Internet Love Story

The Internet is creepy. A land of voyeurism and judgement. A hot bed for the exchange of righteous opinions and bad information. Shameless self-promotion, shameful self-deprecation. Wedding pictures. Food imagery. Hashtags and viral videos.

My relationship with the internet is like most of my recent romances: Addicting and fascinating. Repulsive and dangerous. One day exhilarating. The next day devastating. every encounter filled with internal conflict between how I am and how I want to be.

Late last summer I sat on my computer trying to piece together my post-law-school plan. Still jet lagged from a month in Asia, I could barely face the idea of starting the next chapter of my life. I felt paralyzed by uncertainty, resistant to changes already taking place.

Without explanation, a post popped up on my Facebook page from one of my high school classmates. I hadn’t seen any internet action from this guy since we first connected online in the early days of the website. I hadn’t seen this guy in person since graduation day.

My mind flashed on memories of Miles from the Varsity basketball team and our school student government. He was uniquely wholesome in a pure and genuine way. Years before the movie empire was conceived, he looked and acted like a character from Disney’s High School Musical  He was smart and silly and loveable. The type of boy the mom of a high school girl would encourage her daughter to go out with. The clearest, most vivid vision I have of him is at the bedside of his long-time girlfriend. She broke her back in a freak ski accident, and in the days that followed, he spent every minute next to her in a tiny downstairs room of her parents’ house.

Years later, I would wonder if he was put on the planet to support strong women in their recovery from unthinkable events.

My focus lands back on my computer. He writes a blog. I click on it immediately.

I read three words and burst into tears.

The blog was launched in response to Miles’ wife’s cancer diagnosis. His 28 year old wife. With stage four lung cancer. A vibrant, beautiful young woman. Full of life and love and energy and potential.  Dreams and plans stretching far into the future.

I kept reading. And crying. Then crying some more.

I read every post dating back to late June when she was first diagnosed. I cringed thinking about so many late-June hysterical breakdowns in the face of my Barbri Paced Program Study List. Perspective is not retro-active.

An hour later I closed my computer and pulled a blanket over the top of my head. I shrunk into my couch. I wanted the entire experience to evaporate. I felt a surge of anger and frustration still lingering from my loss of Heather. I felt too weak to take on the sadness. I decided I needed to let it go, or, more likely, block it out.

But as the weeks went on, I was back on the blog. Over and over again.

Miles writes clearly with humor and sincerity. His narrative voice is beautiful and funny and evocative. Reading his blog, I feel like we’re sitting at brunch together sharing our lives. His support of, and dedication to his wife animates every word. The blog, designed to give medical information and updates, reads like an elegant, honest and witty love story.

Out of sadness, I feel hope. The courage of this woman is indescribable. In every picture, she is beaming. The mere description of her battle leaves me exhausted and yet she continues to prevail. I have laughed and cried with her. She’s become one of my most important teachers of the practices of presence and unconditional love. A reminder to value the life I have. The moments of health and deep breaths and illness free meals with people I love. She gives me hope that in the face of challenge, I too could find the strength of a resilient warrior goddess, who refuses to give up.

Miles and his wife are strangers to me. We may never see or talk to each other in real-life. Still, I feel a deep and intimate connection to their story, their strength and their ongoing optimism and bravery. I feel tremendous gratitude to them for illuminating this deeply private struggle in their lives.

You can find love and inspiration here.

You can donate to help Emily’s recovery and research for future lung cancer patients.

You can fall in love with Miles’ entire family. You can be inspired by a remarkable story. You can creep on the internet, and find something beautiful.

Faith and Football

Growing up in my house, Sunday was sacred.

My parents met through my grandfather’s Presbyterian church in Lafayette, California. Our family is deeply rooted in ritual and tradition. My brother and I were raised to respect the sanctity of the last day of the week. One path of devotion. One house of worship. A single, spiritual force to believe in.

The San Francisco 49ers.

September through January revolved around professional football. I woke up every Sunday morning to my mom’s anxiety and a house buzzing with anticipation. For the morning game, powdered sugar mini donuts and orange juice. When the Niners were at home, pepperoni pizza and beer for my parents. Niners gear on, prayers complete, the four of us huddled on the couch holding our breath until kick-off.

