In my last 2 weeks as a single man, I ponder over the domestic habits I will cast aside once married. Here’s the list:
- Re-wearing dirty clothes
- Watching The Walking Dead in my underwear
- Shopping for one person
- Cooking for one person
- Cleaning up for one person
- Keeping shoes (and clothes) I don’t wear anymore
- Not dusting
- Leaving my front door unlocked
- Not washing/changing my bathroom towel for “extended” periods of time
- Scattered books and belongings over EVERY surface
- Disheveled couch cushions
- Spreading out over the ENTIRE bed
- The probability that I will come home to an empty apartment
- An empty bathroom counter
- Knowing all clothes that come out of the washing machine are mine
- Confidence that things will be exactly where I left them last
- Playing games with myself, including: “Does this match”, “Is this edible”, and “WHAT’S THAT SMELL!?!”
- Most importantly, knowing I’ll never have to ask myself whether I’m actually crazy or not. I’ll have someone there to always respond with a comforting… “Sweetie. You’re crazier than ever.”
But I look forward with complete joy to what will take the place of what I leave behind…
The industrial fans hummed over the shimmering blue waters, while the coral and navy triangular flags that signified the 5 meter mark gently throbbed in the artificial air. Water spots clung to the metallic aquatic rails; steps that led to a world void of oxygen. That was the world that threatened my existence. In the murky depths that constricted my muscles and deflated my lungs is where I was certain I would find my demise. The prelusive feeling I always had before touching my toes to the pool water made it clear – my feet were meant for hard ground. I was a terrestrial being that lacked fins. And even though I knew others shared my fears, I felt all alone in my phobia of water.
The children, in their dark blue swimsuits and colorful goggles, hopped in gleefully as they unloaded from the locker room. Smiles on their faces as they submerged themselves in liquid joy. Little did they know that the instructor who’s job it was to help them improve and lessen their own fears of the water secretly harbored trepidations of his own. I communicated continually about how I was learning how to swim along with them, but despite the admission, you could tell that they thought my words were designed to alleviate their concerns. Comforting, yes. Facetious, no. They were the truth. I was a terrible swimmer.
For as long as I can remember, water has not been my friend. While not technically speaking my enemy, there exists a distance between us. I grew up in North Philadelphia where pools were uncommon, and on the rare occasion I could find one, it was so heavily chlorinated I needn’t bathe for a week – an excuse I told my mother repeatedly. “I don’t need to take a bath, mom. I went to the pool two weeks ago.”
But the lack of understanding between Senior Swimming Pool and I has divided us. The air I breathe on land is a given. Maybe my comfort was in the fact that I didn’t need to think about breathing. Breathing on land was not a conscious process. Breathing in water took concentrated force of which my stamina was minimally prepared. The best I could hope for was a few struggled gasps for air while I attempted a crawl stroke – that’s freestyle for the layperson. Heck! I couldn’t even make it the full length of the pool. I usually reverted to side stroke midway down the lane. And my lack of confidence was not helped by our aquatics director.
He had been an Olympic hopeful. I will not give you his name or details but his credentials were impressive. He had swam competitively at one of the most prestigious universities in the US, and the world, and had made the Olympic qualifiers in 1986. In the same year that he was competing against the best of the best in the 100 meter butterfly in hopes of a shot at Olympic Gold, my mother, Janet McShain was pushing me out of the last “watery” body in which I’d ever be relaxed… her womb.
Now this may seem a sad song so far but in summation it has a happy ending. After a long school year of tutelage, practice, and determination, I am still not anywhere close to the graceful tower of ‘Swimaptitude’ that is my aquatics director…
But at least I’m in the water.
A few months back I bought a chair. A lovely brown recliner that has allowed me numerous moments of literary respite. The chair was one half of the equation; the workbench was the second half. This is the tale of that workbench.
Loud noises echoed off the walls of my small apartment. Sawdust floated through the air. Bits and pieces were strewn across the ground. I had blisters on my right hand and splinters embedded in my left. And I couldn’t have been happier. That’s what happens when you’re making something magical.
It took me approximately nine hours over the course of three days to put together what will be and has been the work zone
for many projects. It took even longer to find the wood – turned out I just needed to go to Ames Hardware.
Wine racks, boxes, shelves, chairs, stools, miniature figurines of Vladimir Putin… these will all be assembled here. Oh, and don’t forget beautiful portraits and breathtaking landscapes. Because it’s also a drafting table. BAM!!!
