A Story from The Costco Gas Pump

As anyone who gets gas at Costco knows, the wait is long and people’s patience often wears thin. I’m third in line now, with the two cars in front of me each pulling up to their respective pumps.

The first guy gets out. He’s young, black, and wearing a mask.

The second, I’m frustrated with because he’s taking much longer to get out of his car. I see his door open and two feet slowly touch the ground, one and then another. He’s at least 90 years old, white, and contrastingly, not wearing a mask. 

The first guy is noticing him too. He doesn’t exactly look steady.

Then the first guy begins emphatically waving down a gas station attendant. I know he’s seeking help for the older one because I watch him peek around the pump for an attendant and then quickly back to the guy. As we both now wait for assistance, he appears to keep his eyes on the older gentleman, as if standing at the ready, should he need some help. 

My own eyes start to well up. The first guy isn’t in a rush to get gas and get gone, like I am. He’s present, and caring for a fellow human being. He doesn’t care that the guy is white. He doesn’t care that he’s not wearing a mask. He cares because he sees a man in need. 

If I were a news journalist, perhaps my headline would be, “Young Masked Black Man Comes to Old Maskless White Man’s Aid at Costco Gas Pump.” 

But do any of these details really matter? In today’s times, yes. They shouldn’t. But because we’ve been so increasingly divided over the past 18 months, we rarely hear these stories. We see them all the time, but we barely acknowledge them, and we certainly don’t hear about them. Sadly, these stories don’t sell. 

I think they should, though. Because to me, this story is what America (and humanity) is all about. 

Is America Really Successful?

I recently got home from an incredible adventure abroad and want to share some observations with you, which I think are important. I spent three weeks traveling through Thailand and Vietnam. While the trip was unforgettable, I’m glad to be home (and for all new reasons).

Things I’ll miss about Vietnam and Thailand: the friendly people, smiling faces, and simplicity.

Things I’ll appreciate more in America: clean drinking water, fresh air, and being able to sit outside in the sun for more than 2 minutes without being soaked in sweat.

Probably the biggest and most obvious culture shock upon returning to America, even just making my way through the airports, is how unhappy we, as a people, are in comparison to these other cultures. I’ve spent a lot of time pondering this. What’s causing it? Can we change?

First off, I think we have too many options. As Americans, we have all grown up in so much favor that it’s often hard to remember to be grateful. We have so many things to be grateful for but instead, we focus on what we don’t have yet. Things we want. Places we’d rather be. It’s tragic really, because in the midst of all of our wanting and wishing, we miss the joy that’s right in front of us.

Secondly, I think our definition of success is wrong. From birth we’re conditioned to work hard so we can live the life we want. We work hard, get to where we want to be, and our definition of success changes. Now we want even more. So we work hard to get there and still aren’t satisfied. And on and on it goes.

America is known as one of the most productive, successful societies in history. And we have a lot to show for our efforts. Productive? Absolutely. Successful? That’s debatable.

How can you be successful when your people are unhappy?

After observing the Thai and Vietnamese people, I personally think they’re a lot further along in the realm of successful living than we are. This is because, unlike the vast majority of Americans, they’re not stuck in a perpetual state of longing, they’re too busy living.

Unlike Americans, they’re not in a rush. They takes things as they come rather than bulldozing full speed ahead in an attempt to grasp things not yet meant to be. Comparatively speaking, their lives are simple. Men are seen squatting on every corner. Women are fanning themselves in the street. This simplicity lends itself to generosity. They notice the little things that we so often take for granted. They aren’t happy because everything is going their way. They’re happy because they trust that the way things are going is the best way, even when it’s not their own.

I don’t know the recipe for happiness nor do I have the formula for success pinned down. But if I had to guess… simplicity, faith, and a grateful heart are the best starting points.

Just 24 hrs until I’m backpacking in SE Asia

Tomorrow I’m leaving to backpack through Thailand and Vietnam by myself. It will be my first time backpacking abroad alone. Up until two nights ago, upon hearing my family members express their concern, I’ve had little to no reservations or anxiety about my trip. I understand why my family would be nervous for me. I’m the youngest child of three and will likely always be “the baby” in their eyes. I take their concerns as an expression of love and don’t accept them as personal. After all, I know who I am and what I’m capable of. (More importantly, I know who my God is and what He is capable of)

While I appreciate my family’s expressions of concern, I also think that they don’t understand (nor may they ever) just how well equipped I am for this journey. If I were to try to give them concrete examples for how this is so, I would fail. Because it’s true that backpacking in SE Asia is something I haven’t done before.

So how do I know that I’m well equipped?

