Still Getting Set…

“A boat is safe in the harbor. But this is not the purpose of a boat” – Paulo Coelho

 (This post is gonna be a really long one, so sit down and get comfortable.) People ask me often to clarify why I have decided to leave all that is comfortable and known for the unknown and ‘less than’.  It’s hard to articulate in a brief statement without losing their attention.  But I think a thorough explanation is needed to sort of see the world through my eyes from this point forward.  So in thinking how to best relay where I’m coming from, this thought came to mind. I have done some events as a motivational speaker. The following is a talk I gave for a Beta Club Induction Ceremony in 2008. ***************************************************************************************************************** There’s a biblical verse that says, To whom much is given, much is required. This applies aptly to all of you. You have been blessed with talent and gifts that many dream of having but can never attain. Thanks to those who pushed you; your parents, grandparents…kindergarten teachers, civics teachers… or whomever. Now I don’t say that blow up your heads. Quite the contrary. Referring back to the original quote, To whom much is given, much is required.  I tell you this to challenge you.  I tell you this to focus you towards your destiny. If you are aware of the current state of the world- more specifically, our country- you understand that we are at a critical time in history.  The world that you will have to navigate is a different world than your parents and grandparents were raised.  Social institutions as we know them are changing.  The world is moving faster and becoming more complex.  Societies are rapidly emerging in small corners around the world that will influence how you live your life right here in America. And there are whole communities that are facing destruction if solutions to their viability aren’t made evident in the near future. “The systems of belief of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.”  Abraham Lincoln said those words over a hundred years ago in observation of the upheaval of his country in the midst of a civil war. They capture perfectly the since of urgency in our world today. a. 577,000 people die each year from cancer in United States; 1,639,00 diagnosed each year. b. 15,000 people die each year of AIDS in United States. c. Some of the effects of global warming are already being realized as we document the increased rate of the melting polar glaciers. d. Millions of people around the world are displaced because of natural disaster or social conflict. The most practical thing about the Beta Club organization is its emphasis on service.  “Let us lead by serving others” the motto reads. This organization can be seen as an introduction to who you are destined to be. Most of your peers will not experience giving back to one’s community until the need directly affects their family or immediate neighbors. Nearly all community service or any act of altruism in today’s society usually is met through a religious organization.  Most of our youth will grow into adulthood without having had the experience of giving back, serving their community or using their talent and skill to add to humanity.  But I want to expand your way of thinking.  Yes, serving your fellow man is the truest way to demonstrate leadership, but there are more ways to serve than working at a soup kitchen or blood drive.  The world is also in need of those with strength of mind. Eleanor Roosevelt once said,  “Small minds discuss people. Average minds discuss events. Great minds discuss ideas”.  You see evidence of this everyday in the halls at Robinson…in the mall…on television…parents, at the workplace.  Instead of being captivated by information that will effect the world and how you will live in it, the dominate conversations are always focused on the latest headlines on MTV. Listen to this: (from U.S. News and World Report) Currently, 25% of the population of the U.S. — the country that invented the airplane and the light bulb and landed men on the moon— qualify as “civic scientifically literate.” In practical terms says the investigator, that means that only one in four adults can read and understand the stories in the weekly science section of The New York Times. And this comes at a time when the U.S. voters are being asked to grapple with — and reach informed decisions about —complex questions as global warming and stem cell research. Someone needs to rise above the fray.  Which of you will come to the rescue?  If the simple discussion of “people and events” consume our thoughts and energy, we will stagnate as a society.  Hopefully, you cast yourself in the lot with those of great minds. One who will focus on ideas…one who’s ideas, or its discussion and manipulation, will one day change the world. I used to be the Student Council advisor here at Robinson. And a vision I wanted my kids to embrace was the concept of them using everything; every experience, every learned trait and every skill as a tool to be added to their utility belt for future purpose.  My favorite superhero is Batman.  I love Batman… a lot.  I have batman icons on my computers, I-Touch and phone. I have batman tee-shirts, batman posters, batman bed sheets… well not that, but you get the point. Now, I know others have their own personal superheroes too, and usually for cool reasons. Superman- because he flies and is indestructible… well, except the kryptonite thing. Or Super Stretch…because of the stretchy thing he can do. But what resonates most with me about Batman is the fact that he is a superhero, but doesn’t have superhuman abilities.  He can’t fly…or run faster than normal, nor does he even have super strength.  He simply uses his mind and invented gadgets to overcome his obstacle.  I said he uses his mind.   He literally can be anyone of us. Or to say it differently, anyone of us can potentially be a hero. To significantly affect the world, you need to not only be able to collect and manipulate information, you need to also be able to have the courage to use it. How does one stock their utility belt? How does one use his mind to make a difference? If you want to excel in an area, you need to become a student of it’s history and all of the prior detail in that area. You must immerse yourself in all that has been, before you can influence what is to be. Then as the German humanitarian, Goethe said, “Knowing is not enough; we must apply.”  Researchers in New Mexico have found a way of using sunlight to recycle carbon dioxide and produce fuels like gasoline.  Scientists in the phase III trial of a HIV vaccine in Thailand showed promising results towards a cure. (Can you imagine finding the cure to AIDS?) Scientists at the University of California at Berkley have developed an invisible cloak…seriously, an invisible cloak!  (I don’t know why that’s important… it just sounded cool) This is not the work of the faint of heart or the weak of mind.  This is the calling and destiny of those with not only the sharpest minds, but also to those not afraid to use those minds to its fullest capacity… its fullest potential.  You have to have a hunger of the mind which asks for knowledge of all around us, and the more you gain, the more is your desire…the more you see, the more you are capable of seeing. Strength of mind is not only a burden, but more importantly the key to influence. Those with knowledge and understand its power will be in a position to influence the masses of people who are unaware or simply don’t realize it’s value. If you forego this truth, you are fated to be held captive to those who will wield their knowledge over you. I’m not saying that to persuade you to be guarded or cruel.  I say these things to encourage you- to heal the world.  And if you have knowledge, to let others light their candles in it. Those with knowledge then, and have a pursuit thereof; will move mountains and reshape life as we know it.

