Category Archives: Timing

Lessons Learned from the Solar Eclipse

Eclipse 2017 – In case you missed it, it happened on Monday, but given the hype, I am not sure how anyone could have not realized it was going to occur. Needless to say, it was quite the sight to be seen. Memories from my first solar eclipse are still with me as I can remember standing outside on the grassy field right to the east of Gas Elementary School with a pinhole projector made out a piece of paper and cardboard box while hearing my teacher tell us whatever we do, we can’t look at the sun. Despite the temptation, I listened.

Many decades have passed since then, but an intrigue had remained within me with eclipses of any kind. Now looking back at last Monday and everything leading up to it, there were quite a few good takeaways and lessons learned with my new memory made of catching a glimpse of a disappearing sun.

#1 Timeliness Is Vital to Not Miss Out on So Many Opportunities

One of my New Year’s Resolutions for this year is to improve my timeliness, and, well, the eclipse shined light on the fact I am not doing the best with it.

The eclipse was first brought to my attention last November when a good friend of mine asked me if I wanted to join her and some of her friends for an excursion to Northeast Kansas to watch it in its totality. I checked the calendar, saw it was on a Monday, knew I would be teaching a class that afternoon, and thanked her while also giving her my regrets about my not being able to join that adventure.

I continued to read articles about the eclipse, saw displays of glasses in many, many stores, and talked to tons of people about it. My office is even less than a five-minute walk from the Cosmosphere. Did I pick up a pair of glasses? Nope.

Flash forward to a week before the eclipse, and I was living proof solar eclipse glasses could be found nowhere. I stopped by stores, searched the Internet, called people – the findings were always the same – a very sad and genuine – “I am sorry, but we sold out last week.” A solar filter for my camera couldn’t be found either, nor could a Shade 14 welding lens. Sure, I wasn’t going to be in the path of totality, but over 90% of the sun was going to be blocked here in Hutchinson. If I saw a lead of any kind about glasses being in any stores in Reno County, I was soon there, and I would leave empty handed and kicking myself.

Eventually, a pair of ISO-approved glasses did come into my possession, and more on that will come in a bit. However, between the missing out on the glasses and my not replying to an email that came last spring in time that was going to lead to my missing out on another nifty event, I was not a happy camper with myself, but the solar eclipse was the wake-up call definitely needed.

So often, we can get trapped thinking about the short-term, and that is what had happened to me. Throw some procrastination into the mix, and that all led to my spending so much more time, time that I really needed to be using for some other projects, searching for glasses that would have taken me less than a minute to have purchased just weeks previous. The glasses ultimately, though, became a metaphor of sorts for so many other things, including a good reminder to think and put myself on the right path for not only the immediate but also distant future.

#2 – Do One’s Best Not To Overlook The Truly Magical That’s All Around Us

Like many, when it came time for the solar eclipse, my focus was on the sky. Sure, I also noticed the cooling of the weather too, especially given the fact I was wearing a black suit in a shadeless area right to the south of the Cosmosphere, but what I caught during that time that thankfully fell during my lunch break were the sights eye-level and above. What I missed out on were all of the nifty shadows others posted of the sunlight coming through the leaves of the trees and leaving a magical sight to be seen. I even walked right under some trees on my way back to campus that would have been perfect to see these, and I am sure I walked right on top of them, but being wrapped up in the moment, never did they catch my attention, which led to my regret for that day and also this important lesson to be learned.

A great photo of the shadows taken by my great friend, Jennifer Forker

#3 Humanity Is Capable of Some Acts That Are Truly Beautiful

So often, all we hear about are negative things. Sometimes I play the game when looking at Google News to see how many positive stories I can spot – the sad answer is not many. However, the solar eclipse brought forward the fact that humanity can truly be great.

First, back to my search for solar eclipse glasses.

Well, searching on Facebook early Saturday morning led to another lead about glasses being available at a Dillon’s store I hadn’t checked but had heard previously they had sold out on their supplies. I had questioned the validity of this person’s comment, but I figured I would quickly stop by there right before I met up with a group to take to Buhler for Second Saturday Cycles (August is on the third Saturday though), a community bike ride I help coordinate every summer. Sure enough, they had no glasses, and the topic of my searches throughout the week as well as the solar eclipse were one of the first we discussed as we pedaled towards the home of the tasty Mustard Seed restaurant. David Inskeep, a fantastic man for many reasons, including his being an excellent Hutchinson city council member who truly cares about making Hutchinson better for future generations, let me know he may possibly have an extra pair. He was going to count to make sure after the bike ride. And sure enough, he did. I offered to buy them from him because he could have sold them for quite a bit, but he wanted no money at all. Instead, it was truly an unselfish act of his helping out another in need.

While I may have missed out on the shadows under the trees, what I did see at the Cosmosphere’s solar eclipse event was something even more beautiful. The area was full of people from so many different backgrounds. There were adorable babies and youngsters to senior citizens who had arrived via small busses from their assisted living places they called home. Religions, political parties, races, and so forth were all over the place, but we all came together during that time. If people didn’t have solar eclipse glasses, complete strangers would offer their own to make sure everyone had a chance to see the solar eclipse. When Venus appeared shining bright in the day sky, tons of people starting helping others see it. Even on my way back to work, there was this huge football player from out of state who saw me attempting to take a photo of the eclipse with my iPhone and offered his glasses for me to see it. To say it was extremely nifty would be an understatement; it was truly a fantastic reminder that so many people are genuinely good hearted, and that should never be forgotten.


