Friday, April 30, 2010

Life is Banal

Another tidbit from "Walking the Bible"

In the author's journeys and interviews with various Jewish historians/archaeologists, its incredible the sense of family they project into their religion. Not family in the sense of one's current nuclear family, but how the Patriarchs of their faith, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, are their family. That the Bible is their family's history. And how many of them, in coming back to their Holy Land, find themselves repeating, so to speak, the steps of their Patriarchs. The author's journey through the steps of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob ends in talking to a man, originally from Chicago, who moved to Israel shortly after the creation of the Israeli State and built a ranch. What's at the core of the experience of living there...

"It's people, living on the land, creating, dying. Being. Life is very banal when all is said and done.?

"Why is that banal? Why isn't that beautiful?"

"Banal can be beautiful. You're born, you grow up, you marry, raise children, have a family, love. You die, they continue. And along that line you live. I get up every morning and enjoy looking at the Sea of Galilee. I enjoy talking to people. I enjoy my work. Perhaps that's not banal after all. That's God's little dream."

Banal can be beautiful. I think we often complain about the mundane in our lives, or the never ending routine of waking, working, sleeping (I've been known to from time to time). It can seem tedious, or boring at times. But it can be beautiful. Its still life; its the most basic routine that we share with all others, those around us, those around the world, and those who have lived before us. That inherent interconnectedness has to be beautiful, right?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Book Thoughts: CAL

I finished reading this book over last weekend, and then Tuesday night of this week was at the library helping to lead discussion for our local library's book series on Ireland. The book is short, only about 150 pages, and reads pretty quickly. But its loaded.

Its set in the time known as The Troubles, which engrossed Ireland and Northern Ireland from about the late 1960s until the Good Friday Peace accords in 1998. Cal is the main character in the book, a 19 year old kid who is unemployed and lives with his father, Shamie, and whose mother had passed away when he was 8. Cal and Shamie are Catholic, and live in a neighborhood that is transitioning from being a mixed Catholic/Protestant neighborhood in Belfast to a heavily Protestant neighborhood. This, of course, creates much tension in the lives of both Cal and Shamie.

Without giving away too many nuggets from the story, the book really creates an intense psychological profile of Cal, ranging from low self-esteem/shame, extreme guilt, and even weakness. But what I think makes the book so powerful is how, through Cal, it demonstrates the despair and utter hopelessness that must be felt by some who lived throughout this period. They are controlled by the weight of the history of conflict and tension between Ireland and Northern Ireland, being Irish-Irish versus British-Irish, the IRA (Irish Republican Army) versus the UVF (Ulster Voluntary Force), being Catholic versus Protestant. It seems like the characters, and the real life people living this, are stuck in a world of dichotomy, where they are one or the other, and no matter what they do, they cannot escape what that means for them. They cannot change, because the threat of death to themselves and their family is always present. So they go along to get along.

Almost by definition its a tragic story. Similar to the old Greek tragedies where the characters could not escape fate, these characters cannot escape the history of conflict that has created their world. I do not believe its a coincidence that the novel has 5 chapters, paralleling the 5 acts of those old Greek plays.

For anyone interested in getting a small glimpse into the time of the Troubles, and some of the raw human emotion involved, CAL is a great read.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Back to the Grind

This past Monday, I had my doctor's appointment to remove the stitches from my chest from the cyst I had removed. Everything went well and the doctor lifted the restrictions of the prior 10 days, including no strenuous activity and keeping the area dry. So I immediately went home and completed a much needed mowing of our lawn; it was really long.

But the more important aspect was that I could get back on the treadmill in the mornings to continue my weightloss journey, as I call it sometimes. Yesterday was a "feeling things out" type day, where I only went 33 minutes and did 1.75 miles. This morning, back to the usual 2.5 miles and 45 minutes. Its funny, during the workout its hurting just as much as ever (particularly the knees), and the amount I sweat makes it even a bit more uncomfortable, but it felt so good to be back at it. I missed the positive feeling I get each morning from my workout, and as I continue to lose a little weight in the last 10 days despite no exercise (now up to 30 pounds so far this year), I felt like the exercise has increased my metabolism a little bit, and I didn't want to lose any progress. If things continue at even near the same pace, in the coming months I will reach weights that I haven't been at in over three years. This fact is incredibly motivating.

Its funny...I really don't enjoy my workouts, I feel like I am pushing it hard each and every time; but I do like them.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Go Forth

I am in the process of reading Bruce Feiler's Walking the Bible: A Journey by Land Through the Five Books of Moses, a book that is about exactly what the title implies. The author, with some help from local guides, archaeologists, and historians, attempts to visit the modern day locations of where historic/significant events occur in the Pentateuch. I've always had a constant curiosity with the backgrounds and developments of faith traditions, and have spent much of this curiosity in reading primarily on Christianity and Buddhism, with some light Islam and Judaism. Recently, I decided to expand some of my ventures into Judaism, thus leading to this book.

Anyway, it begins with the story of Abraham (or Abram). In particular, Genesis 12:1 begins with the command from God, "Go forth."