To whom much is given; much is required. O.K, you’re smart… I get it. You study hard and make A’s, congratulations.  But- will you be the one to meet the challenges of the world on behalf of your generation?  Will you gear up to join in the fight for humanity…to bring all your skills and ingenuity of mind to combat the dark places still left in the fields of science and mathematics? To revolutionize how political debate is currently conducted and how Art is presently produced?  Let this induction be your call to service.  Service to becoming the change you wish to see in your world. To not take your gifts and talents for granted or to be cowed by the mediocre.  Are you willing answer the call of a hero? If so, it starts tonight… it starts now. ****************************************************************************************************************************

Through years of teaching and advising Student Council, this has evolved into my main message. This is what I tried to inspire my kids to strive for.  To use their strengths, gifts and talents to give back and add to the world community. Well, sometimes things get to a point were you gotta practice what you preach. Oh, and something else I will miss. My city’s skyline. Love. Love. Love.

Charlotte, North Carolina. The Queen City.

“Gonna make a change For once in my life It’s gonna feel real good Gonna make a difference Gonna make it right…”

Man In The Mirror, Michael Jackson

We interrupt your regularly scheduled broadcast…

This post is totally unexpected and unplanned, but…

Kseniya Shelkovskaya

My first visitor to the Republic of Georgia is lined up. My most favorite student from my time teaching in NYC (That’s right, I said it), Kseniya Shelkovskaya is already booked. It’s set. We are already toasting Georgian wine in the coolest bar in Tbilisi! GET.ON.HER.LEVEL!!!

…Get Set…

I haven’t been able to sleep for the last couple of nights. I am emotionally ready to go. But lots of other things are still very much up in the air. Knots and bows need to be tied in terms of streamlining finances, minimalizing my life, reconciling goals unrealized, and attempting closure with the people and places I love.  Sometimes my heart races due to the illusion of ‘no more time’ to do all of these things. That’ll keep you up at nights, believe you me.

So I want to express in this post some of the things that I will miss. These are in no particular order and I’m sure so many things that I leave off this post will become painfully acute six months from now.

Erti – ერთი.  I will miss cicadas sounding off in the near and far of a southern hot summer night.

