Category Archives: sociology

Focusing on What Really Matters

That is, the people that have made, and continue to make, my life what it is.

Our day-to-day lives can become, at times, spiritually toxic.

We get preoccupied by what we are doing on a day-to-day basis. Often that involves a combination of work, other responsibilities, and some form of “quest” we have for ourselves. For many, that “quest” is status or career related. However, for some, things that are typically thought of as “leisurely” can end up being that quest….

I need to get a better golf score.

I need to be the best looking person at the party…

I need to get a better time running up “the incline“…

How much skiing can I do in one day?

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More often than not, we achieve what we set out to do, as long as we willing to put the necessary time and energy into it. If it truly matters to someone to be popular, they eventually will be popular. If it truly matters to someone to advance at work, make a lot of money, or even play on a winning softball team, well, it will be done.

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I guess things do happen by accident too.

It’s just a simple matter that, well, nobody has the time and energy for everything.

We have to make choices. We have to set priorities. Over time, our lives end up becoming reflection of the priorities we set. When I see a divorced and single powerful executive, well, it is clear where their priorities have been for quite some time.

Sometimes I lose sight of this, but people have always been a priority to me. I feel far more fulfilled when I share my adventures with people, and I am certainly more satisfied when the tasks I perform on a regular basis are having a positive impact on the lives of other people.

Acting more in accordance with what my true priorities are, I spent a long weekend, right in the middle of the summer, in the flat midwest, largely indoors.

Not just in the maze of suburbs that surround Chicago, and in Indianapolis, Indiana, but also traveling I-65 between the two, not the most glamorous ride.

The main draw to Indianapolis is its affordability. It does not necessarily find itself at the top of people’s “bucket lists”, or desired travel destinations.

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However, many chose to live here. The city continues to grow and appears to be prospering!

Which means that, in Indianapolis, a group of people can easily find enough interesting things to do and have a really good night out. It is often cheaper too. Well, that is unless the evening includes a visit to the most expensive steakhouse in town…

One of Indiana’s most iconic restaurants aside, the weekend was not about being at a high profile destination. It was about the people I was around, and it was nothing short of magical. I felt that feeling that is so elusive we do not even have a word for it in the English language; the opposite of loneliness, in a world that is lonelier than ever! I am blessed to have the people in my life that I have, near and far, from all my life’s “chapters”, and people who are willing to set aside time and energy to meet up with each other. This is what made me feel so wonderful this weekend- possibly more wonderful than I would have felt had I went off on my own, to a bucket list destination, or spent this time trying to advance my career.

 

When we act according to our true priorities, the result is always better 

Just as important as what our priorities are is how our priorities are set.

Not everyone will set their priorities exactly like I do. The question is whether we are being true to ourselves when these priorities are determined, day in and day out whenever there are multiple needs competing for our time, money, attention, and energy (i.e. life).

Are we making choices based on our own understanding of what we need to feel happy and fulfilled? Or are we letting something else dictate what we prioritize? Fear of losing a job? The desire for approval from others? Someone else?

The world can often bring us in the wrong direction, setting the wrong priorities. The boss pressuring you to perform. Peers bringing out your competitive side. Even self-doubt. This is why I urge everyone, in order to achieve a better life result, to..

  1. Determine priorities for yourself. List them, and order them.
  2. Each week set aside time to evaluate, and most importantly, reassert in your own life what your priorities are and how that should be reflected in your choices.
  3. Occasionally re-evaluate those priorities, and determine if some areas are needing more attention.

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Experiencing a Different Way of Life

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Most of the time, when we travel, we are touring.  We are visiting places.  We are going to specific destinations.  We are seeing landmarks, or specific points of interest.  Or we are going somewhere to take part in a certain event or activity.

Sometimes, we will speculate as to what it is like to live in a specific area.  Maybe we will even interact with some locals, and ask some questions.  But, even then, in a way, we are still touring.  We are getting some amount of information regarding what day-to-day life is like, but we are really only getting a snapshot of a specific point in time, and some verbal information about what may make that point different from typical day-to-day experience.

