On December 6th, 2013 one of the world's largest tunnel boring machines (affectionately known as Bertha) stopped working. Her purpose was to bore out the great Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement tunnel in Seattle. She was only 1,083 feet into her 9,270 foot journey when she struck an 8 inch metal pipe casing 60 feet underground. Multiple blades were busted and the 57-foot cutter head stopped spinning as the entire project came to a screeching halt.
She was stuck. Really stuck.
Bertha would not move again for over two years as engineers and excavators worked night and day to free her from her 60 foot grave. On December 22nd, 2015 Bertha started digging again. An estimated $223 million in cost overruns were attributed to the delay.
What's done is done.
The problem with being truly stuck is that you can't back up and try again. Like a tunneling machine under the great city of Seattle, the only thing you can do is admit that your stuck (obvious but very important) and then start to explore every option that might keep you moving forward.
Two years ago I had to admit that I was stuck, and while the process of becoming un-stuck has been less than pleasurable, it was my only option. It has been costly both to me and my family, and it has been confusing to those that are closest to me. I have stayed up late into the night asking for a do-over while at the same time knowing that it would never happen. Like an overworked engineer I would constantly return to the whiteboard scrutinizing over my next option for forward progress.
A lot of people in my life don't understand what's going on, just like a lot of people don't realize that there isn't a "Reverse" option on a tunneling machine's control panel.
There is an immense amount of work that goes into inventing something. Whether you're trying to prototype the world's first flying automobile or write the final chapter in your latest manuscript, creating something out of nothing can be a daunting task. Throughout history some of our most famous inventors were zany, neurotic recluses -mostly because they gave themselves over entirely to the purposes of invention. Their deep desire to invent often drove them to the brink of madness. So what does that say about people that would try for a reinvention?
I am currently attempting to reinvent myself.
Reinvention is not as edgy and cool as one might think. It's actually been a fairly painful process. Most likely because I allow myself to think about the previous iteration (Jason 1.0) and I fear that nothing will be as it was. Reinventions are not updates, they are not improvements upon something that was 85 percent right.
Reinventions are deconstructed journeys in the other direction.
There is deep sorrow involved. Guilt, resistance, repentance, doubt - these are all commonplace when reinventing oneself.
The hardest part about all of this is I am not sure if I ordered this reinvention, or if it was ordered for me. In either case I know that a reinvention should produce a different outcome, but it's not the outcome that I fear the most, rather it's the process of getting there that is so terrifying.
Rarely do I re-read a book. I think it's because I become so attached to the narrative and so connected to the characters that it can be a painstaking process to reinvest. After seeing this trailer though, I feel compelled to reengage with Shusako Endo's masterful work Silence. Very few books have shaped my faith as much as Silence has. (I can only hope that the film, directed by Martin Scorsese, will be as impactful.)
Of all the things that I am committed to in this life; family, work, friends, faith - I'm also committed to being observant in these difficult times. This means that even in the most regular and mundane moments of my life I am looking for something to speak to me.
WARNING - overthought, artistic expressionism coming.
The other day I was standing at the edge of a heavily wooded area located near a neighboring farm. Winter was in full swing and an unseasonably warm afternoon was giving way to an incoming cold front. The wind was heavy and thick but high up in the air. It was the kind of day where the wind was determined to challenge the tallest of trees.
As I stood there watching old-growth trees sway in a sort of universal rhythm, I couldn't help but think about their collective commitment to reach ever-skyward. All of the sudden my deeply philosophical thoughts were interrupted by a noise that often goes unheard by the human ear.
(If I asked you what it sounded like when a tree falls in the woods, you might tell me that there would be a giant "cracking" sound followed by a sustained "whooshing" noise ending in a thunderous "fwump" as the tree landed in it's final resting place.)
I happened to be looking in the direction of the tree when it fell. The sound was so foreign to me - almost indescribable. There was no cracking or whooshing. It was as if the tree finally gave up. All at once it's core released a pressure that had built up over the last 20 years.
