From Scratch

From Scratch

It’d be a lie to say we hadn’t already invested in writing a biography for Leo, but those efforts stalled, leaving us wondering what to do. We had invested too much time and effort to let it go. Besides even when we tried to move on, it kept coming back to us. Seeing as we had little idea of what we were doing from the beginning, we’ve always worked to serve as conduits. To let the story speak for itself. We’re starting over from scratch, still a little unsure of what the story will be. This is the first draft of a new story.

Wednesdays aren’t known as seminal days but it was for us. It could have been a typical Wednesday counting hours down to the weekend and it was only a few minutes that ensured it wasn’t. We could have easily missed each other. But we had a date with destiny. As the rain clouds scattered outside, we huddled inside, hiding from work. The conversation started with the mundane. Slowly, the conversation shifted. Books were a safe topic for work friends, personal but not too personal. Then it happened. We decided we were going to write a book. Looking at what’s published, it couldn’t be that hard. More specifically, my grandfather. A man who crash landed in the South Pacific during World War 2, punched a shark and partied with cannibals. That may be a glorified remembrance of the moment or how I actually sold it. Either way Ryan was hooked. The book should be easy to sell. World War 2 stories were in vogue and with a little research the book could be printing in time for the holiday season. Looking back, agreeing to this was the easiest part of it. Neither of us had the slightest clue of how to write a book. We assumed we would need an outline and research. And a schedule wouldn’t hurt anything. We would quickly learn that we were slightly mistaken in our estimates of both time and research. Properly researching a book, as it turns out, is a time consuming process, so is actually writing it out. We would deal with those problems when we got there, but for now we were hopelessly optimistic about our chances.

I don’t know if we were really that interested in writing a book or simply excited at the avenues that could be opened up as published authors. The idea of being writers was appealing to us but there was something more to it than that. We wanted more than a life as city workers.  This was our way to build a life of more. Not more stuff. More meaning. It was here that we acknowledged that Jesus changed the world when He was thirty three and our average age was thirty two. It was never too late to start building something. As Jesus was the Son of God, He had a few significant advantages over us. We quickly accepted that we were neither going to change the world when we were thirty three nor on as a dramatic scale as the Son of God. All this was said with belly laughs, which drew unnecessary attention to our loafing. Despite the laughter there was a seriousness that we kept at bay with our laughter. We wanted more from life. That was never in question but I don’t think either of us was prepared to accept that we had found more in our office lobby.

The allure of my grandfather was genuine. We weren’t looking at him and his story as nothing more than a vehicle for us to encounter our better envisioned future. He was an enigma to me. There was little I can recall about him. He mostly was a presence in my life. We spent time together but I can’t say there was a ever a bond between us beyond him being my grandfather. He was quiet. That is probably what I remember most about him. It’s also the thing that made it the hardest to know him. The problem was exacerbated by my social awkwardness as a child which can be contributed to how similar Leo and I were. We both enjoyed our own company to a great degree. People often felt like an option in life. An additional side with dinner. We said little because we weren’t entirely sure of how to exist in relationship with others. We were content by ourselves. This left a gap between us (and most of the world) that neither were much bothered by or much interested in finding a way across.  So Leo was left as almost a ghost haunting my childhood. A quiet, dutiful spirit that came, ever ignoring the call to stay. The book would be a way to finally find a road between, a chance to know the man that had existed throughout my childhood.

Like that, we were off and running.  What started with unbridled enthusiasm would eventually encounter life and reality, both of which would slow us down. This journey would move in fits and starts. Sometimes we were consumed by the enthusiasm of it. Other times we were weighed down by the difficulty of the task we accepted. There was rarely a middle ground. And often times we simply moved forward because we had agreed to. It seems that we mostly kept pursuing it because we had agreed to. A begrudging stubbornness drug us forward when we our wide eyed wonderment faded and hope of completing this book had been trampled by reality. We took turns on watch. Neither of us was fully responsible for setting the pace. As one of us fell behind, the other would carry the promise of it all forward. Calling the other along. Neither of us seemed particularly suited to this role, at least in this context. Our hopes generally existed in a realm alongside some of history’s greatest fiction, so they could easily capsize.  Given they had little tether to reality. This would show itself to be an exhausting emotional rollercoaster over time as we quickly and regularly travelled the distance between hope and disillusionment. Our only saving grace is that we somehow always found ourselves at opposite points. Our despairs never lined up.

