Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Theory of Everything That Matters

I tend to wonder about the people who claim to "love" science. Do they actually mean that they enjoy the fruits of other people's study of science, or are they active thinkers in facts, theories, experimentation and logic? Sometimes I feel that some are simply trying to politically aggravate the people who have an active faith in God. In any case, science is truly an abundantly useful and necessary human creation. However, the explanation of "everything" in a single elegant mathematical equation is certainly ambitious, yet perhaps foolhardy. I claim this not only as a Christian or a social scientist, but as a humble singular note in a symphony of millenia. Indeed, my Theory of Everything That Matters will serve us even better than the best explanation of the story of all existence based upon a stated starting point in the infinity of time - not as a repudiation of science or facts, but as a complement to what we already think we know as well as an alteration of perspective.

There are many certainties (pardon my audacity, Ben Franklin) in life. This is not to say that they are infinitely durable or constant, but for the period of time in which I am interested (now until the foreseeable future), consider the following as truths:

There is light, and there is dark. There is and always will be right now as well as the past. Actions are caused by other actions, and certain conclusions necessarily follow. Circumstances will occur that do not seem fair. As long as humans walk the earth there will be conflict, love, and conscience. We all are born, and we all will pass. Our planet is merely a small piece of creation, yet somehow our decisions matter and can affect the universe outside of ourselves. Balance is the result of more than one force interacting with each or one another. Change will always occur due to variables in the equation, yet many of these variables can be predicted to some degree of accuracy. Evil exists. Life has a profound tendency to persevere as well as destroy.

The phenomenon of everything is rather broad and reaches beyond what any human could possibly understand. Everything that matters is only relevant as long as there are thinking rational beings to whom such affects. For instance, some catastrophe could destroy all life on Earth tomorrow, leaving no one left to care if my theory is actually correct. Absent said catastrophe, it is fair to say that everything that matters is the aggregate of human choices in their natural world. We ought not conclude necessarily that everything happens for a reason, because that presupposes a very personal attachment to the outcome, when in actuality every event is part of a larger movement toward equilibrium. The enlightened human - whether through travel, study, or affairs of the heart - realizes that the world is so much bigger than oneself. Armstrong, Einstein, King, and Shakespeare all made discoveries that contributed to the enlightenment of the human race, and all were catalysts granting the opportunities for positive movements in the world.

Everything that matters is a direct result of action by variables that have a choice over the constants that can be measured by mathematical analysis. For instance, when a certain amount of rain falls, it loosens the ground which triggers the falling of a boulder via the force of gravity down the given trajectory of a hillside to crush a car traveling at a specific velocity on the road below; this can all be predicted and explained quite methodically. The active choice of another human to risk her life to rescue the driver of the car is a phenomenon that cannot be predicted assuredly. Therefore, everything that matters is born in the human mind and carried out with the human spirit - not as a scientific equation that logically progresses throughout millenia in Xs and Ys born in some "big bang" at the beginning of time. The actual big bang occurs every day in the synapses journeyed in our minds and the profound capacities of our hearts to have some immeasurable impact on the world. Furthermore, the very American (although assuredly not exclusively) belief in a Creator, rather than sheer happenstance or marriage to incontrovertible scientific proof, has an impact on our world - through human choices in morality and purpose - that should not be understated. Indeed, everything that matters lies not in what has been proven or can be predicted with certainty, but rather in the unforeseen actions by capricious and inspired creatures and all that we affect throughout the courses of our given lifetimes.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanks for the Memory - Photographs of Thanksgivings Past

Thanks for the memory... of so many wonderful people, laughter, great food, and all the rest.

Happy Thanksgiving.

My Peruvian Familia's First Thanksgiving
New York Thanksgiving Night in Little Italy

Loubna's First Thanksgiving in Bowie, MD with Chef Phil

Curried Camote Soup at my place in DC

Lone Pine Family in San Bernardino

Cooking in Lima, Peru

Family Dinner in Alexandria

San Bernardino Thanksgiving

Waiting for my guests - Washington, DC

Waiting for dinner in Springfield, VA

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Dearly Departed

As a child, I had the good fortune of taking a ride in a hot air balloon over Northern California with my mom, my uncle, my grandma, and a few strangers. The morning air was crisply cool, although I took comfort in the heat that emanated in bursts from the burners just overhead. Flight was nothing new to me, even at a young age, but hovering a mile above the ground with nothing under my feet but a wicker basket was quite extraordinary. I knew my mom would not have taken me up had she believed this to be dangerous, yet I understood the inherent precariousness of such an Icarian endeavor. Fortunately our pilot did not succumb to hubris that day.

