The House Is Quiet Now  

Posted by Brock Booher

The house is quiet now.

The decorated Christmas tree shines in the window and the lights on the house cast a red and green glow in the night. A mountain of neatly wrapped gifts awaits. The pantry is stocked with treats and the refrigerator is overflowing with food. The beds are all made with clean linens and the smell of scented candles wafts along the hallway. Everyone will be home for Christmas soon.

The house is noisy now. Everyone arrives with holiday greetings and a warm embrace. The kids chatter on about school and friends. The grandkids squeal with delight at the sight of the miniature train as it circles the tree and blows its whistle. The kitchen is filled with the sounds of tinkling glasses and pots and pans. Animated conversations fill the living room and rise above the sound of background music. Laughter echoes down the hallway. Everyone has arrived for Christmas.

The house is crazy now. The bathrooms are constantly full and hot water is scarce from time to time. Mealtime is an undertaking akin to feeding a starving army marching across Siberia in the wintertime. Siblings fight over the comfortable seats on the couch and jockey for position in front of the television to play video games. Wrapping paper seems to have proliferated through every room in the house. Offices have become spare bedroom space with mattresses on the floor. The doorbell is constantly ringing as deliveries roll in. Everyone is anxious for Christmas.

The house is happy now. Christmas morning has arrived! With a prayer of thanks the festivities begin. Presents are distributed and one by one the ribbons and wrapping paper are discarded. Eyes light up at the sight of cherished gifts. The words, “Thank You” and “You’re welcome” are repeated over and over again. The smell of waffles with buttermilk syrup and bacon invite everyone to the kitchen. Everyone is happy that Christmas morning has finally arrived.

The house is dirty now. Piles of wrapping paper are scattered across the living room. Dirty dishes languish in the sink waiting for their turn in the dishwasher. Discarded socks litter the entryway and shoes clog the hallway like cars in a traffic jam. Crumbs from cookies and homemade bread await the broom. Fingerprints cover the refrigerator door handle. Damp towels carpet the bathroom floor. The washing machine hums along trying to keep up. Everyone wonders how Christmas could make such a mess.

The house is stressful now. Travel arrangements are checked and suitcases are stuffed with gifts. Work emails must be answered and school beckons. Linens are stripped from the beds and piled in the laundry room. The alarm clock is employed once again. Quick farewells are exchanged and tears wiped from cheeks. Vehicles are packed with bodies and suitcases are stuffed into trunks. The car exhaust lingers in the garage like spoiled perfume. Everyone has departed after Christmas.

The house is quiet now.

Matching Christmas Pajamas Yay!

Social Media Makes Us Stupider  

Posted by Brock Booher

The other day I did something dangerous—I gave a political opinion on social media. I didn’t promote a particular political party or specific candidate. I didn’t call anyone names or malign anyone’s heritage. I supported and promoted the rule of law. Period.

It all started when my nephew posted an opinion about a current political policy. His comment was passionate and thoughtful. He believed something should be changed and he expressed what he thought should be changed and why it should be changed. He supported his argument with his morals and was respectful in the process. I read his comments and although I agreed with his passion on the topic, I did not agree entirely with the methodology he promoted to achieve the end. We agreed (in general) on the desired results, but not on the methodology. His comment made me think and I responded with my opinion on the matter.

After posting my comment, I saw that several other friends had commented on the same topic with a variety of positions. I thought, “Maybe I should write down my thoughts in a coherent, logical structure and post them for others to see and we can discuss this important issue rationally.” Wrong.

I have friends from a variety of political views. I’m okay with that. We live in a country that promotes freedom of speech, and I believe in robust debate about important issues. When I peruse social media I am bombarded with memes, news articles, and headlines from both sides of the political aisle and the political slant on the issues. What I don’t see is open, honest, rational discussion on any given topic. I am constantly bombarded with sharp rhetoric packaged in memes and one-line statements intended to alienate and divide. Nobody really wants to have a discussion. They just want to give their opinion and shut down any contrary opinion with name-calling and SHOUTING.

