Worth A Story

Sometimes you tell a story that sucks.

It’s an inevitable scenario stimulated by the warm glow of a loose conversation that knows no boundaries: Everyone is sharing a time when the rain ruined their day. Some are funny, some are tragic, yours doesn’t quite connect.

It’s your turn to tell, but the anecdote that you’re thinking about doesn’t really fit the format of the other stories at all. The rain has never ruined your day. In truth, it’s embellished many of them; you love the smell that announces its arrival, you love the electricity that’s in the air, you love the way it feels on your skin and the way it makes the whole world stand still like Christmas lights strung around an intimate dark room.

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But you can’t quite capture the words to describe all those feelings in that moment – you become discouraged halfway through as it becomes apparent that no one in the room is on the same wavelength as you.

“Yeah, I was walking through my grandpa’s yard when it started pouring, so I ran under the old magnolia tree that we used to climb when we were kids. It was such a cool feeling, like the safest I’ve ever felt, ya know? It was awesome.”

Swing and a miss. There’s a break of silence. Everybody is thinking you’re kinda weird now.

Dispute that.

You’re goddamn right it was awesome.

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I want to tell you why that story doesn’t suck.

That story was a figurative manifestation of your identity, your fingerprint in a story. No other person has ever felt that way, and though there are people that may do a better job at explaining the swells and currents that occur in those minute moments of distinction, you told it the best because it was only yours to tell.

It was a you-had-to-be-there moment. And not just there physically because you still wouldn’t have felt it, either. You had to be there physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, struggling desperately on a feeling to be desperately in that moment with a medley of jubilation rebounding through your vibrating heartstrings. And you know, there was only one person that meets all that criteria for those few minutes of heartbeats quickening into infinity.

You. You know what you know.

You understand what happened from every angle that can be understood – and I understand what I feel in the times that mean much to me more than anyone who’s ever existed or ever will exist. There’s no bridge between two people that could ever hold the freight of these event’s significance because this is seed of the joy in life, deep beneath the surface where eyes can see, far too complex in design, meaning, and purpose to be explained by the blind, muffled voices far above.

So I apologize in advance if I seem kind of shallow when you ask me about my past year. From August 20, 2015 to June 15, 2016 was my moment for which you had to be there, and I would never risk spoiling a single second of it for the sake of being the cool partygoer with the cool stories, because frankly I care more about preserving the memory of those golden days in the East African Savannah, under the Indian stars, cruising through the Vietnamese jungle, much more than I care about impressing any person on earth.

I suppose that I’ve found a virtue in selfishness that way.

I know for a fact that I was the happiest man alive this past year, and attempting to prove that fact to somebody seems to be the most direct route to tarnishing my pure regard for pure days past. There’s great merit in being content with your own story without having to pass it around, adding a bit here and a bit there to make it more appealing to the ears of your listeners while cheapening the experience in the eyes of your heart. Suddenly you forget how the Tanzanian sunset light poured out of the sky like honey, how the chance encounters with hearts and minds very similar to your own made a certain day explode with spectrums of ideas and laughter.

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When you reach the end of your days you will stumble upon a bookshelf, and on that bookshelf there will be but a single storybook. This book will contain the absolute truth as you know it. The most truthful book ever written. More truthful even than the history books, National Geographic magazines, and the religious texts altogether because this one was written in summer sweat, blood from a scraped knee, saliva from the mouth of a lover, tears wiped away on an old sweater sleeve: the ink of living. It was written by the reader.

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You’ve got nothing else to do on your deathbed, so you’ll heft it from the shelf, blow off the collected dust of the decades, open the cover and begin on page one.

As you read the story of your life, the secret story that can’t be shared, will your eyes sparkle over the words with admiration like insurgent diamonds cut from the young cosmic novas? Will your hands reach with blistering anticipation to the next page like a young boy’s to the next branch of the backyard magnolia tree?

Or will you cringe with regret at all the missed opportunities, at the person you could’ve been?

It depends… Is it a good story? How was the character development? Was the protagonist likeable? Was the antagonist injustice?

Did you work to change your setting for the better? Did you work to make the other character’s stories better?

Was the plot exciting?

Most importantly – was the theme love or fear?

I’m working on the greatest story ever written; I hope you’d pick up your pen and join me. This is the story that I will die in peace with, it’s the book I’ll cling to as I rage, rage against the dying of the light. Your heaven’s acclaim will reckon on the light you shared throughout the pages of days.

