Energy Levels

Atoms cling to, share, or pass electrons. They do whatever it takes to make themselves more energetically stable—not reactive and content as they are.

I think we have some lessons to learn from atoms and their energy lowering endeavors—let’s say we are the atoms, the electrons are aspects of our lives, and the energy state is our emotional state.

In the world of negative electrons and positive atom nuclei, the more energetic the relationship (imbalances in charge, which basically means repulsion and attraction forces aren’t equal) the less stable and the more likely the atom is to undergo change. Electrons in high-energy states, unstable, cause chemical reactions from little ones like putting baking soda in vinegar to big ones like bombs exploding.

I’ve noticed a similar situation in my own life…and those around me. The higher the energy (emotion)—whether it be negative like stress as deadlines and huge projects loom or positive like an awesome vacation—the more reactive we are. Of course, our fizzing reactions might be petty arguments and our explosions could be bouts of extreme agitation, but nonetheless we are more likely to respond dramatically when our emotions are high or low.

The thing that’s clever about atoms is that they are willing to exert themselves to achieve a more stable state. In other words, they will do the atomic version of sweat it out—to ensure they’re living in a happy medium. And, they’ll go to great lengths to defend and maintain a stable state once they have it.

I propose, just like atoms, it’s worth it for each of us to build into our “to-dos” a little bit of energy maintenance. Atoms maintain stability by shedding or attracting electrons…what are the electrons in your life?

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Optimism

I zoomed around running errands for work. My return-borrowed-items frenzy brought me to the opposite corners of the network of towns that make up this part of the state and forced me down some of the most congested (and my least favorite) roads in Vermont.

I was tired. I’d been studying and working extra to finish everything on my plate. It was another sunny, gorgeous fall day…another one I was missing as I toiled.

I crested the hill just past where the road was lined by strip malls—probably once farms. I felt like I’d climbed the hill myself (rather than my little car). At the edge of my vision, the largest smile caught my attention.

There in the beautiful golden sun under a tree that wore canary yellow leaves, its autumn coat, sat an elderly woman. She was laughing. Her face creased where laughs had wrinkled her face for decades. She bent forward slightly. I looked again, trying not to swerve or slow too suddenly as I drove in traffic.

Beside the woman was an elderly man. Both of their mouths were wide with joy. The fall breeze made their tufts of white hair flutter.

What were they laughing about? My face relaxed and the corners of my mouth rose, breaking line formation for the first time that day. The day wasn’t so bad—I’d just needed to look past my personal storm cloud.

Defining Friendship

On my EMT shift the day before my birthday, the dangerous topic of religion came up for some reason while we were reviewing the ambulance (something we do at the beginning of every shift) to make sure we had all the right supplies. Like most careful Americans, we ended the religion conversation before we needed to say much about our personal beliefs. It was amusing to contrast the politically correct nature of the conversation with my experience in Paraguay. In Paraguay, religion is not a topic that’s avoided and people have no problem asking you if you’re catholic (the dominate religion there). I went to Paraguay with almost no religious experiences (and most that I had had were very negative)…but Paraguay brought me up to speed on their version of being catholic. And they changed my view of religion forever (though they didn’t convert me).

As I wrote when I was in Paraguay, the Paraguay I know is Catholic. That means that to my Paraguay friends the entire world is seen through the lens of Mary, Jesus, and the saints. A lot of what Mary and Jesus and the saints talk about is how you’re supposed to treat other people. Paraguayans put people, especially family, first.

A little after 9pm on my birthday I got a video message from one of my families in Paraguay. When I say family, I mean I spent every weekend with them. I went to church, out shopping, and to soccer games with them (in Paraguay, soccer is the equivalent of all sports in the US combined). I went dancing all night with the daughters, studied English and history for hours with the son, ate many dinners and lunches with them a week. I showered at their house when my water was out. I was in both daughters’ weddings…

My whole family was there in the video message. First they sang “Happy Birthday” in Guarani…then it was “Happy birthday Jett. May you have a blessed birthday and many blessed years ahead. I hope you’re having a wonderful time. Send us a video, Jett, so we can see you…We miss you Jett. When are you coming back Jett?”

It’s so nice when you realize that the people you think about all the time also think about you. And as my family’s familiar voices and happy words sunk in I thought about friendship. Even friendship is defined using a religious metaphor in Paraguay. And, with the topics of religion and friendship on my mind, it seemed fitting to share (again) one of my favorite stories about both:

Overheard in Paraguay: Friendship
Repost from October 19, 2015

We sat in a half circle around the grill. The men were cooking large slabs of meat, ribs and some unidentifiable cut, for the mother of the family’s birthday dinner. The husband of one of the birthday mother’s daughters sat by the grill passing one can of beer among the men there. A nephew walked up to the daughter’s husband. The husband was around 30 and the nephew was about 11.

The husband hugged his nephew first with one arm and then the other, squeezing him. The nephew squirmed, and they both smiled. The husband held the nephew at arm’s length and put on an almost serious expression. “Will we always be friends?” the husband asked.

“Yes,” the nephew said.

“Even when I am old and you are my age?” the husband asked.

“Yes, even when you are old and I have kids,” the nephew said.

The husband smiled and pulled the nephew into another hug. The nephew pulled away again and they looked at each other, the husband still squeezed the nephew’s shoulder with one hand.

“Even when you are in Heaven and I am old we will still be friends,” the nephew said earnestly.

The husband laughed. “And I will look after you from Heaven.” They hugged again. “And, when you come to Heaven, we will be friends in Heaven. We will be friends forever.”

The boy nodded and ran off to find his playmates.

Birthday Eve!

We drove along in the old truck over the sine wave troughs and crests of a typical Vermont road that make your stomach drop. (The effect was exaggerated because my dad always sped up just before the peak). Then, our humming came to a crawl as we found ourselves behind a car with some white hair just sticking up above the driver’s seat headrest. I said something about them driving slow.

“Time is moving so fast for them they don’t even know they’re driving slow. As you get older each second becomes a smaller fraction of your life,” my dad said before passing the elderly driver.

Tomorrow I turn 28! I’ve almost lived a year for every minute in a half hour. I guess I’m not too old yet, though, because I think plenty of people ooze along with the viscosity of molasses.

I looked back at last time I wrote here about my birthday. I gave a robust list of accomplishments and goals. Don’t worry, I’m not doing that this year. These days my guiding principles are my 5 favs of Paraguayan culture—humor, gratefulness, details, relationships, curiosity— and everything else falls into place about them. For example, I smile at strangers…because smiles are contagious. But also, more importantly, it’s fun to catch passersby off-guard and watch the awkward expressions that flicker across their faces as they work to smile back.

I’m stoked about 28. This is the first birthday I’ve had (since adulthood anyway) where I don’t have any major changes I want to make. I have a lot of hard, exciting things on my radar for the year. Those wonderful things could dramatically change my life—like applying to medical school. But the only way to find out if the future is boring or exciting, is to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Time does go fast at this age. It seems like I just started the semester and already I have a few exams behind me. I can’t imagine what studying will be like in my 30s, perhaps a jet race, but I’ll find out soon.