Today is a day that is uniquely special to me. For some time now, the journey toward inevitable departure has weighed thickly on my mind. I have met and known many people in my time so far; some remain close in one way or another, and others vanish. The most influential, in some fashion, maintain a proper perch in our minds, a luminous guide for our steps, and a tugging force on our hearts. If we believe that our human endeavor is a collection of our innumerable experiences and interactions with the world and her temporary inhabitants, then even though we all physically depart from one another, the spirit of who we are together is everlasting.

We each take a balloon ride in our life - seeking the perennial balance of altitude between too low and too high. We share parts of the ride (if we're lucky) with some pretty wonderful passengers. As perplexing a notion as someone dear to us having floated away is, it is essential - and of great consolation - that we approach it with the child-like ambition that we can and should fly, and so should they. Perhaps the best we can do is let them go and pray they get to where they need to be. Who knows? Maybe that destination is where we will meet again.

Friday, October 3, 2014

"See You In Heaven" - In Memory of Gary Porter

I suppose you could say my dad was an eternal optimist. He was a coach to me, my brothers, my friends, and hundreds of other kids over the course of a few decades, and even in the face of insurmountable odds, he would encourage us to keep up the fight. He had the highest of hopes for my brothers and me in life and career - even suggesting I become a doctor or a pharmacist due to my care-taking qualifications this year. He would celebrate our accomplishments, our advancements, and our endeavors. Upon being diagnosed with late-stage inoperable cancer, his automatic response was to fight; even late in his treatment, with no cure in sight, he insisted on us reading books from the library on how to overcome, and he kept the hope of the day when he could go back to his hikes. Perhaps he was trying to be strong for me - some last lesson in perseverance - but really I think it was his own trademark stubborn persistence. Never give up hope. There are better days ahead.

Coach Porter was a unique individual in that he didn't just coach because his sons were on the team; he would often take on two teams in different age groups in soccer, and went across town to coach baseball in poorer areas and even reported violence having occurred at or near the practice fields. He truly enjoyed coaching kids of all backgrounds and ages. He had a love of sport that was pure, but he was never fanatical; he enjoyed baseball, football, soccer, and basketball, but I rarely (if ever) heard him speak higher of any professional or college team than of the teams we played for growing up. Not only was he a dedicated coach, but he was one of our biggest fans. He was there in the stands when I hit my first home run, and he was at nearly every Cajon soccer match - home and away - when I played. Eventually, I would coach high school soccer, and he would be there rooting for my girls with the same enthusiasm.

My dad's appetite for sports was probably only matched by his appetite for a good meal. That is not to say he was interested in unique cuisines or fine dining; his tastes were fairly simple and his list of favorite restaurants short. I suppose growing up hungry gave him the incentive to enjoy his meals with pride. He loved going out to eat, but his most famous culinary exploit was the Indian burritos that were often the talk of the classroom on Friday mornings at Assumption. Since he had few other hobbies, I made it a point these last eleven months to take him on a culinary journey around the world with our dinners at home. With little protest, I introduced Dad to foods from Italy, Peru, Mexico, Spain, Turkey, Morocco, and Greece. He loved tomatoes, but seemed to think mozzarella caprese was strange. When I could convince him not to go get biscuits and gravy from DJ's, I would make pancakes for breakfast, and we must have had a dozen or so varieties - banana, blueberry, strawberry, sweet potato...

All else aside, the main event of Dad's day for many years was his "hike." He was not so much a runner as an avid walker. He was not big on most things social, but he did enjoy his hikes up toward the university and through the foothills for several miles daily and the people he met along the way. Often he would report people taking the time to slow down and honk at him on Northpark Boulevard to say hello. He was always proud of his fitness and routinely encouraged me to get out there and walk. Supposedly, "walking cures everything." It was a good lesson.

But, who was he? My dad was a fairly private person, but made a few things known. He left the Indian reservation as a young man and was determined to make it on his own. He climbed the ranks of the US Forest Service and bought a home and made a life. He charted his own course and even changed his name. He believed in the power of the individual, yet we are nothing if we do not elevate those around us. He had no tolerance for pettiness, rudeness, disloyalty, or laziness. He was a Catholic who always sat in the back of the church and offered to help. He made his boys his priority. His granddaughters were his treasure.