#4 Everything Works Out Eventually But Definitely Learn from the Past to Create a Better Future

As I rode my bike from Dillon’s to DCI Park, I had accepted defeat in finding a pair of glasses and had come to the fact I would likely be missing out on seeing the solar eclipse. I wasn’t happy with myself, but I was okay with that. However, thanks to Dave, that turned out not to be my fate, and also thanks to Dave, I was able to loan that pair to many others so they too could see Solar Eclipse 2017. Even the morning of the eclipse, the lightning, thunder, and rain that came from the sky over Hutchinson led to my thinking the eclipse was going to be hidden behind clouds; however, those clouds parted later that morning to create a beautiful day to be shared by many. Plus, as I was leaving that area that was transformed from a space to a magical place during the solar eclipse event, everything once again aligned thanks to perfect timing and a conversation that happened while I was waiting to cross 11th street gave me a second chance at that other event I was kicking myself about missing thanks to my bad misstep with timeliness. Now in less than an hour, I will be heading to it to enjoy everything under the stars all while continuing to contemplate, learn, and apply these lessons from this last week’s solar eclipse.



A Technical Glitch (A Very Short One-Act Play)

For the last two years, I have been a last-minute substitute playwright for Hutchinson Community College’s 24 Hour Plays. The concept is quite nifty with everyone involved meeting at the college at 9:00 PM. We all introduce ourselves to each other by telling one talent we possess and a little about a prop and costume piece we brought as potential items that could be used in one of the plays. Then all leave but the playwrights who select a cast and then each write a 7 to 10 minute one-act play. After that, the playwrights go home during the early morning hours, and the actors and directors begin their work soon after. At 7:30 PM, the plays are performed, and all wraps up by 9:00 PM.

A friend and I were talking about my play from this year’s show. It is easy to see it was inspired by topics that became blog posts (and also a New Year’s Resolution) I was pondering around that time (see here and here). Rather than to let the play hang out on my computer for the rest of its life, I figured I could try something different with this blog for this week and post it here for others to read. A quick warning – it was written between the hours of 11:00 PM and 4:00 AM. 


A Technical Glitch

The Characters
All three are charming and clever college students.

Eliza – A quick-witted female college student
Darcy – A charismatic male college student
James – A quirky male college student

The hallway of a college building. All three students are sitting on different benches and on their phones. Their heads are down staring at their screens. For about thirty seconds or so, the students just stare and type away at their phones when the lights flash and then the students start to look at their phones perplexedly before starting to look at each other somewhat shyly.

Darcy: turning to Eliza. Hi, uh, hey.

Eliza briefly glances at him before going back to fidgeting with her phone.

Darcy: turning now to James. Hey. Um, is your phone working?

James: Pauses a bit. No, it’s dead. Just like that. I just charged it too.

Darcy: Mine too. This is strange. What do you think it means?

James: I don’t know.

Darcy: Miss. Is your phone working?

Eliza: Annoyed and with some disdain. No.

Darcy: So yours too, then?

Eliza: Yes.  

James: What if all phones are dead?

Darcy: They can’t be.

All three continue to fidget with their phones as they try to get them to turn back on.

Eliza: Seriously. Mine won’t turn back on.

James: Same here.

Eliza: Argh. I needed to respond to that text.

James: And I was in the middle of reading about quantum mechanics.

Darcy: It was Instagram for me.

Collective sigh heard from all three.

Darcy: Progressively more dramatic. We may actually have to have face-to-face conversations. I know – The horror. The dread. How are we going to ever do such a thing?!

James and Eliza both look at Darcy. Darcy first has a deadpan expression before a smile breaks.

Darcy: Oh come on. We may be Millennials, but we are not idiots. So what class are you two waiting for?

James: Philosophy.

Eliza: Slightly more amused by Darcy. Marriage and Family. And you?

Darcy: Public Speaking. I even have a speech today.

Eliza: Fun.

Darcy: Sure.

A little awkward silence as the three look back at their phones before Eliza and Darcy each finally put them aside or away.

James: Do you think there is a deeper meaning behind this?

Darcy: Well, you are the philosopher among us, so you would know.

James: Maybe we are emerging from Plato’s cave?

Eliza: Or maybe there was just a huge technical glitch?

Darcy: And maybe you are a buzz kill?

Darcy and Eliza trade looks for a second. Darcy is amused and Eliza has a death glare. Then Darcy returns to being serious. 

Darcy: Maybe it’s the first step of war? First wipe out our phones and then next the people?

James: starts going through his backpack before pulling out a gas mask. I have a gas mask!

Eliza: Why do you have a gas mask?

Darcy: Why shouldn’t he have a gas mask?

James: I also have a jester’s hat. Pulling out a jester’s hat.

Darcy: And jesters know all.

James: Putting on the jester’s hat and smiling. So meaning or no meaning? Frankl or Sarte?

Eliza: No meaning.

Darcy moves to sit by Eliza while James continues to contemplate the situation with his phone.

Darcy: Hi.

Eliza: Sighs. Hi.

Darcy: So come here often?

Eliza: Well, this is a college, and my class is just down the hall, and we are in the middle of the semester, so you could say I do. Well, at least three times a week.

Darcy: Funny. I don’t think I have ever seen you here before.

Eliza: Funny indeed.

James: Looking now directly at his phone. Maybe it’s Descarte. I think; therefore, I am! I think; therefore, you work! . . . Hmm, you don’t work.

