Dennis: “I can see Mars.”
David: “Get out. Where? I can’t see it.”
David: “Ah, that’s a good eye.” (pause) “What do you think of when you see Mars?”
Dennis: “That my mission is almost over. I’ll be going back soon…and then everything will go back to normal.”
David: “Dennis, can I say one last thing about Mars which may be strange coming from a science fiction writer? But, right now, you and me, here, put together entirely from atoms that’ve been parts of millions of other organisms before they became us sitting on this round rock with a core of liquid iron - held down by this force, that so troubles you, called gravity, all the while spinning around the sun at 67,000 miles an hour and whizzing through the Milky Way at 600,000 miles an hour in a universe that very well may be chasing its own tail at the speed of light. And amidst all this frantic activity, fully cognizant of our own imminent demise, which is a very pretty way of saying we all know we’re gonna die, we reach out to one another. Sometimes for the sake of vanity, sometimes for reasons you’re not old enough to understand yet - but a lot of the time - we just reach out. And expect nothing in return. Isn’t that strange? Isn’t that weird?”
- Martian Child
It’s a rut of sorts that people stumble into sometimes, and for her it was like trying to ride a bicycle that would tip over the instant she slipped up - never mind the reason for that. And as of late it took her all just to stay where she was. This energy that she had once upon a time came from a genuine but naïve desire to do better, to be better. But that was depleted now. And the consequences - those unforgiving bastards - well they took their toll, each manifesting in its own time and form. And when the onslaught didn’t let up, the logical urgency of executive requests, pending deadlines, exams - well - it all fell away. Then there was the procrastination, of course, where she kept waiting for good sense to will a response, and she knew that wasn’t sustainable even when she managed to get by again and again and again this way. Because there’s a point where her gingerbread house would come crashing down and part of her should have been concerned but wasn’t and another part of her was gunning for it because nothing changes if nothing changes. And it was time for a change.
But being naïve wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Striving for better meant having an idea, a vision of what better looked like, one that wasn’t sabotaged by the naysayer within. In the past what helped was remembering why she started, or her introspecting on how far she had come. But this time though, she would make the effort to connect with like minds to help put the situation in perspective. She came to understand that her journey wasn’t over, so she hadn’t failed, not yet. It was just that she had been in the midst of this chaos for a rather long time so her thoughts were clouded, and the obvious, wasn’t. And she realized that her gingerbread house crashing down wasn’t the worst thing in the world cos’ everything in this life had its purpose, and its had already been served. She paused for a bit to let it all sink in. Then, with her inner balance somewhat restored, she found it in herself to get back up on the bicycle once more.
He was given two weeks. He asked for another. It seemed as if he was saying the same thing each time but was repeatedly being asked to do so differently, and now he was at a loss as to how. In previous sessions they wanted to see less data, but now they wanted to see more - the kind that was difficult to verify, normalize, and consolidate. This effort being expended, he felt, was wasteful. He was already shouting the message to them. If only they would listen, he thought.
He didn't procrastinate - he just didn't actually start work for close to 18 days. It's not that he was occupying his time elsewhere, not deliberately, not really. He was seeking the space he needed to mull it over and up till that point he still didn't figure it out. But the deadline was looming and had to have something to show. He launched Excel and made his characteristic adjustments to the default font, row height, column width, and sighed. And continued well into the night.
The next morning he had a meeting to review the slides and as pissed as he was during the session, he acknowledged, at least to himself, the shortcomings flagged. Next up was the weekly meeting with the team. The team didn’t show. But the newly-hired coach to assist his project was there and they met for the first time. He wanted to review the slides but the coach had something else planned. In the end, they would both accomplish what each had desired to, and again, he was the one battered and bruised in the aftermath. The coach had pointed out several other faults with the slides, that, had he given himself more time to prepare, would have never seen the light of day. In the end, the changes were significant, but subtle, and he submitted the slides within the hour.
Surprisingly enough, that afternoon, he was called into the room on schedule. He started the presentation with only one of his team members present - the others trickled in within the first five minutes. He introduced his points and called on the respective persons to speak, stepping aside to refocus the audience’s attention on each in turn. And although the slides didn't conform to his personal standards, overall it went well. Senior management was fully engaged from the start and stayed that way throughout the session - he had challenges with that in the past. The questions posed were mostly relevant - previously this wasn't the case. And the effort and content were praised by multiple persons at the end of it all, more so than usual.
