Uncle Iroh and the Art of Happiness

Within the past four months, I have watched the entire Avatar: The Last Airbender series, beginning to end, and am starting on round two after buying all three sets of DVDs at Hastings. I love the premise, the story, and the beautiful artistry of it all, but mostly, I love the characters. I see little pieces of myself in all of them: Aang’s struggle to always do the right thing, Katara’s immense ability to care about others, Sokka’s dorkiness, Toph’s desire to do things for herself, even Appa’s hair-shedding and Zuko’s struggle to find himself despite the pressures of his society. One character though, even more than any if the gang, is my most beloved. His gentle manner, his invaluable wisdom, his kind heart, his humble desires, and his capacity to forgive endear Uncle Iroh to me, teaching me the grace of a simple life.

People tell me I’m smart. I guess test scores have proved that in a way. I just think I see things differently than most people. Anyway, these same people tell me that I have to do something “great” with my life, as if all “smart” people have to do something “important” like find the Grand Unified Theory or invent a time machine or cure cancer or become the president. These are expectations that people have actually put on me. And for a girl who loves kids and baking and reading books at home and who cleans therapeutically, that is a heck of a lot of pressure to perform on a level that I don’t even desire to.

I want to be a housewife, a profession which is quickly becoming “old-fashioned” as deemed by the feminist movement. I don’t want a professional career. Sure, I love learning physics. It interests and excites me, and in it I see the glorious, orderly creation of God. But sitting at a desk every day staring at numbers and data and equations is not something that I want to do for the rest of my life. I love the ideas, the beautiful symmetry of the concepts, the way that calculus just makes sense, but this love of abstractions pales in comparison to the love I have for people, for those with flesh and bones, thoughts and opinions, personalities and souls.

To me, the mystery of the human soul is more vast even than the mysteries of the expanding universe. Scientists hope that their mystery can be answered by a simple equation; each human soul is so complex that even God’s thoughts about it outnumber the grains of sand. My love for people, a love given to me by my Creator, greatly outweighs my curiosity for physics. It is this love that I want to pursue with my life, not satisfaction of my curiosity, not greatness in the eyes of the world, and definitely not fulfillment of other people’s unrealistic expectations.

Uncle Iroh is a fantastic fire bender (don’t worry-this all ends up being related): he led a siege on Ba Sing Se, was a decorated Fire Nation general, and developed the technique for redirecting lightning. He is also a kind-hearted person: he helps everyone he comes across (just watch Tales of Ba Sing Se for evidence), forgives Zuko in the end, and aspires only to make good tea in his humble shop. Iroh is given a chance at the end of the series (SPOILER ALERT!!!) to help Zuko rule the fire nation, but he chooses to move back to Ba Sing Se to run his tea shop. It is this move that makes me respect and relate to him the most. He is an extremely talented individual who turns down what everyone else would deem an incredible opportunity to do something “important” in favor of a humble life dedicated to helping people and doing what he loves.

This is what I want from life: to help people and to do what I love. Uncle Iroh has shown me that I don’t have to pursue immense power or vast wealth or extensive knowledge in order to be happy. I don’t always have to take the “best” opportunities. All I have to do is help people when they need it and accept it when it is given to me, be content in the good times and sing “Leaves from the Vine” in the bad ones, forgive and ask forgiveness, and in everything be humble and gentle. This is the success that Iroh achieved, and it is this success that I will devote my life to.

“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: you should mind your own business and work with your hands.” – 1 Thessalonians 4:11

The Eminence of Change (aka, Life is Scary Guys)

My life is busy. I’ve got a list a mile long of activities and places to be and things to study. It’s been easy just to add things like scholarship applications and ordering graduation invitations and picking up my cap and gown to the bottom of this list, just things that have to get done. It just recently hit me: I’m leaving. I’m moving to College Station in four months. I’m leaving behind the familiar faces of little Hallsville, Texas, the back roads I know like the back of my hand, my chair in the Fillin’ Station that I’ve sat in every Wednesday since junior high, the idiosyncrasies of the stoplights, the conversations with the cashiers at Brookshire’s who always know who I am when I have to pick up some cottage cheese so that Mom can make lasagna for dinner, the spot in the hall where I talk with Ryan every morning. 18 years of accumulated knowledge and relationships and the intimacy that comes with growing up in a small town are about to become obsolete as I leave these little bits of routine behind. But while somebody will sit in my chair on Wednesday nights (though I am considering duct taping a cardboard cut-out to it), other people will buy cottage cheese at Brookshire’s and eat Mom’s lasagna, and Ryan will find something else to do with his mornings, I will be alone. I will have to find new friends, live in a new house, learn the new skill of cooking my own food. I’m terrified.

Over on Gilmer Road in Longview, there’s a little used book store where I took all my old children’s books that needed to be discarded to make way for my maturing literary appetite. The crate I brought in garnered me about twelve dollars of credit, so I perused through everyone else’s books they no longer had use for. I found nothing of interest save for one book whose title Blue Like Jazz was an unusual use of synaesthesia. This book, bought on a whim, is now my favorite book of all time, and one of the most influential of my life. Donald Miller’s commentary on his life and testimony written so beautifully in his memoir hit me right where I was at in my own life. God gave me that book precisely when I needed it.

A few weeks ago, two years after being introduced to Donald Miller’s work, he found me again, this time at Hastings. I bought the seven dollar used copy of Through Painted Deserts, a narrative of Miller’s travels from Houston to Oregon with his friend Paul, 300 bucks, and a Volkswagen van held together with duct tape and prayer. Even from the Author’s Note, I knew this book was again exactly what I needed when I needed it. Miller writes of leaving everyone and everything behind, if only for awhile, in order to grow and learn, not academically, but personally.