Yes, Gary "Winter Bird" Porter was a fiercely dedicated father, proud example and motivator, and determined optimist. He received his final holy communion at home just last week. The eucharistic minister was a very nice lady from the church. She bid him farewell, and he answered her in the last distinct message I will remember, "see you in Heaven."

Thank you, Dad. Rest in peace.

Gary H. Porter  
September 27, 1932 - September 30, 2014 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Sister Maura, Mahalo

May love and laughter light your days and warm your heart and home. May good and faithful friends be yours wherever you may roam. May peace and plenty bless your world with joy that long endures. May all life's passing seasons bring the best to you and yours!
- An Old Irish Blessing
In the fall of 1986, I started the sixth grade, not even a month after visiting Hawaii for the fourth time. I mention this only because that is when I became a pupil of Sister Maura Redington, and only now - after decades of service to my church and grade school - she has just been able to go visit these wondrous islands herself. It was a gift from the parish for her retirement, and at long last she has been able to discover this place many call "paradise."

Sr Maura claims her prize from Our Lady of the Assumption Parish

I wonder now how many of us filed into class and bragged about our vacations to each other, and I wonder what she thought. I wonder how many students came and left her over the years and vanished off into our dreams and endeavors of curiosity. Certainly, one should never presume that a woman who followed her calling from God to serve thousands of miles from Ireland in a far-from-glamorous locale such as San Bernardino has regrets from such a sacrifice. It is only my own uneasiness about being prevented from travel for any significant period of time that gives me pause... and I appreciate my teacher even more.

So, in honor of Sister Maura - who flies home today to Ireland to fulfill her own journey - she should know that she helped me and so many others prepare to launch our own adventures into life. She is one of those magnificent people whom we take a little piece of wherever we go and will never be forgotten. How fortunate we all were to have had her as our guide to our own eventual paradise. Mahalo.
Reunited after 25 years - Praying before we ate, of course

Class of 1989 members gathering for photo opp

Monday, August 25, 2014

Books Covered - How Well Do You Really Know the People in Your Life?

We meet quite a few people over the course of our lives. Some you meet at a dinner party and never see again, some you know from working in the same building, and some you have as friends for a lifetime. Whichever is the case, even the people you are closest to - how well do you actually know them? Perhaps we learn mostly what is convenient to know. Perhaps we share only what we believe is necessary to be revealed. Information is being consumed at an unprecedented rate, however, how much tells the true story of one's life?

All people act in their own self-interest. That doesn't mean we are all selfish, but we are all hard-wired for self-preservation and reveal accordingly. There are many things we are conspicuous about, because that is the image of ourselves that we want portrayed. Certain details are kept private and remain that way for a lifetime. However there is much information in between that is periodically granted access to based on trust and circumstance. For instance, I may not mind if the world knows that I am fond of Italian food, yet the details of my Italian travels may be carefully disseminated or protected.

My main point here is not that we all keep secrets, but how well do we actually know the people - friends, lovers, family members - whom we count as closest? What kind of effort do we make? Everyone has something unique going on in their lives; we all have triumphs, and we all have challenges. Each one of us has our own unique path, and many journey alone. What intrigues me in all of this is not how this is really quite obvious, but if the people closest to you were all thought of as books, how well would you know each book? Furthermore, what role do you play in their autobiography?

There are many distractions on this road of life. Sometimes we miss the signs or just ignore them altogether. How many of the following questions would you be able to answer about the people with whom you spend time every day:

1. What is your life's ambition?
2. Who do you miss right now?
3. What is something about you that most people don't realize?
4. How will you like to be remembered?
5. What was your best day?
6. What challenge are you facing right now, and how can I help?
7. What do you think about most outside of work?
8. If you could be anywhere right now, where would that be?
9. What inspires you?
10. What makes you happy?
11. What would be the title of this chapter of your life in your autobiography?
12. Genie appears from the lamp. What are your three wishes?
13. What event would you most like to be a part of?

Perhaps, in delving into the true content of the books on our shelves, our lives will all be a little richer for it. Perhaps we will unlock stories we never could have imagined.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

My Brother, The Hero - Brian Porter, USMC

“Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world. But, the Marines don't have that problem.”

-Ronald Reagan

My brother retires from the Marine Corps today after decades of service. I went to see him graduate from boot camp in 1988, and I have been impressed with Marines ever since. He served in a tank in Iraq and Kuwait and trained in different spots around the world. I asked him his opinion last year about the President having a Marine hold an umbrella for him in the rain for a speech, and he said, "Mark, every Marine is on umbrella detail; every American is protected whether they realize it or not." 

Thank you for your service, and remember - you don't need to wear a patch on your arm to have honor.

