The person sitting alone

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Have you ever found yourself sitting alone? Praying to God someone would say hello. Hoping someone will smile or at least acknowledge that you are there because the thought of sitting alone again without one single interaction is more than you can bear. I have.

I have felt so alone that I have driven somewhere, anywhere, just to find myself among people. And even just a smile from a stranger across the room meant more to me in that moment than a thousand words could express. There is a level of loneliness that chips away at the soul if it is left unaddressed.

The sad thing about this is that there are people feeling this all around us everyday. Whether we are at work, a restaurant, the gym, church, at home – even when surrounded by people, there are so many who feel utterly alone. They long to know and be known, but it is viewed as a weakness to express such a need. It requires an uncomfortable level of vulnerability. We are supposed to be independent. We are supposed to not need anyone. Rugged individualism.

When some brave soul ventures toward that person sitting alone and asks how they’re doing often times the reply is little more than, I’m good. Just busy. Just tired. Just something. These are nothing more than knee-jerk responses said before we even realize what we are saying. We don’t want to be perceived as weak. We don’t want to be vulnerable. We push it down a little bit more and work up a smile in hopes of seeming to be a little bit less of a mess than we presently feel.

Maybe you can relate to this or maybe not. I think if we are honest with ourselves, we can all remember times we have felt alone. Regardless, this is a reality for a growing number of people. People have a need to belong. And there is no worse feeling than to realize when you need a friend, there is no one to call. There is nowhere to go. There is nowhere you belong.

In the seasons when I have experienced this, it has forged in me a deep compassion for people who feel they have no tribe, no community. I have been praying as I have tried to find how to be intentional about making a difference for these people. The statistics are abysmal, but it hits home when it is no longer just a number. It is a face. It is your face.

I was thinking today about when I have been the person sitting alone, and how I have seen those who are in conversations around me. It is easy to see they are friends who know each other well. You halfway hope they make eye contact with you and motion for you to join in the conversation. The other half feels uncomfortable being seen as the one who is alone, so you hope to remain unnoticed. I believe this is one reason why so many turn to their phones. It helps numb the awkward feelings, but at the same time, it walls us off from the connection we so desire.

Today, I saw something different. While we are looking at those around us who community comes easily hoping they will see us and end our plight, we fail to see others just like us –  alone and as uncomfortable as we are. Instead of waiting for someone to extend kindness to me, I am fully able to be the one to speak with the others who are hemmed in by their isolation.

I have done this a few times, but honestly – I imagine it would be an embarrassingly low number if I could recall each instance. But I remember how I felt each time. Whether young, old, man, woman, or child – we all have a need to belong. And I have the ability to connect with someone and let them know they matter, and I see them, and they belong right here.

I’m no longer going into new places to find those who are among their friends and hope they will welcome me into their group. If that happens, I will warmly welcome it, but instead of waiting – I will be looking for the person sitting alone. I will seek them out. I want them to know they are not invisible. I want them to experience kindness. I want them to be able to put an end to the question that tirelessly runs through their mind. Yes, you belong here. And as long as I have something to say about it, you will not sit alone again.

If you already do this, I thank you a thousand times for your kindness. If you are like me and have not approached the person sitting alone as often as you would like to say, I invite you to start today. Everything in life is about intentionality. Your smile and kind words may very well be the hope a person at the end of their rope latches onto. People are amazing. They are beautiful. They are a treasure worth your effort. Every single one of them. Embrace the awkward moments along the way. I promise it will be worth it. We can shift culture round about us and ensure that every room we walk into – there is no person left sitting alone.

Isolation ends when we each decide it ends. I choose to create community wherever I venture. Alone we crumble. Together we build. Will you join me?

AR

My Trip Through Bavaria

10/18/2011

What do you know about monks and nuns? Up until last week, I didn’t know anything about them. I’m still no expert, but I figure now I know more than the average person you’re likely to meet. I spent the better part of last week staying at the Templar Convent in Munich, Germany.

The Abbot over the place is Father Archangel. What a name, right? He’s a very interesting fellow. You rarely see him without his priestly garb. It’s so different from anything I can relate to that for the most part, I never knew what to say. When I first met him and he found this was my first time to Germany, and I had never seen the churches in the area, he immediately decided he would take me to see them. I ran back to my cramped room armed with two rather large awkwardly placed pianos and grabbed my camera. We set out right after breakfast.