Most weeks we celebrated triumphant victories. Screaming and leaping to our feet for a spectacular catch or defensive stop. We high-fived and hugged and cheered. My mom paced and mumbled the F-word when the game got close.

In the late eighties and early nineties, it was good to be us.

But as the nineties wore on, the red and gold glory faded.

Steve Young retired and Jerry Rice wore a Raider jersey. Sunday morning lost its spark and the joy seeped out of our weekly family gathering.

The Niners changed. Life changed. The pride and love that once connected the community of Forty-Niner faithful was replaced by frustration, angst and a nostalgic longing for a lost legacy.

I rarely stood up on my couch with both arms in the air yelling, “go,” repeatedly until the receiver reached the end zone.

But me, my mom, and the die-hards among us never gave up hope.

The Niner fall from grace made televised games hard to come by while I was away at college in Los Angeles.  But in the pre-streaming era, I followed every quarter on “Gamecast” mostly brought disappointment and Sportscenter highlights rarely featured my favorite team. Through the rise of the New England Patriots, the Green Bay Packers and both of the Manning quarterbacks, the Niners struggled to bounce back from what was becoming a decade-long slump.

Still, every Sunday I wore my tattered “Team of the 80’s” t-shirt, my favorite wardrobe piece, stolen from my high school boyfriend.

I graduated from college, had more than one career and found my way back to school, and Southern California. Slowly, but surely, just as we’d always talked about, the 49ers started to “rebuild.”

In my final year of law school, the Niners came within a freak-fumble of the Superbowl.

After many years when it wasn’t, it was good to be us, again.

This week, my team heads to their second consecutive NFC Championship. In reflecting on my relationship with the Forty-Niners. I think about faith, patience, and unconditional love.

I think about all of the disappointment, heartbreak and hopelessness felt by Niner fans over the last few years. I think about my forgiveness for their mistakes, my acceptance of a period of struggle, and my commitment to them, through it all.

I think about all of the other relationships and situations in my life through which I failed to demonstrate the same  grace and understanding.

In the dark days of 49er football, my brother struggled with alcoholism and addiction. He stole from my parents, manipulated his friends. He’d call me late at night to ask if I’d sneak away from my house to buy him a meal. Three years into his struggle, I gave up on him. I shut him out. Withdrew my investment. Stopped following his life on my family’s dysfunctional version of Gamecast. I surrendered any hope that he would ever look or act like the big brother I’d worshipped growing up.

More recently, I turned this behavior on myself. I created a negative inner-dialogue around what I believed to be under-performance. My inability to make my self-identified version of the late-twenties post-season. If my mom suggested I was “re-building,” I replied that I didn’t have the time, nor energy, for that.

Along the way, smaller issues and instances reflect a similar pattern. An unwillingness to accept what is. An inability to be where I am. Lack of contentment. A strong feeling of resistance. A desire for things to be different, or better, right away.

When I imagine my “best-self,” I treat everyone like the Forty-Niners. I feel deep sadness when they don’t live up to my expectations, but quickly let go of the feeling, looking forward to their next opportunity to shine. I want them to be the best, but accept that they can’t win every game. I defend them to critics, and try not to judge them out loud. I show up and cheer for them, with my whole heart, no matter what.

Love in Southeast Asia: One Last Thing

Five months ago, I landed in Los Angeles on a plane from Seoul, Korea. Twenty Eight days of international travel. Eleven flights. Four Countries. Nine Atavan.

Countless lessons.

Writing about my trip has been a way to relive it. To soak up the powerful moments and deepen their meaning.To share my experience, and my insight.  To feel gratitude for the courage (and everything else required) to spend an entire month abroad.

Writing my final blog stirs feelings from my last night in Cambodia: reflection, sadness, humility, love.

My deepest love is for my seven travel partners.

In Bangkok: the fearsome foursome. Parker, Edward, Werner and Me.