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Case for America

There is plenty not to like about our country right now: our government seems hopelessly ineffective, we can't even keep migrant children from sneaking in (never mind any nefarious others who don't turn themselves in to border patrol), our project-nation of Iraq is falling into the hands of a savage caliphate, Russia taunts us without fear of reprisal, we have a two-term president whose primary achievements have been campaigning, blaming, and redefining what it is to say "period" at the end of a declaration, and we still can't manage to get very far in the World Cup. There's more, but I'm getting depressed thinking about it. Nevertheless, I do believe the case for America is strong.

This is not a campaign speech. This is a wake-up call. Since I brought up the World Cup, it is deserving to look at our team, and I am very proud. "Why?", you ask, after winning only one match out of four and exiting in hardly better-than-expected fashion. The US Men's National Team is what we all should be right now. Our country is getting used to the fact that we will not always win. In fact, there are many factors that will try to keep us down. Even our own coach declared that we should not expect to win. Yet, we battle. We stay true. We know who we are, and we do not apologize for it. We believe.

This isn't a sports pep-talk either. America is not special because of victories, although we have had many. America is not unique because of freedom, although it is profoundly necessary. America is not prosperous because we have a perfect economic system, but the ideals remain the best around. America is, always has been, and forever must be a perfect idea in its simplicity. Our country is not a place as much as it is an experiment, a battle, and a compact. It has been said that only we can destroy America from the inside, because what we have is a spirit. Funny thing about spirits is that they are difficult to fully capture, indefinite in their capabilities, impossible to revoke, and often arduous to prove. Our soccer team's chant this tournament was "I believe that we will win." That is exactly the spirit. Our country is great because at our core, we believe - not in politicians, fairy tales, or good luck... but in ourselves. We believe that this grand experiment in liberty and self-rule is what propels our success and indeed makes us indomitable.

What is wrong with our country is that our compact and our culture are broken. We will never all agree on anything, nor should we in many cases. However, we must not be too politically correct to admit to an adherence to a compact and culture. When even the American Spirit becomes negotiable, we have lost our way. When we value the wrong things, we become weak. I fear our America has fallen into mediocrity in many ways, whether through self-indulgence, impropriety, ignorance, divisiveness, or rancor. We fail to be our best, when we should be like those men in red, white, and blue who fearlessly battled for the common goal.

The case for America remains unchanged, even though we may have. The case is strong. While the reality of our prominence seems fragile, the necessity of America endures as indispensable to the world as it ever has. While the prospect of our imperative nature strikes some as impure or unjustly bold, it is still our obligation to believe... and I believe that we will win.

God, bless America.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day

“I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.”
 – Abraham Lincoln’s Letter to Mrs. Lydia Bixby (November 21, 1864)
Vietnam Veterans Memorial - Washington, DC

US Marine Corps War Memorial - Arlington, VA

Korean War Memorial - National Mall - Washington, DC

Memorial Day 2010 - Overlooking Washington, DC from Virginia

Arlington National Cemetery - Arlington, VA

US Air Force Memorial - Arlington, VA

US Navy Memorial - Washington, DC

“…that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” 
– Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address (November 19, 1863)

Monday, April 21, 2014

What Makes a Better Story

If a man has no story, he hasn't lived a life at all.

I have never been a great storyteller; I forget pertinent details, lose track of where I am going, and often build up to not much of a finale. Of course, that doesn't bode well for you finishing this post. Luckily, I have pictures! However, it should be noted that the most important story we tell is with our lives. You should be wary of the person who has many stories to tell while sitting idly. I really don't know how one lives without putting himself out there - to see the world, to get to know its people, to make mistakes, to accomplish, and to be judged.

My most recent trip was from California to Las Vegas for my friend Stefanie's wedding. As it turns out, this country has many roads, and I found myself in Mexico, Texas, Alabama, and Washington, DC before I made it home 16 days later. Among the beauty I witnessed were blue skies, a black starry night, old friends, kind strangers, three of the sweetest nieces a guy could hope for, and fish tacos (always bring your passport!). Just to make it interesting, I made the whole car journey without music. Whaaaaaat? I did it once before on my motorcycle, and it really forces you to think, so I tried it again. Here are just some of what I discovered along the way:
My Friend Gin and Me at Lunch in Alabama

Me and the Bride
Mississippi Field

Arizona Sunset
Cross-Country Train

Fish Tacos in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico

Me and My Friend Christine in Dallas

Mississippi River
Sunset Over Louisiana