Sometimes, when we travel specifically to visit people, people we know, we get a little more of a window into what life is like in a different place.  For me, a metropolitan person, who has always lived in a city or suburban area, most of these kinds of trips involve traveling to a different city, or a suburb of a different city.  While each city, metropolitan area, and region are unique from one another, there are still some basic similarities.  I have a clear understanding of the differences between life in New York, Houston, Denver etc.  But, I also understand that there are many similarities that make life in all those places distinct from life in a more sparsely populated area.

Nederland, Colorado is not too far from home for me.  Nor is it your typical small town U.S.A.  Positioned along the scenic Peak to Peak Highway, at 8200 feet elevation, and only about 40 minutes West of Boulder, it falls into the category of one of those quirky types of small towns.

This weekend turned out to be a unique experience for me.  Sometimes when we visit people, we don’t really experience their typical life.  There’s a specific event, or destination, and, in a way we all become tourists.  This weekend, that did not happen.  I ended up genuinely feeling as if I had spent some time in the day-to-day life those that live here!

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The first, and most obvious difference living here is how we get around.  To me, getting anywhere, whether it be between neighborhoods or to the center of town, involved what resembled a short hike to me.  There was no driving, Ubers, light rail, or busses, just walking along a series of trails that felt, and also typically smelled as if I were on a camping trip.

I also began to notice, and even feel, a difference in energy.  Things feel calmer, less urgent, less competitive.  This, of course, is both good and bad.  The good is the ability to relax, not feel like you are competing with everyone you see, and take time to enjoy some of the things around you.  The flip side is that lines move slower, people move slower, and most things take a little longer.  Even while enjoying the reprieve from the stress of everyday life, I recognized that, given that I wish Denver were faster moving than it is, I could never permanently move to a place like this.  I did however, fully immerse myself in the experience while I was here.

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The strangest thing that happened was finally getting a good understanding of a different perspective on a common conflict.  The center of town was packed with what many people refer to as “leafers”.  These are people who drive from the city to some nearby forested area to see fall colors.  Living in Denver, I am technically one of them, as I had been nearly every year.

Immersed in the Nederland experience, I experienced this from the other side.  Feeling the frustration of people dealing with things they don’t normally have to deal with, like waiting for a table at their favorite restaurant, traffic jammed up on all of the main roads, and a significant number of people in the lake, I began to understand why people who live in places like this don’t immediately calculate the benefits of tourism on their local economy on days like this.

This month, and for the remainder of 2016, one of my goals is to try harder to see things from the perspective of others.  I just feel like a lot of things in my life, whether it be putting together a presentation with specific audience in mind, or interactions with people, will go a lot more smoothly if I genuinely make an effort to understand them from the perspective of others.

Travel has, once again, taught me a valuable lesson.  To fully immerse myself in this experience, I had to, in a way, let go, of what I know, what I expect, and even what I want.  If more of us, both in our travels, and in our day-to-day lives were to approach people, experiences, and issues, with much of this pre-concpetion taken out of our minds, we would likely have a more positive impact on the lives of one another.  This doesn’t necessarily mean giving up on what we believe in, especially strongly held conviction.  It means taking them out of our mind, for at the very least a few minutes, to hear what others have to say, and feel what others feel.

Three Truths About Paradise

IMG_7012.jpgOur ever evolving languages can often lead to some complicated terms, and concepts that can often be difficult to both describe and properly comprehend.  One of those concepts is paradise, this concept of a place where everything is ideal, happy and worry free.  But, in various places within our culture, there are vastly differing depictions of it.

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Last year, I rode my bike through a place called Paradise Valley, in Southern Montana, along the Yellowstone River Valley.  This “paradise” is a calm, quiet, and sparsely populated picturesque landscape in the mountains.  When many people here in Colorado talk about “paradise”, they are commonly discussing places that meet this very description.

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A google image search for the word paradise primarily produces images of a tropical beach.  This is the image of paradise depicted in commercials for products like Corona.  In my observation, this is the most common way paradise is depicted in our culture, and for anyone that has ever spent a winter in the Midwest, it serves as a dream vacation.

And then there is the world of music, and its plethora of widely varying references to paradise; As a specific act of intense sexual pleasure (L.L. Cool J.).  As a hyperbole for a horrible life situation (Phil Collins).  Sarcastically (Green Day).  Detroit based rapper Big Sean comes closest to appreciating the true, complex nature of the concept, when, in his song, Paradise, he discusses his lifestyle as a whole, and the pride he has taken in earning it.