Ori – ორი. I will miss my student council. That organization is so much more than what those looking in from the outside will ever know or be able to fully appreciate.  They are my family- nuclear and extended. I have the best memories and created wonderful events with them over a 14 year period.  Some of them have become my best friends. And I never use those words lightly.  That organization has given me infinitely more than I could have ever given to it.

Closely tied to that is the magical summer workshop known as Mars Hill.  Everyone needs an oasis; a break from the norm.  Mars Hill is a student council workshop held every year at Mars Hill College.  Ironically, although there is no air conditioning in the tiny dorm rooms, and there are insane hills to walk EVERYWHERE, I simply love the third week of July.

Mars Hill College, North Carolina

Now one can’t simply travel to Mars Hill College any random time and have the experience I’m talking about.  Its more about the people, events, purpose,  and tradition. Similar to a place near and dear to a group of very important people in my life in Quaker Lake, PA.  A simple excursion to that beloved lake will never yield the same results equal to going with the appropriate people at the appropriate times.

Sami – სამი.  There is a pizzeria nestled in the Brooklyn side of the Brooklyn Bridge. I love pizza. It’s one of my top favorite foods to eat. Actually I could eat it everyday. So when I say that Grimaldi’s is the best pizza I have EVER eaten, I don’t say that flippantly. They don’t serve by slice (or didn’t when I was living there). If you ever go, don’t be dissuaded by the no reservation policy or the long line you will undoubtedly wait in to be seated. Hands down the best pizza I have ever had.  I have read that there is pizza available in Georgia. But it’s not the same. (Now, I know NYC isn’t even near where I currently live, but delicious it delicious. And it will only be THAT much further.)

Grimaldi’s Pizzeria, Brooklyn, NYC

Otkhi – ოთხი. I will miss my friends and loved ones. A lot. I’m not gonna start naming names. A close friend taught me a valuable lesson years ago. Don’t publically ‘rank’ people, because a) feelings will get hurt and b) you might inadvertently forget someone…. and feelings will get hurt.  But I will miss the easiness of the relationships and the slow deliberate growth of creating memories with my people who have come to know me, although difficult to ‘know’, and love and don’t mind being around me when simply being me.

Khuti – ხუთი. I will miss, I think, technological gadgets. It gives me pause to have to think about going to the back of the line in knowledge and access to the latest in phone, computer and digital technology. But with that being said, there is something to be gained by living without it…. I hope.

Ekvsi – ექვსი.  I have a flower that I tend to. I’m by no means a professional botanist nor is it a hobby of mine. One could say that the flower chose me. I’ve done my damnest to keep it alive and safe. It has blossomed through the hardest and most insane situations. I will miss continuing to see it’s growth process. But I’ll check in with her from time to time.

And lastly (don’t know the Georgian for ‘lastly’ yet) a note on something I won’t miss, grading papers. OY VEY! I could go on and on about the bane of my existence as a teacher. I HATED grading papers. But now knowing I won’t have to do that again… the air smells sweeter, the birds sound clearer and the sun shines a little brighter… and was that an angel I just heard singing?

Who needs sleep, anyway?

“But you’re gonna miss this
You’re gonna want this back
You’re gonna wish these days hadn’t gone by so fast
These are some good times
So take a good look around
You may not know it now
But you’re gonna miss this

You’re Gonna Miss This, Trace Atkins

On your mark…

I like to read. A lot. It’s by far one of my top things to do.  If I find myself doing another media driven activity (namely television or video games) for an extended amount of time, I will eventually feel guilty/ sad about not reading. It feels as though I am cheating on my books. If the story is engaging enough, I never want the book to end. I guess that’s why I gravitate towards really, really long books or books with series. Most times when a book comes to an end, I feel as though I have lost a friend.

Thanks to all of  you for the kind words of encouragement. I am truly humbled.

I don’t think the realization of my eminent departure has hit me fully. Actually I know it hasn’t. Not that when it does I will have second thoughts or change my mind. But I think the excitement of the endeavor supersedes any emotional sadness that one would normally feel when changing environments and leaving loved ones. Georgia is all I think about; everyday, all the time. Learning the language, reading blogs of past and current volunteers, reading about the culture, and thinking about what I will take with me. All of that overshadows the annual emotional time in my life, the ending of a school year. Saying goodbye and wishing my seniors well is now rolled into saying goodbye to ALL of my students and co-workers. I feel awkward in trying to convey the due diligence of a farewell, because the mere mention of the word Georgia in the conversation, changes my mood and the sentiment of the moment is no longer reciprocated. (I know it will be later, but the moment can not be recreated.)  So these last few days of officially being a teacher here at Robinson and in America are very surreal. I know that somewhere deep down, the impact of leaving all that I know and love dearly is affecting me.  I just hope I will have the opportunity to express it accurately to the people I care about most, before its too late.

