Searching for contentment on an all-American family vacation.

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Photo credit: Andrew Brodsky

We pull into our campsite at dusk. We were going to spend this year’s family vacation on a guided tour through the deserts of Morocco, but a pandemic changed our plans. Instead, we start our vacation at an unadorned Forest Service campground somewhere in southern Wyoming.

When we open the door of our RV, a hummingbird flies in. It buzzes around frantically, then tries to escape through the front windshield. It falls down below the dashboard. We can hear its wings flutter wildly, then stop. After a few moments of silence I find a spoon to extract the dead carcass, and the kids plan a burial. When I touch the bird, its wings vibrate and it reanimates, flustering wildy, spinning back up into the air. …


It was the next step on my spiritual journey.

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Photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash

This October, I’ll celebrate my 50th birthday. After half a decade on this planet, I’ve generally figured out how to make my life work. I’ve checked off the boxes: kids, wife, career, a house in the suburbs. My day feels successful if I’ve navigated those little micro-challenges that make up our everyday lives: Getting kids to make their beds. Staying sane as I wait on hold for technical support to finally pick up. Remembering to stretch and floss.

But this spring and summer, as our society proceeded through two historic social crises, I was jolted out of this everyday reality. That eternal, existential question nagged at me: Am I living my life right? I knew if I failed to adequately address it, I’d face the consequences — a lingering sense that I was not living up to my own ideals. …


Sometimes traveling helps us find our way home

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Photo by Wyron A on Unsplash

I wake before dawn, my hotel room still dark but for the green glow of the smoke detector above my bed. I lie still, hoping to drift back to sleep for another hour or two, but my brain is spinning. This day is finally here, and it’s too late to turn back. It’s time to get up.

I take a cool shower to burn off the lingering fog of a restless night’s sleep. When I’m finally alert, I dry off and examine myself in the bathroom mirror. I’m not usually the type to linger on my appearance, but today I perseverate over my reflected image. My naked body looks pretty good, I guess. I curl my biceps and am pleased at the definition. …


How to hold the past morally accountable.

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Photo by Dean Hinnant on Unsplash

In the wake of this summer’s racial justice protests, talk has turned to removing Confederate statues and monuments around the country. These monuments are symbols of America’s racist past, built largely in the first decades of the 20th century as symbols of white supremacy.

Removing monuments that celebrate our country’s racist past makes sense, of course. We ought to be memorializing those on the right side of history, not those glorifying the wrong side of it.

But I’d like to offer an alternative plan for some of these statues.

What if, instead of hiding our country’s ignoble past by simply removing these statues, we retained some of them — but forced them to face the weight of history. What if we turned them from heroes valiantly riding alone into the sunset into tableaus, truer stories of what actually happened. …


Oneness isn’t just an abstract idea

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Photo credit: Andrew Brodsky

It’s a crisp blue-sky fall afternoon, and I’m gliding down the Wapiti Trail, a serpentine swatch of singletrack in the foothills below Longs Peak, near my home on Colorado’s Front Range. I’m polishing off the final segment of an hour loop, descending through a glade of Ponderosa Pines to an open meadow. Across the valley, I can see the majestic summit of Bear Peak, its flanks of evergreen trees turned a warm sage in the afternoon sunlight.

As I gain speed on this last descent, I hook into that elusive feeling of here-ness. I’m part of everything — the trees and mountains around me, the trail, my body, my mind, the very laws of nature. …


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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

My plane touches down in Bangkok at 10 AM. I’ve just flown halfway around the world on few hours of shadowy sleep, and my body moves on autopilot, mindlessly cramming magazines and a half-eaten bag of trail mix into my carry-on and shuffling in orderly lines towards the door. But as soon as I exit the static, climate-controlled realm of flightworld and step into the thick daylight, I feel a surge of freedom. I’m somewhere.

The last time I travelled internationally was on my honeymoon, six years ago. After we were married, Lisa and I tagged along on a couple of family vacations to Cozumel, but those trips don’t count, not really. They were not international travel. They did not involve strange alphabets and cities that smell like burning leaves and ginger. …


Let’s not confuse virtue signaling for real social change.

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Photo by Spenser on Unsplash

Over the past weeks, outrage over the May 25 killing of George Floyd by a white police officer has boiled over into peaceful protests and violent looting. Mass gatherings in cities across the country are continuing in spite of public health warnings that the protests are likely to cause surges in coronavirus infections. Race relations are at a low point in our country, exacerbated by increasing inequality and a race-baiting president.

Putting on our marching boots (and coronavirus masks, please) and protesting, though, might be dangerous, but not necessarily for the reasons the media is suggesting.

There is immense social pressure on those of us in progressive social circles to engage in “virtue signaling”. This means communicating that we are on the “correct” side of social issues by very visible (and usually low-risk, natch) actions like changing our Instagram pictures to black, circulating memes indicating how much we support Black Lives Matter — and, yes, protesting. …


Why we should embrace love, hate, and everything in-between.

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Photo credit: Andrew Brodsky

As an education researcher and a parent, I thought I knew everything about child development. My wife and I do our best to follow the experts’ advice when conflict arise: we keep our tone measured and objective; we wrap constructive criticism inside an “Oreo” of positive affirmations; we model active listening. We know about love and logic and whole brains and how to create the happiest kid on our suburban block.

But we needed our kids to teach us about hove.

When coronavirus closed our public schools in March, my wife and I felt cautiously optimistic about our homeschooling cred. We would simply apply our hard-earned wisdom to the new situation, applying thoughtful problem-solving in the event a conflict might arise. …


These strategies really work

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Photo by History in HD on Unsplash

Our streets are alight; our cities are on fire. Once again, America’s toxic disease of structural racism has reared its ugly head, this time amplified by viral video and social media.

When I saw the latest news, I was angry and confused, just like many of us. I had the usual question: How could this still be happening in the U.S.? What can I do to helpt?

Theses are human questions. Some have acted with peaceful protests; fewer still have reacted with violent rioting. “A riot is the language of the unheard,” said Martin Luther King, Jr., …


Look closely and you’ll see things growing

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Photo by Keith Hardy on Unsplash

I’m standing in the middle of the desert, just before dawn. The cliffs in front of me are black silhouettes, the sky above it pinpricked with stars. Behind me, to the east, the purples and pinks of Utah twilight rise over distant orange hills.

I look down at my feet. My running shoes are already caked in fine red sand. I double-check that the cinch of each lace is tight. I’m ready to go.

I’m at the start line of the Dead Horse 50k, a trail race just outside Moab. I drove out here from my home in Colorado’s Front Range, a place not of cacti and sand but of craggy snow-capped mountains and swaths of pine forest. I’ve always felt a special relationship with this place. It’s close enough to be accessible, but distant enough to feel exotic and far from home. I come out here every year for a number of reasons: to see friends, to challenge myself on a new course, to get out of town for a while. …

About

Andrew Brodsky

Writer, ultrarunner, seeker, progressive, skeptic, Ph.D. education researcher. Seeking the meaning of life, one mile at a time.

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