And don’t think I’m not putting some shelves on this bad boy as soon as I get my money right. Shuga Please! In the meantime, here are some other gems I’ve created since being in “Abu Dhabi”, which I believe in Arabic means, ‘place of craftsmanship’.
I learned a new phrase the other day – Guest Post. It is when someone else writes a post and sends it to you to be published. I was interested in trying it out. So with that said, the following is not mine. I have stolen it from someone who lived a simple but beautiful life. And although he is not around to see it posted I find it worthy of posting nonetheless.
I sat down to write about five important categories that would be interesting to both you and I. At first I started thinking about a taxi service. I thought, maybe I could do that for a little amount of time to make some money and still go to school. But then my [fear] of trying new things stepped in and I began to worry about the area I would be traveling into, whether my car would get stolen, and many different things pertaining to a taxi service.
On to the next thought, maybe I could become a novelist. Could it be that hard focusing on absolutely nothing and have my mind journey into places I had never been. This was a very interesting thought and I would like to delve more into what could happen or whether the idea should be further shunned. [But I won’t.]
The next two are pretty much the same, except one of them travels the world while the other stays where they are and focuses more on the people at hand rather than the atmosphere involved. Traveling the globe would best be done through the missionary system. I would travel the globe focusing both at the task at hand in addition to where I would be staying. People always need help and I would love to be the person who would provide that.
It seems as though traveling calls to me from a great distance. I am stuck here in Pennsylvania, but my mind calls to Rome and New Zealand, telling me that the section of my life that I should dive into is just a plane ride away. Is it that simple? To go on a trip and not know where it will take you. To go across the oceans and peninsulas that I have not been to. Or maybe it is not about the place these people have been to but the stories they have to tell from going to them, I am not really sure.
Now, as I think about the life I could be having, my next couple of ideas don’t seem to be too great. Special Olympics could be amazing for a disabled child, but do I really want to give up my life forever to see a disabled “child” succeed.
I don’t know.
by Timothy McShain White
January 14, 1982 – May 7, 2011
RIP Cuz. Keep on smiling… I don’t know either.
Found this gem scrounging through some old college docs of mine…
by Dylan McShain
My boot is dark while I am light,
It has seen better days.
While shower keeps me very clean,
My boot is gross in waves.
Its dirty, funky, oh so old.
While I am young and nice I’m told.
If ’twas a man it would be grumpy,
Tired, worn and much too frumpy.
Like south and north, they do attract,
Like boot and me, do too in fact.
I’ll wear these boots ’til holes do show,
Then be so sad to see them go.
Back when I studied abroad in Spain, one of the first things I experienced was the confusing adjustment to living in another language. The difficulties that arose in that transition weren’t the verb tenses, or the dialect, or even the accent, but the local phrases. There was a lot of confusion.
“La Leche”, which I was taught to mean milk, translated in Spain to “unbelievably amazing!” “Dar la lata” in Español meant to annoy. Literal English translation? To give the can. But the most interesting was the translation for “raining cats and dogs”. Esta lloviendo hasta maridos.
Translation: it’s even raining husbands.
Having experienced this phrasal phenomenon in Spain, one of my first reactions to a tropical downpour in Sri Lanka, was to ask our driver the Singhalese equivalent of ‘its raining cats and dogs’. It took about five minutes to explain but finally it dawned on him our intent. He gave us two phrases, both quite expressive and poetically striking.
Morasurauna – “Sounds of Many Prunes Falling”
Na Kapana – “Cutting of the Ironwood Tree”
“Sounds of many prunes falling” is quite straightforward in its reasoning, but “cutting of the Ironwood tree”? Well, you see, the Ironwood tree, or Mesua Ferrea, is Sri Lanka’s national tree. It can grow up to thirty meters and is extremely strong, making it difficult to cut down. Which is irrelevant because it is illegal to cut one down anyway. It was chosen to be the national tree for extremely important reasons such as color, nature, and the ability to draw and sketch it easily. Sri Lanka is apparently full of artists.