I’m not a fan of endings, endings of any kind. Thus far this book of my life has been a really good one. But it’s rapidly coming to an end. Uncharacteristically, I’m OK with it. Maybe it’s the comfort and anticipation of having the next book tucked away…ready to start.

(Oh, before we continue)

Disclaimer:

As previously mentioned, the primary reason I set this blog up is to help document my time in Georgia and beyond. Or in other words, it’s a personal document for me and about me (hmm…that sounded narcissistic). The secondary reason is to share this time with those who care about what I’m up to or are simply curious about my interactions with other cultures.

I’m normally a VERY private person in regard to what people know about me.  My life thus far has been purposefully VERY segmented and compartmentalized. Well, that’s about to abruptly change despite my internal cringing. Everyone from all facets of my life will have access to this blog.  So, I feel its important to preface some things. For example, I am a profane person (not sailor-esque profane, well… only if I’ve been drinking… a lot). I say this now, because there will be things that are mentioned, done or phrases used that some of you will think out of character or disjointed from what you ‘know’ me to be. That being said, please don’t take it as an opportunity to correct the “error of my ways” with a response. Thank you.  Now, back to the  regularly scheduled program!

“From dry land, he rolled…over to wet sand
Closed the hatch up with one hand
And pedaled off alone
Cause when you’re done with this world
You know the next is up to you”

Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, Jan. 1967, John Mayer

Leaving on a Jet Plane…

I have thus far in my life been very fortunate.  I am in great health. I have had a good education.  I have seen things and met awesome people who have not only added to my worldview, but have also shaped me into who I am today.  I have taught and worked with some amazing people in my career. And am proud to be called an educator.  In talking to people, I have found it rare that people find their calling or passion for their life. I am very fortunate indeed.

But a couple years ago, I started to feel… unfulfilled.  My love for my profession didn’t diminish. Quite the contrary. I felt an overwhelming urge to give more. I found myself not being challenged in my current job/ school. I wanted to give more, to be challenged and pushed.  I want to be able to use every faculty in me to give back to the world and add to the betterment of world society as a whole.

So with that said, my long term goal is to go to a developing country and assist (as best I can) in helping them to evolve their educational program.

The organizations and programs geared towards that initiative all require international teaching experience (which I don’t have). Hence the short term goal.

As of July 30th, I will report the Republic of Georgia.  And teach English in their educational system for minimally a year. Georgia (country, not the State) has an initiative called Teach and Learn with Georgia. (TLG) If all goes according to plan, I will spend several years there before moving to the next country  (Nepal or Dubai). Then eventually settle down in a developing country indefinitely.

I’m super excited and feel this is the natural evolution of my growth as a person.

So some quick answers to questions I’ve received a lot already:

1. I don’t speak the language of the country, Georgian, yet.  Learning now. But don’t need it to teach in the country.

2. I don’t know exactly where I’ll be placed. They will tell me that during orientation week.

3. I’m selling all of my stuff (including car, eish!) and will reside in Raleigh on trips back to the States.  So if you need to purchase anything, I’m the guy to ask!  I’ll initially have a paid trip home for a two week period.

4. No, I’m not selling my books. I will store them in Raleigh.

So there you have it. Again, I’m super excited and feel strongly about this decision.  I will miss all of you deeply.  And would obviously like to see as many people as possible before I depart. I know I’m going to NYC before I leave; weekend of July 8, Wilmington; weekend June 16th and Raleigh…sometime; TBA.

“Someday I’ll fly
Someday I’ll soar
Someday I’ll be so damn much more
Cause I’m bigger than my body gives me credit for
Cause I’m bigger than my body now

Maybe I’ll tangle in the power lines
And it might be over in a second’s time
But I’ll gladly go down in a flame
If the flame’s what it takes to remember my name.”

Bigger Than My Body, John Mayer