Eliza: On a side note, what kind of line is “So come here often?” anyway?

Darcy: A classic one.

Eliza just looks at him.

Darcy: Fine. It’s a cheesy line, but I’m a cheesy guy. What should I ask instead? How’s your day? I could, but you would say, “Fine.” And we would be back to where we are now.

James: Truth! But what is truth? Erich Fromm, I look to you.

Eliza: Fine. Pauses. Do you come here often?

Darcy: Funny enough, about three days a week.

Eliza: And yet, I never have seen you. Small world.

James: Disney? Nah. It’s not Disney.

More silence as Darcy and Eliza look around a bit more.

Eliza: So what is your speech about?

Darcy: Well, it’s  — Pauses for just a bit. It’s cheesy.

Eliza: I’m noticing a theme, but cheese can be good.

Darcy: Especially smoked gouda. Anyway, it’s our show and tell speech so we were supposed to bring something meaningful to share with the class.

Eliza: With a slight smile. And you brought cheese?

Darcy: I should have. I’m kind of hungry right now. Instead, I uh. Just a second, Runs over to get his bag, pulls out a baseball, and holds it up. I brought this.

Eliza: Oh, you’re a baseball player. Let me guess. You hit a home run that won the game, and that’s the ball.

Darcy: Not exactly . . . or at all.

James: Perhaps Aristotle knows the answer. He pulls out a book and starts looking through it.

Eliza: So what’s the story, Babe Ruth?

Darcy: Did you just call me, “Babe”?

Eliza: Not in that way, so don’t get your hopes up. What’s the true story behind the ball?

James: Truth once again! Is there ever such a thing? One truth or multiple? Or alternates?

Darcy: Well, my dad and I used to always go down to the park when I was a kid. One time I found this ball outside of the ball diamond long after a game was over. I still remember it just sitting there in the grass. Well, I picked it up and it’s been with me ever since. That day, he and I started to use it to play catch. It would go back and forth between us just like the conversations we would have. He lightly tosses the ball to Eliza who catches it. So this ball just represents all of those times he and I would play catch, and, in his own way, be there for me.

Eliza: That’s a nice story. She tosses the ball back to him. He catches it before he sits down next to her.

Darcy: Thanks. So what are you covering in Marriage and Family today?

Eliza pulls out her notebook and Darcy looks down towards the pages.

Eliza: Are you familiar with the 36 questions that lead to love?

Darcy: I am guessing “Come here often?” is not one of them.

Eliza: You guess right. Anyway, these questions supposedly can lead two people to fall in love with each other if they spend the time answering them and time looking into each other’s eyes.

Eliza and Darcy both pause as they look into each other’s eyes for a second before realizing what happened and looking away.

Darcy: Wow! That sounds fascinating.

Eliza: It really is.

Darcy: What’s an example of one of the questions?

Eliza: When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?

Darcy: That’s embarrassing.

Eliza: That’s the question.

Darcy: Well, on my way to school this morning, Miley Cyrus’s “Party in the USA” may have been on the radio, and I may have broken into song, and there may have been witnesses.

Eliza: And you may have thrown your hands up because they were playing your song. Butterflies fly away.

Darcy: I’m noddin’ my head like, ‘yeah.’ I’m movn’ my hips like, yeah.

Darcy and Eliza sort of singing: I got my hands up, they’re playing my song. I know I’m gonna be okay. Yeah, it’s a party in the U.S.A. It’s a party in the U.S.A.

Eliza and Darcy are laughing now together. James is still looking through the book.

James: So Aristotle, is it fate or is it freewill?

Darcy: So what’s one of your talents besides getting people to admit to singing Miley.

Eliza: That’s the big one.

Darcy: What’s a bigger one?

Eliza: I can say the alphabet backwards?

Darcy: You can?

Eliza: I can.

Darcy: Prove it.

Eliza: Z, Y, X, W, V, U, T, S, R, Q, P, O, N, M, L, K, J, I, H, G, F, E, D, C, B, A

Darcy: Wow!

Eliza: Smiling and proud of herself. Thanks! What’s one of your talents?

Darcy: I can click my heels.

Eliza: Like a leprechaun?

Darcy: Sure, like uh leprechaun.

Eliza: Prove it.

Darcy gets up and proves it. Eliza claps.

Eliza: Bravo. Bravo.

Darcy: This is going to be forward, but your boyfriend is a very lucky guy.

Eliza: I don’t have a boyfriend.

Darcy: So you may be free for a date on Valentine’s Day?

Eliza: Maybe.

Darcy: Maybe.

Darcy and Eliza continue to smile at each other while James has picked up the pace and intensity with his reading.

Darcy: So what is another one of those questions to fall in love?

Eliza: Why? Are you wanting to fall in love?

Darcy: Maybe.

Eliza: Maybe.

James: Extremely fascinating! It’s multiple.

Darcy: So another question?

Eliza: Let’s see. Looks at her notebook. How about what is your most treasured memory?

Darcy: That’s easy. Playing catch with my dad.

Eliza: Out of all of your memories?

Darcy: Without a doubt.

Eliza: Why is that?

Darcy: It was just simpler times . . . and he was still here.

Eliza: Oh, I’m sorry. I uh –

Darcy: So, uh, what’s, uh, what’s your most treasured memory?

Eliza: Well, I am definitely becoming quite fond of this one.

Both Eliza and Darcy look at each other and smile.