The tree was done. It fell alone in the midst of a crowd.
I was attached to this moment because I witnessed it. For the next 10 minutes I could not dissociate myself from the sadness of it all. Had this happened to me five years ago, I would've thought that it was the coolest thing I ever saw.
Not this time.
I'm not sure to what degree doubt and certainty coexist, I just know there's a link.
A while back I wrote a post about things I am convinced of, so a post related to doubt was something I wanted to write in response. It's valuable to note that being certain of something does not preclude the absence of doubt. Certainty will do it's best to expose doubt, and vice versa.
After Nancy got up from the table where she was resting, she knew that all eyes would be on her. Some would watch empathetically because they knew how she felt, others would watch out of sheer curiosity to see how she would react. They were waiting to see if she was limping, or bleeding, or crying. They wondered if she would just put on a brave face and continue, or if embarrassment would force her to make a quick getaway.
Nancy could not help feeling like she was on display. Several moments after her fall, kids were still staring at her. When she came back to check on her tables some of the customers would ask if she was okay, while others would remind her that she had taken a "pretty big fall back there". Neither response was very helpful.
What was really bothering Nancy was not her hip (although that was becoming more sore by the minute) rather it was an unnerving feeling that she was no longer qualified to be a waitress. She was paralyzed by the thought that all she wanted to do was quit.
Nancy understood that being a waitress wasn't the most sought after job in the world, but she was good at it. She enjoyed it. She had been doing it for as long as anybody at the diner could remember. She identified being a waitress with service --and for her that was more of a mindset than a job.
Now, though, she wasn't sure about continuing on as a waitress. In fact, the whole messy situation left her doubting a lot of things in her life.
Falling will do that to you.
Not going to sugar coat it. These are rough days. So rough in fact that I don't feel much like writing. The cold, steady rain outside is doing it's best to befriend me.
I know I am not alone in discouragement. None of us can outrun it's reach all of the time.
It's hard to battle against discouragement. All of the good thoughts and hope-filled imagery I can muster up are really no match for the loss of enthusiasm that I feel. Much like a kid swimming out beyond the break of the Atlantic, I can see the swelling of the wave and I know that I will undoubtedly be caught up in it.
This wave of discouragement has been atypical.
In this current space of discouragement I am constantly asking myself what it would take to find relief.
I don't have an answer. (Well, I have pat answers but those aren't very helpful right now.)
A quick google search will reveal that there are over 650,000,000 occurrences of the word stress online. It's a topic that has been highly debated and constantly researched in both the medical and non-medical worlds. Everyone seems to have it from time to time (some people live with it around the clock). Heart attacks and other diseases have been linked to it --which is why we do everything we can to escape the evil clutches of a stress filled life.
I have never been more stressed in my life than I am right now.
The other day at the gym our coach was instructing us on the proper technique for doing a strict pull-up. We all watched as his body moved effortlessly from full arm extension to chin over the bar and then back down again. (When it was our turn to try, the scene was not as pretty.) With certain momentum-based movements I'm able to rattle off more than a few pull-ups, but when I have to rely solely on upper body strength I can maybe get three or four.
I asked my coach how I could get better at pull-ups. He instructed me to start the pull-up at the top with my chin already over the bar, and then slowly allow my body to lower down into full arm extension. By doing so, he said, I was providing stress or tension to certain areas of my upper body which would result in future muscle growth.
The simple notion of allowing stress-over-time to produce growth has been an instrumental metaphor for me.
Not that I'm looking for ways to provide it, but what if I didn't try to completely eradicate stress from my life all the time? What if the naturally occurring stress of this life could be harnessed and refocused into making me a stronger person?
Corralling stress is not the answer for everything, but it does make a challenging life more doable.
