Choose: People, Place, or Occupation

Choose: People, Place, or Occupation

People. Place. Occupation.

That’s what makes up a life. It’s what molds our decisions. As a single, recent college graduate, people say I’m lucky to be able to go wherever I want. But a lot of people that have the same freedom as me usually end up choosing a job close to home or where they went to school. They put people highest on their priorities. They want to be close to friends and family. Or, with a career-first train of thought, they buy a one-way ticket in whatever direction that may be, but more often than not, it’s close to where they studied, where they had a work-study or an internship, where they are already known and recommended. And then there are the few gypsies, like me.

I’ve always loved to travel. Staying in one spot for more than three years gives me angst. I love learning about new places and seeing what others have taken pictures of with my own eyes. There’s something about feeling the aura of a place and being present in it that feels like being a part of something much bigger than me. That’s probably why I’m a geography major and why I chose place as my priority after graduating. I couldn’t see myself anywhere else except in a cabin in the Appalachian Mountains so that’s where I went.

I had enjoyed doing volunteer trail work there in the past, and what better thing to do to get yourself out and intimate with a place than to live in the dirt and breathe the rain? But when I got there, I quickly learned that I was not prepared for the work. It was hard admitting that I was weak and inexperienced and would have to try a lot harder to get better. I’m not a quitter, though, so I pushed onward, imagining how much I’d grow if I didn’t end up dying from the treacherous conditions.

But when I had accepted the job, I hadn’t thought much about the people. They were hard to forget once I got there. There was rarely peace and quiet in the cabin with music blasting out the windows, stomp dancing shaking the floor, and beer cans spraying around the room. During the week, you worked side-by-side all day, then slept nearly on top of each other in a hot, damp tent all night. And while they were nice people in general, we never really became friends.

When I had told people I was going to do trail work for the summer, they’d say, “Going to be with your people!” But, these were not my people. I was quite different from them—not into drink or partying or smoking, preferring card games to yard sports, and, to my dismay—nearly hating our work and living in the woods which they thrived on.

The mountains were beautiful and full of life, but I couldn’t take my time to enjoy it because we had to power through miles of trails. I’ve always hated being wet, and it rained almost every day. And even though I’d hear an occasional bird call or wander upon a bright orange newt, the giant boulders of granite that we moved and the miles of hovel bush vines we pulled out were the things I became most intimate with. I thought I had chosen the Appalachians because of place, but I kept getting caught up with my dissatisfaction of the people and the occupation. I couldn’t say that I was happy except for in fleeting moments of standing alone on a mountain peak under a cloudless sky with a view that took my breath away.

I’d always felt drawn to the mountains, and I still do. But the back country, I learned, is not for me.

I enjoyed the volunteer work I had done before because I had been with my people, people who enjoyed and cared about nature but who may or may not pursue it in such a direct, full-time occupation. Maybe what I was seeking wasn’t so much the place as it was my memory of the community and connections I had made with the people there. The volunteers had been a diverse group of people that may not have even met otherwise, and who didn’t bond enough to stay connected after our one, close week.

The people I long to be with are scattered. Sparks from the same campfire dancing off into the night.

My people have always been small lights shining among different friend groups, with different ambitions and passions, staying by my side for just a short few steps before we went separate ways. I don’t feel like there’s a place where all of my people are, so I’ll keep traveling and hoping that I run into another drifting ember. If we dance together for even just a moment, it will be enough to rekindle my flame and keep me going, knowing that I’m not alone.

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Water Walk – walk alongside your water

Water Walk – walk alongside your water

You can learn all about hydrology and ecosystems, you can weed out invasive plants and establish anti-erosion structures along banks, but the most important thing is to know your water, know your stream, your river, your lake, and what better way to bond with your water than to walk along side it and listen to it. The idea of a water walk is more about meditation and observation than action.

The following is a photo journal of my solo bike ride along Plaster Creek to the Grand River in Grand Rapids, MI. Some of the way was paved trail, some dirt, some roads.

Plaster Creek is considered one of the most polluted streams in Michigan, and I have been involved in many trash clean ups and invasive plant removals and rain garden projects in service to the health of the stream. But I had never taken the time to meditate in the sound of its brooks or walk beside it through tangles of invasive oriental bittersweet or admire the array of wild flowers and bird calls or lament of the concrete restraining walls and massive erosion or rejoice in the beauty of the parks it runs through or see it as a whole system not on a map or diagram. Today, I became the creek and the river. I cut through over-grown terrain and navigated through concrete cityscapes. I listened to the sounds of industry and cars blending with bird calls and the soft melody of the creek. Instead of working at one location or enjoying a specific park, I journeyed with the creek. I let it lead me through good and bad. I let it show me how it lives.