James: Jumps up. Except this one never happened.

Darcy: Huh?

James: Never happened. It’s all a parallel world. I just was reading all about it. The quantum mechanics article. It all makes sense now.

Darcy: What about quantum mechanics?

James: It gets into multiverses. There was a glitch, and we were thrown into one I think, but you can feel the energy throwing us back to where we always were.

Eliza: But we are here.

James: And not here. Phones don’t just die. They disconnected because of the glitch. For a second, we jumped to another multiverse, but we didn’t belong.

Darcy: So they never died, but rather they just never connected.

James: Exactly. You are actually right back there. Pointing to Darcy’s original bench. Darcy taking all of his things seems pulled back to where he was all while looking at Eliza.

Eliza: But I liked him here.

Darcy: And I liked being there.

James: But that wasn’t the way our world actually worked.

Darcy: But I remember everything.

Eliza: He clicked his heels.

Darcy: She said the alphabet backwards.

Eliza and Darcy: We sang Miley.

James: You don’t get it. It was a taste of what might have been. None of it happened.

Darcy: Why do I want to get my phone out?

Eliza: Why do I want to do the same?

James: We can’t fight it.

Eliza: And jesters know all.

Darcy: Looking at Eliza. I don’t even know your name.

Eliza: It’s –

Eliza and Darcy go back to looking at their phones just as they were doing before. James puts his jester hat back in the bag and resumes his position on the bench as his phone returns to both hands.

James: It was just all a small break into another universe, and now we are back to how it always was.

James then goes back to looking at his phone and the lights flash again. All three of them are back to being glued to their phone. Then James gets up and walks away looking at his phone. Darcy still glued to his phone stands up next. He gets the ball out of his bag and has it in one hand while his phone remains in the other. Meanwhile, Eliza has stood up, still looking at her phone. Darcy’s ball slips from his grip and rolls right toward Eliza. She looks up from her phone and stops the ball with her foot before picking it up.

Eliza: Here you go.

Darcy: Thanks.

He reaches out for the ball and their hands touch with both pausing for a second as their eyes lock.

Darcy: Do I know you?

Eliza: I don’t think so but –

And then the dinging of text messages happen. Both look at each other one last time before looking back at their phones and walking away in different directions with their eyes glued to the screens.   

The Intrigue of Parallel Universes

These recent thoughts all started last November thanks to an article Fox News had posted about how time travel could be possible through the use of parallel worlds. The story itself had originally appeared in UK’s The Sun, and it had come into my life as a recommended story via Google News thanks to their algorithms.

Needless to say, I wasn’t getting my bags packed to head over to the world where the dinosaurs never died or the one where the gorilla-size lemur was alive and well. The story, though, did lead to some fascinating conversations among my honors students that went a little something like this:

“If you were to visit a parallel world, you would have to quickly kill the other version of you, for both of you could not exist in one universe,” one of them said.

“Death? Really? Couldn’t we just partner up and take on the world – either that one, this one, or another?” I asked.

“Nope. He would just kill you, so you have to shoot first,” another answered.

“Nah, we would be too excited about having another one of us around to even think about homicide. Or would that be suicide?” I replied.

“Well, I guess we know which Ryan is not going to make it.”

Before jumping to another topic, the conversation went on for another twenty-minutes or so with my believing I could be friends with the Other Ryan while they assured me it was kill or be killed to avoid a rip in the very fabric of time itself.

The Fox News article was based upon a 2014 publication in Physical Review X, which inspired quite a few news stories when it was first released, in which the authors investigated quantum theory and a “many interacting world” approach. This gets into the concept of an infinite number of universes where every possibility may have played out. This concept itself could easily play with one’s mind as one things about how every decision we made just today could have spawned thousands of other universes in theory.

From there, the topic of parallel universes has resurfaced repeatedly in my life.

Of course, there was the Christmas classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, with George Bailey getting a glimpse of what the world would have been like if he would never have been born.

Then two of my very good friends directed me to Cheryl Strayed’s Dear Sugar response that concluded with the beautiful imagery of our saluting the ghost ship that didn’t carry us, the other life we didn’t live.

YouTube caught a drift of this common theme and recommended a video about The Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode where Cordelia was granted her wish that created a world where Buffy never came to Sunnydale.

That may have been caused by my fascination during the month of December with the Lumineer’s videos that played upon this concept with at least three of their videos being connected with a storyline all tied to choices made that created another parallel world. Here they are in the order they were not released but in the one I think they go:

Once Upon a Time’s winter finale brought the alternative universe trope into its storyline.

Then the one movie I watched in the theatre during winter break, La La Land, had near its end a powerfully haunting montage of a world that could have existed in another universe but not that one. It squeezed the heart while what might have been played out.

This concept of parallel worlds is nothing new though in my life. In fact, my favorite childhood movie of all times, Clue, played heavy on this conceit. Then Sliding Doors, another movie I referenced in another entry about time, also hit the point home about how even the smallest of things happening could easily send the trajectory of one’s life in a different direction. A chance conversation never happens or perhaps it does. In these worlds, all of the Craigslist’s Missed Connections were never missed (If you are not familiar with them, I recommend checking out Craigslist, clicking on a major city, and reading some of the Missed Connections or perhaps a better and easier idea would be to read this single horribly romantic one to get the idea).

