Mångata

My father was so damned specific about where and how he wanted his ashes spread, but it wasn’t just one location. As he wrote in his will: “allow equal measure of my ashes released to the winds, at ten of my most favored spots in the universe.”  This included a list of ten places, most of which he had never even visited himself. I’m not sure why I felt so compelled to complete this ridiculous list of wishes he left for me in his will. That was literally all he left me–his bucket list. And, not to mention, he was dead. Who would complain if I skimped a little or missed a few? Who would even notice? My father, that’s who.

Even though he was dead, I felt certain that somehow my father would know. He was such a perfectionist I didn’t for a second doubt that he could somehow return from the precipice of death to haunt and criticize me for eternity should I not follow through on these last wishes. Even now his voice still clouds my head. I was never good enough. I will fail. That’s what the voice is telling me now.

I divided up his ashes into ten equal and easily carried packets, and transported these to the various locations he requested, whenever I found myself in position to visit them. Some were less involved than others. One portion of his ashes was poured into the wind from the center of the Golden Gate Bridge, and another dumped into the headwaters of the Truckee River, each of which was a day trip.  The portion of ashes released at Bad Water Basin in Death Valley was also a day trip, but a little more involved since it included chartering a private plane, and a near death landing experience at the sad little patch of dust known as the Furnace Springs Airport. But past these spots located in state, it got more complicated.

His list almost read like a list of the world’s wonders. There was Table Mountain in South Africa, the Kilauea crater in Hawaii, and the summit of  Mount Everest. There was Machu Picchu, the Great Wall of China, and the Statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio.

I hiked the Machu Picchu, the Great Wall, and the Christo Redentor trails. A giraffe stole my sandwich in South Africa, my shoes caught on fire from lava in Hawaii, and I paid a sherpa a whole lot of money to take my father’s ashes to the summit of Everest. Please don’t ask how much it cost. Over all it had been a series of expensive, exhausting adventures, and now all that remained was number ten.

Number ten was the one I at first disregarded as impossible and absurd. Impossibly impossible and absurd. But still I carry the equal and evenly divided packet number ten, still I wait for one last chance to finally deliver this last packet. Just to prove I am not a failure and I am good enough. Just to get my father’s voice out of my head once and for all.

And on a night like this when the moon shines off the water so clearly, it almost seems like number ten might be closer than I realize, like maybe I could walk there on a trail of light. Then I hear my father’s voice in my head, and I realize number ten is actually much further away than I think.

It is further away than I can even imagine.

Full moon rising over Belvedere, Angel Island and Raccoon Straits |via Flickr, by Jessica Merz

Mångata – Swedish (noun) – the road like reflection of the moon in the water


Number 4 of the Lost in Translation series

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Tsundoku

She had big aspirations in regards to books. There were so many books she wanted to read, but the problem was not enough time to read them. Even if it was her full time job to just read books, like someone decided to give her a generous salary and health insurance and a 401K just to read, there would never be enough time. Even if she never slept or ate, and spent every second of every day reading, there would not be enough time to read all the books she wanted to read, let alone all the books she might want to read, not even counting all the books she had no interest in reading at all. And what about all the great books that hadn’t been written yet? This desire to read became the seed for her obsession.

Despite the fact that some people considered the printed book irrelevant or obsolete in the digital age, and even if there was never another printing of another book ever again, there were just so many great books already. And while she didn’t necessarily want to read all of them, she did want to read many of them. So she made a habit of going into used book stores and buying books that she thought she might like to read. In this way she ended up buying way more books than she could ever possibly devour, no matter how many hours per day she spent, but she couldn’t stop herself from buying more. Eventually she conceded that she just liked having books more than actually reading them, and this realization caused her book purchasing to accelerate.

She began stacking them in her bedroom and guest room, and soon stacks lined the walls of the hallways. She started grouping them by subject and by spine color, and arranged the piles like some elaborate Tetris-inspired art installation. Then, after the stacks covered all the walls and stretched from floor to ceiling like paperback pillars, she started stacking her books in the shape of furniture. She made a reading chair out of books, and stacked books to make a little side table. She put a book and a reading lamp on her table made of books. She even made a bookshelf out of books, where she placed books that she still entertained the fantasy of reading, on shelves that allowed easy access instead of locked away in the literary architecture of her design. When the book towers in the hallway tumbled like dominoes and blocked access to the bathroom, the urgency of her bladder helped her recognize her own absurdity, triggering an epiphany. She decided then and there she had get all these books our of her house, and just like that the perfect idea appeared in her mind.

She carried the books outside and began stacking them, weaving the covers and pages of the books together to give the piles more stability. She constructed one wall, and then another, making eight walls altogether and forming a rough approximation of an octagon.  She tapered the walls toward each other as they grew taller, so that eventually they met in the middle, forming an acute and precarious-looking roof, surprisingly stable despite using only gravity and the interlocking of the book pages to stay fastened together. She borrowed a ladder from her neighbor and stacked higher than seemed prudent, but the more books she plugged into her structure the more stable it became. Some called it a shrine, or a temple, or a library, or a fortress, or an eyesore. It was all these things to her, except for the eyesore part. She thought it was beautiful, a monument to books built out of books.

