Things I (re)learned on my summer vacation…(with inspiration and apologies to Pastor Bey)

I am writing this from Leah’s Desk. She is at work and I am here for my last day in Marion, IA. On my last day, I dried hers and my clothes at the laundry mat, went to The Country Kitchen for breakfast (try the country fried steak benedict, if you ever get here!) Given that she is at work, I am doing exactly what I want to do on my last day: inhabiting her house, feeling her spirit, closing my eyes and seeing her and her kids running around the place, remembering all those moments, fun, crazy, tender, and intimate moments.

I had the opportunity this past week to share in a truly joyous event: the wedding of one of Leah’s closest friends, Amy Lewis. Her husband Scott and she got married on a hot Iowa Saturday at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Cedar Rapids. I had only met the both of them once before, at an Art show a little more than a month before their wedding and had not met their friends. Spending time with them through the rehearsal dinner, the wedding and their beautiful reception shows me how obvious their love for each other is. I was thrilled and honored to be Leah’s guest through this beautiful event.

Some of the things I learned (or keep on learning more and more as I get up into my late 20s):

Be chivalrous in all that you do. When your beautiful partner asks you to get in line again at the buffet line for her because she wants to try the pork loin, do not hesitate. (especially because their may be a nice pork treat for you.)

Love unabashedly. Love wildly. Look into your partners eyes as if you looked into them for the first time…everytime.

Never pass up an opportunity to tell her that you love her.

Never get sick of hearing the words, “I love you.”

Be open, talk through things, grow and grow and grow.

Know in your heart that love knows no bounds, love can overcome distance, age, and time.

Be kind to those around you. Sow the seeds of friendship wherever you go. Allow your differences to be known, accept them as such and rejoice in them. I have had the opportunity to sow the seeds of friendship with people in the Midwest now that will hopefully span many beautiful and fulfilling years.

Be a man… a real man, and know that strength does not come through comparison of others, but through the act of polishing your spirit, everyday, every moment.

Be a man… a real man, and let the tears flow when they come to you. Do not hold them back. Know that it is okay for your loved one to comfort you in your times of trial and in your times of need. Know that it’s okay if she’s not around to still cry and know that if she were there, she would come to you, kiss away your tears and give you strength when you need it.

In a few short hours I will leave will leave the brick lined neighborhoods of Marion. I will leave the rolling hills and greenery of Iowa and go back to California where my wonderful son Steven, my home, and my Job is. Once I am off the plane, I will drive through the middle Peninsula part of the San Francisco Bay Area. I will drive through San Francisco, cross the Golden Gate Bridge, and drive through Marin County. Then I will be back home in the heat of Sonoma County, it’s traffic, vineyards and redwood trees.

I will be back here in a month. Until then I will think of her and consider her in all that I do. I will love her from afar until afar becomes no more. I will love her unabashedly, love her wildly, and never miss the opportunity to say those oh so sacred words to her, “Leah, I love you.” I know that she will never tire of hearing it.

The day before I left, we sat on the couch, Pink’s “A Glitter in the Air” came on. I have thought that it was a pretty song but never spent time listening to the lyrics as I did then. The last verse will sit with me through my trip back home:

Have you ever wished for an endless night?

Lassoed the moon and the stars and pulled that rope tight

Have you ever held your breath and asked yourself

Will it ever get better than tonight? Tonight

Uke, Nage, and the “what if” factor

In Aikido, our practice is primarily done with a partner. In a typical Aikido class, the teacher will demonstrate a technique, call out the attack and the students will pair up. “Uke” plays the role of the attacker. “Nage” plays the role of the person responding to the attack. Usually, uke will attack times and then the partners will switch roles.

A typical question that comes up when we practice this way is “What if?” As in, “What if instead of coming in with a straight punch, I fake with the left and come in with the right.” or “What if the person is stronger/shorter/taller/better/more fragile than you?” When we practice, uke’s job is to give a good solid attack. That means that if we are instructed to throw a mune tsuki (a straight punch to the solar plexus area), then we follow through. We don’t stop half way and change the attack as nage starts the technique. This allows nage to receive the attack fully and then perform the technique prescribed by the teacher as a response to this attack.
Aikido has been criticized by some for this approach. Some say that this does not present a realistic situation. I reserve my comments on the realism or lack thereof and would like to discuss another aspect that I feel is important aspect of practicing on the mat, but an even more important aspect of living our lives. That’s trust.
In Aikido, we have to trust that our partners are going to do what we expect them to. If we do not trust that they will follow through on their attack, then we will not build up the confidence to respond in kind. There are many carry overs in life off the mat (aka the real world) where this is true. We have to trust that we can depend on our partners to be honest and trust worthy. We have to trust that our partners can and will come to us in our time of need, and ask us for help when they need help. We need to trust that our partners love us and support us as we love them. When we do this, it gives us the confidence to open our hearts and live our lives to the fullest.
It is human nature to ask “what if”. In the myriad of experiences we have in our lives, there are an endless combinations of this question. As we see that our partners do what we trust them to do though, we allow ourselves to still the voice in our heads that ask, “what if?” and as we trust and show our partners worthy of trust, love happens, miraculously, beautifully and unending.

Shomen uchi

In Aikido, a basic sword strike is called Shomen uchi. It is performed by raising the sword directly up above the head, and then striking down directly in front of you. There are many other arts that have a similar strike, kendo being one of them.

Our Sensei relays a story about a friend of his going to a seminar where visiting 9th dan kendo master was teaching. His friend was eager to find out what secret techniques he could glean and snuck in early to watch the kendo teacher warm up before the seminar started. He was surprised to see the teacher warming up by performing Shomen Uchi over and over again.

It’s important to remember the basics and keep them in our practice always. Some of the basics in life:

  • I love you
  • I’m sorry
  • You can depend on me
  • I need help
  • Thank you
  • You’re welcome

He ended class today with a zen quote that I really liked:
At first, I saw mountains as mountains and rivers as rivers. Then, I saw mountains were not mountains and rivers were not rivers. Finally, I see mountains again as mountains, and rivers again as rivers.

Everything comes back to our own versions of Shomen Uchi.