Last night I had a brief but meaningful interaction with a homeless man. He was bed down for the night inside a hollow where two tall buildings join together. At the end of our conversation I asked him if he was alright. He nodded and then extended his hand for a handshake. He wasn't alright, but it was kind of him to try and reassure me.
As I walked away from that experience I couldn't help but think about him lying on that cold, damp ground looking up at people hustling by. The people he watched had somewhere to be. They had some kind of purpose to pursue. They had someone to connect with at the end of their day. Their umbrellas were out, their collars were up and they were moving at a quickened pace in order to beat the cold.
Surely this man would have wanted what others had.
I have spent the last few years being envious. I have been envious of people's cars, their houses, their ability to pay the bills. I have been envious of people who (seemingly) don't have a care in this world. I am truly envious of those who don't have to constantly put out fires. I have been envious of other's ability to move forward; to take on the normal things of life without consequence.
I'm not trying to compare my current life circumstance to that of this homeless man, nor do I want to demean anyone by simply making an analogy out of their personal life. My attempt is to harness a deeper understanding of enviousness. Envy is a strong partner of suffering. Those who suffer sometimes wish to have the lives of those who do not.
I would not fault the homeless man for being envious.
We have all done it. That really important thing we were carrying around with us was inadvertently placed on a shelf, in a drawer or behind the chair - it doesn't matter how it got there. What matters is we can't remember where we left it. In a moment of mental slumber we set something down and cannot figure out where it went. If we're lucky we will stumble upon it during a frantic episode of hide-and-seek. Sometimes though, we don't find it right away. Sometimes we're stuck searching for it for quite a while.
I recently told someone that I was searching for something in my life. They took that to mean that I was leaving a part (or the whole) of my past behind. After a lengthy conversation I assured him that this was not the case. The interaction left me thinking about the importance of searching. (Note: Had I used the word seeking instead of searching our conversation would have been significantly different.)
There is a bit of aimless wandering that occurs when you are actively searching. Much like you'd look for your missing keys in places where you absolutely know they would not be, you have to "look everywhere" just in case. Others will question your aimless wandering, but that's mostly because they are not searching for anything.
Searching forces me to look up on the highest shelves, inside the dark closets and under the piles in the corners. These are places that have long been overlooked and my search has definitely uncovered things that I have forgotten along the way.
For me, searching has become just as important as finding what it is I'm looking for.
I have always been influenced by writers who can efficiently clarify large, heady concepts with as few words as possible. Walter Brueggemann does just that in his often overlooked gem of a book, Spirituality Of The Psalms. It weighs in at a mere 96 pages and in it Brueggemann is as profound as he is brief in dealing with the subject of pain and suffering.
One other short, but mighty read is a book by C. Baxter Krueger. The Great Dance has completely transformed the way I view the Trinity.
Possibly one of the best little getaways my wife and I ever went on was a three night stay at a cabin up in the Cascade Mountains. The cool part about this particular trip is that the cabin was only accessible via snowmobile. So we packed all of our stuff on a little pull-behind and motored our way up the mountainside. The second day there we ventured out into the beautiful Cascade landscape -my wife and I on one snowmobile and our two friends on another. About one hour into our journey it began to snow, lightly at first and then all of the sudden it was a whiteout. We stopped along the side of a quickly disappearing trail and watched as my friend and his wife argued as to which way we should go. (I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little nervous at this moment.) I assured my wife that everything was ok, that they had been up to this cabin hundreds of times and they knew these woods like the backs of their hands.
Within moments visibility was zero. Every tree was the same. Left was right and up was down.
We weren't lost. No, it was much worse than that. We were disoriented.
In many ways being disoriented is paramount to simply being lost. When you're lost you can stop and ask for some direction or you can retrace your steps. Whenever you tell someone you're lost they will usually do what they can to help you find your way. When you're disoriented though you might not even know where you started, or how you got there. In the most extreme cases of disorientation you might not even know where you were trying to get to. The other challenge is that the average person does not know how to help someone that's disoriented. If there is no starting point to speak of, and there seems to be no known goal, then being of any assistance can present a real challenge.