He met the coach the next day who offered the feedback he needed. ”You spoke a lot to the screen. Your pacing back and forth was in poor taste. Your hand movements were very distracting. And you should have put down the water bottle.” The coach was right on all counts. This was a wake-up call - he wasn't as good as he should have been and he always knew that, but here was someone who would specifically tell him how. In that instant, it occurred to him that his message didn't warrant changing - but rather, it was him, the messenger. He had gotten sloppy from being stagnant for far too long and it was apparent to all who cared to observe. It was embarrassing but only for a fleeing moment because he also found it refreshing, this need to reinvent. This would be a new project of sorts, one that was overdue for implementation. And it was time to get started with that.
The walkway to the main entrance was lined with a single row of chairs on either side along its length. He got there minutes after 6:00 pm just as the setting sun dipped behind the hilltops of bamboo bowing to the darkening pink skies left in its wake. Visiting hours were just about over but the steady stream of people, for the most part, looked like they themselves needed to be admitted through those very doors which they were hurriedly entering, anxious to check in on their loved ones.
He sat in the first spot he saw to his left that had a vacant seat and it creaked and rocked backward with his weight. He was probably in that same chair when his own father was admitted there some years back. Directly across from him sat a family with maybe six children playing amongst and distracting themselves - they had to - because the three adults in charge appeared too distraught to even consider engaging them.
He sent his aunt a WhatsApp message. She was just on a minute earlier it said. He called her. No response. He sent her an SMS. Nothing. Then he called her mother’s phone thinking his aunt would answer if she had it on her. Nope. So he did the next best thing. He sent a text asking her if she needed anything - coffee, tea, something to eat, whatever. And he waited.
She did call back after a bit and came outside to meet him. ”It's crowded in there” she explained. ”The doctor didn't see her as yet and the beds are so close together. So I can't answer my phone. It's down to 40% and I'm looking at these outlets and it's not appropriate to put it to charge.” She looked up at him, his expression bothered. ”Come for a hug.” He groaned. ”Don’t you know we’re huggers in this family?” She sent him home because there was nothing else he could do. He was instructed to fall asleep in front of the television as she had seen him do several times before. He was hesitant but she assured him that they both were okay and that she would call if anything. And she did. At 8:56 pm. While he was in front of the television, but not quite asleep.
He wasn't sure how to take the news. There was a measure of regret. He should have done more, made a larger effort, shifted his so-called priorities that suddenly didn't seem as important as he had made them out to be. So what now? He would be thankful, he decided. Because, for her, that would be enough. And maybe, he thought, in the end, that's all people should ever aspire to be in this life.
He had arrived on time but it turned out that he was early. On-time is early in the Caribbean, but he was hoping that maybe the term would have meant something given the nature of the event. But it was already after 19:15 hours and the scene was, for the most part, void of people. He had to admit that the ambiance was classy - and was hopeful that maybe, just maybe, that would be a sign of things to come.
The elevated walkway was repurposed as a stage that stood three feet above the stretch of rough-textured sand, facing an absent audience flanked by the sea rendered invisible by the darkness of the moonless night. The area was illuminated by a series of elevated strobes on tripods indirectly focusing white lights upon the stage and seating for the expected crowd. The lighting to the left and right had cast alternating soft neon hues of blue, pink, white, and green along the seating perimeter which enclosed two sets of folding chairs arranged in ten rows of eight, each shrouded in a form-fitted white sleeve that added an element of sophistication. It looked like a bit too many, but then too, he was early, after all.
If asked one month ago about his plans for the upcoming weeks, he wouldn't have thought they would be anything impressive. But now, only a few days later, here he was, in Jamaica. A newspaper advertisement was brought to his attention two Sundays back, and he looked it over before promptly dismissing it. Too costly. No time. It was only after being pressed did he ask himself how badly he wanted to attend, if he needed to attend and he still wasn't sure. But when asked if he'd regret not attending, well, the answer was immediately apparent. He was able to shift some funds around and somehow the days opened up. He booked the flight.
People gradually started to arrive, and this allowed the kickoff to start only an hour later than advertised. After the typical boring slew of introductions and sappy words of thanks and appreciation, the main event finally got underway. The featured speaker that night was an open book, laying out his past struggles and present successes for all to see, using language at times that some would have scolded him for in private. But cuss words are sometimes the right words to describe the trials and frustrations of an ordeal. Doing something meaningful is usually as difficult as fuck, more so if few people get you, and downplaying that for the mere sake of being proper is to perform a disservice to oneself.
The schedule for the next day was full, and again he made the mistake of arriving early for the day's proceedings. And yet again, he was the first one there, although he wasn't sure that he was in the right place. There were neither signage nor directions, and the hotel staff seemed even more clueless than he when asked. The conference organizers arrived in their own time and fumbled with the keys to the auditorium - an ample, dark, musty, split-level arena with high ceilings and poor lighting outfitted with worn cushioned seats, cheap side tables, and a stage in dire need of overhauling. The setting was in stark contrast to the nature of what would be discussed over the next two days.
