Written by Mike
The above picture is a painting by Michael Angelo found on the central ceiling vault of the Sistine Chapel. This image is the second part of the sixth scene known as The Fall of Man and the Expulsion from Paradise. I was introduced to this painting many years ago while watching Star Trek VI (How’s that for culture!), and in the movie Spock displays this image in his quarters and is questioned about it by a young, curious, and rather treasonous Vulcan, as the movie would reveal. Spock’s reasoning for displaying the image was that it is a reminder to him that all things come to an end. At the time, I wasn’t really all that mindful about my own life, and rarely, if ever, thought about the brevity of time. However, with all the great moments in the movie, I curiously found this one scene to be one be one of my favorites, but not because of any swashbuckling space battle, or Oscar-worthy acting. Spock had always been my favorite character, mainly because of his cunning ways and stoic logic, and I thought his interpretation of the painting was so fascinating that it found lodging in the VIP section of my memory. Thus, as the years passed and I began to “think about things” more, this short segment of the movie became evermore present in my daily jumble of mental sorting. Though the dialog in this scene was more about the acceptance of change, and anything regarding cherishing the time you’ve been given was never mentioned, I believe the inference was very clear…or at least that’s my version of it.
I eventually adopted Spock’s methodology as my own, but instead found an image less dramatic and better suited to my life philosophy and artistic leanings. I did not come across this image by endless searching and inquiry but merely by a fortuitous encounter with one of my composition teachers in grad school. During one of our lessons we were talking about the connection and similarities between visual art and music, and being an amazing painter himself (I still have a couple of his paintings in storage back in the U.S.) he had, not surprisingly, great insight on this subject. By the time our lesson ended he had introduced me to the Japanese art form known as Enso.
I won’t go into great detail about this subject since further reading and extensive resources can be easily found on the Internet. For my own endeavors, I found the asymmetry and minimalistic technique of “one or two uninhibited brush strokes to express the moment when the mind is free to create,” to be a pretty cool concept to try and wrap my brain around. Of course being a musician, I’m always fascinated by the Zen of mastery. However, this calligraphy being strongly linked to the Japanese aesthetics known as wabi-sabi, was the most intriguing. Simply put, wabi-sabi is centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection; or a beauty that is imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.
Fast forward to present day where I’ve recently experienced some not-so-gentle reminders of the transitory state of things. Everything from the passing of one of Karrie’s family members; a cancer situation on my side of the family; and the gut-wrenching, final goodbyes I had to say during my last week of school. During this period, I occasionally damned myself for not being more mindful when it really mattered. Typical. It seemed that regardless of the visual reminders and effort to be present as much as my wandering brain could muster, I fell short again. Now that’s not to say I didn’t attain any sense of fulfillment, but I believe it’s pretty common, that when presented with uncompromising limits, you always want just a little more.
Now, I know most of you, at this point may be asking: what in the hell do science fiction movies, ancient Japanese art, and mopey lamentations about fleeting moments in time have to do with Four Friends. One Big Adventure? Well, after almost two years of this big, amazing adventure, our family away from home, Elle and B-Rizz decided it was time to leave Spain and move back to the US.
Damn you, Universe!
For those who don’t know us personally, I think it’s worth giving a very truncated history of the four of us in order to better emphasize what the two of them mean to Karrie and me.
Before the four of us actually knew each other, Elle and Karrie were colleagues working at the same school, and I think I may have quickly met Elle once. Then in the summer of 2014, we all attended the wedding of a mutual friend of ours. This is where B-Rizz and I were introduced, and bonded in typical guy fashion by double-fisting glasses of wine, revealing our love for cats and distain for spiders, (which were in abundance since we were at an outdoor venue). The years leading up to our Spain adventure included many game nights, dinner parties, and numerous little hangouts with just the four of us. Eventually, in 2016, we ended up living in the same apartment complex where our lives became even more intertwined. Gone were the days when meeting up required a 40-minute drive, usually in some sort of crap rain or crazy fog or worrying about who was going to be the DD. Now the commute was a one-minute walk, down the hall to the stairs, sometimes in our pajamas, to whoever’s unit we decided on hanging out at. They became our closest confidants. We talked, debated, laughed, cried (well, maybe just me a little bit, when the four of us watched the Pittsburgh Penguins win the Stanley Cup in 2016), quoted our favorite movies and TV shows, and planned vacations and excursions together. Little did we know at the time that this chapter of our lives would be a microcosm for what was yet to come in the very near future. The rest is history.
While Karrie and I lovingly supported their decision and were happy for them, we also felt a profound loss. The week leading up to their departure was nothing less than a mixture of denial and dread on our end while “last-timing” our favorite activities and pincho places around Logroño. Since their departure from Bilbao was an early morning flight, Karrie and I met them at 3:00 AM, one last time at their flat to say goodbye. We tore the band-aid off quickly, but there were many tears shed to say the least. As with the passing of all life events, great and small, we are now left with the typical mementos: memories.
But these memories are unlike most others and run deeper to my core. It’s not everyday that four friends have the resolve and the stones to successfully weather the insane trial-by-fire of leaving one’s relatively stable and comfy life in their home country and then successfully transitioning to living another. To pull off something of this magnitude requires each one to really gut-check themselves and to put aside all selfish motives and inhibitions for the greater good. You find out a lot about yourself and each other and who, in a fictional scenario, would hide you from the Nazis! We jumped so many hurdles, crossed many iffy bridges at the beginning while weathering the storm of not really knowing a lick of Spanish. Experiences like these either damn a friendship or make it stronger, and I can say with full certainty that the latter is true. We dug in without a thought, picked each other up when the other was down, and accomplished what we thought, at times, to be virtually impossible. We will never capture this moment again.
The future, like the space exploration in Star Trek, is made up of infinite, uncharted avenues. Who knows what the future will bring for the four of us. No matter where we end up living or how out of touch we hopefully DON’T become, there is nothing the scourge of time can do to set this unique chapter of our lives on the shelf of lesser, everyday memories. This experience with the four of us will be a cherished time in my life that I will use as the standard that all others will be gauged by. It will also function as one of the many daily reminders to myself to be more mindful in my own life and, that at any given moment, anything can end.
As of now, Karrie and I don’t have any foreseeable end date for our life in Spain. It could be next year, two years, or perhaps never. Living in this very fleeting and sometimes unstable way is more akin to a game of Tetris, in which you never know what piece is coming next, but when it does you have to quickly get it to fit as efficiently as possible. So if a better opportunity presents itself in the future, whether in the United States or elsewhere, we will try and make it fit our life values.
So with the Quad Abroad essentially disbanding that means the days of this current blog are numbered as well. Karrie and I have every intention to continue to write about our expat experiences on this site for as long as we can while we get our own blog set up. Stay tuned.