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I wasn’t expecting to find any inspiration here at Evergreen Lake.  I mainly came up here to free myself from the distractions at home, and also avoid the 90 degree heat in Denver, without traveling too far.  I did not know what to expect from this place.  I hoped to find somewhere I can alternate between walking and reading.  What I saw was a popular public place, with outfitters renting out paddle boats, stand-up paddle boards, and other strange water contraptions, families having picnics, and groups of friends just enjoying themselves in the areas surrounding the lake.

It felt like paradise- sort of.  In a way, it felt reminiscent of paradise, what it truly is and isn’t.  The concept of paradise is kind of complex, but lost in all of our songs, pictures, and conversations, are three basic truths about paradise.

  1. Paradise is not just a geographical location- it’s a setting!

It’s the time of day and time of year.  It’s who you are with (or not with), your situation, and what’s on your mind.  It’s a “setting”, in the full sense of the word, as it is applied to stories, plays, etc.  This can include not only the place a person is, but where they just were, where they are going, and how they feel about all of it.

  1. Paradise is different for every person.

Gazing upon people giggling amongst each other, playing games, paddling their boats and such, I realized that, as a true extrovert, my version of paradise is probably not this quiet retreat in the mountains, or an empty beach.  It probably falls a lot closer to Big Sean’s, a life well lived and earned!  But, also a place where people are interacting with one another in a manner that is enjoyable.

  1. We often don’t recognize paradise until after the fact.

I was inspired by multiple specific things I saw.  A group of older people playing bocce ball reminded me that life did not have to become dull and uninspiring with age (as I often fear).  There was also a group of younger people, cheerleaders, doing cartwheels and giggling about what had transpired over the course of their weekend.  Witnessing this reminded me of all of the times I had spent socializing with good friends over the past decade or so.  It was almost like a montage playing through my head.

I recalled the times I would be envious of people in a large group that seemed to be doing something more interesting than what I was doing, only to remember how frequently, I am on the other side of that equation, part of a large group, likely being obnoxious.  I recall in particular, one time, in Chicago, when I tried to replicate the experience of passing around a boot of beer, a German tradition also common in Madison, Wisconsin.  I found a place that served boots, and assembled a group of a dozen or so people only to realize that this was more of a family establishment, and not necessarily a place to go to recreate college type antics.  We still had a good time, and there may have been some that wished for that level of excitement out of their evening!

Of the crowd at Lake Evergreen, I wonder how many of them are like me.  I wonder how many of them are enjoying their own personal version of paradise, and, as I had so many times in the past, not realized it until a couple of weeks after the fact.

Day 6: The Finale

The last day of a long bike ride is always a strange day.  Not that any of the previous five days were similar to the others, but this day was especially different.  As is the case with many journeys, on the last day two things happen.

First, the specifics, the details such as route decisions, stop locations, timing, daily milage and the like all sort of gradually drift out of my mind.  In its place come grander thoughts about the trip as a whole, the accomplishments, the disappointments, the lessons learned, and everything else that has been going through my mind.

The second thing that happens is reality starts to set in.  For six days, July 5th, the day I would go back to work, and return to my “normal life”, may as well not have existed.  It did not cross my mind once.  It’s like my mind suddenly re-realized that this day was coming and that, in less than 24 hours I’d be on a plane heading home, and within 48 hours I’d be back to regular old work.

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Another thing that made this day different than the first five days is that we had two additional riders join us.  Riding with a group, and riding significantly less miles (67 today as opposed to over 100 most other days) made the ride take on a significantly different feel.

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We entered Maine only about seven miles into the ride.  I guess the previous day I pretty much rode across the entire state of New Hampshire.  And, I got my sign!  The one I had been hoping for the last two times (last two days) I crossed a state line.

The first part of the ride was nice, with a wide shoulder along state highway 113, following the Saco River.  After riding on a few back roads, and a little bit of time on a trail that was half paved and half rocky, we found ourselves headed into the Portland area.  The roads got significantly busier.  In fact, these were the busiest roads I had ridden on for the entire trip.  In some parts of the route, the shoulders all but disappeared, making these the kinds of roads I would not normally chose to ride on.