The question, though, is what is it about our fascination with parallel worlds that causes these to play out time and again on TV, in movies, in books, in songs, and in our mind. The Buffy video concludes by saying, “We’re all, in a way, trapped in time . . . bound to travel in one continuous direction – only forward. But there is always an allure to looking backward and wondering, ‘A different choice, a different doorway, a couple more seconds. Would we have become someone else?’”

And that may be it. This fascination could all come back to ourselves. Every time we watch, read, or contemplate a parallel world, we think about our own lives and what they would be like if we would have struck up that initial conversation or wouldn’t have, gone for that kiss or wouldn’t have, gotten that job or wouldn’t have, read that book that changed your life or wouldn’t have, stayed close with an old friend or wouldn’t have, said those words or wouldn’t have, and so forth. The possibilities are endless, and the same could be said about parallel worlds for that matter.

Besides onslaught of examples thrown in my direction from the world around me, the concept has probably been on my mind more lately thanks to my having almost spent a decade of my life in Hutchinson, Kansas. If anyone would have told me in late June of 2007 the next ten years of my life would be spent here, a perplexed look would have come their way. The plan was either to find work in New York City or pursue a PhD in English. Given the flooded market for the latter, Dr. Ryan in that parallel universe would have been jumping around looking for a tenure track position but likely doing a lot of adjunct work as he attempted to pay off a massive student loan debt.

The life of NYC Ryan, though, is what intrigues me.


It hit even harder after walking around Seattle’s Capitol Hill last October when I was in the city for a conference. For a glimmer of a second, I caught a glance of the Ryan who lived in a major city and would get together with close friends for dinner and drinks on a Friday night in such a place with that kind of vibe.  His place may have been small and expensive, but he didn’t mind because he could walk anywhere, and whatever craving of food he had, a restaurant was an easy jaunt away. Then more than likely, he would be sharing all of this with a partner. More than likely he would be married, and he may even be a father.

NYC Ryan, though, never would have stepped on Hutchinson Community College’s campus. The classes would have been taught by someone else. The students would have learned English Composition from that person instead, and the fairy tales course that hundreds upon hundreds have taken never would have existed. The honors program would have had a different unofficial assistant director and then a different director. Someone else would have filled Hutchinson Ryan’s spots on all of the different committees and task forces, and someone else would be in his current job now.

NYC Ryan also would have missed out on all of the activities in the community. Another person would have served in Hutchinson Ryan’s place on the various boards and in the different groups. Someone else would have taken charge of the different initiatives Hutchinson Ryan had led.

Then there are Emi and Callie.


NYC Ryan never would have known the feeling of having Callie cuddling next him as they enjoyed a peaceful Friday night on the couch alone with Emi sitting nearby in her favorite perch watching everything below her in true cat fashion.


Never would he have sleepily smiled as Callie woke him up for her very early breakfast with her morning eagerness, watched the hijinks of Emi attacking imaginary monsters, or known what it was like to try to make a bed or put away socks with her help. Callie and Emi would never have met and served as another great example of how a dog and a cat can be the best of friends, for Callie may never have been adopted from the animal shelter, and Emi more than likely would have lived her life at a salvage yard.

Finally, NYC Ryan never would have known the majority of people Hutchinson Ryan does.



His world would be extremely different. The conversations, meals with friends, the community partnerships, the dates, the relationships, and, most importantly, the great friendships Hutchinson Ryan has had since 2007 never would have occurred, for NYC Ryan’s path would likely have never crossed in such a way with those Hutchinson Ryan has been blessed to get to know over the years, and perhaps those people’s lives would have then been very different as well. Many of the people reading this blog right now would be doing something very different with your lives, for in the NYC Ryan universe, you likely never would have met or known a Ryan Diehl.

That is the thing, though, about parallel universes. Just as we may have missed out on the life experiences of our parallel selves, they have missed out on our life experiences too. Perhaps right now, in one of those parallel universes, your parallel self is sitting there and longing for the life you currently have.

Another recent quotation that has come into my life over the last couple of weeks is “Somebody once told me the definition of hell: On our last day of earth, the person you became will meet the person you could have become.” At the same time, perhaps the definition of heaven can be something similar with your meeting the person you may have become if you had let all of those things of great and true value slip from your grasp. Just on the safe side, a life mission should be to become the better of the selves on your last day on this planet.

Perhaps, one day travel to parallel universe will be possible as we get to see how making even something as simple as having cereal rather than a kale and fruit smoothie for breakfast altered one’s existence. Until then though, we should, as Cheryl Strayed recommended with the ghost ships, give them a head nod and a smile before going back to feeling grateful for all of the great things in your current life in your current universe now.

Fated: An Ode to the Tales of Destined Lovers

Author Unknown

There was a time we might have met
An hour we might have dined together
Only it rained that night and you stayed
Snug at home fearing the weather

And once I saw you on the street
Lilacs were out, the air was heady
I might have stopped to speak
But you hailing a bus were gone already

I might have looked, you may have smiled
But we didn’t and I can’t see why
If we had known that you were you
And I was I! Or did you pass and sigh?

It’s odd to think we might have been
Sun, Moon, and Stars unto each other
Only I turned down one little street
As you went up another

My junior year of high school had me in the Iola Public Library looking for a poem to analyze for a class assignment. It could be any poem, but I was having trouble picking one. I had already skimmed through the anthologies at the high school library, and none had grabbed my attention. Sure, I could do a classic, but rather, I wanted to find something else, and then it happened. It was the third or fourth book I had pulled off the shelf. The plain maroon cover parted, and there before me was the poem “Fate.” Being a hopeless romantic, it was just the thing to strike heart.

