Monday, September 28, 2015

Marked by Life

Can you see all that I've done, all that I am? Just look at the marks life has left...

Before she noticed the sun's signature on me...

Last spring, after an amazing day playing on Coronado Island with my brother's family, we crammed ourselves into a rented Prius to head back to the hotel for dinner. Happy to be with my family, I sat in the backseat between the kids and felt the warmth of their sun-tanned bodies against me. Emory, my niece, picked her nose and wiped it on my leg. Nolan yelled with excitement and told Em that friends don't wipe their snot on other friends. I giggled and left the boogers there.

We drove slowly, through mid-day traffic, across the bridge towards downtown. Em and I laughed at the wind blowing our hair all crazy this way and that. I tried to fix my hair as Em watched me. Then she said something that surprised me. She said, "Aunt Jaala, why do you have a mustache?"

I thought, "Oh shit. Why do I?"

But instead of saying that, I asked her what she meant.

Emory said, "...your skin, it is darker by your lip, it looks like a mustache...and a beard!"

A little taken aback, I considered my answer carefully.

I thought about how I could explain to young Emory that although I'm a little self-conscious about my skin, it shouldn't matter that much.

I said, "Em, this is not a mustache, it is called sun spots. When people get older, sun tans go crazy and sometimes go darker in some places than in other places. Because I am always outside playing in the sun and enjoying nature, the sun leaves its mark on my face. This mustache is part of me, it shows where I have been."

Emory thought about the answer.

Then she said, "I like your mustache, Aunt Jaala."

And my happy heart melted a little.

Though this is a sort of superficial interaction about flaws and what we make of them, lately it got me thinking about flaws and weaknesses on a deeper level.

There are moments in each of our lives when we realize our flaws and weaknesses, and decide to do one of two thing: We either deny them or accept them. In denying the flaw or weakness, time waits for another opportunity to present this thing we have denied, and the Universe waits for the time we can accept the lesson it offers. In accepting the flaw or weakness, we learn a lesson; hopefully it enriches our character and we become better at life. We evolve, we reflect, we move forward.

This year has been tough and enlightening; I've experienced things that I never envisioned I would, but I try to take each experience in stride.

Though it wasn't so serious at all, Emory's comment about my skin was the tip of the iceberg, a moment for me to see that outer beauty in life, something me and so many women are obsessed with, is fleeting. We grasp tightly this form of beauty and sometimes forget that the beauty is in the flaws, the ones that we never intended to acquire.

What do the spots on my face mean?

Well, to me my skin reflects my life.

It shows that I live life hard and fast and appreciatively. I throw myself at life (with not enough sunscreen apparently) and I expect it to throw itself back at me.

I fuck up.

I get selfish and greedy.

But I always try to learn from my own flaws, from my mistakes, from my self-indulgence.

This year has stripped me bare and maybe added some spots to my aging face. But I accept each one of those spots as a mark of experience; of living. I know that these outer indications of a life lived are attached to my inner self. A growing, thriving, ever-changing light lives within me. Maybe it is just trying to get out via my face? I don't know, but I'm willing to accept whatever the reason is that I change and become more weathered each day. It is an honor to be marked by life.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Coming out of the Night, choosing to Fight

Reflection of the smoked out sun; Murphys, CA

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever Gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

We all brought our own demons into the night. Some of us feared getting lost in the moonless, starless expanse of the forest, some of us were already lost in the dark when we arrived.

The Endeavor Team Challenge was more than halfway over when we set out on the "night land navigation" course into the actual night. Smoke from the Butte Fire blotted all light from the sky and filled our lungs with pieces of everything that had burnt before that moment. As we headed out onto the course, compass and maps in hand, I thought, "Maybe I'm breathing pieces of exploded stars?!"

I probably should have been thinking about pace counts instead, but off we went.

Moving through space with zero illumination and a dim headlamp is challenging enough. Add a treacherous jeep track filled with loose boulders, air thick with smoke and dust, and the skill of navigating and you have quite a task on your hands. Thank God for smart friends! My partner Paige is a navigatress (queen of navigation); finding points, for her, seemed second nature so we were able to find the mandatory points assigned to us, plus a couple more.

While Paige was focused on navigating, my mind was wandering in and out of lucidity, battling with itself to think about the terrain and my pace count, to trying to ward off dreamy dreamland thoughts. Since I wasn't superbly amazing at warding off fantasy land, the dreamy dreamland thoughts often filled my head. Every so often, our head lamps would illuminate large black spiders (about the size of our palms) resting on the trail. At that point, the deep black skin of the spider would remind me of the darkness of the night, which would in turn remind me to recite the first stanza of "Invictus," a poem by William Ernest Henley, that we were tasked to memorize and repeat upon command (we had not yet been required to recite the poem).

Whenever I saw those spiders, I'd say: "Out of the night that covers me..." and mess up the rest of the stanza with my own lines: "Black as..." that giant spider on the ground...holy crap, that thing is huge...I hope it doesn't jump...or crawl into my mouth while I'm sleeping...I should not step on that spider!

Practicing land navigation sans nighttime...and spiders...and fire smoke

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloodied, but unbowed.

After hours and hours and hours of walking among dust, smoke, spiders, mutes (aka Tim and Grant), and through silent moments that went on for longer than the time that accompanied them, we finished the night navigation task. It was three in the morning, and both Paige and I were sleepy enough not to be completely in control of our capacities. Of course, this was the moment we were asked to recite "Invictus" from memory. We were told that until we could recite the poem perfectly, we would not be able to rest.

Though I didn't know the second stanza completely, we had been practicing the poem all day so I knew enough to help Paige through this part.

Earlier in the day, Paige mentioned that the poem was taking on meaning as we went over it more. I agreed with her; though I already had it written on the wall in my kitchen (REALLY!) it was taking on meaning out there in the woods as we repeated it over the course of the day.

Listening to Paige recite those words, in the middle of the darkest night I had ever seen, I thought that this poem is a metaphor for this event, and our lives, of course.

Though we were beaten down at that hour, we were still moving forward...we recited the poem and accomplished the task.

Though I've been beaten down at times, more recently than ever before, I've fought and continue to move forward.

Rhythmically and deliberately, Paige said the third stanza:

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

Though I was listening to her, I was inside of myself, telling myself that there would be so much more after this night; so much more to experience, do, and see in life and that I should not forget this pain, but appreciate it and move through it; I should not forget this moment, in this place, because this is right where I was, and am, supposed to be.

The event was not yet over; but it was time to sleep...

We woke to a smokey, quiet morning.

Our final task was upon us.

Paige and I grabbed our bricks (we were each given one to carry throughout the event) and water bottles and got ready for our final movement.

It matters not how straight the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,

Ambling through the forest, scrambling up rocks, swimming across Lake Alpine, Paige and I caught up to our friends, Chris and Leilani. As we all walked through the forest, Chris and I talked about what it means to accomplish something in this type of racing. He mentioned that as long as you are giving it your all, as long as you finish and at that point know that you had nothing more to give, that you tried your best and enjoyed the experience, then you have won and should be happy.

This, I know is true:

At Endeavor Team Challenge, and in life, those of us that gave our all, and give it everyday, are right.

I am the master of my fate,

Whatever situation I find myself in, I have a choice to make. Whichever decision I take, whether to fight, and work, and help, and give 100%, or to ignore what needs to be done and be weak, is up to me. I can choose to be lost; I can choose to crawl into the darkness and let it consume me. But I won't. I choose to fight.

I am the captain of my soul.

Leilani, Chris, Jaala, Kent, Tim, Grant, Paige; people who choose to give 100%.