Werner, the storytelling, sarong-wearing, little brother I never had. The sweet and sensitive boy who is a compassionate, middle-aged man inside. Traveling together, I could picture him in the future, vacationing with his kids. Creating goofy traditions and friendships out of chance encounters. He will both embarrass and enlighten them. He will tell them about reading Steve Jobs’ biography on the Indian Ocean and how we almost died at sea. He will teach them how to say “we own the Green Bay Packers” in all the languages of countries they visit. He will make his whole family feel cherished and loved.

Edward, the center of our social universe, locally and abroad. The most considerate man I have ever met. Edward is part frat boy, part diplomat. In Sri Lanka, Edward taught us about “fan death,” the mythical child-killer of Korean-American parental folklore. In each new destination, he attended to our diverse group’s spectrum of needs. He balanced all the emotions, intentions, desires and quirks. He handled every. group. check. He indulged me in mid-Ocean heart-to-hearts as we dove through cresting waves (Phuket) and relished the glassy stillness (Phi Phi).

In Sri Lanka, our group swells to seven:

Diana, the source of an unexpected female friendship. Within hours of being together, I wanted her to be my best friend. I fell in love with her the way women of my generation attached themselves to the fictitious Carrie Bradshaw. She is soft and confident, doesn’t take herself too seriously, and is visibly present in each moment the way I can only struggle to be while meditating. I will cherish connecting with her on our trip long after the memories of our moments together fade.

Manal, the would-be mean girl who isn’t. She is open-hearted, loving and accepting. She is one of the most gorgeous women I have ever met, effortlessly stylish and flawless. She was the President and social chair of our law school, a woman who could easily be catty and exclusive, but instead is warm and inviting. She gives me hope that we can all be good to each other.

Priyan, our tour guide and native host. A man with a perfectly executed hairstyle, even in ninety-percent humidity. Priyan educated us about Sri Lankan culture and history, occasionally exaggerating for dramatic effect (“that’s Pride Rock, where The Lion King was filmed”). He is brilliant and sophisticated, high-brow with a social justice sensibility. A rare combination of elitism and a lightweight sense of humor. I adore him from the depth of my soul. I could make a life as his partner if only our gender and sexualities aligned in a more practical way.

In Southern Thailand, Fred made a triumphant appearance. He is a survivor of monsoon-season jungle trekking and under-vaccination. Fred gives the best hugs of anyone I know. He wraps everyone up like a treasure, holds them firmly against his heart. He has easy-going energy that relaxes everyone in his presence. He is sincere and genuine, thoughtful and smart. He made us laugh and surrounded us with love.

And of course, Parker.

Every day. Every meal. Every flight. Every hotel room. Every night and every morning. Every, single, minute.

Parker was there.

He is both my alter ego and my other half. We are simultaneously soulmates and adversaries. He is relentlessly practical and efficient, I am whimsical and disorganized. He is fearless and task-oriented, I am anxious and easily distracted. He is worldly and well traveled, I was brand new to every experience on our trip.

To him, my biggest thanks. For planning every detail of our incredible adventure. For his patience with my fear of flying and picky-eating. For looking out for me like a big brother, and for telling-it-how-it-is like a best friend. For listening and understanding. For talking about feelings, over and over again.

Even early in our friendship, I knew I could trust Parker with everything. There aren’t many people who could get me on a twelve-hour flight to spend a month away from the comfort of familiarity and my compulsive routines. Parker lives his life saying yes to opportunity. Yes to change and newness and progress. He dives head first into everything, without hesitation. With him leading this way, I found the willingness to follow. Following him, I was able to take the most incredible journey of my life.

Bad Skier

“I can’t do it.”

I’m paralyzed in the middle of an intermediate ski run yelling helplessly at my dad, eight feet below me. My skis are completely sideways and I’m trapped by the sensation that if move in any direction, I’ll plummet to my death in a tumbling ball of wet, sticky, snow.

I see my dad pause to evaluate his response before giving it. I can tell he’s skeptical about the gravity of my peril.

“Get parallel to the fall-line, Boney.”

I heard that phrase countless times growing up on the icy slopes of Northern California, but am still uncertain what it means. I imagine it’s something like: point your skis down the mountain like a normal person and let’s get on with it, I don’t have all day. My dad is practical, scientific and ever attentive to accuracy and precision. He taught me how to ski the same way he does everything else.