But none of that answers why this tree summons the imagery of a heavy rainfall. It makes no noise when moving in the wind like the stunning bamboo trees on the island. It can’t make any noise falling, seeing as how it is illegal to chop it down. Add that to the fact that it rarely sheds its leaves and fruit, and you have one confusing comparison. In the end, I was unable to find any concrete evidence, so allow me instead to paint a grim but possible reason for such a parallel…
The Sri Lankan Civil War started on July 23, 1983. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), known as the Tamil Tigers, fought against the government to create an independent Tamil state in the North and East of the island. Thousands were being killed in the conflict, but hope sprung eternal, when India deployed a peacekeeping force in 1987. Many believed the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord would aid talks to end the conflict. That idea would prove unfruitful as the conflict would last 22 more years. What many don’t know is why the talks failed. That is where the Ironwood Tree takes center stage.
By 1986, much blood had been shed because of the fighting, and both sides were weary of the unrest. In December of 1986, a ceasefire was called. It allowed the country to breathe. During those months, peace talks began that offered much needed hope to the Sri Lankan citizens. It seemed almost inevitable that there would be an agreement. So much so, that during the talks, the government made the Ironwood Tree the national tree of Sri Lanka.
This might seem unrelated except for the fact that the building where the talks were being held was located next to Sri Lanka’s tallest Ironwood Tree. The tree symbolized the history and strength of the country and the deep roots that they all shared, roots they hoped would allow them to find common ground. Proof that branches could be made, compromises found. Little did they know that that tree would soon become the symbol of heartache and despair to a war torn country for years to come.
Talks had stalled for a few months. A palpable tension spread across the island, which increased with each passing day. During this time, a government general stationed in the north, unbeknownst to the Sri Lankan government, engaged the LTTE in their own territory, pushing the fighters into the northern city of Jaffna. This sparked the LTTE to take drastic and decisive action.
In July 1987, the LTTE carried out their first suicide attack. Captain Miller of the Black Tigers, a wing of the LTTE, drove a small truck carrying explosives through the wall of the fortified Sri Lankan army camp, killing 40 soldiers. The blast, directed at the building that had held the peace talks, also felled the symbolic Ironwood Tree. The tree would take on a new symbol that day.
No branches would grow between the two sides, and the conflict would continue for the next two decades, claiming over 80,000 lives. It is for that reason that the phrase Na Kapana, or ‘Cutting of the Ironwood Tree”, is sometimes used when speaking of such heavy rainfall. As that tree fell to the earth on that ominous July afternoon, so too fell the countless tears of a nation.
*Note – While certain aspects of this account are factual, the exact reasoning behind the escalations in the Sri Lankan Civil War are much more complex than stated above. Please research the costly conflict further here.
Narrow steps, by both width and length’s standards, gave way before us. Down and down we went, waiting patiently for the elderly Sri Lankan women to continue their pilgrimage. Some might have seen two able-bodied youngsters and assumed the women were slowing us down, but they’d be wrong. Truthfully, we were looking for any excuse to creep slowly down Adam’s Peak, or Sri Pada, or Our Final Demise, as we had begun to call it.
Sri Pada, the locals’ name for the mountain, actually translates to ‘Sacred Footprint’. Adam’s Peak over the years has accumulated a massive amount of stories surrounding its origin and meaning. The original Buddhist story claims that the stone footprint at the top of the mountain is Buddha’s himself. Muslims, and some Christians, contend that it was Adam who planted his feet there. While other Christians say it was St. Thomas, the spreader of Christianity in the east. In any case, these all combine to create a trail in which thousands of pilgrims trek each year for spiritual reasons, and in no way accounts for the thousands that simply like to torture themselves in new and inventive ways. That does account, however, to why there were so many slow-moving elderly individuals currently traversing the slopes of Sri Lanka’s fifth highest peak every year.
Songs and chants wafted through the air as small groups of Buddhist and Hindu wayfarers sang their way calmly back towards Hatton… and flat ground. Janae and I listened but instead chose a quiet walk, if you can call it that. It was a really more of an awkward rotating slow dance. There were three ways we made our way down:
- Face the right side railing. Put left foot down first, then right, feet together, and then left again.
- Face the left side railing. Put right foot down first, then left, feet together, and then right again.
- Facing straight down and either taking one step at a time or taking steps as you would a regular stroll.
You might think, as we did initially, that you would be like one of those men I mentioned in Part 1 who had been carrying the elderly woman down the mountain at blazing speeds. You also might think that you could run a marathon because you walk to work every day. You’d be mistaken friend. Between the grade of the slope and the quality of the broken steps, that would be a mistake you would only make once. Even the best of ‘The Descenders” could only attempt that brisk pace for 25-30 steps before slowing down. We on the other hand took an alternating route.