Thinking back now, I don’t think I ever checked out the book, nor did I make a photocopy of it. Rather, I wrote the poem on the back of an Altoids’ wrapper because I was cheesy like that, and at that time, I always carried a tin of Wintergreen Altoids everywhere I went. Soon after, I showed the poem to a friend, and she made fun of its slant rhymes and forced lines, but that didn’t stop me of being proud of my discovery and from that wrapper ending up in my wallet to be carried around with me throughout the rest of high school, college, and grad school. When a wallet was on its last thread, the folded-up poem would shift to the next and the next as it stayed with me throughout the different stages of my life until sometime after I had moved to Hutchinson and it remained, likely because I had finally found love, in an old wallet sentenced to being thrown into a storage tote of randomness rather than being transferred once again.


The topic of “Fate” really is nothing new, for it is a story that has been told often, and yet every time, it has the power to grab the hearts of people for some reason. Just one of the recent examples would be Kodaline’s music video for “The One.”

Then the story transcends the fictional world and makes it into the news when a couple discovers years before their paths crossed and they had no idea. Back in 2014, a British couple were surprised to find both of them in a photo together from 1994 at the beach as they were getting ready for their wedding in 2014. In 2010, there was another couple featured in new stories where they both made it into a single photograph taken at Disney World 15 years before they were to ever meet. Definitely, check out this link that will take you to a story with the photos about both of these couples, and then scroll down to the comments where many more people share their stories about how they too unknowingly crossed paths with the person they would ultimately one day date, love, marry, and cherish (and sometimes divorce too).

The question, though, gets back to why this story of close encounters until the stars finally align make many of us pause and smile. Although the reasons are many, three have come to my mind as I have been contemplating this lately.

For starters, we live in a world saturated with love, especially romantic love. At one time, society didn’t provide most with the luxury of holding out for a potential soulmate. The focus of the relationship was quite different where practicality won out over the idea of a fluttering heart. However, as society shifted and allowed for more free time to occur with less pressure on procreating, childrearing, and marrying for social status, wealth, and power (or lack thereof). Now, though, we live in a time well characterized by Vertical Horizon’s 2000 hit “Everything You Want” that is all about having found someone seemingly perfect except for missing that final heart-soaring, cupid-directed-arrow quality until, of course, a person decides to do what many would describe as “settling for good enough.”

Commercials, books, TV shows, movies, Disney, music, and pretty much everything else throws this ideal of true love at us, which primes us to like these stories that eventually lead to what we see as a happy ending when in reality they are more happy beginnings of their finally getting together. In a way, it restores faith in the concept of true love is such a thing and is out there. Although it may seem just beyond our grasp at times, it still exists, and that alone can adds to the love of romantic love.

Then there is how these stories support the concept of fate. The encounters are so close that they cannot be mere coincidences, but rather, they seem to be part of a greater master plan. And as was discussed coincidentally in this week’s podcast of NPR’s The Hidden Brain, these situations break the everyday life pattern, and that leads to their seeming to have a meaning we want to explain as being beyond us. If they are part of a bigger plan, then suddenly everything else can be as well, which in a way can provide a comfort to a person that everything does happen for a reason with each choice we make being a step closer to some destined future.

One other reason for this story’s ongoing possibility is it gives faith to single people like me that somewhere out there is the person often described as our other half – our soul mate. We go about our life bombarded with images of romantic love and it is through a poem like “Fate” that we can believe that person is out there and that one day both of us will finally bump into each other.

Or that is at least how I look to look at these stories of lovers being so close to each other until the instantaneous chemistry of the first meeting finally occurs. For over three years now (minus two months that really don’t count because the person I was dating was back on dating apps less than three weeks into our doomed whatever), I have been single. Although I have largely given up finding anyone as long as I live in Hutchinson, that hasn’t stopped me from doing such things like looking up at the stars on my way back from Metropolitan Coffee and thinking that somewhere under that sky there is someone with whom I will finally connect. Although it is highly unlikely we will find each other in the other’s old vacation photos or learn we just kept missing each other barely throughout our lives, it still provides a fun thought or two to have, but you have to keep in mind this is coming from a guy who teaches a class on fairy tales, is a sucker for these tales of destined lovers, and is carrying a cheesy romantic poem handwritten on the back of an Altoids’ wrapper in his wallet once again.

The Crossing of Paths

Today marks the birthday for two of my Facebook friends. For one, our paths first crossed in kindergarten. Grade after grade, we would be in the same classroom until eventually our journeys split somewhere in high school. We would then see each other from time to time, but years would pass in between. In 2013, I quickly confirmed the friend request she sent my way, and her posts would make me smile and like away as she posted about and then shared photos of her outdoor wedding. Her photos of her adorable son would receive a smile every time they came up in my newsfeed. We never talked though. I got one happy birthday note posted on her wall during that window where thanks to Facebook our journeys were connected ever so slightly over the internet and also through updates my mother would give me whenever she would see Christy. She would have been 35 today, but unfortunately, an unexpected death robbed her of that chance back in the summer of 2014 when her Facebook profile became a memorial to a good person with a good heart.