My post garnered responses from several people and was shared by several friends. One commenter asked if it was okay to disagree with me. After a few posts some of the people commenting began to post point and counterpoint. For the most part, the discussion remained civil, but nobody changed their mind about anything. One friend shared my post, and the responses of people who didn’t know me were a lot more mean-spirited. The conversation spiraled downward into slights, innuendo, and labeling. One person stated with great confidence that I would have surely sunk Washington’s boat as he crossed the Delaware river to attack the Hessians.

After a few days, everyone moved one and the conversation waned. Nobody changed their mind. Nobody walked away from the exchange with a new perspective. We were all just as stupid as we were when we started, and maybe stupider.

Why? Social media doesn’t lend itself to an engaging conversation or exchange of ideas. It is the classic case of failing to listen because you are formulating your response instead of trying to understand the other person’s viewpoint. The mechanism limits the fluid exchange of feelings and restricts the back-and-forth conversation that enlightens both parties and helps them arrive at a point of learning and compromise.

People are emboldened by the perceived anonymity that social media provides. It’s much easier to sit in the safety of your living room and smear someone personally than to say it to their face. It takes little courage to fight a Twitter war. It takes little intellect to troll someone and attack their viewpoint with half-truths or name calling. There are no heroes in a battle of memes.

It is impossible to capture difficult abstract thoughts in short bursts of emotion. Complex issues really cannot be boiled down to a few characters on a screen. It is true that aphorisms have the power to inspire and guide, but they won’t solve multifaceted issues with no right or wrong solution. Complex issues require lengthy discussion and often need time to percolate before the solution presents itself. Social media abhors the lengthy, careful argument.

I love my nephew and enjoy exchanging opposing ideas with him, and I wish that social media could create that same space. It should be a space for open, rational discussion that enlightens us and makes us think. But in the end, social media has reduced us to pictures with words, pithy digs, and one-line zingers that malign anyone with a different opinion. Social media just makes us stupider.

Thirty Years of Moments  

Posted by Brock Booher

It isn’t every day you fall in love, but it can take a lifetime of days to realize how much in love you really are with someone. I have heard of love at first sight, but I have never experienced it. I imagine it feels something like I felt thirty years ago on the first day I realized I was in love with my wife.

We had been dating for a few months and spending a lot of our time together. It started casually at first—card games, study sessions, motorcycle rides, but as we grew more comfortable the spark kindled. One day we went for a drive up into the canyon. It was springtime and the snow had melted. For some reason, as we were driving she yelled, “Look at the cows!” Sure enough a herd of cows were grazing at the fence near the road. She wanted to stop and pet them. Now, being a farm boy from Kentucky, I had seen plenty of cows and had no interest in “petting” them. Her enthusiasm convinced me to stop. When I pulled over she jumped out of the car and called the cows as she approached the fence. Surprisingly, the cows responded and gathered around her. I opened my door and stood by the car with a big grin on my face while she plucked the long grass on our side of the fence and fed it to the cows giggling like a little girl.

I stood by the car with my jaded view of petting cattle and shook my head at the scene. Then it happened. Time slowed down. Sounds were muffled and in spite of being in the outdoors my vision seemed to constrict until the only thing I could see was her. In spite of the pleasant temperature, I felt suddenly flush and my heart rate quickened. It was if the whole world full of billions had dwindled down to just two people. My entire being was overwhelmed with the feeling that I loved her. Her laughter broke the trance, but after that moment I knew I was in love with her.

You can’t build a lasting relationship on a moment, but it is a good place to start. From that epiphany moment I mustered the courage to ask her to marry me. From the marriage commitment we began to build a loving relationship brick by brick. Some days I added a brick to the structure. Sadly, some days I destroyed a wall or two and had to spend time repairing the damage instead of adding to the structure.

A moment does not a marriage make. A flourish of emotion is not the same as devotion. A passing desire will never rise to the level of love. You can begin with a moment, but you must intentionally build thousands of other moments if you wish to continue building a loving relationship that will stand the test of time. Love is not just an emotion. It is a verb, a call to selfless action.

