Monday, November 23, 2009

The Magnet that is Santa Cruz

Alas, I am in the same time zone as my family. It's been quite a journey since I've last found myself here in the DC area. Yet the stories that seem to fall from my tongue after the usual question "How was Japan?" seem to do it no justice.

As for my time in Santa Cruz, California, it was ideal. The home I stayed in was impeccable. My bathroom alone was bigger than my entire place in Tokyo. Not to mention it was located just 2 blocks from the beach. And if that wasn't enough, only 2 days into my stay, a good friend of mine offered his jeep to me so I could have transpo throughout the duration of my stay. Truly a blessing.

As much as I'd like to say I returned to the area and took the states by storm, it was quite to the contrary. More than anything I relaxed and basked in the familiarity that I'd missed in all those days spent outside the states. Basked in Burritos, Pizza and long drives with loud music. It was just what the doctor ordered.

My plans changed 37 times in the month that I was there, as opportunity after opportunity continued to present themselves. Each of which looked to be just right for the next step. At first it was a month long stay in Jamaica. Then it was a few weeks in the Dominican Republic. But ultimately, I settled on a month in Los Angeles. A move that has the potential to impact my path in a myriad of ways. Both financially and musically. Needless to say, I'm intrigued to see exactly what lies ahead in the days to come.

A few weeks back, I was invited to play (basketball) at an open gym at Santa Cruz High School by a friend of mine. The experience was refreshing, so much so, that I returned again the following week. When that run was completed, the coach thanked us for coming out and informed us that the gym would no longer be open on account of their Varsity Boys season starting.

It took me a moment to size up the feasibility of such a choice, before I approached the coach and extended an offer. Although I've never coached a day in my life, "I'd love to come help out., contribute to the program in any way you see fit." He accepted the offer, and so began the birth of my love affair with the Santa Cruz Varsity Boys Basketball Team.

It's a shame that in the realm of sports, being nice is often times a fault. The kids I've been working with all have hearts of gold. A characteristic that holds little to no value when it comes to competition. And in many instances may prove to be detrimental to the team. Hence, the mission laid before me was to light a fire in a few of the less fire-full. A challenge I gladly accepted.

Lamb or Lion? has been our motto. And it's been absolutely delightful to see the transformation many of the kids have made in only a matter of weeks. Not only in terms of heart, but also skill-wise. Working with them has been a blessing because almost all of them are very coachable kids who are open to criticism and diligent in practice. This entire experience has filled me with a greater sense of purpose and my influence is becoming visible through time. And I say that in no selfish way at all. As the head coach is truly guiding the ship and doing so with a sense of confidence and clarity that amazes me from time to time.

Working with him is an inspiration in itself. Often times I catch myself daydreaming about how much more enjoyable my high school basketball experience would have been had I been lucky enough to have a coach like him.

Needless to say, this opportunity to fulfill yet another life long dream seemed to present itself almost effortlessly. My proclamation prior to this experience was, "I will not move back to Santa Cruz, no matter what!" But it just so happened that a friend of mine decided to return to Africa for a 6 month stretch. This opened up his place for that entire period.

When I stepped back and looked at the grand scheme of things, and attempted to make sense of the opportunities being presented, I wavered a bit, before surrendering to the obvious momentum that was/is guiding me to accompany this squad throughout their season.

That being said, I'll be returning to SC for at least the duration of the season, if not longer. As usual, many possibilities lie ahead. But that's a step that feels just right.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Looking Back on the Transition

I swore up and down I'd do my best to document as much of my transition back here to the States as possible. However, life has it's way of moving...and shaking and I can't say that I've regretted even a moment since I've returned.

Ready for take-off:
So after the nightmare that was my departure from Japan, I settled myself into my ROW of seats quite comfortably. Only minutes into the affair, the stewardess approached, and the two of us had a brief but charming exchange.

It was then that a very warm feeling set in...I'm going HOME. Home as is, the place where people speaka my language. Home, where I can read the signs. Home where spontaneous conversations are not only acceptable, but in some places even encouraged. Immediately a veil of pressure/frustration was lifted.

As a good friend of mine, Colin, pointed out. People like us feed off of interactions and sharing positive experiences with those in our surroundings. This was a dynamic that I could only brush the surface of in Tokyo. Although the overall personality of Japanese people was not as outgoing as Americans, it still boiled down to the language barrier presenting the predominant roadblock.

People ask me what I thought of Japanese people. And I struggle to answer this question. Most notably because I did not learn their language. How can I possible assess the intricacies of one's culture without first grasping their native tongue. Especially in a place like Japan where subtleties abound. So, eventhough I spent close to a year there, I always remained an outsider looking in.

As for the plane ride itself, it was ideal. I watched a movie, then took some time to reflect on the adventure that was Japan. I must say, more than anything, I was extremely sad. There are a good number of places I've ventured to thus far, most of which I've left with a positive feeling. However, in this case, it really felt like goodbye. If not to the country, certainly to a good deal of wonderful people I've come to endear.

The strange thing with traveling is you meet so many good souls. Yet most of us are in transit. As adventurous as it is to look ahead to reunions in other destinations, there is still the very real possibility that we will never meet again. And for some reason, that dynamic was much more present this go round than in trips past.

One element I very purposefully preserved was presence. Or at the very least a lack of looking ahead. Although many seemingly beautiful connections and landscapes awaited me in California, I was careful to cherish the moments I had between the two worlds. What is/was to come in Cali, will have its' time. However, for the time being there were so many powerful experiences and friendships to reflect on and put in proper perspective.

Symbolically, there was quite a force corresponding to my travels. As we departed from Tokyo, the pilot mentioned the possibility of us being delayed on account of a 'typhoon' hitting the bay area. At the time, I'd assumed he used the word simply because there were Japanese passengers aboard. But I soon discovered there was much more to it than that.

As it turned out, there was a typhoon that hit Japan just a few days before my departure. It was reportedly the strongest to hit in over 20 years. It only grazed Tokyo, hitting us with a good amount of rain, and some strong winds but it didn't quite equal the hype. At least in my neighborhood. However, once it was finished with headed East. As in toward California.

When we touched down, the sun was shining and the air felt just as magical as ever in San Francisco. Laced with the chill that defines bay area weather, all seemed to be at peace in my surroundings. That is, until we headed south.

By the time I arrived in Santa Cruz, I was amazed at just how much damage had been done. There were fallen trees on highway 17, and all types of blown over vegetation along the way. It was clear that whatever I'd missed came through with some serious force behind it. And this was confirmed as tales began to abound from one friend to the next whom were welcoming me back.

This only added to the magic of my arrival as person after person said, "Wow, you are so Lucky! It's been raining like crazy here for the last few days."

Lucky indeed. But somehow humbled by the correlation between my departure and this bodacious storm. If only I could have taken this country by storm upon my arrival!!!

But there's still time :)....