My heart rate quickens as the initial distress intensifies into full fledged panic. If my dad can’t help me, I’m doomed.

Twenty years later, I am still a terrible skiier. Inexcusably bad. I’ve skiied almost every winter since I was five years old. My progress feels equivalent to the time scale of evolution. I’m convinced I’m entitled to some unusual and dubious honor as the world’s most experienced beginner.

Skiing, even more than my yoga mat, is an oversized magnifying mirror for my worst traits. Most notably, my inability to relinquish control (of everything) and (not unrelated) the way fear interferes with living my fullest life.

At the top of each ski run, I breathe in a fresh gulp of mountain air. I am relaxed and energized. I am inspired by my surroundings and excited for the opportunity to begin again.

As soon as I am moving, my energy shifts. My body is tense, my jaw muscles tight. I feel my elbows lock against my rib bones, bracing for  imminent disaster. I am suddenly without balance or coordination. The loss-of-control feeling overwhelms the entire experience, rendering me hopelessly unskilled and pathetically flailing.

At the bottom of the ski run, I let out a deep sigh. My face softens and my arms relax.

Between the tension and relief is a moment of confusion, “who was that up there and why did she do that?”

In the aftermath, I promise myself to do better next time.

It’s not all angst and discomfort. Sometimes I take three or four turns in a row feeling light and effortless. Occasionally, I find just enough calm to make contact with what it’s like to really ski. I let go of the need to control it: the snow, the other skiiers, the conditions, the outcome, and find the freedom to move gracefully, with purpose and ease. Each glimpse of my potential, fuels hope for my future as a downhill enthusiast. So far I’ve had just enough of them to prolong my inevitable resignation to failure and retirement from the sport.

In my life, I am similarly skilled and capable, but frequently blocked by fear. I want to be assured of a result before I am willing to explore the unknown. The voice of risk silences the allure of reward. I have the tools to navigate, but am frequently dragged off course by my resistance to letting go. I battle anxiety at the top of every new run, and beat myself up at the bottom for what I didn’t do right.

Recently, I resist pursuing my biggest dream in the face of paralyzing fears. I know what I have to do, but get bogged down in swampy, self-doubting thoughts. I have everything I need to move forward, but hesitate each time I start to take off.

Change the Conversation

I was a freshman in high school the year of the Columbine shooting. That day, my world changed. The term “trench-coat mafia” suddenly had colloquial meaning. A new threat of violence in the form of outcast, troubled teenagers emerged in a space where suburban white high schools were formerly immune from attack. There were no metal detectors in our neighborhood. That stuff didn’t happen to us.

A decade later I went to a “violence prevention” training for my job in high school counseling. The discussion focused on identifying and serving youth at a “high-risk” for perpetrating school shootings and related behavior. I found most of it to be outdated and out-of-touch, taking me back to the days after Columbine, the countless news reports chronicling the lives of the shooters: who were these kids? who were their parents? where did they live? what did they do?

All questions about their individual identities. All questions about their individual actions. All questions looking outward, seeking an explanation. Pointing fingers, placing blame.

In the years since Columbine, more tragedy. Virginia Tech,  Tuscon Arizona, Aurora Colorado, smaller acts of violence in between. Each time, we cry out, feel fear, express sadness.

The media digs into the life of “the person responsible,” drudging up anecdotes from old neighbors, girlfriends and childhood acquintances. Speculation swarms about mental illness and a violent past. Some of us mourn with compassion for the darkness in the heart of the person who is moved to do unthinkable things. Some of us judge the actions of a criminal and the hopelessness of humanity. Some of us grow quiet and contemplative, some get loud with rage.

Political blogs go off about gun control and the second amendment. Twitter pours forth with sympathy and solidarity. We tune into dateline and CNN. We hug our families and tell them we love them. We post a heartfelt Facebook status. Or an angry, reactionary one.

Then in a week and a half we go on with our lives. Until the next catastrophe, when we begin again.

As I sit with the shooting in Connecticut, I call to mind lessons from my spiritual practice:

1. Times of darkness and deep pain present our greatest opportunity for growth.

Now is such a time for our country.

2. Growth Requires Change.

Creating a new outcome demands changing the behaviors, attitudes and perspective that produced the old one. Ask new questions. Reveal new answers.