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We rode through the surprisingly hilly downtown area of Portland, and after the final seven miles along state highway 77, arrived, in the early afternoon, at our final destination for the trip, Cape Elizabeth.

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When we arrived at the Atlantic Coast, at Two Lights State Park, the day started to get emotional.

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This was, by far, the biggest bike trip I had ever been on, and may still prove to be my life’s longest bicycle journey.  But, for Clay, it was the culmination of a three year long effort to bike across the country.  In 2014, he biked from Denver to Chicago.  Last summer, from the Oregon Coast to Denver.  This year, from Chicago to Maine.  In three segments, he biked across the country.  Many members of his family made the journey to Maine to see him triumphantly enter the Atlantic Ocean, having biked across the continent, and, as a side note, also basically proven that you do not have to be some incredibly rich or extremely lucky person to do so.  He did it all while holding the same steady job!

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Of course, it is easier to be emotional when exhausted, and this picture sums up exactly how I felt the first fifteen minutes after completing the ride.  It was an odd combination of emotions that came over me.  Most of them were good, and most importantly, I felt gratitude for being able to play a small part in this whole mission by joining Clay, for three days last year in Montana and Wyoming, and for six this year.

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In the afternoon I got the meal I knew I had wanted upon completion of my ride; Lobster.  I love lobster, but I live in Denver.  When in Maine, well, really there was no other logical choice.  In fact, when biking over the last hill of the day, despite being tired, I actually increased my speed and simply yelled, “this is the last hill in the way between me and lobster”!

We ate at a place called the Lobster Shack Restaurant, which, on that day, had a 40 minute wait for service, as it is a popular destination where patrons can eat while overlooking the Ocean!

It got even more emotional after that.  That evening my main goal was to hang out with my friends, Clay and Liz, as much as possible.  They are in fact, leaving for a year long adventure, to go out and see many other parts of the world!  These adventures will be catalogued on their WordPress site.  I knew I would likely not see them for a while.

I also could not help but think about all of the things this bike journey taught me, whether it be specifically from the experience, or things that ran through my mind over the course of the long hours I spent on my bike.

Over the course of the week, I saw kindness everywhere I went.  Clay was raising money for charity.  His family volunteered to help with the ride.  Many of the people we met along the way were friendly.  I realized that, despite the amount of physical pain I put myself through, I felt happy the entire time, significantly happier than under normal circumstances.  Maybe the whole world would be happier if we all acted this way towards one another.  The most I can do, going forward, is strive to be the kind of person that gives more than I take, and do my part.

Having experienced being on mile 27 of a 100+ mile day multiple times reminded me not to become too obsessed with the destination.  This ride was about more than me laying on a beach in Maine and then eating lobster.  It was all of the places I saw while traveling from Niagara Falls across Upstate New York, through the Adirondacks and then Northern New England.  The rest of my life is not exactly where I hope it will end up at this point in time, but I can be much better off if I learn to obsess less over the destination and enjoy the journey, as I did this week.

The social media era has turned us all into avatars.  By that I mean we all have some kind of image of ourselves that we present to others, based on who we think they want us to be.  This week, I simply couldn’t continue to be my avatar.  On trips like this, our concerns shift, from the concerns of urban 21st century American life, such as getting a promotion or getting likes on social media, to more basic concerns, for food, water, and shelter.  I couldn’t put on a show for others, but I got by, and even thrived.  The others on the trip seemed to enjoy having me around.  So, I need to stop trying to be the person I think others want me to be.

Also, on the flight to Buffalo-Niagara, I was reading a book called The Happiness Project, about a woman who undertakes various initiatives aimed at improving life satisfaction and reports on the results.  She introduced me to the concept of “fog happiness”.  This is when the happiness related to an activity is not necessarily concentrated at the time of the activity itself, but spread out over a longer time period, both before and after the actual activitiy.  Once I determined I was going to make this bike trip, for the first time in my life, I thought of myself as a legitimate bike tourist.  For the first time, I felt the right to interject in a conversation about bike touring, and have legitimate opinions.  Essentially, I had added something to my list of activities and enriched my life.  We all should be more thoughtful when choosing activities, and, specifically avoid missing out on opportunities to create more of this “fog happiness”.