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Is Media making us Loose Touch with Reality?

Is Media making us Loose Touch with Reality?

After a busy day and the pressure of a lot of work still to be done, I often find myself taking a short bike ride at dusk. There’s a place where I often end up stopping to watch the sunset. It’s at the top of a slight hill where the view opens up, clear of trees and buildings, and I can watch the panorama of clouds and sky changing as the sun descends.

Yesterday, I found myself in that spot again. My bike parked on the sidewalk, I sat in the grass and let everything slip away except for an immense awareness of the present: the tension in my lungs from the ride, the slight chill to the air, the songs of robins, the pulsing heat of the sun’s light. The sky was all clouds except for a few inches just above the treeline where the sunlight emerged in an intense orange. It seemed to take forever for the sun to descend those few inches, but I waited and watched it with my full attention.

I heard the skid of wheels coming up the path behind me and then a voice called my name. “I thought that was you. I love that you’re just sitting here watching the sunset,” the girl said as she stepped cautiously into the grass with her inline skates.

It struck me that there was a certain nostalgia implied by her comment. To take the time to watch the sunset, one is assumed to be in a state of Zen and total awareness. It’s very Buddhist. It’s very hipster. But for me, I wasn’t conscious of all that; my initial reaction to her comment was Of course, I am. What else would I be doing? I could not even consider that I could be somewhere else doing any multitude of other things because this was where I felt I was supposed to be at that moment.

As we chatted, she made some comment about how unsuspecting that a view of the sunset and such peace could be found squished between a giant parking lot and a busy road. I knew that I was looking over the parking lot at the sun and that there was a road filled with the traffic of the evening commute behind me, but I hadn’t even thought about it. I had been focusing on the colors dancing in the clouds to the accompaniment of a robin’s chorus.

I realized that I wasn’t being fully aware of the present but rather creating a mindset to match that of a different location. The peace and nostalgia I felt watching that sunset was how I feel when I’m in the Appalachian Mountains. In an attempt to escape the city, I had found a connection to another place through the sunset. The sun and moon and stars have the power to teleport your soul to anywhere in the world if you’re open to it because they rise and set and shine everywhere around the world.

I didn’t watch the sunset in order to “feel at peace,” but I think that’s what such experiences have been diluted to in our times. In the psychiatrist’s office, you’ll find framed landscapes of remote lakes and mountains and brilliant sunsets with the clouds placed just right. The patients look at the images and find a sense of peace because that’s what the image was meant to portray. The lens doesn’t capture the days where it’s so cloudy you can’t see the sunset or let you feel the brisk wind or the chill of rain or hear the buzz of gnats, but these are all part of the place of these images.

With our world progressively moving to the internet and other forms of media, we’re presented daily with images. Images of people, images of places, images of items—all depicted in a way to frame the way you see them and induce a reaction. The picture of a perfectly symmetrical plant in the therapist’s office aims to calm you. The homeless children and abused animals look up at the camera as emotional music turns not just your ear but your heart. Images do not represent reality in its entirety. They are created with intentional blinders to create a tone and therefore invoke a specific reaction.

However, with some images becoming so iconic, the media has conditioned us to think we must feel at peace when watching a sunset, to feel moved to help when we see a homeless person, to take in that stray dog. But for most people in the real situation, that’s not how they feel or are moved to act. When you’re stuck in traffic and late for dinner, you don’t even see that stray dog on the side of the road. When you’re a young girl alone in the city, that homeless guy can seem more of a threat than a person in need. When we’re in the present, we put on our own blinders. We pay attention to certain things and ignore others and that process is what creates our mindset and determines how we feel and act.

When I’m in the city, I must consciously shift my focus to see the beauty in the buildings and people because my initial focus is on things that build my anxiety rather than create a sense of awe. Likewise, people in the mountains watching a sunset may be too caught up shivering and swatting mosquitoes to really feel a sense of peace.

Images have made molding our mindsets too easy. Images tell us what to see. Because of that, I wonder if people are just looking at things right in front of them expecting that what they are seeing is what they need to see. I wonder if they’re looking at reality at all.

