June 23rd, 2010
Day 7: Josh, OKC
Our visit to Oklahoma City seems like a good time to gush about my girlfriend Margo. After a long, sweltering ride through New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma without air conditioning, having Margo waiting at the church where we spoke was a refreshing sight. Her and some friends made the ride from their hometown of Wichita, KS to OKC for a surprise visit.
Margo and I met when I was a soldier at Ft. Riley, KS and we’ve carried on a positive long-distance relationship since I left Kansas in April of 2009. As I saw her glimmering eyes in the audience during our presentation, I thought back to all we had been through, especially the last time we were in OKC together.
On my bike journey last year, I passed through the Midwest on the same weekend that Margo’s cousin was getting hitched. I got lassoed down to OKC for the ceremony. At that point we had only been long-distance dating for three months, so our minds were hard at work conspiring at how we our futures could play out so we would be together again.
I have read the Tao Te Ching enough times that I have should have heeded Lao Tsu’s warning:
Trying to control the future
is like trying to take the master carpenter’s place.
When you handle the master carpenter’s tools,
chances are that you’ll cut your hand.
Trying to force the future, we cut our hands. We had been trying to carry on our relationship like Peter the apostle, faithfully going step by step, walking on the water; suddenly looking too far ahead however, and all the waves of doubt temporarily swept over us. Disagreements that normally would have been minor annoyances suddenly became major offenses.
We had begun to close our hearts, slowly insisting that life play according to our rules. But we had prioritized openness enough that we finally shared our frustrations and realized that the roots of our contention were digging into our attachment to expectations. Planning two cross-country speaking tours with demanding schedules, I certainly know the need for some amount of expectations, but our need for dates and times can quickly overpower our the elements within us that exist eternally. Our relationships are where practicality and patience meet.
Margo and I were able to take our eyes off the future that cannot be forced and refocus on the tools that promise the only route to that future: patience, openness, love, and respect. But how often is a lack of those qualities the source of our contentions-whether personally or between “representatives of nations? Where a safe space to express one’s self is vacant, usually fear, frustration, or forcefulness stand in that vacancy.
From that respect that we have developed—though often from halfway across the country—Margo was able to listen to me express my frustrations about the complications of cooperation that I’d been Conor, Salam, and I had been having on the tour in some situations. Also from that respect, Margo was able to challenge some of my perceptions which better helped me later express my frustrations to Conor and Salam. That’s not to say that I haven’t lost my patience since then, but we’ve been able to create an atmosphere where we can express our frustrations and within minutes carry on laughing and joking after addressing where the communication is lacking.
Peace–inter-personally or internationally—is not the absence of conflict. It is easy to assume that violent conflict and hatred will always exist because there will always be disagreements. The latter will always exist, but the way we respond is something we always have a choice over. We can choose forcefulness and the effects that emerge from it… but they are not inevitable.
Each step of our relationships, on the stormy waters that can easily consume us, has implications for what will come. We should not be surprised if whatever nation we live in goes to war when we do not practice proactive love and understanding as others are practicing paranoia and divisiveness. And if we do not practice patience and care in our personal relationships, then we the waters get rough, we will lose our senses as we resort to forcing our will instead of calmly cooperating and learning together.
As Margo drove away, I smiled on all that we had been through and worked through, grateful for all the ways that she had blessed my life. Though more storms will inevitably come, each day is a practice in what our relationship is founded on and what will guide us through both storms and sunshine.
Or again as Lao Tsu put it:
Men are born soft and supple;
dead, they are stiff and hard.
Plats are born tender and pliant;
dead, they are brittle and dry.
Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible
is a disciple of death.
Whoever is soft and yielding
is a disciple of life.
The hard and stiff will be broken.
The soft and supple will prevail. (76)