So, thirty years later I’m blessed to still be married to the girl that made me stop to pet the cows on the side of the road. It has been thirty years full of moments—sometimes loving, sometimes angry, sometimes tender, sometimes harsh, sometimes sweet, sometimes bitter. In spite of the ups and downs and the highs and the lows, I remembered that moment. And in remembering, I pressed forward in the darkness knowing that the light of love would return as long as I followed through with my promises to her.

I fell in love that day, but it has taken thirty years of loving moments for me to realize how much in love I really am.

Happy 30th Anniversary!

Markito Flaquito  

Posted by Brock Booher

I pitched the trip to my friends as a “bucket list” type of trip. Fly into San José, Costa Rica, rent dual-sport BMW touring motorcycles from Elephant Motorcycle Expeditions, and experience the country in a way that only riders can appreciate. I promised them it would be epic.

When I first mentioned the trip to my friend Mark, his eyes lit up. He is a cancer survivor who loves the adventure of the open road on a motorcycle, and Costa Rica is on his bucket list. His enthusiasm spurred me to set the trip in motion, but then a couple of months before the trip, Mark’s doctor discovered a tumor on his liver and he had to drop out to undergo chemotherapy and radiation treatment. In spite of this, he encouraged the rest of us to go and embrace the adventure. He only asked that we keep him in the loop via text and email as we traveled so he could enjoy it vicariously.

Pura vida is the national slogan of the people of Costa Rica. Literally translated it means “pure life,” but in reality it means so much more. It is an expression about how they embrace the excitement and adventure of life. It symbolizes how they feel about the goodness of the earth and everything it provides us. It represents a sense of wonder found in the natural beauty of the forests, mountains, and beaches of their land. It symbolizes gratitude for what is, and hope for what is to come.

Markito Flaquito at the beach
The first night together in San José we discussed the schedule over dinner. The husbands would pick up the motorcycles and make their way through the mountains up to La Fortuna. The ladies would embark on their own adventure whitewater rafting on the Balsa River, and then we would meet at our hotel in the afternoon. In order to keep Mark involved in the fun, my wife, Britt, suggested that we fashion a photo of Mark after Flat Stanley and take pictures of him during the trip. We affectionately dubbed our traveling companion “Markito Flaquito” (little skinny Mark) and our adventure began.

After seeing the wives off on their own adventure, we picked our way through traffic and out of the city with the help of Henry, our motorcycle guide. We traveled through Alajuela and up to the waterfall of La Paz passing fields of coffee beans and traversing misty rainforest valleys. Each sweeping turn brought another breathtaking vista and the smell of tropical flowers. Each switchback filled us with the adventure of the open road. The chatter over our headsets included a lot of “wow” in the vocabulary. We took pictures of Markito Flaquito along the way and ended the day with our wives in the hot springs behind our hotel bubbling with excitement.

The next morning we went rappelling down waterfalls in the rainforest with Desafío Tours. We climbed on to the metal benches in the back of a truck and jostled our way up the rocky mountain road to the starting point. After a safety briefing and getting geared up, we hiked to the top of the canyon and began our rope-sliding adventure. One by one we traversed the waterfalls of the canyon dangling on ropes and scrambling through muddy pools. I was more afraid of slipping on the rocks than falling. By the time we finished the course and hiked back to the start, we were soaking wet and grinning from ear to ear.

After the ride, the ladies relaxed at the hot springs while the guys rode the north shore of Lake Arenal on Highway 142 which winds around the largest man-made lake in Costa Rica. At the end of the ride, we were meeting at the Tabacón hot springs restaurant for dinner and relaxation. Highway 142 has everything an adventure rider could want—curves, light traffic, and beautiful views. We made our way to The Macadamia Café at the northwest corner of the lake before turning around. Brian led on the way back, and with the sun going down and some water running over sections of the road, we slowed our pace on the return in spite of possibly being late for dinner.

I entered into a left-hand turn about thirty yards behind Brian focused on the road, but thinking about getting to dinner on time. By the time Brian told me that the road was slippery, I guess it was too late. The next thing I remember I was sliding across the asphalt.

My mind kicked into overdrive. How close are Greg and Scott? Far enough back not to be a problem. Was there any traffic in the other lane? No. Get away from the bike. Relax. Slide. Tumble. Stand up and get off the road. After sliding I popped up and scurried off the road as the bike slid into the muddy ditch on the opposite side of the road.