Smartphones have made it easier than ever to capture a moment, a place, a feeling. But there are times when I’m so moved by what I’m experiencing that I know that I can never capture it in any form of art because the reality is too complex, so I don’t even try. I leave my camera lens shut and leave my heart and soul open. When we take a picture, we’re reframing the experience and often diminishing it because it’s difficult to capture so much in an image. Even film that can capture visual and audio senses still has a limited, focused view and lacks the complete feeling of a real experience.

Though images represent parts of reality, they can never fully capture the experience of being in the moment. But even when a person is in the moment, they will frame the experience by focusing on certain elements over others. The ability to be conscious and choose how to frame your view and therefore choose your experience is something that images and other media don’t as easily allow.

I chose to watch the sky and listen to the birds, thereby transporting myself into my former experiences in the mountains and my dreams of being there in the future. When the girl sat down beside me, she also chose to watch the sunset, but she saw it differently than me. She was still conscious of the parking lot and the traffic noise, so she saw a glimpse of natural beauty in the mundane routine of the city.

When the girl decided to leave and continue skating, she thanked me for making her stop and look at the sunset. But it wasn’t me who stopped her or made her see. It’s ultimately up to the individual to decide what they will focus on and therefore how they will react to what is around them.

Are People Apathetic About Sustainability?

Are People Apathetic About Sustainability?

A fellow student contacted me with an interesting question. We go to Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan and while our campus advertises being environmentally sustainable in many ways, the more you get into the issues you realize that we could be doing much more. My fellow student was working on a class project related to social and sustainability issues on our campus. She noted that many students are not living in a sustainable manner (even just as simply leaving lights on), and she asked if this may be because students simply don’t care about environmental sustainability.

While I can’t speak for each individual, in general I would say that Calvin College students are not apathetic to sustainability specifically.

I think that a lack of information and understanding is the main problem that ends up looking like apathy, but really people just aren’t aware of the issues. To combat this it is important to inform students and Calvin has a lot of programs in place to attempt to do this–such as Kill-a-Watt and Mad Farmer Food Fest and the Faith and International Development Conference and student leadership Sustainability Coordinator positions in the dorms and apartments. A lot of courses also have a sustainability focus. (Specifically in the Geology, Geography, and Environmental Studies Department and Biology Department. I also know of some economics and engineering courses with a sustainability focus. There’s even an environmental writers English course offered some January terms. There’s usually a handful of January courses having an environmental or sustainable focus, including at least one or more options for the required freshman course: “DCM”.). And there are also several student organizations with sustainability aims from food to political issues. My club, the Environmental Stewardship Coalition, addresses a wide range of environmental issues depending on what our participants are interested in.

However, these programs often have the dilemma of attracting people who are already interested in the issues, and while it may enlighten a few “new-comers” to the sustainability world, it is difficult to attract new people because there are so many other opportunities vying for each individual’s time, and they’re most likely to choose to do something they already have an interest in.

I think the most successful way to inform people is not just through programs that preach sustainability but also by personal conversations and individuals living in a sustainable way sharing their knowledge with people they interact with. I don’t think that there is a lack of these people on campus, almost everyone I know is concerned about the environment and interested in sustainability issues. But, I think that we often stay in our own circles, so sustainability-minded people don’t interact much with people that don’t know much about it.

There’s also a bit of a hesitancy when newly introduced to sustainability issues because it goes against our current systems so much. The very basis of our American (and possibly world) economy is market-driven with the only aim to grow profits without any enforced conditions or concern to protect people or the environment. While there have been laws put into place to try to protect people and the environment, there’s still a lot of cutting corners and illegal action because the media and economy promotes money above all else. And there’s a lot of skepticism encouraged by the media and businesses because they want people to buy more and being sustainable means buying less. There’s so much skepticism in the public eye on Climate Change, not because they haven’t heard the scientific facts, but because the oil industry and many other would be threatened if action against climate change was enforced and they have convinced the public that it is a hoax. The public doesn’t believe science, they believe media. But more than media, they believe family and friends, and that’s where we can get in and start changing people’s perspectives.

