The Waiting Place

…for people just waiting.

Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come,
or a plane to go or the mail to come,
or the rain to go or the phone to ring,
or the snow to snow or waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.

Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night

or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.

Everyone is just waiting.

Dr. Seuss

 

These melancholy words are an excerpt from Dr. Seuss’ famous book Oh, The Places You’ll Go. This book has been often used as a graduation gift to inspire young adults to live unafraid in the real-world. In his otherwise inspirational tale, he describes The Waiting Place as a “most useless place” and can be interpreted as a graveyard where ambition goes to die.

I can ask anyone who has lived long enough that life in the real-world is not all sunshine and rainbows. On the road to success, there will be problems, twists, turns, and dead-ends among other complications on your path. When the path gets rough with ill fortune, some people would rather:

  1. Sit around and give up
  2. Grit and bear their terrible situation
  3. Gamble their future on blind luck

These patient ones’ figure if they wait long enough, eventually a solution will introduce themselves and their problems will magically be solved.

In a scripted fantasy novel, where the normal protagonist is trusted into a fantastic adventure, this method may work. In the real-world, not so much. Nothing ever gets done by keep your hands in your pockets. If you want to change to happen, then you must be bold enough to make that change yourself. I have stayed in The Waiting Place before and I never want to return.

         I too have visited this purgatory. Wishing and dreaming. Praying and waiting. All of it, a waste of time. Of all my talk of doing something better with my life, I have done little to make good on my promise. I have applied to every Social Work industry in the county and prayed to the heavens above that they would change their mind about me. I have waited long enough. I am now 28 years old and still working for a job I hate. The warehouse industry does not need me. People come and go from this job all the time. There I am a number, a replaceable gear, a disposable pawn. My student loans are gone, so what is left to keep me here?

Both of my younger sisters have progressed farther with their lives than I have. One has had the opportunity to be a teacher straight out of college and now living with her boyfriend. While the other has joined the NAVY and has become part of something bigger. Me? The biggest career transition I have made is moving from one warehouse to the one next-door and I got a pretty lanyard that states I have been with the company for 3 years.

Now I could have expressed my grudge towards humanity in a number of ways. I could:

  1. Publish my anger on Facebook and repeatedly post how much the world is not fair.
  2. Be like a coworker and rope random people into whiny conversations about how much I hate my job.
  3. Stop being an obnoxious troll and do something to change my destiny!

It is time to do something about it besides whine. It is time to either find a new path or make one. It is time to go back to school.

 

Pandora’s Boxes

My Dad introduced a YouTube video called, “The Tale of Two Brains” by Mark Gungor. His video was a comedy show depicting his notion of men vs women brain wiring. In his video, he suggests that people, both male and female, have a mental warehouse of boxes in their heads that catalogs everything we know about the world. One box is reserved for your usual routines for your job, another is reserved for the operation of a car, another for food and so on. The big difference between the two genders is that men open one box at a time while women open several boxes at the same time.

Although Mark’s philosophy was presented as a comedy sketch, it does make some poetic sense in the regards of how to explain the way the two genders think. Coupled with the fact that men’s brains have more grey matter than women (the data processing parts of the brain) and women’s brains contain more white matter than men (the data cables that transmit information to different parts in the brain) only validates his reasoning.

If I were to explain my brain in this manner, I would say my mental warehouse of boxes would be different to how Mark would describe it. My cardboard metaphors would not be so uniformed or as neatly organized on the shelves. If I were to give my mental warehouse form, I would describe it like a small room filled with an odd collection of containers with all my boxes stacked on top of each other on random piles and in the middle of this room is a work desk where I consult my business with each case.

For example, every movie I’ve watched would rest in a long, see-through-plastic container filled with VHS cassettes (product of being a child of the 90’s). I would have my memories of High School in an old Office Depo box and filled with old keepsakes from that time. For everything relating to my job, it would rest in nondescript shipping box. Matters that concerned my car was in a glovebox off to the side. My profile filing cabinet that relates names and faces often gets pushed into the back behind everything else. Subjects regarding to Legos, games, and other simple delights lay in wait in an extra big toy chest (I’m a kid at heart).

Alongside the containers I require to function from day to day, there are some I wish I could live without.

