Sunday, April 29, 2007

It’s good when a thing can remind us of our mortality. There’s an easy way of relating to possessions that we use all the time that alienates us from reality rather than facing us into things. A favorite example for me has been the computer. I resent the time I spend servicing a computer because I think that it should be serving me.

An object can become so much a part of you that you don’t even notice it. You can use a cell phone so efficiently that you wonder how you ever lived without one. But a while ago, a friend gave me a new phone. It’s a different model and uses a different service than I was used to, so I had to learn a whole new technology. It does all the same things my old phone would do, but the buttons are in different places. You wouldn’t believe how difficult it has been for me to relearn something I know so unthinkingly.

And there’s something very healthy about the problematizing of our relationships to objects. There’s an easy omnipotence with familiarity that makes us feel like we’re making decisions which in fact are being made for us. I’ve actually become a worse ‘text-er’ with my new phone, but much more aware of myself as a phone user. In this sense, I say that I have become more aware of my mortality. My phone is not actually an extension of my will, and I do not use it as I would; it is the boundary of my intentionality.

Just recently I was given a motorcycle. Now, this is another level of boundary. On the one hand, I can easily half my travel time when a bike is an adequate substitute for public transportation. In this sense a motorcycle is an erasure of boundaries. But also, of course, a redrawing of them.

I haven’t ridden a bike since I was a kid. I’m not even particularly comfortable on a peddle bike anymore. They’ve just not been a part of the way we live here in the Philippines. The last time I rode a motorcycle was because my brother, Carl, insisted. I went around the block mostly just to get him to stop bugging me—and I put it down on a patch of gravel. So, for a bunch of reasons, I was shaky when I went to pick up my new Honda earlier this week. I know I can learn, but there’s a sense almost of investiture in the time I spend riding while I’m getting used to it.

At 34, I’m fairly new into the experience of adulthood; I’m not a teenager, but I remember very clearly when I had a much more immediate relationship with my physicality. As a child I had a basic, innate sense of what my body could do and I enjoyed pushing its limits. But most of my endeavors as an adult are mostly unphysical. I’m not building muscle writing this reflection, and family healthcare takes more patience than bravado. So, I’ve lost that immediacy I once had with my body as an instrument. I see a height to be jumped or a weight to be lifted and I just think, ‘Be careful you don’t hurt yourself.’

So, riding a bike is quite a bit physical for me. Driving an automobile (which I do a lot of) is mostly mental in comparison. Little things like balancing, leaning to steer, putting your foot down to wait at a light or to maneuver between cars—these things are challenging to me and I do them clumsily. It’s not that they’re physically taxing; they’re dangerous.

Today I had to make a trip to a doctor’s office to get a prescription for a baby who has been exposed to measles. I was in a hurry because it’s been a busy day and Deborah had to double as midwife and mother while I was away. So, I took the bike and was happy to think I’d be back faster because I could weave through the traffic in Taytay.

But I took a corner a little bit too fast and hit a patch of gravel (same thing I did with Carl’s bike), and I wiped out leaving some skin on the asphalt. Nothing major, but enough to ‘remind me of my mortality.’ I wrecked right in front of a mechanic shop, so some folks came out and straightened my footrest so the gears will shift, and off I go. No harm done. Deliver the medicine and go pick up Auden.

—until I get in the shower to clean up. An adult forgets what it is to want to cry. But, honestly, the pain from just a few scrapes was breath-taking. Ok, I’m not as macho as I was in high school. I have pieces of aloe Vera taped all over my body to help it heal.

But this is what I think I can gain from riding a bike: a certain litheness. It’s good for me to have to be both careful and courageous. Learning a new technology can make us svelte. We need to be learning new things and to be challenged by our physicality. I’ve been a little surprised, while learning to ride a bike, how much physical facility we take for granted driving a car. You don’t notice yourself taking your foot off the accelerator to slow down until it’s not your foot any more, it’s your hand. And everything feels awkward. It’s good for me to be a learner on the streets of Manila again; you see a lot more of the road on a bike (because you tend to use shoulders and non-driving lanes to get around cars), and it is making me more sensitive to other drivers than when I’m restricted to proper lanes. I’m more sensitive to push carts and cyclists than I was, because they come into play a lot more riding a bike. A new technology can help us to be more aware of ourselves, of our neighbors, and of our potentialities.

Friday, April 27, 2007

I'm 34 years old, and I've never owned a vehicle. That's something I'm even a little bit proud of, in a consumer-ist and environment-lazy culture. But someone has just given us a motorcycle.

Many people find it an ideal way to get around in Manila because you can weave between most of the traffic. I've never really had the chance to try it out before, but it's a lot of fun. The learning curve has been pretty steep, since I haven't ridden a bike since I was a little kid. (I'm not really counting the time I put Carl's bike down.) Safety concerns are paramount, but I made a trip to Ateneo and had to do a fair bit of banking today, and I couldn't believe how much time I saved. Thank you Kirk and Kayla.

Monday, April 16, 2007

These photos don't need any commentary, except that they were taken by our good friend Michelle Ruetschle. Steve is our pastor at Union Church, and we spent Sunday afternoon with them, hanging out, playing songs and games, helping Steve sort through his files, swimming, eating. It was one of those afternoons that should have never ended. Thanks to Michelle's gift of photography, it doesn't have to.

Monday, April 09, 2007

When the Wehus family visited from Norway, they left money for the staff at the little children's home to go on an outing.
So, today being the last day of holidays before the babies come back from foster care tomorrow, we loaded up into a couple of vehicles and headed out to our favorite beach in Quezon Province.
They allowed me the privilege of cooking fish for them, something I really enjoy. I read Heidegger while they swam and sang videoke. We had a great day together; thank you Asa and Terje.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

All the babies from the little children's home are out in their respective foster families for Holy Week. Our staff got their salaries early and they're off for a week of holidays.

So, after a rather long day of sorting these things out, we sat down to a lovely dinner (of borsch) on the patio under a (nearly) full moon to celebrate my birthday.

Aubrey and I have been playing tennis together recently. (He just got his first real racket.) So, his gift to me was this picture of us playing together.

If it is that you're reading this and don't have children: a child's picture of you spending time with them is maybe the greatest present you could receive.