I quickly found that Archangel isn’t the best driver. I’m pretty sure we got a ticket from his excessive speeding, and at one point, I’m pretty sure we almost took out an old lady. It looked like we barely missed her as we rounded a rather sharp corner. He didn’t seem bothered by either incident. I just kept praying under my breath. I’ve learned to do that a lot over here when I’m in the car.

As we began to tour the churches scattered around Bavaria, they all began to blend together. I found they all look a lot a like. Every time I stepped inside one of the churches, it set me back for a second. Archangel enjoyed watching my expressions. I couldn’t help but think that if man can do something like this what it must look like in Heaven.

My favorite part was always the organ pipes in the back of the church, but all of it was pretty amazing. There’s so much detail in every square inch it’d take days to really take it all in. I only had minutes, so for the most part, I just remained in a state of awe. Although, I did grow tired of the endless portrayals of Jesus as a limp-handshake kind of guy who is never seen without his mother and is always surrounded by endless amounts of flying naked babies. I mean, come on… He’s the King of Kings!

But I digress. I learned some really interesting things along the way as well. I learned what the Templars are all about. They’re an interesting bunch. They are not Catholics, and they’re quick to tell you so. There’s a lot I could say, but the thing I found most important is they love God, and they are not afraid of work. They’d put most people to shame. They are constantly looking to serve, and they do it with all they have. There’s much to be admired.

I was also surprised to find monks and nuns are real people. That may sound a bit odd, but I always had it in my head that they were a strange hybrid destined to live in solitude with no personality. I was wrong. One of the monks there is named Augustine. He is hilarious, and I found every single one of them are normal people for the most part just like you and me. They have hopes and dreams, fears and concerns. They love, they live, and they’re happy. They’re the real deal. We don’t agree on some things, but I believe there’s respect due to someone who gives up everything in order to devote their lives to serve God whether or not you agree on how they go about it.

There were a lot of funny things that happened along the way, but it would take a long time to tell all the stories. Archangel is a ridiculous driver. Add a phone call and heavy rain to the mix on mountain roads, and things get real interesting real quick. I saw a church that was built in the 6th century. Billy never can remember Augustine’s name. Most days, he referred to him as Argentina. At first, this seemed to throw people off, but as time passed, we all knew what he meant. I’ve never seen more crucifixes or statues of Mary in my life. I told some friends the only thing I can liken it to is walking into a gas station bathroom in Mexico. How’s that for a classy comparison?

All in all, if you want an accurate portrayal of the Templars and the churches in Bavaria, I’m probably not your best source. All I can tell you is it’s really something. I’ll carry the memories of Bavaria with me always.

All the best from Austria.

AR

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All Aboard!

My grandfather, Jerry Hanna, was a locomotive engineer who worked for the Santa Fe Railroad. He grew up in Texas, and in this part of Texas, most were either ranchers or railroaders. My mother’s family was pretty much equal parts both. So in a sense, I imagine it’s fitting enough for me to say my family built the West.

I’ve always loved trains. I grew up listening to the trains blow their whistle as they rumbled through town each night. Everything about an old locomotive is filled with nostalgia. They represent a bygone era. This town owes much of its heritage to Santa Fe Railroad, so there’s remnants of that history all about. There’s even a locomotive called “Whistle Stop” in the midst of Cleburne’s Hulen Park, and it’s the center of our Christmas parade each year.

My mom’s father was killed in a car accident when she was only a very young girl. It was an immeasurable tragedy that had a tremendous impact on our family, and the reverberations of that event are still felt to this day. I know him only from stories and pictures, but I am often told how my brother and I remind everyone of him. My hope has always been to live a life that would make him proud and further build upon the foundation of faith, family, and honest hard-work, he and so many others in my family have laid.

In the last few months, the Lord has spoken to me quite a lot about my grandfather and His desire to restore all that was lost. In the midst of this season of praying into these things, my mom gave me two very special gifts, her father’s pocket watch and railroad pin. It’s a beautiful Hamilton pocket watch that was widely used by the railroad because of its reliability. It has a well-worn patina in places from his daily use. It was with him in the accident, so it still bears a scar upon its face. The glass was replaced, and it was then put away in a box not to tick for decades, until recently.