I know that this world can be a cold and scary place. I’ve experienced it firsthand, probably more so than most people my age. I know that as a woman traveling alone, I face unique challenges. But, none of this is new to me. The same challenges hold true in my own country, living alone as a female. The truth is, I wouldn’t take a trip like this if I didn’t feel safe and/or experienced enough to do so.

Experience is our greatest teacher and life so far has taught me much. For example, I know that good people are everywhere. That strangers offer to help at the most unexpected times. And that my God goes before me and stands behind me. That I am never truly alone. It’s precisely this knowledge that has propelled me to go fearlessly forward in most all of my endeavors.

But backpacking in Asia? Where did this come from? And why does it feel so natural for me?

I’m pondering this question and realize something incredible…

Every thing up to this point in my life has been preparing me to take this trip.

From the time I was nine years old, insisting that I fly by myself from my hometown in North Carolina to a summer camp in Missouri, I have always taken my own path. More often than not, this path has been a solo one. I feel the upmost comfortable being alone and I purposefully seek out experiences that challenge me. I always have.

I also find traveling alone to be particularly enjoyable. When I was fifteen, I travelled across the US on a bus with dozens of other kids. I toured almost the entire continent of Europe with a small group in high school. And I spent two summers taking classes in Salamanca, Spain. On all of these trips, I enjoyed going off on my own. I always made my own way through the hotels and airports. Perhaps, a strong desire for freedom is written in my DNA. I don’t know. But what I do know is that I’m perfectly capable of traveling to foreign places on my own. In fact, I prefer it.

Ok, so I’ve traveled to various parts of the world and always enjoyed exploring on my own. But still, I’ve never traveled abroad by myself. There were always other people, or a set schedule, or someone I planned to meet.

(I should note that the idea for this trip was sparked by a friend who is taking one of his own. People are often used to push us towards our next destination on life’s journey. While I will be seeing him abroad, the majority of my time will be spent alone. I don’t know whether his role was simply to push me towards this step, or if he’ll wind up holding a larger role in the next chapter of my journey. But I’m grateful for the role he played in getting me to this moment….typing on my computer, just 24 hours away from backpacking alone in the “foreign” continent of Southeast Asia.)

“Foreign” is an interesting word. We call SE Asia foreign because they don’t share our language or culture. But cultures vary widely, no matter where you are.

And there are far more foreign things than a language barrier.

For example, when I left everything behind after college and moved by myself to Los Angeles, THAT was foreign. When I befriended a group of Rastas who took me under their wing, and to this day, care deeply for my safety and well-being, THAT was foreign. When I drove 14 hours by myself to a small suburb of New Jersey and stayed on a couch for two weeks with three guys I met the day before, making music, THAT was foreign. Or just last summer, when I hitchhiked across Hawaii with a stranger and wound up meeting some of the most incredible, hospitable, and helpful human beings to date, THAT was really foreign.

And amazing. And liberating. And life changing.

I think I’ve always sought out foreign experiences for these reasons. They challenge, change, amaze, and liberate me. Language, I’ve learned, is just a compilation of words, and certainly not the most prevalent or useful form of communication. In fact, life’s greatest moments typically involve only a small exchange of words, if any at all.

The reality is, all of my life experiences thus far have been preparing me to take this trip.

So while no, I haven’t backpacked alone through foreign countries before, it’s not necessarily new to me either.

After some reflection (sparked my family’s expressions of concern- so thank you!), I can now say with confidence, that this trip was, and always has been, the inevitable next step on my journey. And I can’t wait to see where it goes from here!

To be continued…

American Values

American Values:

Get all you can.
Can all you get.
Then sit on your can.

– J.D. Greer

September 11 (A Poem)

As the towers came crashing down
and all the bodies crushed but found…
What used to be, no more is there.
It seems our perfect lives are so unfair.

America, America.
How beautiful and kind to me.
Tragedy unites. Our pride goes on.
Home of the brave and land of the free.

The Danger of Overvaluing Independence

Our culture puts too much value on independence. Reality is, to be truly independent is to be alone.

Some call this strength, but often it is laziness.

As humans, we’re designed to need each other. To believe that you can go at this world alone is like setting your soul down on a couch and never allowing it to exercise.

See, if you spend enough time alone, it soon becomes very hard to be around other people. You begin to think that the world belongs to you- that all space is your space and all time is your time.

You become so used to being able to daydream and keep yourself company, that other people are merely an intrusion. And this is terribly unhealthy.

God doesn’t want us floating through life alone, or sitting in front of our computers. He doesn’t want our lives to play out like an Independence film. He wants us interacting- laughing together, praying together, challenging each other…

If loving other people is a bit of heaven, then surely isolation is a bit of hell. While we’re on Earth, we get to decide in which state we would like to live.

America’s Obsession with “Success”

A mockery of American culture’s obsession with “Success”. Fair warning: Terrifying facial expressions abound.