During times of disorientation it is not uncommon to be forced back to the simplest of understandings about life. This is not necessarily a bad thing. The unavoidable deconstruction of life's complexities can sometimes do more for the human spirit in a moment of disorientation than a lifelong pursuit of preventative care ever could.
If I am lost, I can usually find my own way out. Eventually. When I am disoriented my only response is to look beyond myself.
We're all guilty.
We've all sinned.
We're all a part of the shortfall.
Like a giant tent spread out over humankind, our wrongdoings shelter us with an impenetrable covering; creating a level playing surface for us all.
For as long as I can remember, statements like these have been a part of the bedrock of my faith. Indeed, I have accepted these notions as truth. I have relayed these truths to my children. I have written about them in books, and I have travelled the world communicating these principles to all who will listen. Generally speaking, I have never had an issue with this understanding.
That's the problem. I speak about sin and guilt in the most general of senses. I have done everything in my power to avoid talking about them specifically.
Any one of us could claim to know the game of football.
Within a certain amount of time each team gets four chances to get a football from a particular starting point to their end zone. Taking the football across the line of your end zone will award your team six points. The team with the most points after a certain amount of time will be called the winners. See, in general, football is a pretty easy game.
Football, like any other sport, increases in difficulty the higher up you go. Even though the game doesn't change generally, it does change specifically. For instance, every team in the NFL knows that you have to move the ball 10 yards to earn another set of chances (downs). The teams that work the hardest to figure out the specifics of moving the ball 10 yards (or more) are the ones that usually win out.
The most difficult thing for me to do is to move away from a general understanding of sin.
When I look at it specifically, I must admit that I'm guilty.
It's the classic scene in any action movie.
Enter our protagonist, destined to fight for the causes of humanity, running for his life down a side alleyway. With one hand he brandishes a weapon. The weapon itself is not the most ideal for the situation he's in -but it is his most trusted accoutrement. (Every one of the "bad guys" currently chasing him knows that in a one-on-one fight they would surely be destroyed by it.) With his other hand he grasps a small locked box that must be delivered to a certain person at a certain time or else all of the people in a certain area will perish. As he rounds the corner, with his final destination in plain sight, his full-on sprint turns into an abrupt halt as he realizes that he is indeed surrounded by his pursuers. The camera zooms in for a close-up shot of our protagonist's face and with beads of sweat running down his forehead he says to himself, "If there were only two, or three I could take them. But this many? Not a chance."
All at once he realizes that he is outnumbered.
There aren't a lot of options for response when you are outnumbered.
In an action movie antagonists are never satisfied with simply outnumbering the protagonist. No, they want to battle it out in unison to insure total defeat. From the protagonist's point of view you either have to be a great negotiator or an even better fighter. There would be no action film if the screen faded to black and the credits began to roll the minute the audience realized the outnumbering had occurred. The audience demands an outcome. That's what they paid for.
For the longest time I've felt outnumbered. I am definitely not the hero type protagonist, but I can surely relate to being surrounded in a metaphorical alleyway. It's a stifling place. A place where the air is scarce and sometimes too heavy to breathe. Just simply panning around to get a clearer picture of all that outnumbers you can be a dizzying experience. All the eyeballs of your pursuers are on you. Passer-bys and on-lookers crowd in to see how you'll react.
When your outnumbered everybody watches.
We don't always respond like most action heroes. Sometimes we can't find the strength deep inside to triumph in the most unlikely of ways. There are no spin moves and backflips to help us narrowly escape our impending doom. We simply sit in our outnumbered-ness, which doesn't make for a good action movie.
I remember when my life transitioned from an action film into a real-life drama.
It is not uncommon for me to get lost inside my own head these days. One simple (but important) game I play is reminding myself of statements that I am convinced are true. Here's a short (but not exhaustive) list of some of them:
These simple statements give me great comfort when I wake up in the middle of the night wondering how I will possibly survive.