These profit-driven narratives are so present in people’s lives and worldviews that when introduced to sustainability that pursues balance rather than continuous growth, it is a dramatic shift of perspective that they must undergo to understand sustainability issues and practices. And since sustainability is so different than our current systems, it’s a challenge to live in a sustainable way. I honestly believe that it is impossible to live in a completely sustainable way today because there are so many issues (many hidden by the media and market) and all things are intertwined so tightly. Going vegan or vegetarian may protect a few animals that you may have eaten otherwise, but all of the substitutes and high-protein foods you need to consume instead are still surrounded by unsustainable practices.

I think the second biggest problem is a lack of convenience. Especially when people are used to the current systems, they’re unlikely to put in much effort to change. It’s a rare person that would carry an empty can around until they find a recycling bin if there are no recycling bins and a plethora of easy-access trash cans. Even in my apartment, my roommates stopped using the compost when we moved it to the porch, but when it was right beside the trash in the kitchen they would use it all the time (unless it was already full, because they would not walk all the way out to the compost site to empty it–too much effort, apparently). If sustainability was easier to do, more people would do it, no doubt. And especially if there was a reward (especially an economic reward) more people would do it. That’s why sustainable low-energy appliances have grown popular and common, because it saves money.

I would say that Calvin is on the right track to make students more sustainable, but the college has to stick with it and continue pushing the informative programs (especially in all courses and fields to reach all students) and making sustainable systems more efficient and convenient to get students into sustainable habits.

But I think the issue is beyond Calvin–it’s our economy, it’s our whole world. Until we change the basic systems underlying our lives to be sustainability-driven rather than profit-driven, sustainability is always going to be a challenge and a struggle.

Layers of a Breakdown

Layers of a Breakdown

Breaking down, whether that means crying or simply not keeping up with the busy world, is seen as something to be ashamed of (at least in the USA). Breakdowns are seen as showing your weakness, and in American culture, everything is about confidence and pride. You’ll hear whispers now a days about embracing emotions. Support systems for counseling, therapy, and suicide hotlines are not judged as harshly, but those constructs about weakness still permeate the minds of many people, including my own.

When you feel your world starting to crumble, when stress is overwhelming your strength, and your endurance is failing, do you ignore it, run away, give up? Or do you let yourself break down? If we allow ourselves the time necessary to go through a break down, we are likely to come out changed for the better. It is only through being torn apart that we can be put back together stronger (look up the Samurai sword analogy). When we stop ourselves from breaking down and delving into ourselves, we stunt the opportunity for self-awareness which helps us grow in self-understanding and love. When we recognize the issues at our core, our life struggles beginning to make more sense. When we see our true selves, then we’ll be able to start seeing others for their true selves and relate to them.

Through my own breakdown, I labeled these layers. (I purposely use the term layer instead of “steps” because this is not an instruction manual. It is up to each individual to find their own way to reach each of these layers.)

Layers of a Breakdown

  1. Build Up: stress builds up in your subconscious over time
  2. Trigger: an event, or slowing down to think, brings that built up stress to the surface of your conscious
  3. Breakdown: a physical and psychological reaction to that stress (different for different people)
  4. Denial/Social Constructs: society has conditioned our responses to breakdowns and to specific types of stress/issues. This is where many people try to pull themselves out of the breakdown. They hear society’s whispers of weakness and try to run away and hide. Society says it’s embarrassing and rude to cry in public so we try to get away and take care of ourselves. Some people heed a social construct to explain or fix their stress. If you’re so stressed, suicidal thoughts creep into your mind, you may heed society’s advise that you need help (aka counseling, therapy, hotlines). But there’s still that contradictory construct that if you can’t take care of yourself, then you’re weak–which will make some people bulk up and stunt the breakdown or make them feel even more helpless and weak (poor self-image).
  5. Dig Deeper: If you can identify the social construct that is blocking or feeding your breakdown and get past it, you can identify the true source of your stress/fear. Sometimes, the stress was just a social construct that had its talons in you. Other times, it’s a bigger issue. Sometimes, we need help with this step by talking with friends or counselors or praying. Others may have another outlet that allows them to express themselves and look deeper, such as art, walking in nature, or writing. And usually, there’s a combination of methods to really uncover all that’s been buried in you.
  6. Self Awareness: When you’ve identified the issue that’s really bothering you, you can ask yourself why it bothers you and learn more about yourself. This may bring an awareness so that you can recognize the issue faster next time, or just know that this is something that bothers or moves you. Possibly, this revelation may bring a change in the way you act or see the world.

