Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Foundation

What's new with you, NIP?

            I realize that I have not written to you much this year. The last 12 months or so have been difficult to find the time to write. Nearly every moment I came close to sitting at the computer to jot down my thoughts, life carried me away in its whirlwind to more important matters that needed my attention. Needless to say, I have a great deal backlogged and hope to write several letters addressing various topics over the remaining summer. Regardless of my inconsistency over the past few months, I hope that this short letter finds you and your loved ones well. I also hope that you don’t mind me blathering on about my wife and how much her love means to me in today’s letter.

            All of last week, I was a counselor at GAP II, an academic camp hosted at the University of South Florida for rising 11th and 12th grade AVID students from all over Hillsborough county. My role was a mixed affair in that it consisted of me teaching yoga classes a few nights, taking photographs of the students during various activities and organizing a slideshow, and teaching the students some overarching skills for success in AP and college classrooms. One night at dinner in the Bulls Den CafĂ©, one of the other teachers made the remark that I must be so in love with my wife based on the way I talk about her. And it’s true; I very much am and will tell just about anyone who will listen. I could neither be who I am in this moment nor in the process of becoming without Erin’s influence in my life. Then, during my presentation, one of the students asked what had made me want to live such a healthy lifestyle and turn my life around (I had shown them the picture of me from years ago where I am nearly 100 pounds heavier as seen here), and I replied with, “my wife.” If I only have a limited time in this life, I said, why would I not want to maximize my chances of living the longest I can thereby increasing my potential time shared with Erin.

And this got me thinking…

            About two weeks ago, my beautiful best friend and I recently returned from our short getaway in the Dominican Republic. It was the first vacation Erin and I had taken by ourselves in four years. Typically, our vacations coincide with visiting other family members, which is nice, too. After the year we’ve had, though, we needed time to ourselves in which we could focus just on us and nothing else. And that’s pretty much what we did. For five days and four nights, we spent just about every moment together doing not much of anything at all—and it was wonderful. We would wake up with the sun and walk down to breakfast, then spend much of our day lying on the beach listening to waves, watching the birds, or reading our books. We’d only spend a short amount of time in the sun, the majority of it we retreated to our thatched umbrella shades or under a thicket of palms that generated plenty of shade. When we got too hot we would take a dip in the Caribbean or pool, and otherwise only took breaks to eat our other meals. In a very real sense, I think we slept, ate, read, and listened.

            The highpoint of our vacation—for me, at least—came each night after dinner. Erin and I would stroll along the beach in the darkness, and after a while come to rest on a pair of pool-style chaise lounges along the shore. We would spend great stretches of time sitting in silence, holding hands, and listening to the surf as it rolled and crashed into the sand. One of the nights was particularly clear, and we found ourselves alternately taking in the sea in front of us and the brilliant heavenly bodies above. In the midst of one of our stretches of comfortable silence, Erin put her head against my shoulder and I began to tell her how much she means to me. The phrase that struck me as soon as I said it was “the foundation.” To me, Erin has been the foundation of all that I have managed to accomplish in the last few years. While I do think my life in many ways has been a constant progression overall, the last 8 years that we have been together have been when I experienced the most growth. And I sat there and confessed all of this to her. I am sure that she knew it before that moment we shared, but I wanted to be specific and express what my heart was telling my head right then and there.

            It was difficult to put into words—and it seemed more natural than me trying to recall it for you, NIP—but in the most basic way I don’t think this version of me could possibly exist without my wife’s constant love, support, and encouragement. She is my complement and my confidante. I feel that her presence in my life has been the greatest gift ever given to me, and it is the one for which I am most grateful every single day. She is the primary reason I feel duty-bound to give back to others. Looking into her eyes is like staring directly into the sacred essence I now see in all of life, something that would have been impossible for me to do had I not seen it there first in her eyes. Though I have made a ton of progress toward becoming a better person—especially in the last several years of our time together—I know I have so much more work to do. She is my inspiration in all things and helps me persevere during moments when my will is waning. Even if indirectly, she taught me that I was worthy of love and that not only helped me to learn to love myself with all of my foibles and idiosyncrasies, but it taught me to love others as well. After all, no one is perfect and everyone has them. But most crucially, her presence in my life became the solid foundation upon which to engineer the edifice of my personal growth. She gave me the stability to be and become the best of who I am.

            No matter what you want to accomplish, NIP, we all need such a foundation. It might not necessarily be another person in your life, but there must be some sort of impetus that motivates you to pursue the best of who you know you can be. Sometimes we must hit our own personal “rock bottom” for us to recognize the need for change in our lives, and the answer to these dilemmas in our lives impels us to make sweeping changes to the way we live. Whether it is a passion for creating art, playing music, helping others, or trying to be the best spouse we can be, we all need a center to stabilize ourselves and begin building the best life we possibly can. The foundation becomes strong over time through the reciprocal exchange between the intrinsic motivation and the outward expression of that about which we are most passionate. For me, it is my wonderful wife, Erin, and the love our relationship has fostered. Without it I would not and could not be the person who is typing these words. And while I hope that they at least convey some semblance of what I genuinely feel in my heart, I know there is a sense in which they are an abject failure. But that doesn’t keep me from trying to show her / others with my actions how much she/they mean to me and how much her/their love and presence in my life sustains me.

            Who or what is your foundation? How has it helped you up to this point in your life? If you feel that your foundation is unstable or nonexistent, what/who can you focus on to help you lay a new one? We all have the capacity to foster change for the better in ourselves, but we need something or someone to undergird our efforts. Without a proper foundation from which to erect our dreams and ambitions, the structure eventually crumbles and we have to begin anew. Though it may be clichĂ©, with a strong foundation, the sky’s the limit. Anyone is capable of doing great things with his or her life, I firmly believe and fully comprehend that now. But it begins by believing in ourselves first and foremost, and I couldn’t completely do that until I had Erin in my life.

Find your foundation, NIP.

- Ryan

P.S. - Want to see some pictures of our vacation? Click here!

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