The headsets got busy. “Someone’s down! Someone’s down!” “Are you okay?” “Get your hazard lights on.” “No traffic.” “Brock are you hurt?”

“I’m okay,” I answered when I found my voice. “But my wife’s going to kill me.”

Somebody said, “Who says she has to know?”

As Greg and Scott helped me pull the bike back onto the road and cleaned the mud off, I said, “Well guys, I think this trip is over for me.”

They told me, “These bikes are pretty rugged. Let’s get it upright and I’ll bet it’s okay.”

After a quick inspection, we started it up and finished the ride to dinner. My mind raced as I replayed the accident searching for clues about why it happened. I wondered how I was going to tell my wife. I decided not to tell her until the trip was over. I didn’t want to ruin her vacation. The guys didn’t think I would make it through dinner without telling her what happened, but I focused on the fun we were having and managed to keep from spilling the beans.

I woke up in the middle of the night with my mind racing. I replayed the accident over and over again. What did I do wrong? Why did it happen? What was I doing riding motorcycles in Central America? What if I had been hurt or killed? What was I going to say when I told my wife? Should I continue riding? Fear lingered and kept me from sleeping.

Life never goes as we expect. We make plans for epic adventures and once-in-a-lifetime experiences in far away places, but the truth is that things seldom work out the way we plan them. With each day dawns a new mystery. Each moment teeming with life will develop on its own, in spite of our intentions and desires. Death looms on some unseen, and sometimes unexpected, horizon, but it is always there to remind us that our time here is finite. Yes, we should plan our future and work towards our goals, but we should make room for living, or dying, along the way. We should live a pura-vida life.    

I got up early and found Scott and Greg cleaning the rest of the mud off of my bike. It was scratched up, but mechanically sound. I put my fears aside and geared up.

In addition to touring the Costa Rican countryside on motorcycles, each remaining day brought its own adventure—ziplining above the rainforest in the shadow of a volcano, watching crocodiles in the river, boogie boarding the warm surf of the Pacific, and walking along a secluded beach. Pablo, one of our drivers, even opened up his home and had us all over for dinner with his family. We snapped pictures of Markito Flaquito and sent them to our friend to lighten his spirit and let him know that we were thinking of him.

Every day of our trip was filled with adventure, friendship, and fun. Every evening was filled with good food and lively conversation. Perhaps because of the accident, or because of the calculated risks, or maybe because of our missing friend, the trip seemed full of life and longing for the excitement of the next day. We soaked it all in like the warm tropical sun at the beaches of Manuel Antonio. We relished in the beauty of nature that engulfed us. We marveled at our wonderful world as we watched the brilliant sunset over the Pacific Ocean.

On the second to last day we were gearing up for a couple’s ride and Britt noticed the scratches on the motorcycle. “Did you lay this bike down?” she asked.

I pursed my lips and took a deep breath, certain that she would be upset with me. “Yes, the other night on our way to Tabacón.” I told her the whole story and explained why I hadn’t told her. She took it all in quietly, asked a few questions, and then climbed on the back of the bike and rode with me all day.

Henry, our guide, picked us up the last day and took us down the coast before turning inland for San Isidro and northbound along the mountainous Highway 2 toward San José. We stopped near the highest elevation and watched the clouds drift over the elevated rainforest. “This is a dangerous highway,” explained Henry. “In the olden days, people traveled it with oxcarts and many died along the way. They nicknamed it Cerro de la Muerte (Hill of Death).”

We descended into San José and followed Henry through the chaotic city traffic and returned the bikes. Indeed, it was an epic, bucket-list type of trip, and I was glad that I had survived it, only losing my deductible on a rented motorcycle.

Pura vida—pure life—is a good expression to live by. Each day is a gift that we must unwrap in our own special way. Markito Flaquito reminded us to enjoy each moment and remember what a blessing it is to live. Fill every minute with a zest for life. Be grateful for the blessings and opportunities we have been given. Lift the spirits of those around you with optimism. Don’t let the certain specter of death keep you from living. Like my friend Mark, I choose to live every day with pura vida