Dead and Happy

Yesterday, on the 16th of May, the team and I traveled to the lowest and deadest place on earth. Around 9am, we boarded a tour bus, sixteen loud and excited college students, and drove towards the Dead Sea. I think for most people, the Dead Sea is one of those natural oddities. Without experiencing it, you fail to really get it.

The Dead Sea is very much dead (except for a small amoeba-like bacteria recently discovered). About 29% of the body of water is salt, an unlivable environment for any aquatic or bacterial organism. During the heat of the day, the surrounding desert stands testament to the barrenness of the sea. Furthermore, it lies 1300ft below sea level, the lowest and driest place to be visited and inhabited by man. It is hot, stony, and dead.

Driving beside the sea on roads built into cliffs and overlooking sinkholes and the reflected yellows of the sun on the water, there is a sense of massiveness. On the other side of the sea is Jordan. On the other side of the road
is desert. That desert contains the once mighty fortress of Masada, the waterfalls of Ein Gedi, and groves of palms. The Dead Sea is dead, but there is a rich history and life surrounding it.

These reasons, however, fall short of the actual experience of floating in the Dead Sea. It is effortless and fluid. Though dead, it made me happy.

Keep on keeping on,
J.S.U.

P.S. Don’t get the water in your eyes. P.P.S. Cover your body with the mud.

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And Stories Shared

Let me preface this with the statement, “the experience of making friends is swell.”

Two weekends ago, the Israel team bonded.

And at first, I was reluctant. Throughout my twenty years of living, making friends was the one thing I never liked doing. Awkward and difficult, the process seemed easier if ignored.

I don’t care to write down every detail of the weekend trip to a New Jersey campground. A variety of small talks and events took place from helping to prepare the campground for its summer residents to an intense gaga ball tournament.

The three days exhausted me. Tired far understates the condition of my being on the way back to the city. Sleep (and a warm shower) seemed like the only solution. Though everything hurt, I left feeling joy. People I thought I would never know became friends.

What is more, I saw these people in their most vulnerable forms. The hurt and the pain and the happiness and the strength abounded throughout the weekend, and it amazed me how each and every person’s story related – as one person put it, “stories that became a spiderweb.”

Not only was this a team bonding weekend, but it also was a weekend to grow together spiritually and mentally. On Saturday, I remember thinking to myself during a group worship that this is what Christian community must feel like, what it must look like. More importantly, this is the community I could not find in the several churches I attended as a kid.

Far from being awful, like most team building exercises, the weekend provided me with a quiet settling in my stomach. I felt happy. The cramped muscles, and the embarrassing waddle I adopted for the next couple days were well worth the memories.

It is important to share our stories. During that weekend, I shared mine. I came back cherishing stories of what was, knowing stories of what is, and anticipating stories of what will be.

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Thank you.

Keep on keeping on,

J.S.U.

Since Feeling Is First

Since feeling is first
Who pays any attention
To the syntax of things
Will never wholly kiss you;

Wholly to be a fool
While Spring is in the world

My blood approves,
And kisses are a far better fate
Than wisdom
Lady I swear it by all flowers. Don’t cry
–The best gesture of my brain is less than
Your eyelid’s flutter which says

We are for each other: then
Laugh, leaning back in my arms
For life’s not a paragraph

And death I think is no parenthesis.

“Since Feeling Is First” by e.e. cummings

If -

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!”

“If—
BY RUDYARD KIPLING
(‘Brother Square-Toes’—Rewards and Fairies)

Ted Talk: Chimamanda Adichie – the Danger of a Single Story

Ted Talk: Chimamanda Adichie – the Danger of a Single Story

This talk is rather old, but still worth the listen (even if it is for a second time).

“The more I think about just being a ‘writer,’ the more I realize that it is a position that is too easy to take. It would work only in a happily homogenized fantasy world. I cannot be just a ‘writer’ all the time; there are situations in which I will simply have to accept some tag before it. We all carry different labels and they come into play in what we write and in how we are read. The sad thing is that critics and sometimes readers do not hold all labels in equal significance.”

- Adichie, from an interview on her work http://www.l3.ulg.ac.be/adichie/cnainterview.html

Check out her latest book, Americanah

Short #1

He slowly wrote out it is done, and sat the pencil on the table. He held his breath as he watched the pencil roll toward the edge. The pencil failed to roll far enough. It gently rocked back and forth until coming to a stop. He sighed. James, a middle-aged man with greying sideburns and a tired looking face with deep-set eyes the color of charcoal, sat in silence looking down at the note. The two words were big and heavy on the off-white square paper. Using only his thumbs and index fingers, he folded the paper in half, then again. A few minutes passed with him holding the note cupped between his two hands and his eyes closed behind a pair of wire-rimmed glasses. A small pigeon ruffled its feathers and stamped its stick-like legs near the far window. Taking notice, James stood up from the table and smoothed out his wrinkled trousers with the back of his calloused hands from years working in the fields. He looked once more at the folded note and grunted. In three steps he was at the window and nimbly tied the note around the bird’s leg. It pecked at his hand once when he pulled the string too tight. Finished, he shook his hands at the bird and whispered, “off you go.” The bird, simple-minded but dutiful, understood and took flight.

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James watched as it lifted itself up on the warm currents, and glided out over the wooded landscape. Soon the small bird was lost to sight, and James could only hope that it made it to its destination before the next daybreak.

j.s.u.