In all fairness, although initially chaotic, he found the agenda to be well-structured, and he was thankful for that. The sessions had been arranged as a series of fireside chats - groups of four or five discussing key topics. These, for the most part, were facilitated by moderators with the intellect, knowledge, and experience to manage the Q&A in a meaningful way. In essence, he had a second-row seat to the latest news and developments in the industry. But, sometimes, it was more than that. Several speakers shared personal stories - of doing brilliant work that no one would notice if done correctly; of using the tools at hand to create scalable solutions; of bringing people together; of pioneering new industries; of being scared and unsure of themselves; of changing direction and starting anew; of doing what was necessary; of patience and sacrifice; of failure, and ultimately, of success. And he appreciated that because these were the issues he had been struggling with as of late.
So he listened carefully. He took notes. And he studied the speakers and audience. The misgivings held and inconveniences endured till this point were momentarily put aside, for there was something to be gained in the here and now. Did he regret attending? At first, yes, but now, less so. The potential was there, he concluded, for this experience to constitute an important milestone in the times to come. And it was up to him to make the most of it.
(adrift on a raft, having just survived a shark attack)
“Three years ago, I shot four men. The Gestapo finally found me with my radio.”
“It was war.”
(scoffs) “Yea...Torsten says the same. He helped sink the Tirpitz. A thousand men went down. That doesn’t bother him.” (long pause) “Thank you.”
“You saved my life.”
“That’s what I mean.”
“Well, the thing is to do this systematically.”
“Oh, follow the simple honeybee.”
“No, Pooh, the key is to head in just one direction to avoid getting lost, especially in all this fog.”
“I always get to where I’m going by walking away from where I have been.”
“That’s the way I do it.”
- Conversation between Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin (Christopher Robin)
She always found it curious how she could spend hours perfecting a document on screen only to find the printed version riddled with errors. In this instance, her agony was due to the carefully-chosen scarlet-colored theme being reproduced as an inelegant dull red on paper, rendering the embedded white modern Sans-Serif font illegible. She frowned. This could not pass. She began again.
At one point, the whole situation felt strange to her. Past aspirations had never amounted to anything because she was always too busy, preoccupied, or something else. So although she was fully captivated by those ideas once upon a time, they would inevitably fade into nothingness, victims of inaction. But this time was different - in fact, she had started off with a burst of energy and inspiration she hadn’t felt in years. However, only a few weeks later, her doubts had managed to catch up to her when her momentum stymied. But slowing down didn’t mean stopping altogether. She had already charted the workflows and derived the organizational structure necessary to manage it all, with everything thus far supported by the requisite analyses and stated assumptions. But there were new challenges now.
Financial strategizing would have to go beyond fundraising - it had to also navigate the obstacles identified from the onset and those that would crop up along the way. As naïve as she was, she was adamant that the figures and projections be realistic. There’s a world of difference between concept and reality, and her plans had to incorporate the essences of both for success. So she researched numerous online courses and decided to spend the bare minimum to gain the necessary insight. For eleven dollars she was able to register for a five-hour, four-star Udemy course on the ins and out of the subject which she completed in just over six days. The content wasn’t impressive by any measure, but it was succinctly packaged in a manner that helped her craft her way.
As the days passed by, the reality slowly sank in that she needed to take up iOS app development for herself. It wasn't only about cost management, no. Rather, it had become increasingly evident that she had to take ownership of her vision, and not relegate that responsibility to a dispassionate third party. She hadn’t actively coded in almost eighteen years, and the thought of learning something that technical from scratch was a bit daunting. But that wasn’t a valid excuse. She was smart, good with design, had experience with C++ and VBA, and was ever-so-structured in her approach to new undertakings. In this instance the Udemy course was 55 hours long. She sighed. And logged on.
Next, she leaned on her friends, now professionals in their respective fields, to form the team to help create and administer the solution. One of them didn’t seem particularly interested and though she was a bit soured by that, she realized it was because the idea wasn’t tangible as yet. But this was no time to be discouraged. Her target customers would have similar apprehensions and here was a chance to dissipate these in the early stages of development. If she could convince him, a frugal, methodological project manager that this made sense to pursue, then she was on the right track. Another friend was more supportive, offering guidance regarding the aesthetics and branding of the concept. There were less than five people she knew that were as asinine as she when it came to such matters, and she was thankful to have her on board. Then there was the engineer who relished the technical side of problem solving, a brilliant mind eager to start tinkering. She had known him to be like that since he was a teen - which was perhaps twenty years back. And finally, there was the believer who immediately saw the underlying purpose and the potential for scaling. He pledged to assist as and when needed, any which way he could.
