The past week hasn’t been easy, I’ve moved and will probably move again. But it’s been great because I’m alive and life is beautiful. I had a conversation with a disgustingly thoughtful friend of mine the other day who brought up the subject of being thankful. I just constantly think about how blessed I am, he said. I think I said something back to the tune of Yeah man, you’re right… How’re the honeys in St. Louis treating you? So I have a long way to go, but it made me think of some beautiful things I’ve seen and experienced in the past week, including two fantastic broments, and a painful moment of clarity. (Moment of clarity will come in the next post, I need to think about it some more)
I’m outside reading in the sun and a hawk flies over me. Do you know that hawk’s tails are a huge part of, if not the primary way they stabilize themselves? I watched him circle for almost twenty minutes, soaring, balancing, and watching the ground. Hunting. I can’t help but wonder what kind of core muscles it would take for a human being to do the thing. I’ve never fixated on the idea of flying before, had flying dreams, or wanted to be a pilot, except after watching Top Gun, but that probably had more to do with being awesome. Lately though, I can’t get it out of my mind. I watched the hawk for twenty minutes, doing nothing else. Then I watched pigeons. Seriously. Just sat and watched them fly in waves behind our house. They’re completely different from hawks and a lot like sparrows. It’s like watching one big nebulous animal.
Running though, that’s beautiful, and as close as I can get to flying. I went for another weak-sauce long run on Saturday, waiting until the sun was high enough to get me sweaty, and then stripping down and heading out. As I loped along the east bank of our river, I noticed that my feet were swimming in moths and butterflies. Every time my feet hit the dirt, a poof of white and yellow would swirl up and stay up for five or so meters behind me. It was so cool, like I was running on soft colorful clouds or something. I hooked a left on my way home to add some extra minutes, and after a half-mile or so came upon an abandoned quarry that had filled with a thick and dark liquid that I hoped was just nasty rain water. The sun was high and white-hot off the rocks, and I had a rare moment of intuition in which I realized all wasn’t bad and so much was within me.
The white rocks reminded me of Nelson Mandela’s working the lime pits on Robben Island. Yeah, even with my tendency to romantacize my life with internal voice-overs while I’m working-out and doing other things I consider badass, I’m just barely not stupid enough to refrain from making any Mandela comparisons. However, as I headed back home through the sage brush, I remembered something important. Madiba, who went through more than any human should endure, didn’t appear to dwell on his own misfortune, and better, didn’t lose faith in humanity. So once again my reasons for losing faith in humanity pale and seem silly compared to…um…thirty some years of unjustified imprisonment, apartheid, and torture. Hence therefor and so on and so forth, life is good, I’m now being fed well, and the weather couldn’t be better.
Onto the broments. Saturday night I was sitting in my room reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and my host-brother from the first family I stayed with came in and told me he’d be back in an hour with beer. I replied that I’d supply expensive American cigarets, we’ve perfected the system. He brought two bottles of his favorite unfiltered Biele Medved (Polar Bear), a forty, and two plastic cups. The forty was fantastic; smooth and pleasant, the Heiniken I’ve always dreamed of. We sat outside for over two hours, drank all the beer and smoked all the cigarets. We covered girls, life, politics, the economy, racism, more girls, and more life. He’s a good guy, and that’s something that transcends culture, and to be honest, I don’t care what else I do here, that kind of stuff, those kinds of interactions, I’ll take that any day over a very successful project. I mean, I like the projects too, it was very satisfying to watch the success of my women’s seminar. But those real, unprovoked, mutual moments, are what keep me here.
Second broment. I run here, and gratefully that adds an addendum to my label ‘American’. I’m the ‘sportsmen(athlete)American’. The trainer from the boxing school has been on me all summer to come workout with him, and so far I’d demurred due to scheduling conflicts. Last week was the first time the timing worked out, so I headed over to see what was up. What was up was two hours of jumping, stretching, somersaulting, kicking, and punching with a bunch of awkward high-schoolers. I had a blast, but having my students there was strange enough I decided it would be a one-time thing. Besides, the trainer wasn’t even there, class was taught by this big scary looking dude who said he was a friend from the city.
The big scary looking dude from the city came up to me on Monday when I was sitting on a bench reading Machiavelli and asked me why I stopped showing up. I told him, and then formally introduced myself. He grinned, I know you, you were on the train when I went down to Almaty to compete with my team. I immediately remembered, on the way to IST in March I had tea with a bunch of big scary-looking guys from a military academy. Yeah man, I said, I remember you. I would love to train, but it’s too awkward. He thought for a minute and then told me to come before class, and I could train with him. Oh great, I thought, I’m going to spend an hour as a human punching bag, but I said okay, and met him at the coal shed (where the “gym” is) the next day.
My stomach was visibly distended from plouffe (rice dish), and despite my protestations he insisted we walk around for a while so I didn’t throw up. Turns out the big mean-looking dude is a softy; we ended up walking into town to try to find birthday fireworks for a girl he’s crushing on. After the walk we did a warm up jog before getting into the fighting. I learned a lot, but the fighting was second to this guy’s story. Turns out he’s the 75 kilo (fighting weight, more like 80) mixed martial arts champion in Kazakhstan, and is heading to Moscow to compete next month. Then I remembered the coach in the train pointing him out and saying that he was going to be a world champion.
I asked him about this, and he said that he was confident that he’d win in Moscow, but the world championships in Brazil would be tough. Then we worked more on punching and blocking. Frustrating when he’d block me with these little hand flicks until he taught me how, and then it was awesome. I felt like a kid in a candy shop, and he seemed happy that I took to it. He gave me tips, I listened, then worked them out. Mostly though, he talked about girls and talking to girls. Kind of a body-temple guy, never smoked, doesn’t drink, could kick anyone’s ass without breaking a sweat, and looked me dead in the eye and said, After the Army, I can’t talk to girls. I forgot how! I think I need to learn how to dance.
Well, I said, I’m not an expert but…And then I waxed poetic about a subject on which no man is expert, but all claim to be. I wanted to help without destroying his romanticism because hey, that’s awesome, it’s like Santa and Presidential elections. My sticky points were confidence, listening, flowers, and fun. This was all between punching, bone breaking stretching, jump-roping, and me smelling my hands after taking them out of the mitts and trying not to vomit.
It’s been a good week.