Monday, February 25, 2013

Live up to your Eulogy

Every now and then the universe takes pity on my and sends someone to smack me upside the head with a clue-by-four.  It doesn’t matter what you call it—a message from God, The Oneness, Wisdom, whatever you’d like to call it…but it is always a message that I dearly needed to hear , full of profundity and gravitas.
Today was one of those days, and the source of the message was none other than one of the customers I speak to on a daily basis for my job.  

Customer: “How’s it going, Nik?”
Me: “Oh, you know, livin’ the dream, bro.  Livin’ the dream.”
Customer: “There’s nothing wrong with that, so long as you’re living up to the eulogy you want given about you at your funeral.”
Me: “Woaaaah….”

I didn’t even know where to go with that…I had to excuse myself from the phone and promise to call him back because there was no way I was going to have the ability to focus and process his order while I had the perfection and the depth of that single statement sinking into my soul.

Live up to your eulogy. 

My eulogy…what would that look like?  Who would give it? Would they feel like they had to lie about me, or exaggerate my personhood to make me sound better than I was, or even to represent who I thought I was?  Would they be able to speak the truth with confidence?  Would they know the truth with confidence?
I posted about it on Facebook, wanting to share the brilliance of this statement with my friends and family, and a dear friend replied, “So…what do you want to have said about you?”  I had to reply honestly that I didn’t know.  And to be honest, I still don’t know all of what I would like someone to say…but I know some of what I think the important bits are:

Nikki loved fiercely and without limit and accepted people for who they were, not who society said they should be. 

Nikki loved to travel and never found a place that couldn’t be called home, or people that couldn’t be called family. 

Nikki desired to help people live their best lives, and partnered with many to create positive, healthy change. 

Nikki stood for civil rights, equality, social justice, and compassion. 

Whether through writing, photography, music or conversations over pots of coffee, Nikki tried to give birth to new ideas, new perspectives, new connections, and new growth in the world. 

Nikki was slow to anger and quick to help, hugged tightly, kissed slowly, danced awkwardly, spoke with assurance, thought rationally, acted passionately, and looked for reasons to say yes rather than no.

Nikki is survived by countless brothers and sisters baptized with the desire to see a new community born of collaboration, unity, and the philosophy of Ubuntu, god-children from coast to coast, and partners in love, art, and music.

So there you have it.  For now, that’s what I envision the highlights reel of my eulogy looking like…I doubt if I died today that any of that could be said with any certainty, and even though I know life is fragile and fleeting, I plan on living long enough to make as much of that as true as possible.

Now the question goes to you—what would you like YOUR eulogy to say, and how can I help you start living up to it?

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Animal Farm, part 1

I don't know what it is, but I seem to be a magnet for interesting situations involving animals...while I'm driving.

Recently I was driving home from a date with Ryan and it was quite late.  Like the gentleman he is, Ryan stayed on the phone with me the whole time to make sure I got home safely.  I had a lengthy drive through the forest on country roads before I'd make it home and Ryan was doing an admirable job of both entertaining and flirting with me.

As we're talking and joking, a truck passes me in a no passing zone.  My designs to rant to Ryan about the discourteous lout who clearly has no respect for the law were cut short, however, when I realize that in the back of the truck is a moose.

"WHAT THE?!" I yelled.

Ryan, suddenly concerned replies, "What the what? Is everything okay?"

"I just got passed by a truck..."

"Okay...?" he says, waiting for cause for sudden yelling.


Ryan laughs and says "Well, you are in the country and it IS hunting season..."

That may have been true, but the part that was so shocking to me is that the moose was standing upright in the bed of the truck.

"No,'s just a moose, standing up in the back!"

"Is it stuffed?"

"I can't really....OH MY GOD.  Ryan...I JUST MOVED ITS HEAD. It's ALIVE! THese people have a full grown moose tied into the back of their truck!"

Ryan and I were both absolutely shocked, wondering what on earth could possibly make someone think having a live moose in the back of their truck was a good idea.  Then, of course, we had to speculate on how someone could coax a moose into the truck and keep in there while they tied it down!    As I'm driving behind these people, and we're positing situations in which this scenario is even remotely logical, I see flashing lights behind me.  "Oh, man..." I say to Ryan.  "There are cops! I"m not even speeding!"