My other friend whose birthday is today did turn 35. I met him one afternoon clear back when we were both high schoolers while I was working at Iola Cinema. He had recently started dating one of my best friends, Erica, and the two of them were off to see a movie together. He was also looking for a job, and after some conversations, an application and a job interview with the manager, he soon became not only my co-worker but also my best friend. We were inseparable for those last years of high school with our hanging out non-stop. He was from a neighboring town, but we would spend evenings together when he was not with his latest girlfriend at the time (Erica and he did not last long), go on weekend hikes exploring some land my family owned, and take trips to the Kansas City area for movie marathons to catch films the little two-plex in Iola would likely never get.

The cover of the CD Mix Ian gave to me filled with songs from a mixtape I had given to him back in our younger days.

At one time, we talked about being roommates in college although something in the back of my mind told me this would not be a good idea (years later when I was an RA and watching friendships die during the time of sharing a dorm room together confirmed that gut feeling); however, fate threw a hand into the mix, tossing me to Emporia while he went as planned to KU. Eventually, life itself took over our schedules with my throwing myself into campus activities outside of my school work in the humanities and his time becoming occupied with an intense pharmacy curriculum and what seemed to be an even more intense relationship. With little notice, we drifted apart to our only catching up just a few times during the last years of our undergraduate studies before I left for Australia and he for California. Although a few conversations were had over the years, our paths did not cross until he stopped late last fall in Hutchinson for a night on a road trip to find himself after leaving the pharmacy world behind. We caught up that evening and laughed about past stories while talking about a future where our friendship would be back like it once was, but when the morning came, our paths diverged once again to where little communication exists between us.

One of last week’s themes for me, if weeks were to have themes, seemed to be about how paths with others will cross at different times in our lives.

For an example, my mother and I met this wonderful Australian family not once but twice during our Canadian summer adventure. The first time we both happened to have stopped our cars at the same great overlook to catch a view and few photos of Two Jack Lake outside of Banff during the last evening hours. We were there just minutes together. Robert mentioned something about great minds thinking alike, and the five of us chatted briefly before taking in the stunning view nature had given us.

Two Jack Lake from Our Scenic Overlook

Then the next day my mother and I left the Banff area to head towards Lake Louise. We took our time along the Bow Valley Parkway with our stopping for quite a while to hike into Johnston Canyon. After seeing the beauty of the upper and lower falls, we returned towards our afternoon destination. We hadn’t made it far until we were driving by Castle Cliffs scenic lookout. Originally, I figured we would drive on by, but thanks to what appeared to be a flash of beauty, my mother and I decided we should pull the car around and head back to the pull out where it would take us less than five minutes to see Castle Mountain. Much to our surprise, the car pulling in right before us belonged to no other than that fantastic Australian family we had last seen over 15 hours before and 40 kilometers away. Starting with my greeting them this time with “Great minds think alike!,” what was thought to be a five-minute stop led before we saw them to our being there for over an hour with our conversation flowing over so many different topics. Our plan was to catch up again while we were all in Jasper, but that unfortunately didn’t happen; however, we are staying in touch thanks to emails and Facebook posts. Earlier this week Robert closed out a message mentioning his hopes our paths would all cross again sometime.

Then there was the reading I did this weekend. One of my favorite podcasts is The Tim Ferriss Show (which is a blog post all in its own), and Tim Ferriss has often sung the praises of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. Temptation finally got the better of me, and my own copy arrived earlier this week. As a reward for working homework Friday night and Saturday, I granted myself reading time. Late Saturday evening, the book inspired me, as I attempt to avoid any spoilers, to once again think about how people come into our lives for a while before our paths diverge to maybe one day cross again.

The examples kept coming from all sorts of angles, including random thoughts about many people thanks to the date of what would been an anniversary if a past relationship would have made it. Everything seemed to carry that underlying point about how our lives interact with others. Sometimes, those crossings are only for a bit – a moment when eyes lock, a friendly conversation occurs, or perhaps a first and only date happens but nothing else ever occurs after for really no other reason than the workings of timing. Then there are the others where our journeys will run parallel with another’s for months, years, and decades to the point we can’t imagine ever not having that person just a phone call, text message, or simply the turn of a head away.

Inevitably, though, the paths always will diverge somehow and in some way. Sometimes they may cross again much to surprise of both like this weekend when I matched with an old college acquaintance on Tinder. Other times we may hope for them to cross once more with our often telling ourselves to call, text, write a letter, or make a journey to see that person but none of those efforts ever materialize. Then there are the many others times where both just simply drift from each other’s thoughts unless some song, smell, word, Facebook birthdays notification, or trinket ignites a fleeting flash of a memory. With the exception of perhaps those brief recollections of the past, they simply vanish as both go their own ways.

However, the thing is not to focus on the end, and that is what the second week’s theme seemed to hit me over the head repeatedly and say. It was kicked off in a way when my mother wanted me to check out two lines from Roy Clark’s “Yesterday, When I Was Young” that tied to another conversation we have been having, which will be the topic of another upcoming post: “And every conversation I can now recall/Concerned itself with me and nothing else at all.”

That was added later by an excerpt from David Foster Wallace’s phenomenally thought-provoking commencement address my friend Jason shared on Facebook. In it, Wallace he called the graduates not to think of themselves as the center of the world but rather think “the Capital T Truth is about life before death; it is about the real value of a real education which has almost nothing to do with knowledge and everything to do with simple awareness.”

And those really are the key things I think. We are to move beyond ourselves and be aware of those around us for however long we are so fortunate to have them around. We can then cherish those times when we look back and not find them to be conversations all about ourselves but rather about each other, about life, about the world we are in, and about really anything else that is out there as we share experiences and create memories for however long our paths should run together.

