A Brief Message from Outer Space

Well, dear friends, I managed to survive another orbit! That’s right – I had a wonderful time celebrating my birthday this past weekend, though reading back over my opening sentence here makes me a little sad: Clearly I am relying upon technicalities and loosely-interpreted definitions to fulfill my childhood wish of becoming an astronaut.

Unfulfilled potential aside – Maybe you, too, feel a mixture of gratitude and melancholy when you reflect upon the passage of another year of your life? Sometimes a year can go by in an unremarkable blur, a year which leaves you searching for words or fumbling through your memories when you’re pressed to recall anything of import which happened to you or – more to the point – which you think anyone else would find interesting.

This past year didn’t feel like one of those to me.

This year’s birthday started at sunrise in Chiang Mai, Thailand, when I woke to the incredibly loud droning of… an all-natural alarm clock. It was the Siamese cicadas, which make an eerie, almost-electrically pulsing wave of sound. I squinted out my bedroom window and saw daybreak filtering through the canopy of lush green trees which surround our rented house. The beauty of morning time in Southeast Asia is considerable; It possesses a kind of raw, soft splendor which can easily make you forget that you haven’t had nearly enough sleep.

I made a strong pot of coffee and took a moment to enjoy the stillness of being in a house where you’re the only one awake. After a little while, I went back upstairs to my desk, coffee cup in-hand, and I pulled from a drawer the sealed birthday card which my mom handed me as I was leaving her house in Phoenix, Arizona several weeks ago.

I opened it and inside, written in her familiar whorling script, was this:

“Just as material things are made of dust, so too are our perceptions and thoughts mere dust. Just as it takes only a moment to wipe the dust from the surface of a mirror, so it takes only a moment to become enlightened; the moment all defiled intentions are cleared from our consciousness, we will see ourselves in the mirror of perfect truth.” ~ Master Hsing Yun.

Seeing your mother’s handwriting on a birthday card is reassuring, isn’t it? It collapses the distance between where you started from in this life and wherever you are now. Though I have to admit – I wasn’t quite awake enough to process the esoteric quote from a well-known Buddhist monk.1

Something about the monk’s words resonated with me, though, and my thoughts returned to them as the day went on. I should tell you that among my mom’s many wonderful qualities is an almost unfailing instinct for finding just the right words for a person at the moment when they need them.2  Her card gave me the idea that it would probably be worth taking a moment to wipe away the dust of a year’s worth of perceptions and intentions (defiled or otherwise) and write down some of what I see.


So here goes: I am so thankful that you are all here. Month after month, I get kind messages from so many of you – in the comments here, on Twitter, etc. Every time I look at my visitor statistics, I’m kind of stunned to see how many people from all over the world come to Veritrope each day and, frankly, it’s amazing to me that I get to do what I do. Between publishing this site and working as a freelance writer and technologist-for-hire, I’ve managed to set up a life where people can give me money for sharing my thoughts and for letting me help them do good work. When it’s going well, there’s no finer feeling – and when it’s not, well… there’s still a lot to be grateful for.

Something else which I never want to take for granted: My health. Everything we do depends upon a body and mind which is functioning normally, more or less. If you’ve ever watched friends or family contending with a serious illness, you understand that the value of your good health cannot be overstated. To me, it’s sort of bonkers when I realize that my appreciation for something so important is too often left unarticulated.

And maybe I’m not alone in that recollections of the year gone by tend to linger on happy moments spent sitting around tables and sharing food, drink, and laughter with some very fine people. This year, I’ve met an abundance of inspiring and truly fun human beings and, at the same time, felt an even deeper appreciation for the friends whom I’ve known for years. Family, too. If you believe that good people are the real wealth of this world, I hope your portfolio did as well as mine did this year.

If you follow on Twitter or Instagram, you probably know that I’ve also seen a lot more of the world in the last year. Travel helps me understand the world better… and myself better, too. On the days when I feel uninspired, I look back through my Instagram feed as a sort of visual gratitude journal and a reminder of all the beautiful things that have passed in front of my eyes. It works. The more places that I go, the less strange and more wonderful the Planet Earth feels to me. I hope that it has helped me to better appreciate the things I have – and to want fewer of the things that I don’t have.

This is real life, though – so you know it wasn’t all gratitude journals, puppies, and unicorns. I felt some incredible disappointments this year. Despite my best intentions, I continued to make so many of the same dumb mistakes that I’ve always made… along with some new, dumb mistakes (I’d like to think I’m at least a little bit of an innovator). I’ve experienced the heartache and embarrassment that comes when you realize that you’ve given too much of your time to the wrong things and too much help to the wrong people. Fact is that, over this past year, I’ve had to force myself to take so many deep breaths while muttering “And so it goes…” that I may have inadvertently created a new spiritual practice based on the writings of Kurt Vonnegut.

Which wouldn’t be a half-bad idea, come to think of it.

And in these 365 days of ups and downs, I feel so fortunate to have shared them with my wife. On my birthday, Lauren – who I know was kind of sore at me from a disagreement we had the day before – still took the time to write each letter of “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” on its own sheet of paper and arrange them into a semi-circular sign at the bottom of the stairs to surprise me – something she’s done for 10 years in one way or another (Bad for the environment, but good for my heart). Then she made me a hot breakfast with crispy bacon – just as I like it (Bad for my heart, but good for my soul).

She also bought me a birthday card with an astronaut on it because she knows who I’ve always wanted to be and she knows who I am. And, incredibly, she loves both of those people. Even when she’s mad at one or both of those people.

I’m so lucky.

So when I clear away the dust, I’m left with this idea: Though sometimes it feels like we’re all alone in our own orbits, we’re not. We don’t have to be, anyhow. It’s a great privilege to be known by the people in your life and, just maybe, even a little bit of a responsibility to show yourself to them as clearly as you can.

It’s scary, sometimes… but not blasting-into-deep-space-on-a-rocket-all-alone scary. Know what I mean?

  1. Also, I first had to Google his name to learn that he was a well-known Buddhist monk. []
  2. She also has a super-natural instinct for locating the one empty spot in a crowded parking lot. It’s uncanny. []

2 Responses to “A Brief Message from Outer Space”

  1. Rachel June 11, 2014 at 8:37 am #

    Love this Justin.

  2. MB June 11, 2014 at 1:44 pm #

    Know you are loved in your outer limits orbit as well as those closer to home. Keep on writing.