I pull over and wait for, but the cop zips around me and pulls back in behind the guys with the moose.  The people in the truck didn't pull over right away; perhaps the bulk of the moose was preventing them from seeing the flashing lights? Maybe  the antlers were also blocking the mirrors?  I don't know, but I imagine the conversation inside the cab of that truck went "Whatever he says, just reply, 'what moose, officer?'"  That, or, " do we explain this?!"

At any rate the truck eventually pulls over.  They're under one of the only two street lights along my route home and they have the kindness in them to pull over under the streetlight so I CAN GAWK!  I slow down and roll down my window so I can take a picture with my phone.  The cop, standing behind the truck and shaking his head, leans over as I'm trying to snap a pic of the moose and says, "Weird, huh?  Move along...just...move along."

I have NO idea how that ended up for the moose or the people in the truck, and I didn't get the picture, but I do know that ever since that one, odd night, I have had run in after run in with wildlife in unexpected places.

Stay tuned for Animal Farm, part 2!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Living with grace...

There is nothing more beautiful than the struggle of hard work come to fruition. Whether you are striving to lose 100 pounds, afford a new car, circumnavigate the globe in a hot-air balloon, or earn your PhD, your goals are no more and no less important than the guy on the bus next to you just trying to stay sober for the next 30 minutes. We have no idea what wars are being waged in the hearts of the people around us.

Take a moment to look around you. The people you're surrounded by? They are all you have in this moment. Are you going to judge them? Love them for who they are? Cringe at the mess you see in their lives? What do you think they see when they look at you? That whole thing about not judging others unless you're willing to be judged by the same's really good advice.

Be forgiving in the judgments you dole out, whether you speak them aloud of not. If there is grace in your thinking, there will be grace in your doing. And when you do things a little more softly you make the world a little bit better of a place. And couldn't we all use that?

There is little shame in being understanding, and much in being far too rigid.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Grace, pride, community, and love...


I don't give myself enough grace. I certainly don't give anyone else the grace they deserve.

Why is that, I wonder? Why do I, and so many that I know, treat grace as though it's a limited commodity? Grace isn't a "here today gone tomorrow"'s an attitude. A disposition. To be a person of grace is to be willing to swallow your own pride and put yourself in the other persons shoes and say "how would I like to be treated here?" Often times the way we would like to be treated in any given moment is far different from how we want to react with our own sense of righteous anger.

But how righteous is it really? I mean...if someone jumps ahead of us in a queue, offends us with some slight, or ruffles our feathers with some inane behavior, what sort of injury have they really done to us? Prickled our pride? Pride is an idea, a concept...There is no organ where pride is housed other than in the abstract concept of the 'mind'. If someone injures our pride, it's not as though they shanked us in the kidney.

So I return to my original question...why am I so unwilling to offer myself grace, and even more unwilling to extend it to others? How is that helping me build community? How is that helping me instill a sense of belonging and of worth in others? How does that spread my message of love?

Where to start, then? How to give grace. Well...I suppose it starts with loving myself as I want to be loved. Unconditionally.

That's hard. The problem with unconditional love? We are programmed with so many conditions. It's part of being human. But really, if I don't love my self with such a grand, graceful, permeating love, how can I ever expect anyone else to? What right do I have to claim such love if I can't give it?

So it is my will and my stated intention to learn to love myself for all the awesome bits and all the not so awesome bits. And I will also strive to love others more as I love myself...I often claim unifying powers of the philosophy of ubuntu (I am what I am because of who we all are), but now it's time to truly live those words.

Grace begets compassion, compassion begets understanding, and understanding begets community.

Live love, breathe love, be love; this is the only way.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The scales are tipping...

Recently, as some of you know, things have been shifting and changing in my life.  I suppose that's not a big news flash...anyone who is doing any authentic living goes through ebbs and flows of change; it just seems like right now change is hard to track and easy to be overwhelmed by.

As I find myself further removed from Cambodia, I find myself mourning what I left there more and more.  In and for both productive and non-productive reasons.  I miss my family there.  I miss my friends.  I miss the simplicity and the reliability of life being absolutely absurd to the point of disbelief (as odd as it sounds, yes I miss it).  I miss the openness I felt with my entire community.  I miss the shared sense of responsibility and expectations.  I miss the willingness of people to help without expectation  of return.