I love pocket watches and antique clocks and so did my grandfather. He collected clocks, dogs, and high-end guns. We would have had a lot in common. He even played bass guitar. My mom has two of my grandfather’s antique clocks. One has not worked in nearly a decade while the other has not worked since he was alive. I decided to take both to a local business that cleans and restores clocks, recently. For about a month now, they have been working and chiming again. In the midst of getting all of these clocks and watches working, I cannot help but consider it significant symbolism. With each tick and chime, they seem to say, “It is time.”

AR

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Interrogated by the Terminator

10/19/2011

In a distant drone, my ears began to open from a deep sleep. I forced my eyes open and quickly got to my feet. In a half daze, I crossed the dark room and blindly felt for my phone that blared it’s alarm, “Girl Named Tennessee.” The music stopped, and I looked at the time — 5:45am. With a sigh, I rubbed my eyes and muttered, “Here we go..”

We were heading back to Munich for the day to get the truck inspected. The place opened at ten, so we had to be on the road by six. We got down to the truck and as Billy played with the GPS, I fumbled with the heater. I can’t figure the thing out when I can see, so in the dark, it’s mostly a hopeless cause. I finally got some amount of heat out of the dashboard, and I settled back into my seat for the long haul back up through Bavaria.

We had went through one stau after another all the way through Salzburg when we first came to Austria, and we had thought it was because of road construction, so Billy decided to go another way in hopes that we’d make better time. We settled on a route through Wels, Austria. That was a bad idea.

We had been on the road for some time, and the heater was just beginning to really get the truck to a comfortable temperature. The dawn was gently breaking over the horizon. Mountains loomed on all sides, but they were mostly out of sight because of a heavy fog that danced all about the road.

We were hoping to find the autobahn any minute. We had been driving small roads the entire time and were not making the greatest time. We had reached a small town that’s name eludes me as the TomTom called out in his predictable British jive, “Left on the roundabout. Second exit.” We had every intention of obeying Tom’s command, but we were rudely stopped by a man with a hat that read “Polizei” and armed with an orange baton that beat against the side of the truck in quick bursts of triplets.

Billy seemed a bit befuddled by the cop’s belligerence. He turned to me and asked, “What’s he want?” I thought that was a strange question. It seemed a bit obvious as the man continued to signal aggressively for us to pull over. I could tell this didn’t look good, and Billy looked rattled. I was too tired and cold to be overly concerned, so I just sat there waiting as the man approached Billy’s window.

Billy cranked his window down, and I watched as the cold morning air swallowed the warm air I so patiently had cultivated in the last hour and a half. The morning air had a nasty bite. Texans are not made for such temperatures. I began to shake in my coat as I listened to the following conversation unfold.

He stood in a defiant manner just outside the window. He stood eye-to-eye with Billy. No words were exchanged as he emitted what can only be described as a death stare. Billy appeared to be searching for words, but none came. Finally, Billy asked, “What’s the problem?” The man in a deep, menacing, tone sounded his demand, “Passports.”

My heart sank. I knew this was bad. Billy quickly began to sound desperate and quite exasperated as he began to explain, “Sir, we don’t have our passports with us. We left them back at the hotel.” The man did not blink. He did not waver. He only seemed to stare deeper with a hate that raged black. He sounded his demand once more, “Passports.” Billy now sounded slightly irritated — never a good thing when dealing with the law. He replied, “They are back at the hotel.”

The man looked back towards the police car. His eyes met with the other officer. He then looked back at Billy. Billy began to squirm and quickly added, “But we have our drivers license from Texas.” Billy quickly grabbed both of our licenses and held them out the window for the man to examine. He took them and gave them the once over. He seemed irritated and replied, “I’ll be back.” It was like a scene from “The Terminator.” Then he walked back towards his parked car.

Billy turned to me looking a bit pale and said, “I suggest you start praying because this could be real bad.” I thought that sure was a fine howdy-do. I can think of better ways to start the day. I muttered a plea that said it all, “God, please, help us.”

The disgruntled official slowly made his way back to Billy’s window and said, “These are no good. I need passports.” Billy for the third time pleaded, “I understand, but they are back at the hotel.” The man asked, “Where is hotel?” Billy racked his brain for the name of the town and finally sounded out, “Gmunder.” The man looked like he was trying to decipher the strange-sounding word and finally asked, “Gmunden?” Billy quickly added, “Yeah, that’s it.”