Obviously, anytime anyone completes an activity that requires a great amount of physical exertion, it is a reminder of how rewarding it can be to overcome fatigue.  This lesson applies to other areas of life too, but a journey like this can often be the best reminder that some of the most challenging tasks are the ones with the greatest reward.

Personally speaking, the most important lesson I have taken from this ride relates to something I have struggled with for nearly my entire life.  I seek significance in life.  I want to do things that matter and feel like I matter to others.  While with most of it my intensions are good, there is a dark side.  At times, when I feel insignificant and powerless, I succumb to anger, depression and other negative emotions.

This week, while a significant ride, and a series of significant experiences and accomplishments for myself, I was not the center of it all.  As previously mentioned, it was Clay’s ride.  He rode longer, harder, and raised money for charity.  Yet, I did not feel insignificant, as I have a tendency to feel in many day-to-day activities.  I realized, and this is important, that: You Don’t Have to be the Center of Attention to Matter.  I cannot stress this, to others but most importantly to myself, enough!

As I flew home, I drifted off to sleep, as Bon Jovi’s inspirational 2000 song Save The World played on my headphones.  Flying through moderate turbulence, I felt the plane gently shift, both upwards and downwards.  Running through my head, was an image of myself, from above, pedaling over hills, through the woods.  Nothing else was happening, I was just pedaling.

Where New England Begins

 

Everyone has this idea in their head of the ideal place to live.  For some, it is right in the middle of something; the middle of the big city where everything is happening, the middle of the woods, or somewhere else one can truly immerse themselves in the kinds of activities they enjoy most.  For others, it is places like this, places that are kind of on the edge of two worlds, that combine easy access to several types of amenities.

Greenwich, Connecticut is literally the first town across the border from New York State.  Since the people of New York, and the people of New England have a mutual preference to not include New York in the region known as “New England”, this is the exact place where one enters New England.

But, how much does one really feel like they are in New England when here?  The town is clearly a suburb of New York City.  There is no unincorporated area that separates Greenwich from the adjacent suburbs that are part of New York State.  With an express train, one can be at Grand Central Station in Midtown Manhattan in around 40 minutes.

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The town does have a New England-like charm.  One needs only travel, by foot, several minutes away from Greenwich Ave. (the town’s main street), and the train station, before they enter an area of windy roads, dense trees and quaint houses one often associates with New England.

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It has a charming downtown, as well as a “Commons” outside their City Hall, which is something I have come to associate with New England, as I had not seen areas like this referred to as a “Commons” in other regions of the country.

Perhaps one of Greenwich’s greatest attributes is the beach in an area referred to as “Old Greenwich”.

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One of the largest beaches in the area, and one of the few that permits dogs, it attracts a significant  number of people, even on a dreary day in January.

Once again, here at the waterfront, one can see where this town sits geographically.  Even on a cloudy day, at the end of the Peninsula that extends southward into the Long Island Sound, one can see both the rocky shores that pop up the along the shores of New England, extending all the way from here to Maine, but can also see the skyline of New York City.

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Around town, I got that same hybrid-like vibe.  The pace of life is definitely different from New York City.  In New York City, people appear to have some kind of sense of urgency in everything they do.  I tell people who have never lived in New York to imagine the second or third most stressful day of their past year and assume that every person around them is having that kind of day.  In the short amount of time I spent in Greenwich, I did not sense nearly that level of urgency in the people around me.

Greenwich’s New York-like and New England-like characteristics are overshadowed by one characteristic that seems to define everything here; wealth!

Dealerships selling expensive cars, even Bentleys, line U.S. highway 1 coming into town.  The beachfronts are lined with large, multi-million dollar homes, and downtown is lined with shops selling expensive designer brands.

Gucci, Louie, Michael Kors…  I do not even know the name of all of them.  Frankly, I do not even care.  I can never picture, even if one day I become this wealthy, choosing to spend my money that way.  The only reason I know the names I do know is that they pop up in popular song lyrics, particularly rap music.  While sometimes I can get extremely annoyed by designer brands, particularly if I am EVER pressured into making a purchase, I cannot help but have some kind of odd admiration for the people that managed to market them, and, convince people to spend the amount of money they do on such products.