Nobody in the diner saw the little boy sitting at the edge of the booth eating his breakfast. He was silently going about his business as he clutched the knife and fork with his sticky hands. His parents were engrossed in a political conversation with an older gentleman in the next booth over while he began sawing away at his newly syrup-ed waffles.
For so many young children, the cutting of one's own waffle is an earned rite of passage.
So, undeterred, the 5 year old shook off numerous requests by his mother to cut it for him. Like a star pitcher waving off the slider call from the catcher, he was laser focused on accomplishing his task. At one point, the boy was working so hard on his cutting process that his elbows accidentally knocked over the small plastic cup of apple juice. Not wanting this to be the end of his culinary journey, the boy quickly uprighted the cup and went back to work. Unnoticed by everyone was the small puddle of apple juice that was slowly making its way to the table's edge.
Back in the diner's kitchen a middle-aged waitress (let's call her Nancy) was putting the final touches on her order for table 76. She was not feeling one hundred percent that day, but staying home wasn't an option. She knew she would have to try and fit a doctor's office visit in between shifts the following day. Twice already today she forgot to bring coffees out to the table of her "regular" customers. At first they poked fun at her misstep, but when it happened the second time they asked her if she was doing alright. They told Nancy that she seemed really distracted.
The thought of their question was consuming her mind as she placed the breakfast plates in front of the customers at table 76. They smiled at her as she asked if they would like anything else. They graciously said no, and as she turned around she never noticed that they all shifted the plates to their rightful owners. She also never noticed the clear puddle of liquid on the ground right below table number 75.
The next thing she knew, she was on her back looking up at the ceiling fan whirring overhead. Nancy didn't even know there were ceiling fans in the diner.
I have always been a fairly observant person. In fact, I pride myself on being an observant communicator. When in conversations, I make it a high goal to listen more than I talk. As a speaker I strive to learn as much as I can about my surroundings so that I can communicate something of value. (The times that I have been most influenced by a communicator were when he or she somehow took the time to understand me on a visceral level -even though I might have been one of a thousand in the audience.)
Despite all my efforts to remain observant and focused in life, I had grown more and more distracted. Things that never earned my attention before were slowly becoming a siren call beckoning me to leave my post. There was so much I didn't see coming.
Lately it feels as if I am a producer walking around the set of a movie being made about my life. I'm intimately connected to the film and I have full knowledge of all it's moving parts - it's just that I don't have a lot of say over all the details. I wish that I was the director, or even the actor starring in the lead role, but I'm not.
As a producer, I understand how the story of my life begins and I am fairly confident of it's conclusion. It's just that I'm frustrated with the way this current chapter and scene are playing out and there's really not much I can do about it.
The overarching story of my life compares little to it's current minutiae and because of that I have grown distant.
Distance didn't happen overnight though. At first I made strong attempts to defend myself from anything that railed against me. I sought the comfort of old strategies and habits while I continued to pursue life on the battlefield. Over time though exhaustion and neutrality took it's toll. Feeling like a beleaguered soldier on the front line, I finally let my weapon fall to my side and I just stood there. In that moment, while the sharp sounds of battle continued on around me, I wondered what this effort was all for. I began to distance myself from the story.
Distance is a picky thing. If used correctly it can provide perspective and a greater frame of reference. If taken to a different extreme it can lead to isolation and exclusivity. It's amazing to me how some people can distance themselves and, over time, turn hardship into beauty. Yet, for others distancing themselves ends only in disappearance.
On Sunday's I plan on taking the day off from writing -but I will be using the post to share some things that are currently influencing my thinking.
I have long been a fan of Malcolm Gladwell. His books Tipping Point and Outliers were fantastic reads. His podcast is called Revisionist History and I have been captivated by every episode. I would highly suggest a listening.
You can access it here.
See you tomorrow.