Change the conversation.

3. Change comes from within

Maybe it’s time to investigate ourselves.

4. Everything is connected.

These unimaginable tragedies aren’t happening in a vacuum. This exact incarnation of violence isn’t recurring everywhere in the world. It is a reflection of our culture and connected to everything in it.

To talk about “gun-control” is an oversimplification. It may be true that more restrictive gun laws won’t end gun-violence, but it’s hard to ignore the way the two things intersect. There is no natural order of gun-ownership. It is a value choice. We value the individual right to gun ownership over the possibility of a gun-free country. That value projects a message. That message shapes our culture.

To talk about mental-illness is a starting point, not a solution. We acknowledge its existence but don’t always respond in a meaningful way. We know people need help, but don’t always  ensure they get it. We debate about “entitlement spending” and complain about higher taxes. Mental Health resources cost money, but we are unwilling to pay.  There is no natural order of how to treat the neediest in our population. It is a value choice. Our social services are minimal, and ever-diminishing. That value projects a message. That message shapes our culture.

There are other value choices, too.

We dead-bolt our doors and alarm our homes. We glorify individualism.We say awful things to our neighbors, families and friends. We judge others for how they dress, vote, pray and raise their kids. We consume violence: movies, video games, tv, the internet-our children do the same. We pay lawyers millions, and educators nothing. We campaign for democratic elections with hateful speech and character assassinations. We lock people up, or kill them, for doing wrong.

I’ve been working with Kindergarten through Fourth graders my entire adult life. They forgive easily and love openly. Until the world teaches them not to, they readily accept themselves, and others, no matter what. They are problem solvers with limitless creativity. Their lives, bodies, and environment change rapidly and they willingly adapt. When something isn’t working, they find a different way.

My heart breaks for the community at Sandy Hook Elementary. I can’t even wrap my mind around the loss of those kids. I can think of at least one powerful way to honor their memory: to recover from this tragedy just as they would. With open hearts. With curiosity. With courage and introspection.

Listening. Learning. Growing. Changing.

So we don’t have to relive this cycle, again.

Love in Southeast Asia: “I forgot the Umbrellas”

“It won’t stop raining.”

Our hotel driver tells us, solemnly, about the uninviting weather pattern in Siem Reap.

“You should come back when it’s not raining.”

Parker and I glance at each other. We exchange a silent joke about the ridiculousness of that suggestion. In the moment, we share an appreciation for the rarity and specialness of this trip. We share sadness that it’s coming to an end and gratitude for how far we’ve come. The magic of it all. To be in this van right now. On this road. In this country.

This once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

This miracle life.

The tiny, developing streets of Siem Reap are cluttered by Westernization. Every two hundred yards there is an elaborate, ornate hotel. They all look abandoned. It’s like a rainy, Vegas ghost town.

We pull into a beige, stucco monstrosity. All of the sudden I feel like we’re trapped in one of those tourist horror movies that Parker taught me about when we first met. We were flipping through channels late one night after dominating our friends as partners in a sweep of board game night. He paused the scrolling to summarize Touristas, “These movies are all the same. The dumb-ass Americans get wrapped up in some sort of organ harvesting scheme and everybody dies.” Weeks later I agreed to come on this trip with him.

My stomach feels queasy.

The inside of our Cambodian hotel is more whimsical than our previous accommodations. It’s clear Siem Reap has embraced its position at the center of exotic tourism. The hotel attendants are clad in elf-like, gold and green uniforms. There’s a chance it’s an homage to traditional culture, but I’m suspicious it’s an appeal to Western excess and essentialism.

Alone in the lobby, we are suddenly swarmed by six, eager employees. One has a welcome drink, the other a local pastry, four more are there to ensure we feel like the two most important people on earth.

I breathe a sigh of relief. For now, it seems I’ll be returning home with all of my vital organs.

The next day, we hire a local guide to lead us through Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples.

He’s small and stoic. He doesn’t grin from ear to ear like Neil, or pay us effusive attention like everyone working at our hotel. He delivers lessons like a task-oriented high-school teacher. No frills. No nonsense. No attempt to glamorize Cambodia’s brutal history of conquest and imperialism. Just the facts.