The people who create and market designer products have a keen understanding of human psychology (albeit, they could have used it for a better purpose).  Anytime anyone spends money (and sometimes time) on something, they want to know what they are getting.  It is the same dynamic that takes place when we ask our friend regarding their experience with a specific doctor, or a real estate agent.  We do not know what we are getting.  Through brands, we create trust.  “I know Subarus won’t break down on me”.  Or, “I trust the Cohen brothers to make a good film.”  So, we buy the product.  Those that created these designer brands managed to create a reputation so powerful that millions of people worldwide purchase this product when they could easily purchase something similar for a fraction of the price!

The two main things that stop people from living in that “ideal place” in their heads are job availability and money (which are closely related).  The fact that people with this amount of additional money chose to live here speaks volumes to Greenwich’s appeal as a place that combines the best of both worlds.  People who live here seem to have the best of both worlds; easy access to New York City, the city with more amenities than any other in the country, and fairly easy access to outdoor activities.  Friends that moved here from Manhattan tell me that the move has reduced the travel time to nearly all outdoor activities (hiking, skiing, the beach) by 30-60 minutes.  While it’s easy to come here and be envious of the fortunes here, it is also quite easy to see, even from someone who might have a different “ideal place” in mind, why people chose to live here.

A Tribute to a Companion

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October has been a crazy emotional month.  Most of what I write about in this blog pertains to specific experiences.  This past summer was certainly filled with activities of all kinds, trips to various interesting places, and new experiences.  It is what I love doing.  I started writing this travel blog to catalog my experiences.  However, this month, I feels like all I have been writing about is heavy emotional types stuff.

For an experience is not just simply the place one visits.  It is also about what one does at that specific place.  It is often about the company one keeps, and who that experience is shared with.  It is the thoughts and feelings we all experience when in various places.  It is the revelations we come to, about life, about the people around us, and about ourselves.  It is also the connections we make, or the connections we deepen on these trips.  I often have some of the deepest conversations with others on lengthy road trips.

On the evening of Tuesday, October 27th, 2015, last night at the time of writing, I unexpectedly had to say goodbye to not only a travel companion, but also a companion in life- my dog Juno.

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It is nearly impossible to fully describe how it feels to have lost a companion an wonderful as Juno.  Not only did we share a ton of adventures together, but we also shared a lot of aspects of day-to-day life.  As one can see by looking through the pictures on this blog, Juno would accompany me on quite a few adventures, from hiking, to camping, and so much more.  As a cold weather dog (Siberian Husky), she particularly loved the mountains.  In fact, I remember the look on her face when we departed from one of our weekend camping trips in the mountains.  She knew we were headed back to Denver, and the look on her face said, clearly, “Why don’t we live here (in the mountains) instead of there”.

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But not only was she around through all of the fun times and adventures, she was also present for my day-to-day life, the ups and the downs, and well, the part of our lives that is not always as glamorous.  One thing we as human beings in the 21st Century tend to do, when we invite others into our lives, is only invite them for the good part, the fun part, the adventurous part.  This comes, obviously, out of the desire to be liked.  So, we present the portion of ourselves that we feel is most likely to be desired by others.  But, it is when those around us see the part of us that is not so great, the part of us that deals with discomfort, pain, disappointment, and heartbreak, that we build deeper connections.  Juno saw me in all parts of life; the night, as well as the morning after, when the consequences often come.

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It is really impossible to replace a companion like this.  A friend, whether it be a two-legged friend, or a four-legged one, simply cannot be replaced.  There is no substitute for the experiences we have had together.  There is no substitute for the way we interacted with one another.  And there is no substitute for the joy we had brought into each other’s lives.  Experiences cannot be replicated by design.  One can only hope to find something similar, or to happily move on to a new and positive experience when one is done.

I will miss the way Juno greets people in the neighborhood, almost invariantly getting a positive response from anyone we would walk by.

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I will miss the way Juno problem solves her way through the rocky sections of hiking trails.

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I will miss the way Juno would always give me a facial expression that made me feel confident in knowing that she was happy to see me.