To give an example of how this process played out for me:

I had been struggling with self-doubt and friendships for a while, but today the stress of all the assignments I had due and the anxiety of not being able to complete them built up (Build Up). I was sitting in a cafe trying to read my assignment before class and couldn’t focus because I found the reading and the class pointless in the larger scheme (Trigger). I felt the tears coming and quickly left the cafe and marched back toward my apartment trying to stay composed and imagined avoiding friends if they should pop up. And of course, a friend did pop up in passing to say hi. And as I tried to answer her simple question of where I was going, I snapped. “I’m skipping class,” I said and growled at the tears rolling down my cheeks (Breakdown). She hugged me, and I knew that’s what I needed. She talked to me for a bit, which made her late for class, and made me feel guilty. But I would do the same for her. I went back to my apartment and sobbed in intervals as I fought against it, trying to stop (Denial). I had too much to do to pay attention to my needs. But finally, when I found that the tears wouldn’t stop, I took up a pen and started writing how I felt and what was bothering me. I filled four pages and came to realize that a lot of what was bothering me at the surface was actually something else at the base. The most pressing concern was that I couldn’t take care of myself, couldn’t control my emotions, couldn’t succeed in things that others did. And my initial response was trained, “It’s okay to cry. Don’t compare yourself to others. Try your best. Don’t give up” (Social Construct). But I found no comfort in these lessons. They’re mottoes we hear as kids but they don’t really fix anything. And then there’s the social construct that you have to take care of yourself or you’ll fail or die. And if I was breaking down, I saw that as not taking care of myself. Conditioned response: “You’ve committed to too much. You’re just stressed. Take time for yourself” (Social Construct). I wrestled with that and tore it apart and threw it aside to reveal the true reason I didn’t want to breakdown, why I didn’t want others to see.  I always feel others’ pain, and I didn’t want anyone to comfort me because I didn’t want to burden them (Dig Deeper). To recognize that was the reason and not because breakdowns are seen as weakness (which was also a minor issue), was revealing and comforting. I had been pushing others away because I thought I was selfish to desire their attention, but it turned out that I was being selfless because I didn’t want to hurt them no matter how much I was hurting. But it’s their choice if they want to care about me, and I shouldn’t deny them that (Self Awareness).

This full process can take a lot of time. Digging Deeper may take hours to days to years. But when you feel yourself starting to breakdown, your first thought shouldn’t be to stop it or ignore it or run from it. Allow yourself time at that moment  to do what you need to do to Dig Deeper and grow in Self Awareness. No matter your other obligations, taking time to care for yourself is the only way you’ll be able to grow and become a better you.

Empathy: A sneak peak at my new novel!

Mum and I sat at the table kindling the hearth. Ray soon came down from his room having felt the hearth, and his presence added warmth and light to the fire. When Dad sat at the table, the hearth was fully lit, and we all fed off of its warmth and comfort as conversation stoked the soft flames.

Mum told us what Grannie Hattie had told her about her children’s lives. Hattie wasn’t actually related to our family, but she had just always been like a grandmother to us ever since we moved here.

“Ray, we should go by Hattie’s cottage after dinner. Mum says the pumpkins are getting really big,” I said.

Ray nodded, “Sure.”

“How are your friends, Quinn?” Mum asked. “We haven’t seen them in a while. Why don’t you invite someone over this weekend?”

I shrugged, “They’re more just school friends.”

“If you made effort to play with them outside of school, maybe they’d become more than just school friends,” Dad supported Mum.

“I don’t really want to be friends with them. Most of them are not very nice to be around,” I said, my feathers ruffled uncomfortably. “Maybe I could invite Charles; he’s pretty mellow.”

“What about Charlotte? She seemed nice,” Mum suggested.

“Charlotte moved away last year. I don’t even know where she lives now.” The fire in the hearth snapped and crackled as the wood became brittle with the tension at the table.

“I just think you should hang out with girls your own age is all,” Mum said. “I’m sure your brother gets tired of you tagging along with him and his buddies.”

The fire popped and embers flew up onto the table.

“We really don’t mind having Quinn around,” Ray defended me. “She’s a delight.”

“Okay. Okay,” Mum hushed us, cooling the embers that had fallen on the table.

“Ray, have you been thinking about college programs?” Dad changed the topic, but it was of little relief to table tensions.

