to RT Mart, my head is swimming with responses to questions that have been put to me since I left, the most obvious one being: "Why do this? Why travel literally halfway around the world to teach tiny Asian children engrish? Why?"

This is an important question, and I'm glad that people ask it of me. I believe that today we do not ask enough questions of our families, friends and fellow man. We worry that by asking questions we come across as nosy, but in truth, one of the primary roles we have as friends and family is to help one another grow, to help each other along on this long journey we call life. And the primary way we help people grow is by challenging them, by forcing them to evaluate themselves and their actions. This is not to say that we should impose our own tools and measures for evaluation upon those around us; the questions should be more "why do you believe or think this way?" and less "why don't you believe and think the same as me?" By asking these questions of those we love, we are holding them up to the light, shining truth in the cracks, letting the sun nurture their souls. Often this can be painful at first, especially to someone who's eyes are not used to the brightness that your questioning will bring about. But to live in the dark is to miss out on everything beautiful and colorful and good, and eventually these questions will be welcomed. Acceptance is Love, but asking the tough questions is a form of Love that leads to growth. We spend a lifetime trying to find the balance between accepting and challenging those we care about most.

So, the question has been posed: "why?" I could say something about seeing the world, or how I wanted to get out of my comfortable life, or how I love teaching; these are all true. But to say that these things are the reason I am here would only be a partial truth. In reality, and as I said at the beginning of this narrative, I am still not sure what I hope to find out here in this big world. Or what I hope finds me. This is a journey, a story, a song. But, even now, I am realizing that I am not any different from everyone else. All of us are on our journey, and we are all adventurers in some way or another. Every time you take a new way home from work, smile at a stranger, order something strange on a menu - every time you step outside of what's comfortable and allow life to carry you away - you are an adventurer. So the difference between myself and anyone else is just degrees, just little increments that we use to separate, when really we are all connected. The question, thus, is no longer "why?" because that same question could be asked of all of us every single day. The question now becomes: "How?"

(I believe that time is directly contingent on our exposure to new experiences. When met with a similar routine, similar faces and similar actions, our day-to-days can become month-to-months quickly, and time moves faster than we expect it to. However, when placed in a new environment or confronted with something alien, one's brain needs time to process all of the new stimuli, needs time to adjust and familiarize so it can speed time back up again. Perhaps this is as close as we can get to the Holy Grail; by constantly immersing ourselves in a life that's shockingly new our brain is forced to slow everything down, thus pulling out days into weeks and allowing us to taste each minute, savor each hour. Maybe that is why I have moved around so much this last year. I want to live forever.)

But this is all beside the point. Because my days are so much longer here I have a lot of time process my thoughts and sort out my beliefs. This leads me back to the "how?", by which I mean this: It is not so much the "why" that is important, because knowing the reason for an experience doesn't say anything at all. We choose many experiences in this life. I chose to come to Taiwan, while you might choose to talk to the lonely old widow outside of the supermarket, and your words will bring him peace. True, our choices can make a difference. However, outside of the realm of choice lies the unknown, and every day we are exposed to thousands of experiences that we have no control over at all. These experiences can be positive or negative. They can make you five minutes late for an appointment or change the way you see the world for the rest of your life. The "how?" is concerned with the way we handle all of life's experiences, chosen or not. Ultimately, HOW we deal with an experience says more about us as people than WHY we are experiencing something in the first place. You cannot ask "why" someone you love dies, or sometimes even "why" you chose coke instead of pepsi - sometimes there are no answers. However, by asking "how?", we can begin to define ourselves as individuals and as people.

Pertaining to the "how?", I believe we are all split into two categories. Or rather, we choose one of two options each time we are faced with an experience. Of course, there is room for gray here as there is with everything in this life, but in general, one of two reactions occur:

The first reaction is to close, or too retreat within oneself for something to hold on to. People who close to experiences believe that they are in control, and that nothing is beyond some sense of understanding or manipulation. New or unplanned experiences are therefore terrifying, and leaves this person scrambling to get a hold on things, to try and quantify and explain and manage. They are excited when expected or predetermined experiences occur, but become extremely upset when something goes awry. However, what the closed person does not realize is that control is an illusion, and although we can make little plans and lead our little lives, we are nothing more than tiny wooden ships in a magnificent ocean. The sun may smile or the wind may roar. None of us has any control over these things.

The second reaction is to open. To open means to accept this life for what it is, and to keep paddling but and allow the waves to take you because, no matter what you do, they are going to anyway. An open person allows themselves to be changed, allows life to come inside and shape them. This reaction understands that we have little control, and therefore because we cannot control the ocean, the only thing we can control is our reaction to it. And this is the entire point of the "how?". How we react to everything around us. How we take life determines how our lives will be. How we deal with the beautiful sunsets and the unnamed hurricanes determines what kind of people we will become, how we are remembered by everyone that meets us along this bumpy road. Ultimately, our legacy is not determined by anything other than the times we choose to smile and the times we choose to scowl in reaction to everything life throws our way.

As you can see, even by my naming of the reactions, I am biased. Life seems too short to allow things to tear you from happiness, and relinquishing control is the first step to understanding that we are nothing more than who we choose to be. So, to return to the original question of "why?" Why am I smiling even though I am in a strange country away from my friends and family? Why am I happy despite sweating profusely in my tiny one room apartment? Why am I optimistic about a future that is so unclear and thus terrifying? Because I choose to be, and this is the only thing I truly have control over.


  1. A good writer fills my mind with phrases that punch my heart. Each of your entries so far have had one. You bring me to an emmotional moment that makes my heart gasp. I love the unknown. I am gifted by the grace of God to make choices and I make them daily. With that comment, you connected with me, 35 years down the road of life from you. Amazing!

  2. I'm so thrilled that you are making this experience everything you want and more. There are so many people who could do what you did just to become disapointed that it wasn't some fairy tail and come home devastated. But like you said the difference is what you make it and I'm so happy you're making this an incredible journey. I know that there will be ups and certainly downs but please keep your wonderful beautiful optomistic spirit. It's something I long for in my own life. Maybe through watching you partake on your amazing adventure I will learn how to truly live my life as well. I love you.

  3. Thank you.... You write beautifully, and this last little bit on HOW and WHY? And, the difference and the reaction, I loved it. I am going to have a few people read this. I've been trying to explain everything you just touched base on. I'm glad you are making every situation you are faced with, simply amazing. I love that.