When she finally finished her structure to her liking she could think of nothing better to do than to sit down with one of her books and actually read it. And when she finished reading each subsequent book she added it the structure with pride, and once again felt inspired by just how wonderful books could be.

tsundoku

pillar of life

Tsundoku – Japanese (noun) – Leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piled up together with other unread books.


Number 3 of the Lost in Translation series 

Vacilando

It started the moment he learned how to walk. Off he went in whatever direction he happened to be pointing, wearing nothing but diapers and a smile, and sometimes not even the diapers. It made no difference where he was going, just so long as he was going somewhere. Had his parents not started keeping him tethered on a modified leash he surely would have wandered away and ended up kidnapped or roadkilled or on the back of milk carton. This wanderlusting continued into childhood and beyond.

When he started school teachers called him energetic or a nomad or threatened to get out the duct tape when patience ran thin. Many made claims of ADHD. The truth was trying to stay seated was totally impossible for him, which made school equally impossible. He just wasn’t cut out for it, because he just couldn’t sit still. He grew tired of being a square peg in a world of round holes. When he turned fifteen he decided he couldn’t take it anymore, and he just started walking toward the south.

When folks saw him walking they had questions. Where was he going? And why? He didn’t know the answers to these questions. He was on a quest, a quest that he didn’t know where or why of. He felt like he would know where he was going when he got there, and as soon as he figured out the where he would know the why. Until then he kept walking.

People started feeding him and bringing him gifts. He garnered a reputation as the walking saint and his reputation preceded his path. He always had a dry place to stay and home cooked food to eat. He walked all the way through Mexico and into Central America.  He crossed the Panama canal and kept going south. He eventually reached the southern tip of Tierra del Fuego, and he looked off the end of South America, over the icy waters stretching to Antarctica. It was breathtaking yes, but even this was not the where he imagined would stop him in his tracks. So he turned around and kept walking, to the North.

Almost two years after leaving he finally returned home, having walked thousands of miles and met thousands of people. He learned to speak Spanish and a bit of Portuguese. He wanted to imagine that when he made it back home it would be a relief, that somehow the urge to walk would disappear and he could finally settle into a normal life. He wanted home to be the where he was looking for, but actually returning home made him feel more lost than ever. So he kept going.

Through Oregon and Washington, into British Columbia. He couldn’t stop, not until he got to the place he couldn’t picture but would know nonetheless. Someday he would make it to wherever he was going, and then it would all make sense. He would finally understand why he had walked so far and never been able to stop.

Until then, the walking saint kept walking.

Walk Me Down Your Broken Line by Lotus Carroll, on Flickr

 Vacilando – Spanish (verb) – Traveling when the experience itself is more important than the destination.


Number 2 of the Lost in Translation series

Pisan Zapra

It starts with picking just the right one. So many to choose from. Not too green; it shouldn’t be crunchy. Too brown and it’s mushy and hard to swallow. It’s a texture thing. It’s got to be just right.

Then comes the peeling. Start at the stem and work your way down. No need to rush here. Take your time. Relish this common but extraordinary moment. Sometimes it seems like magic. When you’re done with the peel just toss it in the bushes, or place it discretely in somebody’s path for a hilarious display of slapstick.

Now all that is left is the fruit itself, the tender, delicious inside. Isn’t that just like so many things in life? If you can figure out a way past the unsavory outer covering there are precious treasures hidden within. Isn’t it funny where we can find these lessons?

The fruit is delicious yes, but also nutritious. Vitamin C. Potassium. Manganese, Vitamin B6. Enjoy it. Make it last. Give thanks to whatever you choose to thank, for supplying such earthly delights. Giving thanks is an important part of appreciation. Studies have shown that the act of giving thanks helps us truly appreciate things more. Do I even have to remind you to enjoy it?

See, that didn’t take too long, and we aren’t really in a hurry anyway, Maybe there is time to eat another.

Just one more.

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Pisan Zapra – Malay (noun) – The time needed to eat a banana.


Number 1 of the Lost in Translation series

Lost in Translation

For Valentine’s Day this year my wife gave me a book titled Lost In Translation, by Ella Frances Sanders. It is an illustrated book of untranslatable words from around the world. It really is a thought provoking and beautiful book. You can find out more about this book by clicking HERE.

My wife told me that she thought each word could probably be its own story. So I decided to try to write a story for each word. I am going to try to publish one story per week, based on one untranslatable word taken from this book.

Finally, something worth writing about. Lost in Translation.

Where Profanity Comes From

My mom taught me a couple new swear words this morning on the way to school. Traffic was bad. I can’t tell you what they mean or even what they were without getting in trouble, but trust me when I say they were both creative and breathtaking.

Sometimes I wonder where those words come from.

That's the Rule

That’s the Rule by John, on Flickr