If pain and suffering were likened to a room in a house, it would probably be the room way down at the end of the hallway where only children and guests accidentally enter because they thought it might be the bathroom. Upon entering they quickly exit making sure not to linger, or to see some unwanted thing. They pull the door closed until it clicks and they hastily relocate back to the main part of the house.
Most long-term residents of "pain and suffering" are not there by choice. Sometimes the most awful of circumstances have thrust them through the doorway and keeps them locked up day and night. Additionally, there are those that make frequent stops in the room of suffering, and for various reasons, they make it out. Still, there are those who make this room their constant destination. For long periods of time they enjoin themselves with the contents of the room (shame, guilt, confusion, remorse) mostly because they have found a sense of belonging.
Then there are those who have lived in ignorance about this room. They are unaware of it's power and they are often confused by the those who have been in the room for any length of time --and for one reason or another they find themselves inside for the very first time.
This is me.
So the question I ask myself is, what do I do now? How long do I stay? How am I supposed to act?
For the longest time my only connection with this room was to counsel (or interview) people that had come through the doorway. Like a dutiful worker, I would stand outside the room by the door - sometimes holding it open for the guests as they ventured in and sometimes opening it for them when they wanted out. I would say things like, "How are you feeling?" and "Do you want to talk about what happened?", or even "I totally understand ."
But I didn't understand. And now that I'm in the room, while everything within me wants to bolt out, I'm going to stay. I'm staying because in one sense I have to, and in another sense because I am curious about it all.
I am curious about the room of pain and suffering and though I want to flee, I will not.
A moment of self-reflection: in starting this blog, my hope was to figure a few things out about myself. I had been silent for so long that the lines between conviction and regret were super blurry. Communication and reaction were identical twins. Friends were enemies and love turned into labor. I knew I had to do something.
Many of you have reached out in the most encouraging ways and I am forever grateful for your love and care. Interestingly enough though, that same outpouring of support has tempted me to daily shift the scope of this blog - to make it more readable and relatable. But I won't - because I must stay connected to the reason I set out to do this in the first place: to explain who Jason Ostrander is.
I am convicted.
Gonna stay the course...
The concept of conviction is an interesting one. In one sense it connotes a declaration of guilt. In another sense it means fixing oneself to a firm belief. There seems to be a very thin difference between the two and the narrow delineation has stymied me. It's two sides of the same coin.
I've spent the later part of my life trying to decipher which conviction will define me. Like a painter holding up color samples to a wall I am regularly employed by the need to determine proper likeness. To what end though? Why should such a determination be valuable?
It's valuable because conviction (in any sense) carries a substantial amount of weight. It is not easily ignored. Convicted people don't play nicely with routine. Conviction can keep you from danger, and it can also throw you in harm's way.
I'm not totally convinced that in life you can have the one side of conviction without the other.
I've been told a hundred times to be "anxious for nothing", consequently, I've tried hard to live the worry-free life. Like an expert fisherman, I learned to cast out my cares as quickly as they came in. Looking back I've realized that casting your cares is easy to do when the cause for concern is lighter and more controllable. It's also easy not to lose sleep over something that, in the end, you know you'll be able to handle on your own.
This one was too big to cast. I had to live with it. I am living with it. So what am I to do with this worry that feels more like a companion on a journey than a burden to bear?
For the longest time I worried about being worried. It was my job to consistently abandon anxiety and charge out with a brave face. By nature I am an overly positive person so that was easy enough to do, but the inherent problem is that I always drank water out of the full half of the glass, so to speak. I had no idea what the empty half of the glass tasted like.
I constantly retreated from worry and anxiousness. I think I missed out on a major aspect of life because of that.
I'm not an advocate for getting oneself into trouble just for the sake of being anxious. I am learning though that when trouble hits, living a teflon-coated life has really only made me impervious to change.
Some things I need to change, so I have decided to remain anxious long enough to see what it is.