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I will miss the way Juno often sits on the ground in a manner that makes her look like a three-legged-dog.

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I will miss the way Juno would alternate between sticking her head in front of the head rest on the drivers and passenger seat sides on car rides.

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I will even miss the way Juno found sneaky ways to pull random chicken wing bones off the ground on walks, particularly on Sundays, without me noticing.

Most of all, I will just miss the happiness she would always bring.  I guess there is no better way to describe how I feel right now that simply with the word sad.  Sure, there are thousands of other ways to complexify the emotion.

I know I took care of Juno responsibly, but was I responsible enough?  Juno started acting strangely roughly a couple of weeks ago.  The main thing I noticed was that she was kind of lethargic, moving slower than normal, and drinking a lot of water.  This felt to me like someone who has a bad cold, something which people can usually recover from with rest and plenty of fluids.  It was not until Monday, when Juno did not appear to be recovering, that I brought her into the Vet.  Still, I was not prepared to lose Juno this quickly.  I was just perplexed by why she had not been recovering and still seemed to be acting strangely.  We had brought Juno home from an animal shelter in 2011, four years ago.  At the time, the shelter told us she was five years old.  Some of the vets we had brought her to had subsequently estimated her age to be less than five.  So, at most she had been nine years old.  And, although she had EPI, a disease that renders a dog’s pancreas as useless (we had to mix her food with enzymes to get her to absorb it properly), I still seriously had expected to have her for at least several more years.

I took Juno on adventures, but did I take her on enough of them?  Did I really give her the life she deserved?  A look through this travel blog, which covers much of what I had done for a large portion of the time I had her, shows many adventures she was a part of, but also many adventures in which she was not included.  Additionally, as someone who has had to work standard M-F 9-5 types jobs for much of life, she has spent a good number of weekdays home alone for more than eight hours.  I know this is typical in today’s society, but does that make it right?  I wonder how she felt all those days.

Mostly, I just hope I gave Juno the best life I could have given her.  Because, as many animal lovers will attest to, a dog is not just a pet, it is part of the family.  I remember how strange it would feel to come home to an apartment without a dog anytime I would be out of town for the weekend and have brought Juno somewhere else.  The coming weeks will not only feel strange, but sad.  There are some sad events where one reach deep down inside and find a way to take comfort.  Many people can find a way to come to view a lost job as “for the best”, or see something like the not-quite world series bound Chicago Cubs as still having had a “great season” that “exceeded expectations”.  But, when it comes to something like this, I dig down, deep inside my heart, and all I see is a hole, for I know that I had a great pet and a great companion, she is gone, and there is nothing I can do about it.

Ideas I Am Not Giving Up On

Ideas are powerful!  They can outlive the people, and even the places and things originally associated with them.  Rome was all but destroyed in the 4th, 5th, and 6th centuries.  The people that created Rome, and the representative republic which governed Rome for the first five centuries were long gone.  Yet, these ideas made a resurgence in the 18th Century, when the founders of a new country called the United States of America created a representative republic in a new land far away.  The writings of ancient Roman authors, from those that formed the Republic after overthrowing a King of their own, to those that later tried to defend the Republican form of government from power hungry politicians, are said to have provided inspiration for the country’s founders.

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For all intensive purposes, Rome was a place that no longer existed.  Yet, ideas that originated from this place had found their way to a land that Romans had no idea even existed, at a time over two thousand years later!  Over the next Century, these ideas would proliferate, inspiring additional revolutions all over the world, and even counter-revolutions.  Roughly a century later, that idea would actually find its way back to the very place it originated, when Rome, now part of a nation called Italy, would adapt a roughly similar form of Government.

It is for this reason people are often more threatened by ideas than they are by specific people.  Today, when those of us look at someone like Osama Bin Laden, or any specific leader of ISIS, what we are looking at, and what we are threatened by goes way beyond a specific individual.  Even Bin Laden, long the subject of ire for many, needed the aid or cooperation of many other individuals to successfully carry out the attacks he carried out.  Simply put, for many of us in the United States, he became the face of an idea, and one that we largely found repulsive.