A book unwritten

A book unwritten

This was written in the moment as we were starting out but I think it’s wrong now. This is not the story we wound up with. There’s a different story to tell. Maybe that’s the story we have to tell. A story about living intentionally with purpose, but life still shapes the journey as you go. Where we ended wasn’t where thought the road was going

The course of conversation was meandering as was typical for us. I had been attempting to read a book that should have been an exciting read but it required far too much effort for far too little pay off. I gave up less than a hundred pages into the book as the author had sucked all fun out of the story. This was my motivation to breach the subject with Ryan. There are too many bad books in the world. One way or the other, I was prepared to contribute. I asked Ryan if he wanted to write a book. With few embellishments, I gave him the elevator pitch of the story. My grandfather. A man who crash landed in the South Pacific during World War 2, punched a shark and partied with cannibals. That may be how we choose to remember the conversation or that may be what I actually sold Ryan on. His eyes lit up and he agreed without a thought. We had both avoided working for long enough, so we went on to start our days. I almost forgot about the conversation as soon as it was over. It was a nice piece of fantasy but it was never going to amount to anything. But neither of us were willing to let the dream go. The book kept popping up in conversations. We wanted to write a book, but our conversations never seemed to move past the imagined grandeur of the story we were going to tell.

Then a funny thing happened we started to get serious about this. In spite of our short attention spans, we stayed focused on Leo’s story. My motivation stemmed from my brother’s notable observation that we knew very little of our family history. For me, this was a present to him and his kids, so that they could grow up better connected to our roots and hopefully know where they come from, other than Iowa. As the conversations continued, I learned something unexpected about Ryan. The reason why he remained doggedly committed. For the better part of thirty years, he had dreamt of being a writer. It started in fourth grade for him. He wrote a superhero story and read it to his class. At that moment, he understood the power of storytelling and was in love. He pursued writing intermittently over the years and in secret. He submitted articles sporadically, hoping to get something published. He submitted children’s stories, hoping to get one published. He was reluctant to let anyone other than prospective publishers know this dream. This was his big dream that he struggled to share with people. And understandably so. There is something deeply personal involved in writing and releasing that into the world is a difficult proposition. It is a kind of fear of rejection, but writing, given its personal connection to its author, leaves a lot of possibility for embarrassment. The revealing of something deep and hidden in your life to the world is a trying experience. Even the thought of talking about writing was a difficult task.  It took him a while to even tell me about this. It was a few weeks after agreeing to writing Leo’s story that he let me in on his hidden dream. He had mentioned it in passing over the couple years we had known each other. But it never seemed like anything more than a hobby for him when he had a few minutes to himself. He didn’t even tell me this in person. I found out as a byproduct of our newly formed joint venture. We were talking about starting a blog to track our journey and hopefully entice a readership to join our trip and so he submitted an entry detailing his account of how this all started. Nestled within the words was the revelation that this was deeply important to him. Not Leo’s story, but writing. Our dreams bumped into each other on an otherwise unremarkable Wednesday and they fit together like they had been waiting a lifetime for each other. Whether we had meant to seriously commit ourselves to chasing Leo’s ghost, we were seemingly committed to it by something outside ourselves.

