Lucy passed away last fall. She was a big part of our family—we acquired her as a puppy when we first moved to Wisconsin, when Kait and Evan were in grade school—so Lucy was part of raising our children. Of making our family.
Jack Gilbert wrote “Highlights and Interstices.” The poem begins with an emphasis on remembrance:
We think of lifetimes as mostly the exceptional
and sorrows. Marriage we remember as the children,
vacations, and emergencies. The uncommon parts.
But the best is often when nothing is happening.
This morning, those lines remind me of Lucy. She was there when nothing was happening.
It’s finally warm enough in Wisconsin to sit in the back yard in the Adirondack chair and stare up at the sky, for no other reason than pondering the slow motion of clouds.
Yes, it’s nice to have realizations of scale, but you can’t be too intentional about having them. There’s a process involved, a methodology of sorts:
You need a problem to solve
you need to research a solution to the problem, but
you also need clouds and an Adirondack chair.
Sit in the chair, look up at the sky, try to match the pace of the clouds floating by, and let your mind slow down enough that it can connect the pieces of the solution to your problem. Do that enough, and you soon have few problems to solve.
Sunday morning, I rode my bike to the local coffee shop and was pleasantly surprised to see my friend Peg—reading my book! I see Peg at the coffee shop frequently, and she always has a book in hand since she’s a prolific reader. I asked what she thought of The Descent into Happiness, and she told me that it reminded her of how she thought when she was a college student—how her mind moved more slowly then, when you start to learn new disciplines and concepts, how new ideas blend with what you already know.
She told me the book is encouraging her to reclaim that “newness”, that slow perspective she had before getting trapped in what she calls “the administrative side of life.” I’m touched that the book had this effect on her; this alone made writing the book worthwhile.
I want to thank everyone who attended last Thursday’s book launch of The Descent into Happiness at Boswell Books. What a great time! Over 50 people were in attendance, and 44 books were sold.
I’d like to thank the following people for enabling the event to happen:
Daniel, who owns and operates Boswell Books, for enabling the launch to take place—providing a stage for a local author;
Paul from Ben’s Cycle, for helping promote the event and writing a thoughtful blog post about one of the book’s central messages—how it’s a bit of a love story;
Mark Zimmerman, for providing a great introduction and talking about our mutual passion for writing process;
Ethan Casey, the book’s publisher, for flying all the way from Seattle to attend and promote Blue Ear Books;
Sue, who the book is dedicated to, and Evan, my son, who I love to ride bikes with;
As well as colleagues from work, cycling friends, friends from the neighborhood, and those I know from my days of working with inner-city non-profits.
But what was most meaningful was meeting people who I didn’t know. After the reading and presentation (a series of photographs of the places I went and people I met on last summer’s “big bike ride”), I signed copies of the book and was able to ask each person, “So why did you decide to come to tonight’s reading?” Everyone had a different response—from “I wanted to hear someone talk about riding bikes” to “I want to create a similar adventure.” It was good to meet the people who are now the book’s audience.
I’d ask that if you have the book, that you share it with others when you’re done reading it.
What does it mean to “exercise one’s humanity”? I think it has to do with putting yourself in a situation where you need to be better than you are. I thought about this when teaching my Ethics class yesterday, when a student, Emily, ask a good question: “Are ethics for our present self or our future self? Do we establish ethics so we can be who we are or who we are becoming?”
She asked some great questions, and it took me about a half hour of class discussion to respond to her questions. We’re currently working on an assignment where the students have to write an essay about what their personal ethics are, those guiding principles that help the individual enact “right conduct”. What is “right conduct”? That’s another discussion that we have frequently in our Ethics class.
What It old Emily is that the difference between the present-self and the future-self is in large part determined by your level of self-awareness. The more self-aware you are, the more present you are, and the less of a distinction there is between who you are and who you are evolving into. Ethics, those guiding principles, help guide us in the right direction, help us make the decisions that enable us to “do the right thing” on a moment-to-moment basis.
I listed my morals in The Descent into Happiness. After listing them, I explained why each one is relevant to me, how the ethics help me be who I am. In a way, I did the assignment I’m requiring my students to do when I wrote the book. That’s why it’s a required text for the course: I want my students to understand why it is important to me—personally and professionally—that we all have guiding principles that help us make it through any given day.
I also think it’s important to surround yourself with ethical people. I’m getting to know a couple, Shawn and Erin Alexander (and their daughter Maple). They have defined ethics, which is why I’ve decided to team up with them on a project that would enable students at my university to travel to Padibe, Uganda and work on a medical facility—to engage in ethical activity. I’ll write more about this project as it unfolds.
Yesterday, I was at the Allina Health Trail Mix Race, acting as “support crew” for Kait—my beautiful 21 year old daughter—who ran the 25k event. She was excited to start the race; she tried competing in this event two years ago but had to DNF (did not finish) because she experienced acute pancreatitis. That day, her race ended in the hospital. Finishing strong at yesterday’s event was her chance to complete something she started years ago.
It’s the first time I’ve supported Kait at an event. For the last decade, it’s been the other way around. I’m usually the one doing the triathlon, marathon, century, whatever. But I’ve dialed back on the events in the spirit of slowing things down. It’s been a good decision, in part because slowing down provides the opportunity to support someone else who is in the racing groove. Kait’s in the prime of her athletic life. It’s good to support her success.
What does supporting Kait mean? Well, yesterday it meant waiting 4 hours until she was done with the race and cheering her across the finish line. Then listening to her tell her storied event. Then driving her back to her college and making sure she got the rest she needs.
I have a feeling that supporting her may generate some personal contemplation: maybe I should sign up for another 50k trail run. Maybe it’s time to get back on the course. That’s what happens when you watch someone accomplish something big: it makes you want to do something big too.
I doubt its Kait’s intent to serve as a role model; that’s why, right now, she’s a good role model for me.
Last winter, I ordered a cycling hat from Walz—a wool hat that goes over the ears but fits well beneath a bike helmet. I had the option of having something embroidered on the hat, so I thought about it and came up with this: Love your wife—love your bike. It’s a message I was reminded of recently when I read a blog by Paul at Ben’s Cycle (Ben’s is co-sponsoring the book launch that’s taking place at Boswell Books next Thursday); they interviewed me about The Descent into Happiness. After reading the book, Paul (the blogger) emailed me, letting me know that he thinks the book is a love story. And I have to agree with him: I love my wife, and that’s one of the driving messages of the book.
Is it important to tell the world that you love your wife? Yes, it is.
Is it important to love your wife more than your bike? Yep.