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We all have ideas.  Even those of us that do not consider ourselves creative, or inventive people, have ideas.  It doesn’t have to be world changing like the invention of the computer.  Maybe it is something as simple as the idea that it would be nice to have a train line or an additional road built to alleviate traffic.  Or maybe it is the idea that animals should not be mistreated by their owners.  Either way, as long as one understands the idea, why they feel the way they do about it, and has enthusiasm for it, the idea is worth pursuing and standing up for.

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I have a ton of ideas, and many do relate to how I feel the world should work.  Lately I have been hearing all the time that some people see the world as it, while others see the world as it could be.  I would consider myself firmly in the later group.  I commonly see some aspects of our society, and how it works, and think to myself (and sometimes say it to people around me) “we can do better”.  After discussion, I will often hear from others what has come to be my least favorite sentence of all time: “It is what it is”.  This is because, in many cases, I really see no reason it has to be that way.  Some people see this as the mark of someone who refuses to mature beyond a state of artificially prolonged adolescence.  However, I see it as refusing to give up on me, and what makes me unique.

I see an entire generation of people pursuing college education, and, more and more, post-graduate degrees, in interesting intellectually stimulating subjects just to join the workforce and be asked to perform menial, repetitive job duties and have their ideas rejected due to their low standing on the corporate totem poll.  We can do better to nurture and develop these promising young minds.

I see people not being true to themselves, in their actions, their behaviors, and attitudes.  We encourage one another to conform, to act like everyone else, and to live life according to a script written by and for a culture that no longer exists because many fear change and the potential loss of status associated with it.  But each person’s individual and unique way of doing things is part of what makes this world an interesting place.  We can be better about encouraging people to be true to themselves, and not being threatened by their unique way of life.

I see countless missed opportunities in the lives of countless people based on adherence to rigid rules and policies that do not make sense.  This is where fear takes it’s greatest toll on society.  Many take comfort in rules and structure.  However, why should someone who has completed their work, and has no other obligations (meetings and such) be sitting in their cubicle at 2:30 on a warm, sunny afternoon?  And, why should one person making a mistake with something lead to a law or ordinance preventing everyone from taking part in this activity?  We can stop taking comfort in rules, and start taking advantage of all the beautiful opportunities this world provides us.

And, I see people who have failed to make deep and meaningful connections with other human beings.  Many go through their lives feeling like they do not have the support system needed to get through the rough patches of their lives.  This is because we live in a society that does not place a high value on building social capital.  Many of us spend our days in work and social settings where we do not feel comfortable expressing our emotions and showing one another who we really are.  You cannot develop a meaningful friendship with someone that does not even know who you really are.  As is the case with the other ideas listed, we can do better on this one as well.

Periodically, I am pressured to give up on these ideas.  I admit nobody has ever specifically told me something like “don’t be who you are”.  But, I definitely feel it.  “You need to act more professionally”.  “Fireball: What are you?  Still 22.”  “Grow up, be a man.”  “You can’t just….”  These types of statements, and many more, come based on the idea that there are certain expectations of me that I do not believe need to exist.

There are even some that have given me sincere advice that I need to stop worrying about these overly philosophical issues.  After all, there are actual reasons for all of the things that frustrate me, and those that defend the current way we do things in this world probably have some valid points.  But, while sometimes I do experience frustration and rejection by acting the way I do, the alternative sounds way more depressing to me in the long run.  The alternative, to me, is giving up on who I am.

I would rather encourage people to pursue their intellectual ideas, even if occasionally their bosses come down on me.

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I would rather continue to show people who I really am, and continue to enjoy the activities that bring me happiness, even if I am periodically given negative feedback by judgmental people.

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I would rather take advantage of all of the great things this world has to offer, all of the wonderful places to visit, interesting ideas to pursue, and experiences to enjoy, even if that periodically earns me “reprimand”.

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And, I would rather occasionally get burned by someone who uses information about me for their own selfish ambitions than cease showing people who I truly am.

Essentially, I would rather get rejected as myself than be accepted by pretending to be somebody else.

We are all people of value, in our own unique way.  And, for any one of us, if we go out there in this world, and find a way to be the best version of ourselves, but still ourselves, we will naturally find people who like it, and people who see us as valuable individuals.  We all long for acceptance, but in order to be accepted in a true meaningful way, we need to overcome the fear of rejection, and stand up for our ideas.