 

We’re trying this again

Dreams are hard if you weren’t aware. They require hope, not optimism. Somewhere along the way we lost our hope in making any of this a reality. Ryan and I have managed to trace the demise of hope and the frustration that grew in its place. We started this with no understanding of what we had agreed to, but we both assumed producing a piece of writing would be the hard part. That was the easy part of it. The actual process of finding someone in agreement with us has shown to be the difficult part. As we were starting to realize how difficult the publishing process is, we stumbled into a writer’s critique group, which, in hindsight, we left with the wrong impression. Sharing our finished works and works in progress with strangers was again the easy part. Having strangers, who haven’t published (or even written) anything, tell us what we are doing wrong left us confused at first. Then frustrated. Then hopeless. We had already accepted the difficulty in transitioning from unpublished authors to published authors when we had a room full of hopefully soon to be published authors tell us what we were doing wrong. The situation was compounded by the seriousness of everyone. None of them seemed aware of how silly the whole thing was. People stuck in the exact same situation as us are telling us to how to make the transition when they haven’t been able to figure out the selling formula themselves. And this is where we were supposed to go to learn how to get published. If this was our chance to learn how to get published, we would never make it. The disillusionment was slow to set in, but the seed had been planted. We slowly drifted from discussing writing. We drifted from keeping up with the blog. It all sat, collecting dust.

For me, the saving grace was that we had shared our outlandish dreams with so many people. After a couple months of dormancy, people started asking about it. Asking what had happened to the blog. Asking what had happened to Forgetful Jerry. There was a small but faithful group of friends who weren’t going to let this end so easily. So here we are, picking up where we left off.

Performing the Faith: Bonhoeffer and the Practice of Nonviolence

Performing the Faith: Bonhoeffer and the Practice of Nonviolence

In addition to chronicling our writing journey and posting samples of our writing, we are introducing a new feature. They aren’t book reviews, but our thoughts on books. We work to be better producers of words by being avid consumers of words.

I’ve long identified as a pacifist, because I don’t see any other possibility for Christians. Despite my opinion, pacifism is a minority view amongst Christians, unless you belong to one of a handful of faith traditions that actively teach nonviolence, such as Quakers. I’ve finally decided it is time for me to explore this and attempt to understand what it means in my life as a Jesus follower, so I’ve been adding to my reading list with this intention. Performing the Faith: Bonhoeffer and the Practice of Nonviolence by Stanley Hauerwas has been one of my first forays into intentionally exploring what nonviolence means.

One of the most important points Hauerwas makes is that nonviolence cannot and must not be understood as against violence, which is to say we can’t define ourselves by what we aren’t. Instead, nonviolence should be a synonym for the friendship that God has made possible and this friendship is an alternative to the violence of this world. Through this friendship with God we have been tasked with the ministry of reconciliation, which includes, but surely is not limited to, reconciling humanity to itself. Violence only serves to undermine friendship and does not have a place there. If we are called into friendship with God, so that we can share that friendship with all humanity, how can we participate in the violence of this world? Elsewhere Hauerwas states one of the most powerful antidotes to violence is conversation, willingly making oneself vulnerable in front of an other. Shouldn’t this be the trademark of our lives and not a continued participation in the violence of this world?

After September 11, 2001, as American announced “we” are at war, Hauerwas knew that his “me” cannot exist as part of the American “we”. There is not part of him that was at war. My turning point was not September 11, 2001, but May 2, 2011. As America celebrated the death of Osama bin Laden, I felt a disconnect. There is no part of me that could celebrate his death, because one murder is one too many. Like Hauerwas, my “me” has been separated from the American “we”. My allegiance is not, and cannot be, to a community that celebrates death. Instead, it is to a counter-community that would rather die than kill. After all, God decided it was far better to die on a cross then to redeem the world through violence.

Image taken from: http://archive.defense.gov/dodcmsshare/photoessay/2011-05/hires_110502-M-KZ372-100a.jpg

The story goes on

The story goes on

It started with an email. A simple question. A question asked by a guy with a big, but undefined dream. The Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum had a library dedicated to the history of aviation and Ryan wanted to visit. We left the library discouraged. We hadn’t found anything new or even particularly helpful. It was another dead end, not the first and not the last one. Despite the setback, Ryan kept in touch with Jean until the conversation eventually petered out. Months after their final correspondence, Jean sent him a note asking for his address. Shortly thereafter the above package arrived in his mailbox with everything she had found about Lucy Bolling Orrick. 

I’ve been more than a little discouraged with this over the past few months as it felt like we couldn’t make any progress. All our best efforts were leading no where. But the road still calls us forward. The story still wants to be told.