She had been at it for about ten weeks in all, a short time in the grand scheme of things and there would be no escaping the long hours, frustrations, disappointments and doubts inherent in the undertaking. But now, at this point in her life, time and experience had already refined her thresholds of patience and tolerance. And while she would no longer tolerate shit, she would be gentle with herself and her failings because she understood that her life would unfold in the ways it was destined to. There was certain joy to be found in the mundane, fueled by this recently-acquired sense of purpose. And so she pressed on. Because it made sense on so many levels to do so.
Time has this way of going by whether or not you’re paying attention to it. And now she’s lying in bed, wide awake into the wee hours of the morning, her soul restless, her passion spent, just thinking about that. But she couldn't pinpoint how or when her life descended an existence medicore by her own standards. And that would not do because it couldn't. There's more to life than this, more to her life than this. And she needed to figure it out.
She’s not ungrateful, no, not by a long shot because she’s been fortunate all the while and she knew that. She had a good family life, a comfy home, a well-respected job, an education, a few friends, a car, and the peace of mind and space to think. And conditions like that tend to nurture ideas, yearnings, and dreams, and that’s what happened. She learned a lot through her years actively spent introspecting, researching, observing, and yet she only just realized that she outgrew who she was. But she was still a long way off from becoming the person she needed to be.
She pondered carefully, for a while, because for her, her calling simply wasn't something distinct or clear. Sometimes it felt like she was listening to a dead silence and that could be tiring, boring, and even unnerving. Other times it felt like she was trying to listen to the exact song she needed to hear at that instant, but it was playing ever-so softly, the lyrics and melody being drowned out by the noise of her unsettled mind. And now this sense of urgency to change was becoming increasingly unbearable with her being conscious of the precious seconds slipping past.
Suddenly, she couldn't wait anymore - not for inspiration, not for herself to snap out of it. She gave herself three weeks to create something, anything meaningful and that would be the catalyst she needed to redirect her life. She threw herself into the project, going at it day and night, until the dark skies turned light. It didn't matter that no one else understood - this was not for them. It didn't matter that she hadn't done anything like this before - that was exactly the point. And it didn't matter that she had no experience - she was smart enough to figure it out for the most part. At the end of it all she had a draft - a rough draft, something pretty to look at and interesting to read, one that presented the idea clearly. But she wasn't proud of it. It had holes. It was incomplete and she knew that, but it mattered not. These three weeks were just the beginning of something big she decided, and she would deliberately embrace this new routine, for this would be her passion, her calling, at least for now. And it was up to her and her alone, to answer it.
“Can we speak for a few minutes?”
She immediately walked off towards the nearest conference room after getting the nod. She followed, not quite sure what this was about.
“I need your advice” she said, sitting down. I don’t have long here again and there’s some pressure to apply for another position within the company that I don’t care for.”
“Do you want to?”
“No, not really.”
“I don’t want to work in that role. It’s just not something I’ve ever aspired to.” She was adamant in her response.
“That may mean that you’ll be home for a bit then...and you’re okay with that?”
“I think I am.”
“But would you regret not applying for it? Now? Five, ten, twenty years down the road looking back at this moment?”
“Well, what do you wanna do, like, long-term?
“I want to serve God.”
Her mind was already made up and she just needed to hear someone else agree with the decision. It wasn’t hard to.
“You can’t do what’s right for the world if you’re not doing what’s right for you.” She nodded and that was the end of the talk.
She would replay that conversation several times afterward. There’s something admirable in someone knowing her life’s purpose and she never got how people could be so definite about their’s. This child was in her early twenties, and knew exactly what she wanted. By contrast, she was double that and still clueless for the most part. And she reflected on her own situation for the umpteenth time and decided that she knew what she didn’t want, and maybe she could start with that. She didn’t want to be stagnant, closed in, or dictated by the whims of lesser minds. Routines would have to add value. And inefficiencies - oh how she hated to expend time and effort on tasks that should be painless for even the junior staff. But she had tried several times before and failed to enact meaningful change. Maybe she needed to attempt a different change of sorts.
It took a few hours for the minor updates and soon after, all was ready. She paused for a bit, mulling it over one last time. “Do what’s right for you” - her mind was echoing her own words back at her. And finally she’s on the last page, the one that displays that single sentence asking for final confirmation. She paused, but only for a second - it should be harder to click the button she thought. Maybe that’s the sign she was waiting for, the first step from what was to towards all that could be. She confirmed. And it was about time that she did.