From the local expert...

'Do you want to know the real difference between here and the Promised Land?' Avner asked, not waiting for a reply. 'There are no rivers. There are no floods. Canaan was settled. It had some rain. But the water wasn't predictable, or plentiful. In saying lech l'cha''--go forth--'God changed the history of the world. He gave Abraham the power of fertility, the power to create a great nation, which up to now had belonged only to the rivers: the Tigris, the Euphrates, the Nile. From now on, people - not water - would control the world. People who believed in God.'

Civilization at the time was very much limited to Mesopotamia (Tigris, Euphrates) and Egypt (Nile). Water is essential. What faith Abraham had to display to leave behind the one thing that was known to create great nations and support civilization, and trust a voice and its command.

Trusting the unknown over the known.

Go forth.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Bump in the Road

Well, I have hit a small snag, or a bump in the road, on my goal for continuing exercise. Beginning last Friday, to at least next Monday, I am unable to complete any exercise. After much pressure from Jackie, I finally got a small bump that I had on my chest examined by a doctor. It was determined that I had a subcutaneous cyst, that it fairly deep as these things go I guess, and I should have it removed; and they happened to have an appointment to do so the next day. So on Friday I go to the doctor's office and in a forty-five minute procedure, they make an incision in the center of my chest, remove the cyst (about an inch deep, kind of egg shaped), and put in some stitches. Then I'm told I can have no strenuous activity for at least ten days, particularly no stretching of the chest, and that I must always keep it dry. Combined, these restrictions essentially eliminates any real exercise. I can do some light walking as long as I am careful.

I already feel the difference in my routine, and as difficult and painful as my forty-five minutes on the treadmill is each morning, I somewhat miss it, just to have the continuing feeling that I am working hard and making progress. It was a tad bit more frustrating to halt the exercise after seeing some very nice numbers on the scale; but I guess those are the breaks. (Quick digression - I also can't mow the yard, and that is driving me crazy...its going to be jungle like by the time I can get to it next week, hopefully).

Due to this, I thought, in order to try and keep my goals at the forefront of my mind, and not having the daily reminder I so value in the treadmill, I would try to focus more on my eating habits. I have made substantial progress from where I was four months ago; I am much more conscientious both of what I am eating and how much I am eating. And I have no doubt that it has helped my progress; but I also have no doubt that I have been far from consistent, and to truly achieve the lifestyle I want, there is still much, much progress to make to my diet. So, I hope to use the next ten days as an opportunity to truly be scrutinizing over my diet, make good choices each day, and for each meal, in the hopes that I continue to remind myself each day of the goals I wish to reach, and with the ideal of combining the even more improved eating habits with daily, strenuous exercise again sometime next week.

Until then, its a lot of obsessing over smaller meals, and growing grass.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Update: Progress

I have realized that over the past month or so, I stopped posting any updates here about my progress or effort at continuing exercise and seeking to lose weight. For awhile, I would mention something on Twitter about it, but even those mentions have stopped in the past few weeks. Thankfully, this is not because I haven't been continuing the effort. To the contrary, part of me believes the reason for the lack of motivation to do a post here about it is that it is becoming more and more part of the routine of life, not something out of the ordinary that deserves a post on here (if that makes sense). I still have committed to 45 minutes a morning, for anywhere between 4 days (last week due to Spring Break) and usually 6 days a week.

Looking back, I realize that I pretty quickly committed to the 45 minutes each morning. But I also find that I started at around 1.75 miles on average. All of last week, and the two days so far this week, I have been just over 2.5 miles. So, in the course of 3 months or so, I have been able to increase my distance by 3/4 of a mile within the same time. Its nice to see measurable progress.

There has been other measurable progress as well. For my birthday last month, one of the things Jackie got me was a scale, because she knew how much I was struggling to determine if I had lost any weight. Its still somewhat difficult to know exactly, because the last time I was weighed or weighed myself was about two years ago at a doctor's I have no idea if I stayed the same weight from then until I started exercising, if I gained or lost weight or whatever; but I have used that weight as my starting barometer because I really don't have any choice. So, based on that, I have lost a little over 25 pounds so far this year, and am closing in on 30. Again, nice to see measurable progress.

Haven't really notice much difference in the way any of my clothes fit...when you have as much to lose as I do, 25 pounds doesn't have as much of an impact. The things I do notice, well, I joke with Jackie that I have lost all of it in my fingers (my ring keeps getting looser), my neck (work shirt collars aren't as tight), and from my knees down (probably the most evident, my calves have much better definition from all the walking). All of this means is that I have lost the weight in areas where only I really notice, the big areas haven't changed, thus making it difficult for someone else to notice. At times, it would be nice to have that recognition; and I am sure if I am patient it will come in due course. For now, I have been pleased and very surprised at the progress I have made, and am simply glad that I have stuck with it this long to make that progress, and to be able to measure it so concretely in terms of my exercise endurance and weightloss.