The man paused for a moment and then with his baton reached inside the truck and pulled on Billy’s unfastened seat belt. Billy seemed confused. The man demanded with menacing eyes, “Why this undone?” Billy tried to explain it away that he had unfastened it after we had stopped. The man then coolly said, “Registration papers.” Billy asked me to pull it out of the glove compartment. I searched inside, but it was not in there. I gave Billy the bad news, and then he remembered the registration papers had been taken out when the truck had been in the shop last week.

As Billy  attempted to explain yet again. The man interrupted, “No registration papers?” Billy quickly tried to soften it by saying, “We have the papers. They’re just not with us. They’re back at the hotel.” The man then asked, “What are you doing here?” Billy quickly replied, “We’re heading to Munich for the day to see some friends.” The man said nothing. He only glared at Billy. After a long pause, he boomed a word that I cannot repeat, but it was obvious he did not believe us.

He passed a look that spelled hate and walked back to his car and returned after a few moments with a small paper. He handed it to Billy and in a different tone reminiscent of a predator that has grown tired of playing with his prey said, “Keep your passports with you all the time because all else is worthless.” He reached in the car and grabbed Billy’s seat belt again and said, “Here is ticket for no belt. Pay thirty-five euros, and you can go.” Billy looked confused but rummaged through his wallet and excavated thirty-five euros and handed it to the man. The man quickly made sure the full amount was there, and then he looked back at Billy and said, “Get out of here.”

Billy quickly turned the engine over and put it in gear. We were out of there as quick as possible. As Billy began to drive away and roll his window back up, he let out a long sigh. He looked over at me and said, “That was a close one right there. He could’ve kept us there all day if he wanted.” I nodded. He continued, “I don’t know if you caught that or not, but that boy just made himself thirty-five euros.”

On we went towards Munich. The rest is far-less interesting. We arrived a few minutes late due to the delay with the polizei. It ended up a wasted trip because it turns out they wouldn’t let us get the truck inspected without the registration papers. Oh well, live and learn, I suppose.

There’s the story of my first encounter with the German polizei. They’re a pretty ruthless bunch. However, I can’t blame the guy. I kept thinking I sure wish Billy was more organized. All I can say is from now on, I’m keeping my passport with me. I’d really prefer to not go through another interrogation. It was like watching excerpts from a World War II movie. Honestly, our prayers are the only thing that got us through.

“I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, higher than the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth.” Psalm 108:3-5

AR

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Goals – A work in progress

I routinely find myself encouraging the people I train both in fitness and nutrition the importance of creating goals. There are countless books, articles, podcasts and other mediums on the power of setting goals. I often relay this information without hesitation, but as of late, I have begun to feel slightly hypocritical in my advice-giving. To have a season where you do not have a goal you are working toward is less than ideal. However, the true danger lies in allowing that solitary season to become routine and expand into months and even years. This is a familiar trap for many. Recently, I have felt myself in that very trap.

Goals are funny things. We can easily rattle off a few, without any true inclination toward pursuing them. It is normally paired with thoughts such as, “It would be nice if…” These are not goals. I would more classify them as vain ambitions. These grandiose ideas make us feel somewhat better – as if they are some momentary escape from the water-treading we have been doing. But they are nevertheless meaningless until we are ready to pursue them regardless of cost and sacrifice.

I just returned home from the Dominican Republic a couple of days a go. While there, I had quite a bit of time to reflect – where I am, where I am going, what I want, and so on. Reflection can be a good thing. Although, I often do better while focusing on minimal reflection. I have a tendency to over analyze most things. This causes great passion in the beginning pursuit of something until a few obstacles arise. These obstacles begin to feel more like warning signals rather than obstacles to overcome, so I find myself wavering on whether I made the correct decision in starting the journey. This sounds ridiculous, but many do the same thing without realizing their pattern until a lifetime of unfinished journeys has led them to a place they never wanted to be.

I love to read history, especially biographies. All of my favorite men and women in history were relentless with their goals. What impresses me most, I think, is how many never had moments where they sat wondering what they wanted or ought to do. They simply gave themselves over to a goal – any goal, often from a young age, and they tirelessly pursued it until completion. They never wondered whether they had it in them to complete it. It seems many of them were wildly insufficient when they began the journey, but through the process, they became the person necessary to complete it.