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Life is a secret giggled a little too loudly into the ear of a loved one, a best friend, the one person that could possibly get it. Maybe it wouldn’t do well as a story, but I’d say to whomever wanted to know that it’s not worth telling anyway – you had to be there.

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God Nose (The Face of God)

I stood facing a mountain that looked like a face.

“The face of God,” Koushik told me.

“God is a lot uglier than I pictured,” I said.

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As I looked upon the deity’s rocky busted mug I reflected on all the dismally warm afternoons I had spent cycling the village roads in the foothills- jamming Tchaikovsky and screaming Kendrick Lamar lyrics at innocent, gawking bystanders- and wondering  what all the hype about this god was about.

Thousands of pilgrims come here every day to scale this god’s poor, almighty cheek. For the past three months I had witnessed swarms of hairy people go up and similar swarms of bald people come down.

Apparently this god eats your hair.

That’s pretty weird, dude, I thought.

Maybe all those neck tattoos out there got it wrong… Only can judge God, 

Yeah, that train of thought got out of hand.

Tirupati is the second largest pilgrimage site in the most religious country on Earth. Tens of thousands of Hindus are drawn to the city every single day appeal to the man upstairs.

And today I was going to climbs those stairs myself.

I had put it off for too long, but I was waiting for the right moment. Until I knew exactly what I was getting myself in for.

I was very appropriately avoiding cultural appropriation for the sake of those who hold the tradition dear by filling myself in on the details of the subject beforehand and truly appreciating their meaning in the culture. (I would ask you to do the same for any long held tradition that you suddenly think is gram-worthy unless you have a genuine desire to tread on beauty- in which case I don’t wanna be your friend.)

So in the weeks preceding the climb I researched elaborately and found the story behind the god.

At the beginning of the age of man – the Lord Vishnu (the Hindu creator) turned to stone on top of the seven hills of Tirumala, the earthly façade of God, after prophesizing the marriage of his next incarnation and the goddess of wealth.

A temple was built around the God-turned-to-stone and it is said that any wish made purely in his presence will come true for the price of humility – symbolically displayed by removing the hair from your scalp.

That’s why fathers of the sick and mothers of the ill-fated – people at the beginning of their life’s endeavor and others at the end of a tragedy come to this place and scrapes their heads slick.

To correct the wrong and materialize the right of the crooked, bumbling universe with the fulfillment of a true desire.

So I decided to complete the pilgrimage myself.

I began the climb early one morning, just as the sun was creeping over god’s forehead. Koushik dropped me at the foot of the steps painted crimson and gold with holy colors.

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9 km up… shoes not allowed.

For 3 hours I climbed barefoot alongside hundreds of people.

People from all over the nation.

People quadruple my age, people a quarter my age. People much more wise, people much more dumb – people much more deserving of a wish granted, (it wouldn’t have surprised me if there were people there wishing specifically for my setup,) but accepting of my company nonetheless.

We all climbed up the god’s face like annoying flies perturbing his sleep. By midday my shirts and pants were drenched in perspiration by over 100 F heat, but I made it to the temple of Venkateshwara (the stone incarnation of Vishnu) panting and glowing red.

That wasn’t so difficult, I thought just before my definition of difficult changed dramatically.

This was the point when the real fight began.

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Like an overflowing liquid we were all funneled into a caged hallway to await our brief council with God. The pilgrims began to chant the name, “Gowinga” as we squeezed along through the barred narrow corridor like cattle moving blindly towards the slaughter.

But we were.

After another couple of hours of having about as much say in the direction my body was moving as a pint of water in the Pacific, I was shoved into the courtyard of the temple and ushered in front of the black, unmoving figure – the champion attraction of this spiritual amusement park.

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For all of 15 seconds I saw it. The smooth, black stone gleamed underneath the floral adornments piled higharound the idol’s neck. He peeked out from behind mountains of red, white, orange, and gold petals. The holy golden chamber was illuminated by low, dancing candlelight, making the air sickly warm and fragrant. The fever dream settled over my milky mind. Shadows danced around the figures solemn face as my gaze settled.

I was in sight of God.

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And God is exactly what I saw.

I wasn’t looking at the idol, though.

I was looking at the mother carrying a coughing child in front of me. Then at the middle age man about the send his only son off the university in the States behind me.

I watched their solemn lips slide silently apart, willing to never reunite for the sake of their destination, like smooth granite stones in a fierce stream.

I watched as they laid themselves as primitively bare as possible, laying down on their faces, as humble as the dust from which they came at the foot of a thing that would be dust had a chisel been put to it. Because their instinct had, after millions of years of ‘not enough’ manifested a human soul that had drove them to the madness of hope.