It makes dealing with the constant aches and sore muscles in my knees and upper legs so much easier. I don't imagine I will go back to posting weekly updates...its become part of the life routine now, which is what needed to happen to reach long term goals and success. But from time to time I think I will find the need to post on the progress, if for no other reason that it encourages me to continue to press forward.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Opening Day

Today is opening day in baseball (I understand that the Yanks-Red Sox played last night, but today is the real opening day for all of baseball). Similar to the first few days of the college basketball NCAA tournament, and the beginning of college basketball season, this is one of my favorite sports time of the year. However, baseball has always carried more meaning and importance for me than simply sport. To say this is not to diminish my fandom. Baseball has always been, and remains, my favorite sport. The knowledge and history of baseball, the statistics, both old and new, the players, both old and new, have always stuck with me easier and clearer than any other information (I've often wondered how much easier college and law school would have been if my brain could remember that info like it was baseball info). I feel like I can have a somewhat intelligible discussion with a fan of any of the 30 major league ball clubs about their club, and their best players and chances for an upcoming season. Obviously, I know more about my club, the Tigers, than others; but my passion for the game means I follow the entire sport. I may spend more time watching college basketball on TV than I do watching baseball; but when it comes to time spent reading about a game/sport, time thinking and discussing, nothing comes close to baseball.

To spend this much time on something so seemingly trivial as a game is sometimes disconcerting to me; but I often remind myself that, as I said earlier, baseball has much more meaning to me than just a game. First and foremost, its significant in my relationship with my dad. My dad was my little league baseball coach growing up; the one who showed me how to hit, who gave me drills to do to make myself a better player; taught me to rub my new glove with bear grease and bake it in an oven to break it in; taught me how to throw a myriad of new pitches. He was the one who would take me to games and point out and talk about all the strategy going on behind the game. I love baseball so much, in large part, because it serves to remind me of how close of a relationship my Dad and I have. Anytime we had our ups and downs during my teenage years or beyond, anytime there was any friction between us, it was as simple to start talking about baseball to move on from whatever inconsequential thing was between us.

I struggle to find the words to truly emphasize how significant baseball is to our relationship, how meaningful. Before I got married, my Dad wanted to take a trip, just the two of us, because he figured it would be harder and harder to take such trips once I was married, and started a career and so on (and it is, life kind of works that way). So we took a road trip, to Cooperstown, to the Baseball Hall of Fame. So during spring break in my second year of law school, we headed to upstate New York. We visited the museum, we talked about our favorite players, we shared memories from baseball, we talked baseball. Something about this story sticks with me, and again, reminds me how important baseball is to our relationship.

There's more to my love of the game than just my relationship with my Dad, although I don't doubt that that is the most significant aspect of it. But baseball also allowed me to get to know my Grandpa Russ. Russ was my grandmother (on my dad's side) second husband. Both of my biological grandfathers passed away before I was born. Thus, Russ was the only grandfather I knew. For a school project once, we were supposed to interview someone who lived through the Great Depression. Both of my grandmothers were just a tad too young to truly remember the Depression, but Russ wasn't. I was comfortable talking to him; why...because we had gone to baseball games together. So, with my Dad's help, I took Russ to a ball game and "interviewed" him for my school paper. I found out he was an extraordinary man; a man who left home at 16 after his Dad died to make his own way in the world; working on tractors all the way from Montana down to Texas during the Depression years; and how he actually had a try out with the Detroit Tigers before WWII in 1939. Grandpa Russ never made that try out, he injured his pitching arm in a car accident nights before, forever ending any baseball career that he might have had. But he talked about it with no regrets, or even sorrow. I felt that such a blow would be crushing, but Russ didn't dwell on it; he still loved the game, and cheered for the Tigers for another 60 years. Through baseball, I came to understand my grandfather better than I ever would have without it.

I think what drives baseball for me is that I find its a sport that can nurture relationships, or at least did so for my relationships. It has been a rock for the relationship between my Dad and me. It served to open up so much more depth in the relationship between my grandfather and me. When I was in high school, my Dad and I went to every home game for the Class A Lansing Lugnuts. In addition to all the long talks we had (baseball, because of its slower pace than other games, really allows for good conversation), we had conversations with ballplayers on the Lugnuts who were sitting behind home plate helping the team with scouting. Through those conversations, you met young men and the dreams they had, heard stories about their determination and perseverance. And there's a part of you always rooting for them when they make it to the majors, regardless of what team they play for.

So as the season gets in full swing today, I continue to digest all these memories. I look forward to some time this summer when my Dad and I can go to a game; see that green outfield grass, the cleanness of the foul lines, hear the crack of the bat and the pop of a catcher's mitt; to debate what pitch is coming next on 2-2 count with runners on and a 1 run lead; and, in addition to the subtle beauty of the game itself, I know we will enjoy good, solid, conversation filled with depth and meaning. That's the type of special Baseball is for me. And as I listen to the radio broadcast while at work this afternoon as the Tigers take on the Kansas City Royals, I know that in all likelihood, my Dad's doing the same. I know, my Dad and I, will always have Baseball.