-Such as the small sinister black box that lays abandon in a corner of my room. Inside it are profiles of people that have hurt me in the past. Every so often the lid of this box will jar loose and corrupt my thoughts with taunting echoes of my failures. (not to be confused with my skeleton in the closet)

-Another problematic box is the one containing my social repertoire. I have once explained before. It is the mental bank of social of knowing what to do in specific situations. I think there is a leak in this box. I’ve come a long way from where I’ve been, but I still feel this container is never full or ready for action at a moment’s notice. I can joke, I can be playful, but only when I have been around someone I have known for a while.

-Some people can hold conversations like flowing water. Me? I need to fish for words out of a dictionary before I can make a conversation. Such as the function of the box of words, brother box to the social repertoire. Anytime I want/need to talk to someone, I need to collect little strips of paper with printed words and then arrange them in proper order.

This mental process is why it takes me so long to formulate a response. If I try to rush this process, then my messages come out all garbled (This is more commonly known as Word Cluttering). I required some speech therapy before my vocabulary messes got better, my messages became clearer, and the word fishing became easier.

            Although his intent was to make his audience laugh, I believe Mark Gungor has provided perhaps one of the simplest ways to explain the human mind. I hope this warehouse and box themed metaphor has provided a accrete tour inside my head and I hope it brings some clarity to how others with autism think as well.

Nicaragua: Sunday…again

“We are homeward bound and off the ground!” is what I was singing in my head at the airport. Another Sunday has come, and it was already time to leave my new friends and Nicaragua. Even when we were lifting off, part of me wanted to stay behind and finish Catharine’s house along with her two children. I have always been a completest at heart. Whenever I start something, I want to see it through till it’s done. I knew the house would be completed by Javier and his crew, but I wouldn’t see pictures of it until weeks later. I suppose for this reason alone I preferred working on the Belize project. Nothing like seeing your labor of love, sweat, and camaraderie finished and fulfilled when you leave on the last day. That is not to say I regret coming to Nicaragua. I have learned much in this short time, and I do what to come back again. Next time I will learn the local language. Definitely.

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(Souvenirs I brought back from Nicaragua)

Nicaragua: Saturday

With our commitment to the house project done and having already visited half the continent, you would have thought all that was left for us was to sit back and relax till it was time to go home. Well, you would be half right. The last event on our agenda that week was a day at the Pacific Ocean beach resort. While we there, we were free to play in the ocean, walk along the beach, take surfing lessons, or just sit back and relax in the hammocks and read our favorite book while enjoying in the tropical breeze.

But we before we left and did any of that, our trip organizers wanted us to have one last group reflection, to share what we felt during the week, to share our most memorable experiences, and how we planned to prevent throwback (an act of forgetting our experiences and to return to our daily lives unaltered). My lasting impressions for the week included a better awareness of how some charities can inadvertently be more hurtful that helpful, how fortunate that our country’s children are to be able to afford an good education, how fortunate I am to have a roof over my head even if I think it is small, and how much I can really accomplish in one day. My throwback prevention took the form of my daily journals that I have been sketching throughout the week. I explained to group that I was writing a book (which would later become a blog), and I was writing down all of my tasks, deeds, and feelings from that week. That way I could never forget what happened and everyone who reads my work can see what I saw and experienced what I’ve felt. Perhaps I could even inspire a new generation of mission trippers through my stories.

Nicaragua: Friday

I woke up this morning stiff and tired from the long day of travel the day before. But both my crew and I had to put that aside, for today was the last day of construction for us before we had to go home on Sunday.

Construction on Catherine’s house has come a surprising long way despite our absence. When we left it on Wednesday afternoon, the back wall was almost level with the other building’s wall next to Catherine’s and the front wall was just short of the halfway point. The freelance engineers were already going to use part of the brother’s house as the left wall, so that was already covered but the right-hand was yet to be started. When we came back that morning, the back wall was finished and was being fitted with an electrical outlet. The front wall was now halfway up and the foundation for the right wall has been laid down.

We resumed our usual positions and got immediately to work. Our time was short but productive. When it became time to clean the tools, we managed to bring up the front wall three levels of blocks, just enough to see where the window was going to be. And the right wall was up to knee level.