The power in a goal is not the goal or the completion of it. The power lies in the pursuit. This has led me to believe the goal itself almost does not matter. It is whether or not you are willing to give all you have over to its pursuit. Will you sacrifice what is needed? Do you simply dream of doing more – of being more than you presently are? Or have you truly committed? How much time we waste in trying to find the perfect plan or the perfect goal. Life has a fluidity that is hard to understand. When you truly live, life finds a way of unfolding before you. Life favors the bold and relentless. I believe God designed it that way.

In my circles, there is never a shortage of talk or ideas. There is rarely a shortage of prayer. I can speak only for myself, but I find the paucity in my life lies in the committing to a solitary idea. This is not something that improves over time on its own. It is a facet of self-discipline that must be addressed. And moreover, I believe each person must have a grave realization that life is not about pursuing or preserving comfort. This alone relegates ninety percent of the distractions around us. (I suppose this would be a good plug for Teddy Roosevelt’s book, “The Strenuous Life.” He may very well be my favorite person in history.)

This is where I am. Transition lies in heaps all about me and uncertainty with every step. However, the beginning of faith and hope is to trust God’s ability to pick me up when I fall and to clean up the messes I make along the way. My aim is to live a life in which I can readily say, “This one thing I do.” This naturally demands a great ability to say no to most other things. We live in a world where everything and everyone will place a steady stream of constraints upon you if allowed. But boundaries are easily set when you have committed to a thing.

I hope my meanderings may help someone in a similar place. To that, I leave you with this. The end game is not the completion of a goal, but whatever you do – see it through. Not for the sake of the goal but for the sake of your character and the person you hope to become.

AR

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Éireann, táim ag teacht.

When I was around the age of five, my dad brought me to one of his bookcases in his study. He reached for the globe and pulled it down for me to see. He turned it and pointed to a relatively small island in the North Atlantic and explained this was where our family came from. He was pointing to Ireland, and I’ve dreamed of going since that day. I’ve studied the history, the culture, the language, and the music most all of my life.

On April 12, 2018, a life-long dream becomes reality. Claire and I will be flying to Dublin, Ireland, and then driving to Cork. I’ll be the first person in my family to return to Cork since they came to the States. It’s honestly still hard to believe the time has finally come. There aren’t really words.

I’m very excited and grateful Claire is going with me. We are still working on the routes we will be taking, but it promises to be an adventure. So here’s to the journey ahead.

Éireann, táim ag teacht.

AR

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The typewriter

I sat down at my old Smith-Corona late last night and began to write for the first time in a while. It’s a 50+ year old typewriter in a strange shade of green. Some of the keys show a bit of wear, but it’s actually in remarkable condition considering. Around the time I first got it, I was asked by many why I would want an antiquated machine most are all too eager to dispose of in a garage sale.

It’s clunky and a bit worn in places, but there’s a beauty to it. What first drew me to it was the thought of limiting distraction. When you sit down to a typewriter, they’re a bit of a one trick pony. They type. That’s about it. When using a computer, distractions are readily available. I appreciate the simplicity of it.

There’s something about the rhythmic striking of the keys. The ebb and flow seems to tell a story of its own. At the very least, it accentuates the story being told. Its typeface also has quite a lot of character. Each typewriter has its own individual fingerprint of sorts. I’ve heard detectives of the past used typeface to sometimes lead them to perpetrators. Perhaps, that’s why criminals began using letters cut from newspapers instead of typing or writing their messages by hand.

Typewriters have recently experienced a bit of a resurgence in popularity. I suppose Tom Hanks and hipsters are to thank for this. I prefer to thank Tom Hanks. Nevertheless, it’s the literary greats that inspired my acquisition. Quotes from Ernest Hemingway for instance, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” It doesn’t get much cooler than that.

My fingers have yet to bleed. Although, I believe that was mostly meant as a metaphorical expression. With Hemingway, it’s a little hard to tell. Regardless, I’ve found my typing speed is improving quite a lot. My hope is to one day write something of substance using it — a book maybe. A short book. Ha.

There is an arcane draw to archaic machines. It is not shared by all, but if you’ve ever seen the beauty of a well-preserved WWII airplane, a sextant, or even a typewriter – perhaps you understand. These old machines may be considered antiquated technology with little to no purpose today, but they serve as reminders of eras gone by. They were built during a time when things were built to last.

AR

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