All in the Timing

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It’s all in the timing. The line carries so many connotations for me these days. First, David Ive’s “All in the Timing” was my first high school theatre production where I played a monkey named Milton who, along with two other monkeys, was part of an experiment to see if you put some monkeys and typewriters together if one would end up writing Shakespeare.  Then there is a Gwyneth Paltrow movie my mother and I reference often called Sliding Doors that captures how one small thing can lead a person down a different path. Neither of us have seen it since the 1990s, but it left an impression on us. Also playing around my mind is Life Course Theory that I came across during my May grad qualitative research methods class that involves the researcher looking into how earlier events influence future events and choices in a person’s life.

The thoughts about timing continue. Being nostalgic, I can look at those little moments that I had no idea would send me in a trajectory at the time. For honors, it was a chance encounter in the hallway of the union. For my current job, it was my swinging by the office to see how the summer was. Even the timing of my taking the English instructor job at HCC had the amusing story of timing with my meeting my chair the second time after the interview and acceptance of the job at Edinburgh’s Waverly Station thanks to both of our very different travels placing us in the same place on the same night. If my path would have varied even so slightly, I am sure my life would have gone in a different direction with those chance conversations leading to so many different experiences, people, and ideas that put me on a whole different trajectory.

Then there are the timings of relationships. A chance conversation and a quick decision to jump sessions and go to another at a medieval conference back in 2005 led to my meeting Jon, one of my best friends.

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A New Orleans’ coffee shop that changed the course of my life

Another story about timing involves my running across the French Quarter to a coffee shop that was about to close where I ran face-to-face into Andrew, another kindred soul who too has altered my life’s course.

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Erica and me at my fancy restaurant selection before homecoming

There is also Erica whose friendship literally saved my life. We met in middle school where I annoyed her greatly, and then in high school, our friendship developed. One late evening in college, I was leaving a wedding reception in Overland Park and pulled up to the light to turn onto 135th street and head back to Emporia. The dark evening brought nothing but quietness to the area. The light turned green, and I moved my foot to the gas just when Erica called my cell phone. With no one behind me, I paused and grabbed my phone from the passenger seat to look up and see a car going at least 50 miles per hour run the red light. Erica had just got this urge that Saturday evening to give me a call for really no reason, and her doing so at that exact moment my foot was about to move from the brake to the gas pedal kept my driver’s side door from being right in line with that speeding car.

That is at least one sliding door I know I barely missed. The count could be many more and never be known.  Andrew touched upon that with his text last week during the kidney stone ordeal: “Let’s just hope the world was threatening you with a serious car accident or meteor strike or something this week and this is the way said cataclysm was averted.” While this is uncertain, as I responded to Andrew, it, for sure, averted me from Type II diabetes (thank you, genetics, for that predisposition). As mentioned in the last post, the little calcium oxalate demon jump started my life to move me into Ryan 14.0. The effects, though, went far beyond that. The stone derailed me from one track of a great weekend planned with a potential romantic interest to another that included seeing an unbelievable amount of caring from people in my life (including that potential romantic interest); reading both Cal Newport’s Deep Work, which led to my plan to incorporate into my world quite a few items he mentioned, and my cousin Nona Morrison’s The Ghost Juggler, which was enjoyable and amusing as well as inspiring to get back to work on own novel; finishing my final project for my second summer class long before its due date (take that, Instant Gratification Monkey!); cleaning many rooms in my house while telling myself I am an adult now and I should be able to keep a clean house; and so on. Only in the future will I be able to look back and see the exact trajectory on which the kidney stone launched me, but there is no doubt its effects will be far beyond its sharp pains and such.

Also this weekend I tried to write two previous blog posts that popped into my head during the month of June. The first was my reaction to Orlando with my connecting it to the 2011 GOP Presidential Debate where the gay soldier was booed, the negative effects many religions had caused, and a theory of why people chose to hide rather than fight, which I heard often people asking. The other was about Brexit and how the 40 and under crowd in the United States needed to look at it as a wake up call. I played around with both, but ultimately, it seemed like the window to write and post each had passed, and that is the other thing about timing – if we pause too long, we lose our chance.

Each point in our lives offers us different opportunities, and time can change those because of relevance and our abilities. Learning a language is much easier earlier in one’s life. Going on crazy, long hiking adventures is much easier to do before full-time jobs, pets, and kids. Staying in good shape is much easier when metabolism is helping us out. However, rather than sitting around and regretting my missed times to seize the day, I am going to learn from those, do a better job evaluating the opportunity cost of my decisions, and finally accomplish my ongoing New Year’s Resolution of domesticating the instant gratification monkey, for doing that will unlock many more other goals I want to tackle.

Ultimately, as we all know, time is the most precious thing we have to give our work, our goals, and our people in our lives. Timing, though, can be even more important, for even something as simple as hearing a song that captures a moment to being at a coffee shop at the right second to look across the room and see the smile of a stranger who will later become a best friend can change who we are and the course we are traveling for this short time we have here on Earth. The key is not to let those moments slip between our fingers, and if they do, rather than try to battle fate which sometimes can lead to wins like those who submitted and achieved Craigslist Missed Connections, learn from the past, be ready to truly live in the present, and embrace all in the timing.

And now for some songs:

First, the song that wakes me up each morning (at least for the mornings I sleep in until my alarm sounds):


And the song that John, another best friend of mine, has sent me in many different versions (including one he sang) to the point the song is really ours now (and it connects well with the theme of this post I think):