We make it from an early morning start to the noon hour under an increasingly dark and threatening sky. So far, no rain.

A torrential downpour interrupts our midday meal but subsides before we’re out and about again.

As we wind up the dirt road to the back entrance of Angkor Wat, the clouds are the color of school-yard asphalt. It’s the type of darkness that blurs the passage of time. Where even 1pm looks like twilight. It’s misty and majestic. The lush, green, swampy background. The ancient ruins.

Five minutes into the tour of the most famous temple in the world, it’s pouring again. Our otherwise poised and pragmatic guide is suddenly fidgety and uncomfortable.

“Is Cambodian rainfall secretly deadly for American tourists?”

We maneuver through every inch of the temple before reaching the front entrance.

It’s still raining. With each falling raindrop, our guide looks more and more distressed.

Parker and I take one more glimpse at the weathered stone walls, then stand at the brink of the dramatic entryway, ready to leave the temple.

Our guide looks up, frowns, then lowers his eyes.

“I forgot the umbrellas.”He says it like he’s telling us we can’t leave the country without giving up a kidney.

Parker and I try to assure him we’ll survive the weather. He’s unconvinced.

The next few minutes are filled with awkwardness and anticipation. In the midst of pacing and contemplating, I think about this quiet, simple man. He devotes himself to sharing his country with eager tourists who land in his life for only hours at a time. He doesn’t rely on recurring business, or building a client portfolio. I can’t Yelp him when we leave. In the absence of traditional incentive structures, he pours his heart into his work.

This trip has been filled with heartwarming encounters among unlikely friends. Over and over, we’ve been met with varied manifestations of love and goodwill; with reminders about the far-reaching impact of small acts of kindness, of how easy, and meaningful, it is to be nice.

I let the rain fall on my eyelids, then my mouth. I twirl with my face to the sky and my arms wide open.

Tropical storms have followed us all over Asia, but right now the air feels special, and unique.

Tall Ships

In fourth grade I spent one full day and one full night aboard the C.A. Thayer, an all-wood, three-masted tall ship docked at the end of the Hyde Street Pier in San Francisco. The Thayer lived out its retirement hosting privileged elementary school students for weekend forays into the hard-knock life of early twentieth century sailors.

I imaginary-sailed the Pacific Northwest shipping routes like I was born to do it.

I was the captain of the boat crew, and later promoted to second mate of the entire ship. Not bad for a land-dwelling 10 year old.

Every afternoon leading up to our trip, my teacher read from a hard-bound book called “tall ships.” In dramatic oratory style, he retold the epic adventures of sailors moving cargo from San Francisco to Seattle, Alaska and back again. I was captivated by the courage of sailors and the impossibly hard life of living and working on a wooden boat. I’d create vivid imagery in my head of my own life at sea. There was something so romantic and dangerous and edgy about being a sailor. Something daring and powerful. Something alluring about a life where fear couldn’t stop me from anything. A life where I faced challenges head on.

Even at a young age I was desperate to be liberated from the constraints of my anxious mind. I’ve always been bold and brave of intention but cautious and hesitant in action.

Tonight I’m staring out the window facing the Marina Del Rey harbor, crowded with tall ships.

Lately my life feels a little like nightwatch on the C.A. Thayer. It’s uncomfortable and uncertain. I know it’s impermanent but it feels interminable. I want to wish myself forward in time even though I know I’ll regret missing the experience. It’s at times dark and cold and at others exciting and full of possibility. My perspective changes moment to moment. Fear. Hope. Fear. Hope. Fear again.

I close my eyes and see my fourth grade self imagining her life at 28. She pictures a confident and sassy young attorney. Someone with a lot of influence and many powerful pant suits. A woman who parlayed her Thayer second-mate status into a prosperous political career.

It turns out childhood dreams are not an exact science.

I open my eyes and remind myself to be patient. I remind myself of the things my fourth grade self couldn’t predict. The things that shaped the real-life version of what she imagined.
I remind myself to keep dreaming about who I want to become. And to give myself a break about who I already am. To be daring and powerful. To not let fear stop me. To face challenges head on.