Before leaving, there was one last thing to do before saying goodbye, a house blessing ceremony. Although the house was not ready to move into yet, we still wanted to wish Catherine and her children good blessings in their new home. Just like in the Belize ceremony, we offered a few gifts to bless the occasion and help out the family one last time. The gifts included sacks of rice, beans, and cooking oil for provisions; a picture frame with a group photo of everyone involved in the project; a photo album of everyone working to build the house; a prayer crystal that embodies all of our love and blessings for Catherine’s family; and I provided a sturdy tote bag for groceries and a Kentucky horseshoe, a symbol of luck and our home to bless their new home.

We spent the remainder of the time on the work-site hugging, crying, and taking as many photographs as possible before leaving for good. I still felt bad leaving such important work half-finished, but our organizers assured us that the house would be complete in one to two weeks. I looked forward to that day.

Tiredly, we headed home for the day. The rest of the day was occupied with lounging, card games, and hosting a pool party with the HHM-sponsored schoolchildren from the youth center. Once again spending some quality time with the future prospects of Managua. Although I still lacked the language, I spent some time with the little ones in the pool playing ball or wading on inner tubes. The kids all had a good time, and so did we.

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(Catherine with her two children, Jose and Kelvin)

Nicaragua: Thursday

Thursday came as a free day for our crew. Today Javier and his crew were left alone with Catherine and her family to work on the house while we went exploring into the deeper regions of Nicaragua.

As soon as we were ready, we set off for San Juan de Oriente, a countryside village in deep Nicaragua. The trip was long and bumpy; the village was about 25 miles from the outskirts of Managua with ill-maintained roads to lead the way. I didn’t mind so much. The smell of the clean, fresh air and beautiful green landscape was enough made my trip relaxing. Along the way we began to see lots of farmhouses. Some had goats mowing the grass, and some had chickens that looked like they wanted to cross the road. As we were getting closer, we started to see more family business shops, most of which turned out to be furniture stores and pottery shops.

When we finally arrived in town, we stopped in front of a potter’s shop with which HHM usually does business. Like all the other shops in San Juan de Oriete, the shop is privately owned and family managed. The proprietor took my group back into his shop and began explaining how he creates his clay crafts.

After our lesson on the effort that goes into each pot, we were given the opportunity to buy from the vast selection of colorful clay art. There were simple clay pots with elaborate designs of fish, birds, lizards, or butterflies in bright earthy colors. There were small cups with decorative borders. There were blowfish pots for incense, sea-turtle flutes, and clay lanterns. I had to temper my enthusiasm with caution when making my selection. So as to (1) not to break anything in the shop and (2) ensure that it could survive the trip through airport security and the ensuing flight.

It was times like this when I wished I had a bottomless inventory pocket like you would find in a “point-and-click” adventure game, the kind where you can store any amount of absurd knickknacks within a coat pocket without fear of being destroyed by an outside force. We gathered and wrapped our new fragile belongings and begun to make our way to our next destination: Mombacno.

Mombacno’s attraction of was its high-ropes zip-lining course, a physical sport that I have had no practice in. If I had, I would have known beforehand how terrifying it was to be 50 feet in the air, walking on a rope bridge from one zip-line platform to another, and have the possibility of being stranded mid-flight

if I applied the brake for my line too soon! Well, despite all of my fearful gripes I could make about my experience, I still had a good time. It was almost liberating to be able to fly through the trees at soaring speeds that I could only experience in a dream.

It was nearing lunch time when the last person in our group rocketed down the last leg of the zip-lining course. We crowded back into the bus and set off for Granada, a bustling metropolis off the coast of Nicaragua Lake. For our first stop in Granada, was lunch. Our leader chose a serene café for its relaxing, open-aired garden and for its tasty lunch specials. This town also proved very accommodating to tourists. Despite that, it seemed like every corner had a vendor trying to pawn off something to an unsuspecting passerby. We did stop for some locally made goods, but not with the street merchants. Our last stop in Granada was the market place, where a multitude of sellers gathered to sell their finest wares. Some sold clothing; others, mugs, wood sculptures, knifes, hammocks, ships in a bottle and other things you would come to expect from a tourist market. It was here I chose to buy a communal present for my family. The other members of my group had similar interests in mind.