Ray nodded, “I want to do something with hiking and the outdoors. A lot of colleges have an Outdoor Recreation major that sounds really sweet. Mostly, I just really enjoy that sort of stuff, but I think that my empathy skills will be really valuable and useful in that field as well.”

It was Mum who snapped sparks out of the fire this time. “Well, you don’t know how long you’re going to be an empath. You’re already older than most of our family members when they lost theirs. You could lose it any day.”

“I don’t plan to lose it, Mum,” Ray said calmly. This was a common argument in our house.

“But, Ray, dear, you don’t know how much more peaceful your life could be without it.”

“I want to use my skills to help others.” Ray was hard to argue with when he was a mountain.

Mum sighed, but under her breath, she whispered, “It’s more of a curse than a valuable skill.” Then, talking to Dad she said, “Chester, how was your day?”

After dinner, Ray and I walked through the backyard trails up the slope to Grannie Hattie’s house next door.

“How will your empath skills help people hiking?” I asked as we walked through the trees.

He shimmered golden, “If I’m leading a trip, I’ll be able to sense the needs of the people in the group. So, I’ll know when someone needs a break, when someone’s upset or tired, if there’s conflicting tension between people, if their health is bad. It doesn’t really matter what we do, having the ability to feel what others feels puts us at an advantage.”

I nodded but wasn’t fully convinced because Mum was so adamant that being an empath put us at a disadvantage. Personally, I had more moments where feeling caused me more trouble than producing anything good.

The trail let out right behind Hattie’s garden, and immediately, we saw the huge, orange pumpkins nestled among the crawling vines. I ran to them eagerly and tried to wrap my arms around one of the huge gourds. “They’re so big!” I laughed.

Ray walked through the garden, encouraging the plants to grow with the energy of his light.

The back door to the cabin creaked and the smell of cookies drifted on the air. “What are you hooligans doing in my garden?!” Grannie Hattie smiled and butterflies floated through the air between us.

“Your pumpkins are so big!” I ran to her and hugged her. “When are you going to pick them?”

“I’ll pick them when they’re ready. Patience and love, my dear.” She patted my head, then looked out at Ray as he brushed his hands gently against the plants, healing them. “Son, why is it my garden always looks better after you’ve visited?”

Ray just smiled. Hattie didn’t know about empaths. Mum and Dad said it was better if people didn’t know because it may scare them.

“Would you two like some cookies? They just came out of the oven,” Hattie offered.

“Thank you. They smell delicious!” I said, and Ray followed us into the cottage.

As we sat around her tiny table munching on molasses cookies and sipping milk, rainbows refracted around the room like sunlight casted through a crystal chandelier.

“You two are so good together,” Hattie winked as she brought out another tray of cookies.

 

Ray and I may be siblings, but we’ve also always been best friends. We were rarely apart. Even at family reunions, we mingled with our relatives, but we always stayed close by each other. Once when we were little, we were playing with our cousins at a family gathering and one of the girls paused in our game of make-believe saying, “You two are the most beautiful rainbow I’ve ever seen. Like a giant, gorgeous waterfall on a cloudless day, and the sun hits the mist from the water and there’s a bright colorful rainbow.” Ray and I had looked at each other and felt that it was true.

 

After we were stuffed with cookies, I ran back out to the garden and hummed to the pumpkins. Ray sat with Hattie on the back porch, and I could just make out their words as they talked.

“You’re a senior now, Ray?” Hattie asked.

“Yup.”

“Thinking about college maybe?”

“Yeah, I’ve started looking into some programs.”

“Gonna stay around here?”

Ray’s reply was slow, “Possibly. If they have a program I’m interested in.”

Hattie dropped her voice slightly, “Quinn will miss you if you leave.”

“I’ll never leave Quinn,” Ray said, and though his voice was happy, I felt a loneliness in him.

I turned and looked back at the porch curiously.

“We should get back before it gets too dark. Mum doesn’t like us out too late,” Ray said and walked into the garden towards me.

“Thanks for stopping by,” Grannie Hattie waved from the porch. “And, Quinn, I’ll let you know when it’s time to pick those pumpkins. They look bigger already, don’t they?”

“Thank you!” I called as Ray walked down the trail, and then, I hurried to catch up with him.

We walked along quietly for a while, and I felt a cold ice cube deep in the pit of Ray’s heart. “Why are you lonely?” I finally asked.