This was the true face of God.

My mind’s eye flashed back and forward at the same time, to a time that it couldn’t possibly wish to conceive – yet was built of nothing else except that purpose – to the start of the universe. The stars that came to being that would eventually come to form every aspect of this moment, the great carpenters. They are our dreams coming to being in us for the single sake of being spoken aloud at least once. Here. Now. This is our hopes and desires being ritually given back to the universe with the most impenetrable faith that they’d be fulfilled unconditionally.

And in the hopelessly wide gap between our expectation and reality is where I saw God.

Because sometimes there is a bridge. Like a whisper spanning a canyon, bafflingly complex in design and ambiguous in purpose – yet there. Sturdy, unreliable, encouraging.

Suddenly I felt the humility I deserved. My privilege, my arrogance, my intelligence, my beauty, my flesh, my bones were all stripped away in a second and I stood there naked, more raw and naked than on my entrance of the world.

I felt the presence of Everything, and I saw my insignificance to it all. My life, the big things that I think are important to the progression of the way things are or will be, are as dead leaves on the forest floor.

But I also saw the beauty of having the privilege to exist in the way that I do in the first place. I can run, I can jump, I can eat, I can dream, I CAN LOVE, and as insignificant as that may be to the universe – that’s the greatest bit of meaning that any of us could possibly pull out of this weird thing we’re all doing.

And with this epiphany fresh in my brain I left the temple as another current of visitors rolled in – and with spontaneous conviction I made a stop at the tonsure cue.

With a fresh razor and a ticket in my hand I stooped down in front of a beaming barber. Without a moment of reverence before my characteristic golden shock he poured scolding water over my head and whispered a mantra before peeling my scalp like an apple.

The entire time it was happening I could only think about how bald I was going to be.

The baldest man on earth, really. For a few seconds anyway.

It was certainly less hot on the way down the mountain.

With the most respect for the culture, the religion, and the universe, I accepted this tonsure as a gesture of awe.

 

How to Win Friends and Travel the World

By Not Dale Carnegie

Well pretty much the exact opposite of Dale Carnegie.

By an 18 year old kid travelling the world about as gracefully as a fish climbs a mountain – bravely (stupidly) venturing where no fish, or any species this low in the course of evolution for that matter, has gone before. I’m probably learning some things a fish shouldn’t, like how to tie a bowline knot with my dorsal fin and flop up a boulder. I’m also probably missing some things going on back in the ocean.

So why did I decide to climb this mountain, you ask? Well, for the halibut.

*EDITOR’S NOTE: Quincy – I swear to God…*

Discontinuing the fish-mountain metaphor from here on out (you’re welcome) my point is that I’m doing a strange thing at a very vulnerable time in my life – and I’m not exactly in my element.

But I’m killing it.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not bragging. Like I said, I’m graceless: I’m a clumsy goofball and I’m always screwing up travel logistic and very common sense things like failing to bring sun-screen on a desert trek. But I am doing really well at traversing these strange lands with all these strange people and that’s because I’ve learned this one important thing – these people aren’t really that strange.

I’ve been from the Outer Banks up to New York through the mountains of Virginia and the farmlands of Carolina – I’ve been to Mt. Kilimanjaro, Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar of East Africa – I’ve been to Delhi and Rajasthan and Mumbai and Kerala – all in the past 9 months.DSCN0223.JPG I’ve seen a lot of things in the past little while, but you know what I haven’t seen?

An alien.

I haven’t seen someone that doesn’t get sad sometimes. I haven’t seen someone that was completely not understandable.

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So what does this mean?

I had a revelation by way of public transport.

*EDITOR’S NOTE: C’MON*

One late night of travelling I chose to grab a discount sleeper bus going from Tirupati to Bangaluru. I hopped up the steps of the 11:00 bus at 10:58 grinning at something or another while every other passenger of the bus grimaced.

As I walked down the aisle my head grazed the ceiling of the darkened bus interior and an observable dread seized everyone with an open seat near them. I chose a seat near the middle of the bus beside a decently pleasant man just as the bus bounded out of the station.

It was about 11:20 p.m. when the lights turned out, consequentially plucking the passengers from consciousness, one by one. Then the man directly in front of me attempted to recline his seat and thus the revelation began.

I knew it was going to happen. It couldn’t not happen. Inevitable, really.

His chair his my legs with a bang. BANG. He tried again. And again, and once more. BANG BANG BANG.

Each time more forcibly than the last, his frustration obviously building. At this point I was just sort of announcing the word ‘Ouch,’ each time the seat down and nervously laughing in hopes that this man would realize the futility of his attempts and stop.