So it's come to the point where missing those things is not just enough.  I can't continually pine after things that once's time for me to start rebuilding them here, with new people.  New family.  New friends.  I'm operating under the assumption here, that "if you build it, they will come."

This begs the question, how does one go about the business of building such an integrated community?  Good question.  It definitely starts with relationships...and that's about as far as I've gotten on the formula so far.  But I've started throwing in little bits and pieces of things here and there that, I believe, are helping me become a more well rounded, well versed human being.  For instance, I've started hanging out with, and helping out, a group in my community called Transition Snoqualmie Valley.  Their focus is to address things like the economic crisis, climate change and oil dependency with local means.  They're really into permaculture and sustainable, responsible agriculture, they're really into community engagement and social responsibility, and they're really smart people.  I'm enjoying getting to know them.

I'm also working my butt of to get another promotion at work.  Where I am is not where I want to be.  I've identified a place where I think I could make some significant improvements, and I'm doing whatever I can to find myself in that place.  It's slow going, because there is a timeline (a very poorly thought out one, but a timeline nonetheless) in place that I have to.  It's an exercise of changing the system from within the system, I suppose.

I'm also growing much more intentional about my relationships.  I don't want people in my life that aren't willing to invest in me as much as I do in them.  I want people who are doing their level best to let their yes mean yes and no mean no.  I want people who operate with integrity AND a sense of adventure...socially and romantically.  I am not willing to settle for left overs when I work REALLY hard to cook up some quality offerings.  There must be balance.  I need more balance.

That's where I am...I feel unbalanced. I feel out of control in some areas and very tightly clamped down in others.  I want stability.

I need stability.

Monday, March 14, 2011

It's been a while...

Well....a lot has happened since I last posted, so I figured I should maybe catch everyone (anyone?) up that may still be reading.

It's been six months since my return from Cambodia, and I'm still not happy to be here. I feel very much like my dream was ripped away from me. Having said that, I do need to make things clear:

I have a job that I love, and am doing very well in.
I am in love, and I get to see my love. Often.
I have fantastic friends that support me unconditionally.

But I still feel like I belong in Cambodia.

I think it has been hard, obviously, for having to leave unexpectedly. But also because since I've returned, I haven't been able to get in contact with my host family through phone or email. I've tried and tried, and nothing goes through. I worry about them so much...and the love I have for them is so intense and so deep that not being able to talk to them is painful.

I also very much dislike the current state of our country (who doesn't?). I do feel that we are on the edge of a very important precipice in history, and things will either get much worse or much better--there are some of us that are working to make it better, but it seems like the people who should be leading the way (my generation) have given over to apathy, and that scares me.

Is it good that I am home? Certainly. Otherwise, I'd likely be dead now. This next phase of my life, though, is totally undefined and that scares the living daylights out of me. For decades my entire focus was getting into the Peace Corps and becoming a PCV. Now that I've done that, I need to find a pinnacle goal. And those don't come easy! I'm persistent, though, and I will find something that I am just as passionate about, and I will, eventually, achieve that goal.

In the meantime, though, I will continue to work the job I love, and grow this love I have.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

All’s quiet on the Western front.

I arrived home on September 3, 2010. 

My mom picked me up at the airport, and because my bags were coming in on a different, later flight, we were able to get lunch at a nearby restaurant.  For some reason, we ended up going to Claim Jumpers.  I’m not sure if you’ve ever been to Claim Jumpers, but they have OUTRAGEOUS portion sizes (like, an entire head of lettuce for a salad) and it was overwhelming but delicious. 

After we got my bags we drove to Kirkland and visited my grandfather.  He cried, I cried.  We cried together.  Then we made the drive back to our house on the mountain.  There’s this one hill that pretty much separates rural western Washington from urban western Washington.  When we got to the bottom of the hill, overlooking the valley I grew up in, tears sprang from my eyes and there was nothing I could do to stop it.  It was like all of a sudden my entire body went, “You’re Home!”

On the day I got home I got to see a few cousins and my aunt, my other grandfather, and my best friend. 