We took 10 steps facing left, 10 steps facing right, then 2 or 3 in the middle. Why did we do so few in the middle? You try looking straight down a thousand steps and not get crippling vertigo. Despite the increase in tempo compared to our nighttime climb we were in no way moving fast.
Life is full of small challenges. Every day we start our day with the challenge of not hitting the snooze button. We are challenged with what to eat for breakfast and what to bring for lunch. We are challenged with being kind to those at work that rub us the wrong way. We are challenged by the day-to-day details that chip away at our patience. Our lives are filled with small challenges. Descending 5000 steps one-by-one however, and this is a big however, is most certainly not a small challenge. It is a BIG challenge. And what makes matters worse is when little 90-year-old granny over there booking down the steps is making you look like a chump. How did her muscles sustain it?
Our body has hundreds of muscles. The number of muscles in the human body varies from about 650 to 800, most of those muscles existing in the upper body. As for muscle use, studies show the average individual only puts daily vigorous strain on about 5 % of their muscles. As we lowered ourselves down Adam’s Peak step-by-excruciating-step we experienced what it was like to take what felt like 50% of our body and use them vigorously near 1,000 times their threshold. NOT RECOMMENDED.
At the point where Janae was hitting her physical wall I was hitting my mental and emotional wall. The new day’s dawn had awakened colors and sights we had little chance of previously noticing under the cover of dark. Janae on multiple occasions pointed out the beautiful world around the trail. The only problem was that I wanted none of it. With an hour left until the base, I was done. I just wanted to be finished. It reached a head when Janae pointed out a small frog that a group of people had gathered around to watch. I replied, “Uh-huh. Let’s keep moving.” Wrong answer.
I won’t go into the details but we had a very interesting conversation that led to the agreement that we should both stay silent for the remainder. We were tired on so many levels. Our exhaustion had transcended so much more than just physical pain. We began climbing this mountain thinking one thing, and now, in the depths of fatigue we realized how far off our thinking was. Finally, and quietly, we reached Niroshan – who after our eight-hour endeavor seemed to be a distant memory. We immediately fell asleep in the car.
Hours later, now fully rested, I was able to think back and reflect on the events of that morning: the highs, the lows, and the literal ups and downs. I was inspired by my future wife’s courage and dedication. I was heartened to think of what we had accomplished together. But most of all, I discovered two key things.
First of all, I realized the obstacles we plan for are rarely the obstacles that will inevitably challenge us most. The peaks we look upon and wonder how we could ever accomplish such feats will pale in comparison to life’s real struggles, life’s real pains. I hear so many people try and equate life to a marathon. ‘It’s a marathon, not a sprint’, they tell me. In reality, it’s neither.
I know what they mean. They’re thinking that life is long, with many hiccoughs along the way, and we must endure. But it is an endurance we expect. We expect training for a marathon to be grueling. We expect it to take mental toughness. We expect to fail and fall and have to get back up again. But that is where the comparison between life and a marathon ends for me.
Some challenges of a marathon might be unexpected, but in the end, the mental and emotional toughness needed are all part of the plan. Compare that to Adam’s peak? The way up was my marathon. The way down was life. True life challenges you in ways you would and could never imagine. Real, authentic, inspiring, gorgeous life cannot be imagined. Which brings me to my second realization.
If on the way up we find ourselves – our limits and our ability to surpass those limits – then on the way down we find God. The physical, mental, and emotional duress experienced when we wade through everyday life matters little if when we stop and look around we aren’t surrounded by love.
Janae and I were able to accomplish something amazing in scaling that peak. It was truly a testament to her dedication that despite any and all fatigue, quitting was never an option. What truly mattered most, however, was that at the end of the trip – despite the frustrations and all else that happened – what was left was us. What was left was Janae and I, dead tired, asleep in the back of a silver Toyota… together.
On a side note, it is fitting to think, during this season of Easter, of hardships and ascension. Whether you are a Christian or not, we all agree that Christ’s walk to Calvary was one of the most harrowing ordeals anyone on this earth has ever suffered. But what’s interesting is that throughout His ministry he asks us time and time again, knowing full well what he will eventually endure, that he wants us to live for Him. He wants us to love and live in this gift of life. He challenges us not simply to endure the hardships or the challenges that each step may bring, but to live and do so in abundance. He gives us hope to live each day with joy and peace. He gives us a reason to still find beauty and light in this dark world. So in this time of joy, I pray we may all find that light at the end of the tomb.