He persevered.

By propping his feet up on the chair in front of him and squat thrusting my poor knees into a twisting, gruesome submission, he managed to recline comfortably. I let out a small yelp of anguish before tapping him on the shoulder and saying, “Hey,”

“do you mind moving your seat up a bit? I’m pretty tall.”

Like a snake ready to strike he turned around and spat, “So, what!?”

For a moment we looked at each other in the darkness.

All I could think of at first was how much I wanted to put my fist through his head. So, what?! I thought. So I can feel my bones cracking right now.

But then the bus passed a string of street lamps on the highway. The dull yellow light blasted in through the window like strobes for just a couple fleeting seconds – but in those seconds is when it happened.

I saw his face. Really saw it.

He wasn’t handsome; his curved nose protruded from a short curtain of salt and pepper hair like a grandiose actor that loved the spotlight a little too much. His features were grim, angular. Sharp lines and stubble interrupted his brown skin which hung especially loose beneath his dark eyes. He was tired.

For all of a second I understood completely. I glanced at his shabby briefcase, at his stained dress shirt. I saw his thin frame, just a few hours before, working in an unfamiliar office with unfamiliar people, walking down unfamiliar streets – not having had a conversation all day long. I remembered back to my loneliest moments between Delhi and Mumbai, how raw I felt all the time. I think I’d be pretty rattled, too, if something had gotten between me and the precious sleep I was counting on on the sleeper bus back home.

He seemed to say with his eyes, one soul to another, “It’s been a very long day. I need to sleep”

I smiled.

“Okay,” was what I said before I turned to the shorter man next to me in the aisle seat and asked him politely if he’d change seats with me.

Having noticed my splintering femurs he said, “Sure.”

I slept happily that night with my feet out in the aisle. Just before I fell off into dreamy oblivion I looked over at the guy, he was sleeping like a rock.

When I woke up for the fifth time that morning, (the four previous times a result of roller suitcases of early stop passengers flattening my feet in the aisle) I watched Tired Guy, now Rested Guy, get up, grab his case, and hop off the bust to embrace his waiting wife and children under a street light in the outskirts of Bangaluru.

It didn’t really register, what I saw, until I got off the bus myself about an hour later. He had picked up his child with as much love as when my grandfather used to pick me up after I got off the bus from school. Just a couple hours before that I wanted to punch that guy. Why, again?

This guy is just an example. It could be your mom telling you what to do; a professor failing your essay; a child asking questions; a friend lying to you. Ask yourself a question – why do these people do the things they do?

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Now the hard part, what would you do in their situation?

Not just the immediate situation – think deeper. The entire situation. With all of their context, and all their background. If you were born like them, brought up like them, and treated like them, wouldn’t you be pretty much the same as them? Wouldn’t you be doing and thinking pretty much the same that they’re doing and thinking?

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The reason I referenced Dale Carnegie in the title of this post is because I get this idea from an Abraham Lincoln quote and another piece called Father Forgets that I found in his very famous book.

Father Forgets is a story about a father who – get this – forgets that his child is a child. He treats him like an adult that should know better than to do these childish actions. When he realizes he’s wrong he states, “I was measuring you by the yardstick of my own years.”

The yardstick that we measure people by is always our own, even when dimensions differ. Even if a person is obviously a glass of water, we will try to measure them with our yardstick. I don’t think myself a genius but I know that this does not work. If you’re a hundred meters, could someone measure you with a thermometer?

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I think of it this way: humans are all the same machine. Sort of like Model-T’s, if you will. We all have different jobs, however, different handlers, different loads. If a Model-T carrying bricks through the mountains has a lower gas mileage or worse performance than you – leisurely putting through the countryside – are you going to judge it harshly?

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If a person born in the slums, working 3 jobs, struggles to feed their children – are you going to judge them or blame them for asking for help? That’s a radical example, but the point is made.

Here’s the Abraham Lincoln quote – my favorite quote of all time, and the theme of my gap year:

“Don’t criticize them: they are just what we would be under similar circumstances.”

People.

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We’re all the same thing. We’re all just flesh and bones and minds that work very similar to each other. We’re all thinking the same things. We all have fears and anxieties that play on repeat in our heads – we get caught up in them, we get lost and forget this one truth – we’re all of a kind.

I’ve learned to see things from people’s point-of-views, in their contexts. Doing that dissolves any judgement I may have on their intentions, on their motivations, on why they do the things they do.

We’re all fighting battles. Let’s be allies.

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