My second day in America my dad decided it would be a GREAT idea to go to the Evergreen State Fair.  I walked in the front gate and was immediately overwhelmed by so much America in my face all at once.  It was good though, and I enjoyed spending time with my parents and one of my cousins. 

Since the 3rd, I have slowly started to readjust to the culture (the climate is taking a lot longer!).  I really miss my host family, and I am not ashamed to admit that I’ve cried more than once when talking about just how wonderful they are. 

Being back is bittersweet, but in the end it’s the best thing for me…and like I’ve said before:  sometimes the thing you have to sacrifice is the thing you’ve sacrificed so much to get.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Homeward Bound

Anyone that has worked for the government can tell you that the way the government does things rarely makes sense.  This statement definitely includes the flight path Peace Corps chose for my journey back to America.  There is a restriction they have, that they must use American carriers or other airlines partnered with the US Government for any travel arrangements purchased by a government agency. 

Because of this rule, Peace Corps ended up buying me a ticket that is $1,700 and stops in 5 stops (three of which are in three different countries).  I got curious and did my own search, and as a private citizen I can get a flight for $899 with two stops.  CRAZY! 

So get this—here is my flight plan:

Phnom Penh to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh)

In Saigon for 15 hour layover.

Saigon to Hong Kong.

Hong Kong to San Francisco.

San Francisco to Seattle. 

While I was REALLY not excited about the 15 hour layover, it did turn out to be very interesting.  Today is actually the Vietnamese Independence day!  So I got to see this crazy concert where EVERYONE was WAY excited to be Vietnamese.  And I also got to see a really cool, INSANELY long fireworks display.  As much as I didn’t want to come home, I’m glad I got to see this!

Peace and love!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

So long, and thanks.

If I’ve pushed all the right buttons, this should be posting on Thursday, September 2. 

And if that is the case, then I am on my way home.

After going through what the Peace Corps doctor called the worst case of Dengue she had ever seen, and nearly dying in the process, I had a long talk with the doctor and discussed my health here in Cambodia.

The truth is, I’ve been on sick leave more than I’ve been in the classroom.  I’ve had dysentery more times than anyone NOT crossing the Oregon Trail in a wooden wagon should ever have.  I’ve had more respiratory infections than can be counted on both hands, and I’ve had monthly yeast infections in my intestines from the medication they give me that is supposed to keep me from getting sick.

Although I have made great advances in the language, and I have been accepted as a full member of my village and local community, and although my host family has embraced me as their own, it is time that I come home.  The longer I stay here the higher the risk is that I’ll contract a lifelong disease that could prevent me from doing good works in other places. 

I have loved my time here—I have grown immensely as a person and as an activist, and I am forever changed by this experience.


Thank you so much to all of you who have supported me on this journey.  Your prayers and positive thoughts have carried me this far, and I am ever grateful. 

Love and blessings from Cambodia,


Monday, August 30, 2010

Dear Cambodia,

I want to thank a moment to thank you for all you’ve taught me over the last year. 

It’s impossible to enumerate all the various lessons, but I know this much is true: I will never be the same.

You’ve taught me humility and patience, things I was never good at in the States (and honestly, I’ve still got a long way to go in these areas).  You’ve taught me to go with the flow—whether the flow leads to a funeral, a wedding, or an afternoon in my hammock.  You’ve taught me the difference between want and need, and then again what true needs are.  You’ve taught me to love without reservation or condition, and you’ve taught me forgiveness down to the atomic level (not just that surface forgiveness I’ve been used to).

I want to thank you for your generosity—for a place that has been ravaged not only by my own country, but by its own people, you have given me so much.  Your people are a testament to the grace and goodness that I know resides in each and every person on this planet, if they allow it to grow.  Your people have written their names indelibly on my heart.

I want to thank you for allowing me the space and time to learn how much my family back in America means to me, both blood and chosen, and for giving me the room to love them as I love your own people.  I also want to thank you for allowing me this experience and the sure knowledge that comes with it; that I was created to ease suffering and be the compassion that is lacking in this world. 

I only hope I can do half of what you’ve done for me.  Forgive me if in my imperfection and eagerness I make a few mistakes along the way.  Just know I’m doing my best.