I’m about to take my own journey, as many years ago Miller took his. Mine won’t be as far, as underfunded, or as generally sketchy as his, but nonetheless, I am going. Scared crapless, yes, but determined. I may not hike the Grand Canyon along the way, and I probably won’t end up in Oregon, but I, like Miller, will grow and change and learn about the world, myself, and the relationship between the two. The thought of the wide open, mine being the metaphor for possibilities as opposed to Miller’s literal deserts, is both exhilarating and terrifying, much like I would imagine is standing in the open door of a plane, preparing to jump into the vast expanse between my current position and the hopefully soft landing the experience culminates in. With God as my parachute, I’m about to make that jump. I’m ready to feel the wind against my face, the desert sand between my toes, to travel and explore, falling through the expanse of the unknown until I finally land back on the solid familiarity of home.

Leave. Roll the word around on your tongue for a bit. It is a beautiful word, isn’t it? So strong and forceful, the way you have always wanted to be. And you will not be alone. You have never been alone. Don’t worry. Everything will still be here when you get back. It is you who will have changed.” – Donald Miller

A Word on Physics and Faith

I wrote this my junior year of high school and have never shared it on a public forum before. It has been read by Martha Dalby, my junior English class, and Cooper Jernigan. It’s my story, an essential part of my life, like being born or getting married, only more internal. I hope you can look below the shocking surface of the idea of atheism and into the heart of a truly saved believer.

My sophomore year was a difficult one. That was the year I gave up on God, the year that I didn’t have any clue who I was anymore, the year that I thought my world was ending. Everything seemed to be changing. For as long as I could remember, I had believed in God. Something had always caused that belief, maybe the fact that my parents had taught me that God existed or that I wanted to believe like children want to believe in Santa Claus. But that year, something inside of me changed. God no longer seemed reasonable. At times, he didn’t even seem feasible. I had so many questions. If God exists, then why doesn’t he just fix everything? If God created everything, then why did he create evil? If God really loves everyone, then why would he send people to hell? These questions nagged at me constantly, making me doubt the very existence and nature of God. About midway through the fall semester, after months of unresolved uncertainty, I completely gave up on my faith. It felt like the ground had collapsed from under me, like I was falling into nothing. Without God, I had no purpose, no passion, and no perspective. When I lost sight of God, I felt like I had gone blind.

The thing about being blind is that you can’t see. You’re cut off from your world. It’s always dark.

That year, I searched for God. I cried out to him, but he didn’t answer any of my questions. I felt like my prayers echoed off the expanding walls of the universe. If God was there, he was playing hard to get. When he said “seek and ye shall find,” he was lying. I groped for something, anything to point me in His direction. I found nothing. When ministers give invitations, they always tell people to come to Jesus. What they don’t understand is that to go somewhere, you have to know how to get there. And I had no idea how to get there. I grew to understand the true meaning of the word “lost”.

The thing about being lost is that you can’t get out of it on your own. You can’t find your way alone. It’s impossible.

That year, I continued to live my “Christian” life, acting just like I always had. No one saw any difference in me. Outwardly I was calm, responsible, spiritual, happy. Inwardly I was in chaos. God had given me a goal, a mandate, a structure for my life. Before I lost my faith, my function was to love people and spread the Gospel. When faith abandoned me, it took any purpose and plan I had with it. The crater it left was like a black hole and everything I had ever known was within the Schwarzschild radius.

The thing about black holes is that they leave nothing. No shred of light or life is left behind. It’s all annihilated.

That year, I spent every other school day from 2:06 to 3:36 in room K209, Robdog’s room. I would walk in and sit down next to my lab partner. We would have doodle wars and play hangman and tally up the number of times Mr. Robins said “Let’s escalate!” Every day in that class was the same, and for that reason, I loved it. It was routine, and routine is comforting when your world has been shattered. The idea that force will always equal mass times acceleration whether faith drives me or not, that gravity will hold me to the ground whether I have a religious foundation or not, that the world will keep on spinning whether my world revolves around God or not is a reassuring one. That year, my only solid ground was physics. It allowed me to see the world for what it is. It showed me the truth. Physics, unlike faith, never wavered. You can’t doubt the existence of gravity. It’s tried, tested, and true.

The thing about truth is that it’s not obvious. You can’t see it all at once. It takes some looking.

That year, physics became my vision. I had been blinded, but it had allowed me to see. I had been lost, but in it I found my way. The more I learned about physics, the more I began to see that life can’t be a coincidence. There’s no way that some random ball of nothing created a universe containing everything. The more I learned about physics, the more I began to believe in God again. If physics is the blueprint to the world, then God is the architect. That year, I slowly regained my faith in God through physics. Whereas before I had believed in God on base instinct, that year gave me a new reason to believe in God: He created the world and let me see a tiny glimpse of how great He is through physics.

The thing about God is that He is real. You just have to wait for Him to give you eyes to see Him. It’s just a matter of perspective.

“But religion is more than rite and ritual. There is what the rite and ritual stand for.” – Yann Martel

In The Beginning

Earlier this year, I had an overwhelming desire to write. The problem was, I didn’t know what to say. I had a feeling, a mass of something profound that I wanted to communicate, but I don’t know what it is or how to go about it. So this, as advised by my good friend Conner, is my first step: simply to write. And I will. Most likely sporadically and about random things. So you’re welcome to read or to find better uses for your time.

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” – Lao Tzu