I am grateful.

Indeed.

Indeed.

I am grateful. This thought, more than anything at the moment, occupies my mind.

As many things as there are in this world that drive me batty and leave me constantly questioning our humanity, how we as a species got here and how we may ever hope to advance, I haven’t lost sight of the fact that my life is pretty damn good.

Is it perfect? Hell no. But, it is perfect for me.

I’m insanely fortunate to have married the one person on this planet with whom I don’t mind spending 24 / 7 / 365. Good thing, too, because we do spend an inordinate amount of time together given that we both work from home. As odd as it may sound, I’m looking forward to our holiday so we can spend more quality time together without distractions such as email and the 24-hour news cycle.

I know love, both from my families and from friends literally all over this crazy, big world, even if I don’t see many of the people I love as often as I’d like.

And, I have a job I absolutely love, amongst colleagues who are incredibly talented and in the midst of students who challenge me to do better and work harder, a challenge I gladly accept. It isn’t a particularly high prestige job, it doesn’t involve travel to exotic locations any longer and it doesn’t break the bank, but I am grateful every day to have found this job at this time in my life. There are no ‘bad’ days at the office; but, even the less than perfect days leave me smiling.

More than these things, I know peace and comfort and security, which are merely reflections of where and to whom I was born rather than any sort of accomplishment on my part. These are not small, insignificant things although they are intangible. I see them as extreme privileges many only dream of attaining, and I am grateful.

I also know that I drive many around me nuts, bitching about what’s wrong in and with this world, never mind my persistent moaning about the endless Finnish winter. I may not be able to do much about the weather or climate much to my chagrin, but, as naïve as it may be, I’d like everyone to enjoy the fortunes I’ve been afforded and enjoyed merely as consequence of my nationality if not heritage.

I’d like the poor to know the joy of guilty pleasures without sacrificing food or heat or a place to rest. I’d like those who live in conflict zones to find themselves unable to sleep from the safe silence that envelops them as they lay down at night. I’d like the persecuted to be surrounded in a sea of acceptance and love. And, I’d like those left hopeless to find themselves blinded by possibility and opportunity.

I am grateful. And, I want a better world for all. I don’t see these statements as inherently contradictory. I see them as complimentary and representing possibilities to give something back for all that I have been granted.

Day 49: Proekt 365 (On randomness)

Day 49: Proekt 365 A random find in a random place

Day 49: Proekt 365
A random find in a random place

I’m continually amazed at how meaningful seemingly insignificant moments can bring such pure and simple joy — random finds, random acts and examples of kindness and goodness and chance meetings can make such a huge difference on days which seem mundane. Yesterday, when meeting up with two friends, we sat down at the table to find this tiny little origami scene. A random bit of loveliness on an otherwise dreary day.

So many moments on most days are utterly random and governed not by careful planning but by the intricate and delicate mixture of us and the various pieces in any particular scene. Change one ingredient and the result can be vastly different.

The Cuban and I took a taxi a few days ago and it was without a doubt the best taxi ride ever. Why? Well, the music didn’t hurt (i.e., blues, more specifically, B. B. King) coupled with an amazing sound system the driver was obviously proud of. But, mostly, it was the taxi driver himself. He was chatty from the moment we opened the door and on the entire route home, hilariously witty and obviously enjoying himself as much as we were entertained and amused. The typical taxi ride in Helsinki consists of a whole lot of silence. This ride was anything but that. What made it even more meaningful was just how random it was that we sat in that particular taxi. Best taxi ride ever. We’ll probably never see that guy again, but all other taxi rides will be measured against that one.

Yesterday’s origami find was equally random and no less lovely. As we were searching for a table, we noticed some folks getting ready to leave and waited. Had we not waited or had we arrived either an instant earlier or later, we most probably would have missed the little paper goose, tiny boats and cranes.

Many of the people we meet come into our lives in much the same way. Chance meetings may result in a whole lot of nothing; but, occasionally, they result in life-long bonds which withstand distance and circumstance and time. That The Cuban and I met was somewhat random. So many individual pieces in our lives had to have fallen into place in just the right way, sequence and time to have allowed us to be in Moscow at the right time. Shift any of the pieces and who knows?

Just as the randomness can cause unimaginable chaos, it can also bring boundless delight. I’ll gladly take the chaos just to experience that unexpected delight as much as possible. Bring on the randomness—at the end of the day, it’s a thing to behold and results in one hell of a ride.

US$1 Trillion and Counting…?

It was always a foregone conclusion that I would attend university. But, I must be one of the only people amongst my friends who didn’t graduate from university or graduate school with crippling student loan debt.

Despite an early career as a ‘professional student’, which included an extended period spent ‘finding myself’ and finishing my undergrad (1988-1993, spent at two separate institutes and with enough credit hours to have at least three majors), a Master’s (1994-1997), and just shy of a PhD (1997-1999, with a few extra semesters still on the roster spent in absentia), I didn’t take out a single student loan. Not one.

To be completely transparent, from my third year onward as an undergrad, I worked at least part-time and had help (particularly with tuition fees) from scholarships and/or my family throughout. My entire graduate education tuition was provided for through assistantships and fellowships, and I was paid as a teaching or research assistant (at times very handsomely). I worked hard; and I played hard. But, I had no debt of any kind at the end of it all. Even the credit card debt I’d wracked up when times were leaner were paid off by the time I left the halls of the academy for ‘the real world’.

I am a rarity in the US evidently.

A few weeks ago, I stumbled across graph from a study carried out by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (FRBNY), which included current college loan debt by age range and was astounded to see that a healthy percentagee of those in their 60s still had outstanding balances from their college days. A healthy 5.3%, in fact. That amounts to nearly 2 million individuals in their 60s! Think about that. You’d expect that an individual would graduate university sometime in their early to mid-20s. Then, get a job straight away, work for 30+ years, and then they still have student loan debt? How is that possible?

I well remember peers of mine in graduate school tabulating how much their education had cost. One such peer had a PhD from NYU, one of the leading schools in his particular field. Because teaching jobs at the time were few and far between, he could only get an adjunct teaching position, which meant he was paid about the same as I was as a first-year PhD candidate on a fellowship and assistantship. His student loan payments were double his rent and car payment combined, and he lived in a shit hole. Another friend who had completed his Master’s and was a brilliant archaeologist and historic preservationist had something like US$70 000 in student loan debt upon graduation. Finding jobs for them was more about survival than what they were necessarily trained to do or enjoyed doing.

According to the same study carried out by the FRBNY, student loan debt in the US now tops both outstanding automobile loans and credit card debt, and has been estimated at US$1 trillion. That’s staggering. Granted, that balance isn’t shouldered by one individual nor even one generation as the graph above shows. But, still. With roughly 37 million individuals (or 15.4% of those who have debt of any kind) collectively carrying that debt, that’s a heavy burden to bear.

From my relatively privileged position of not being saddled with crippling student loan debt, it’s easy for me to say that I fully support an education system which is free to all. Recent graduates have plenty enough to worry about—securing a job in their chosen profession, developing their careers, etc. For those who happen to marry and/or have children at the same time, which is perfectly within their rights, why add the burden of student loan debt to that list of concerns? Furthermore, shouldn’t we as a society want to see our citizenry well educated and trained, equipping them as much as possible with the tools they need to succeed in their professions?

If knowledge is power, why do we make it so difficult to gain a body knowledge? If it’s inherently better to teach a man to fish, why charge him with interest to learn to do so?