The day was not over yet. We still had one more stop to make before going home for the day: Masaya, the home of Nicaragua’s Masaya Volcano. For the next hour we traveled through green valleys and on dirt roads. The area surrounding the volcano has remained barren of human encroachment or attraction, and the closer we got to its epicenter, the fewer trees and greenery we saw. Never had I seen a place so vast and so empty.

At last we came to the volcano’s open mouth. Although the volcano has stopped gushing forth lava years ago, it was hard at work billowing white clouds of sulfur dioxide like a factory chimney. The discharge also made the air a little hard to breathe. The only signs of any human influence on this place were the volcano’s warning signs for tourists, the stone remains of a small building, a large metal cross placed high above the smoky crater, and a dirt walk path that leads up and around the opening’s edge.

After some pictures in front of the opening, we started to take the dare and walk around the edge of the volcano to get a bird’s eye view and maybe even see any lava remained in this volcano. The dirt trek didn’t sound so bad at first. As a Boy Scout, I have been on rough hiking trails before with 50 pounds of gear strapped to my back. And as a runner, I have been in races that have uphill courses. So this should be easy! Eh, not so much. The further we went, the more treacherous the trail became. The ground got softer with loose gravel and soot. The path got steeper with 45 degree angle climbs. And the air got thinner and thinner as we climbed. By the time we reached the top, the sun had begun its descent behind the other side of the volcano. It was a beautiful sight to behold. Our missionary group, on top of the world, over an active volcano, and witnessing a sunset that you cannot find anywhere else.

Nicaragua: Wednesday

After each day at the work site, our crew and Javier’s crew reconvenes at the HHM youth center for lunch before continuing with the rest of our day. Today was little different. We still had lunch at the usual place, but this time we had some company, the children of the youth center. Today was our day to play and interact with some of the local kids that HHM helps on a daily basis.

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The festivities started with the kids reading their favorite books to us. Some chose simple picture books that had more cartoon illustrations than words while others showcased their fascination for bugs by reading the contents of an encyclopedia. Through it all, I had a nagging sense of guilt for not knowing how to talk to the little ones. Although I had two years of Spanish under my belt from high school, none of it helped me in this time and place. My little one was reading to me a story about Princess Rosa and that was the only part of her book I understood. I tried to follow along as best I could, but only recognized bits and pieces of the words and I only followed what little I could make out from the few pictures the book had. From my time in Belize, the local’s English/Spanish dependence ratio was about 50/50, and I figured it would be the same here. I was wrong. Dead wrong.

I had time. I could have dug out my old Spanish books. I could have downloaded a learning app on my phone. But I didn’t. And know I will never know what happened to Princess Rosa nor truly appreciate this little girl’s story-telling skills.

After a while we moved on to a different activity, finger-painting. This was an activity I could help with my limited local vocabulary. The kids had their choice of rojo, azul, or amarillo (red, blue, or yellow) to be painted on their hands to make hand-print butterflies and tree leaves as is or they could squish their hands together to make verde, anaranjado, or morado (green, orange, or purple) for their creations.

The last activity for the day (after clean-up, of course) was bubble chasing! A common question that pops up every time I’m on a mission trip that involves a children center is whether or not we could bring the kids something fun to play with. I don’t mean start up a multi-thousand-dollar toy drive, just a few inexpensive gifts (cars, dolls, puzzles, etc.) to show how much we want to be there and how much we care. HHM’s only recommendations were bubble wands and candy, which puzzled me. Even if money or the number of kids weren’t an issue, surely these children would want to play with other kinds of communal toys, like marbles, chalk, plush animals, or wood blocks? As a kid, the cheapest toys I played with were much more intricate than soap and water, and I’m sure lots of other people’s toys were, too.

Such doubts left my mind as soon as a reached for the first wand. I was swarmed with 7-10-year-olds wanting me to either drop the wand or initiate the first wave of sky born suds. They finally settled down somewhat when other members of my crew started blowing bubbles in the more open areas of the center. The children jumped and cheered as they raced to catch as many bubbles as they could before they float to the ground.

These kids didn’t need expensive video games, the latest cellphone, or the most popular toy on the market. They were content with running crazy with their friends and chasing bubbles. Another lesson from Nicaragua.