The World Has Changed…Me

Torres del Paine National Park in southern Chile

I look at the lady and say smiling, “It shouldn’t take me more than 10 or 15 minutes. If I’m not down in an hour, call 9-1-1.” With that, I climb up the ladder beneath the small portal cut into her ceiling and disappear….into an oven I go. 

It is 3 pm in the afternoon on a Wednesday and the heat from this Colorado summer day is peaking. Holy hell, the temp in this attic is probably near 130. I was already sweaty from laboring through my first two houses, but that doesn’t stop me from pumping out a new layer of sweat on top of the old. 

I’m wearing a pair of black jeans, Dickies brand. My two shirts both have long sleeves. The Sunrun installers shirt I wear next to my skin is gray and cotton, the top layer a solid black synthetic with a collar. And don’t overlook the Sunrun logo on my left chest. My head is covered first with my favorite cap, but then further surrounded by a “bump cap” – a hard-shelled hat I wear to blunt the nails that might greet me while measuring the underside of this roof. Around my face I wear an N95 mask for the dust. Above my forehead is a headlamp. 

There is not much room up inside this oven. I cannot stand up. Crawling on hands and knees through the insulation is my only option. The disturbed insulation creates a cloud of particles that appear to shine as they float through the light of my headlamp. On the upper part of the roof I am able to measure the rafter sizes relatively easily. The truly uncomfortable challenge will be getting my tape measure onto the lower rafters, the ones that span the vaulted living room and only enter the attic by a couple of inches. I shuffle down the joists towards my target. The sloping roof above my head narrows as I squeeze my body into lizard shape, no longer able to baby-crawl for lack of vertical space. So hot up here!

The worst part, the very worst is when I make that final reach of the tape measure, left hand going forward as far as I can stretch, the right hand awkwardly aiming the phone’s camera, my face now hovers a half-inch to the nasty insulation.   

I chose this…?  OMG, I chose this.

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I Must Be Inspired, or Not

One thing about traveling is that between the sites, cities, countries and continents, there is a whole lot of time to fill. Podcasts and books have their place, but there’s still plenty of uninterrupted time left over to think. As I traveled the world, pondering my place within it was unavoidable. 

Whether I knew it or not, my world-infused ponder had invisibly shifted the relationship I had to everything. Once my world trip was over and I was re-entering normal life in Austin, Texas, I felt a fresh exuberance to do something that would connect me to some “larger goodness.” It was a rush of enthusiasm that lasted a good few weeks. An enthusiasm for…. well, I didn’t know exactly what. But as time wore on, my urge to live inspired soon gave way to the practical realities of daily living. By the time I’d been back 5 or 6 weeks, my initial zeal for doing something meaningful with my life morphed into, “I just gotta get a job.”

Next thing you know I was plugged back into a mundane job very similar to the one I had before my world tour began. With a weighted heart, but still the best of intentions, I accepted a Research Analyst position at Texas Medicaid. Spreadsheets, databases, and internal reports would be my lot in life for the foreseeable future.

Though my work life would be set for a while…my life at home was in trouble. 

The story of my break-up with Jessica, the beautiful partner I had shared so many amazing life experiences with, will not be told here. Our demise as a couple is complicated, sad, and impossible to re-tell fairly or objectively. Therefore, I will leave it alone almost entirely.

What I will say is that I was unhappy. The decision to end the relationship came slowly and with intense trepidation. But once I reached that point mentally, and our 9 1/2 year relationship was over, I was only trading one box of unhappy for a new box of uncertainty.

Fine Is No Longer Fine

Stories told by the generation of NASA astronauts that first walked on the moon reveal a lot about what it’s like to return to the ordinary after living the extraordinary. One astronaut hung up his space suit and became a priest. Another turned his attention to art and lived out his days painting. Alan Shepard, the first American in space and also one of the few astronauts that walked on the moon, was profoundly impacted by the contrast he saw between the desolate, inhospitable moon, and the fountain of life that is planet Earth. Not only did his experience on the moon amplify his appreciation of Earth’s wonders, the simplest of pleasures delighted him equally.  In one interview, Shepard describes a favorite activity of his- walking to the shopping center, finding an ice cream cone and a bench, and watching the people pass by.  

While I did not see the Earth from the moon’s surface, I did see our planet in a way very few others ever will. My trip around the world did not turn me into a painter or priest, but I did find it increasingly uncomfortable to live my old life. For example, my job was fine, my coworkers were fine, the things I worked on were fine. The problem was that “fine” was no longer fine with me.

I don’t know where this phrase came from, but I’ve always liked it:  The three most important things in life are where you live, where you work, and how your hair looks. 

After the breakup, my where you live was uncertain, and my where you work was a pillar made of straw. Even my hair was a mess! I wasn’t sleeping well. I was tired all the time. 

I really didn’t know how to move forward. I felt broken.