“I’m not right now. I’m just thinking about college.”

“I thought you were excited about college.”

“I am,” he smiled at me, but the ice cube remained. “It’s just…” he paused, and his pause turned into an extended silence.

The birds whistled their last tunes in the trees above as they nestled into their nests for the night. Bugs came out and filled the air, providing meals for the bats that began to swoop down above our heads.

Ray wrapped an arm around my shoulder and pulled me into his side, “Quinn, you know I’d never leave you, right?”

“Why would you leave?” I asked confused.

“I’m not leaving,” he said with confidence as strong as a mountain, and the ice cube in his heart melted away.


Empathy explores the inner emotions of people through the fascinating question of “What would it be like to feel what everyone else feels?” Brother and sister, Ray and Quinn, explore their ability as “empaths” as they try to decide how to handle and use this power. During this transitional period of Ray preparing to leave for college, Quinn faces an immense struggle of how to live on her own without Ray by her side.

This snippet of the novel is from the first chapter. I started writing this novel a few weeks ago and have many exciting plans for it as I continue to explore the world through Quinn’s experiences. (Note this is not a contracted novel. I’m just writing for fun, though I hope someday to be published! So please do not plagiarize.)

A few Imaginings on LOVE

A few Imaginings on LOVE

I consider myself a Christian, but above all I believe that Love is the most important thing in the world. But what actually is love? I have been struggling with that question just as everyone throughout all eternity has wrestled with trying to understand this vast, complex feeling. I do not think it is possible to fully understand what love is, but here are a few of my reflections and breakthroughs that have settled me at least for a while.

I will not talk about romantic love here, though one could interpret these imaginings in that way. My intended “love” is the all-encompassing phenomenon that runs through all things, living and not, that all religions believe in, that every person has felt deep in themselves that defines them as an individual but also as a connected member of the universe.

I used to think that the meaning of life should be personal happiness. But I was equating love to happiness. Love is much more complex and painful than happiness.

Happiness is fleeting but sorrow lingers.

To feel great happiness one must accept great pain.

Pain hurts worse than how good happiness feels. But Love is above all.

Love is NOT happiness. If anything, Love is pain and sorrow. Without love we may not experience pain and sorrow because Love is the driving force behind all emotions, all conflicts, all actions.

Love is strong. Love endures all. Love is endless. Love is everlasting and abundant. Love grows and is never depleted. But What is Love? Those who feel it recognize it. But no one has ever truly understood what Love is.

Love is universal, but where one finds it is different for each person.

Personally, I find love inside myself when I’m in nature. When I am in a lush forest or in the mist of mountain peaks, or when I see a bird or a leaf, I am filled with a feeling so strong it is like nothing I feel at any other time. I am filled with a love for nature, for the Earth, which extends to a love of the universe, of God, and of Life.

I had been struggling with the question What is Love? But no one has or ever will find an answer that fully explains what Love is because it is beyond understanding and likely the most complex thing in all of eternity. The question I was trying to ask myself was: where do I personally find/experience/feel love? Because once you answer that question for yourself, your life has meaning and purpose.

For me, I feel love for nature. I cannot share that love with others unless they personally feel the same, because you cannot force someone to truly love. But my love empowers me to action–to protect and care for the environment and the natural places that I feel that intimate bond with. My actions, done with energy and passion from the love that fuels me, may inspire others to act in response or, at least, support me. But it is always my intention to act to protect what I love, no matter the cost, pain, or sorrow because that is how love works. It is never my intention to empower others or change other people, though that may be where someone else’s love lies. That is not my calling, that is not where my love thrives, but it does not mean that my actions and love will not impact other people. It may result that my actions done in love will inspire others to find their love.

The meaning of life is Love, but not in the sense that it will bring personal happiness to the one who discovers it. The paradox is that the person who finds their love and acts on it will likely experience much pain and sorrow along with the occasional happiness. But the energy and meaning of following your Love, is worth all of the struggles that will come with it. Such a life does not make sense to one who has not found their Love, the thing that makes their heart want to beat with a will to live and act no matter the cost. And we must also acknowledge that while Love is universal, the source of Love can change. Even within an individual the thing that you think drives you may change during your life, because Love is a driving force, it is not a specific entity. The question that is most important is not to understand Love, but to find where you can personally tap into this living force and be filled. Love is what life is all about, and those who do not feel it will never be fully satisfied with anything.