"People look for easy solutions, for the easiest way to the easy; but it is clear that we must trust in what is difficult..."
- Rainer Marie Rilke
The word passion is most often used to describe the elements of life that we become enthused by and excited about. For instance we might say that we are passionate about cycling or running, fashion or home design, music, photography or film, craft beer, wine, the arts or sports, urban gardening or even vegetarianism. Passion tends to come out in regards to the quote unquote "cheap and easy” parts of life. But what if what we were most passionate about were the most costly and difficult of things? What if the criterion for receiving the full measure of our passion was determined by what was worth doing, and doing again, and all over again regardless of the required sacrifice?
A purposeful and passion-filled life looks a lot more like growing a patch of garden over the long haul than it does charging the hill to conquer some great foe. The significance of the human experience lies buried and comes to the surface if and only if and when we roll up our sleeves with grit and determination to unearth it through hard work one groundbreaking shovel load of lived life at a time.
This relationship between passion and sacrifice, ease and difficulty came readily to mind as I sat listening to Koon & Sarah Vega talk about "good and peaceful living.” For there is most definitely a goodness and peace about both the physical environment and relational climate that is found at the corner of NW 16th & Dewey. There you'll find the quaint and well kept, in every sense of the word, single story bungalow of The Vega's.
One of the distinguishing features of their home is the wrap around porch, and one of the elements of that porch that I have come to most appreciate over the years is this lamp that stands between two of their rockers. It's fully functional and symbolic all the same. It declares, this is an extension of our living space. This is where good books are read, sketches sketched, and long conversations had. Rather than a high beam floodlight to ward off would be trespassers you are drawn in by the soft glow and welcomed as friend.
Eight years ago Koon & Sarah left the far northwest corner of the city in search of a home with an office for Koon to work from. After a contract fell through on what they self-described as a "cookie cutter house in Edmond" they made their way downtown to begin to look for commercial real estate for their business instead. What they found en route that day was the eventual place in which they would put down roots and grow both their family and business side by side.
This live / work space would provide a cohesive and integrated way of life they did not yet know they were in pursuit of as opposed to some split and compartmentalized existence they were on the verge of escaping. Gone were the days of frustrating commutes and the isolation that comes from drawing lines of demarcation through the different parts of our lives. Now a mere thirty feet of their own green grass separated office from home, work from family, business from pleasure.
Somehow, in the middle of everything, sandwiched between Midtown and Uptown, at the crossroads of two of our great historic neighborhoods, their house seems to have this tucked away and secluded quality about it. As you step up off the street, onto the curb, across the walk, ascending a short flight of stairs you have traveled a great distance in just a few short steps.
As I previously stated, there is something kept, or might I go as so far as to say curated about this place. Curated, not in some inauthentic, manufactured, put-on, and pretended sort way. But rather in this thoughtful, hand-selected, and genuinely expressive fashion. Curated not in the same way that an antiquated and irrelevant museum exhibit might be, but curated as a vibrant and contemporary installation showcasing the art of living.
Which brings me back to that initial phrase, that Koon uttered aloud as he, Sarah, and I sat talking at their dining room table while their four year old son Attitan, who is really blossoming and coming into his own right now, played nearby, bouncing back and forth between us and his toys on the floor: Good and peaceful living.
I suspect that wasn't the first time nor will it be the last those words make their way off Koon's lips to express and encompass all that he and Sarah are attempting to pursue in life. And I must say there was a real significance, an intentionality, to his choice of words. They carried with them a weightiness, gravitas if you will. I asked him tell me more.
"I grew up in Bangkok, Thailand: a big, beautiful and messy city. In a place like this your childhood is cut short, you're forced to grow up quickly, get street smart or else. It was tougher than you were even really aware. It takes a toll on you. You pay a price. Your skin thickens and you toughen up right along with it."
It is, in light of the above description of big city life that Koon's assertion finds its resonance: "I realize now that I'm living a lot of people's dream."
While Sarah was raised in a much different context, she could relate to Koon's experience. When asked to to describe the defining characteristic of her childhood she immediately shot back with "chaotic". Only her personal version of chaos took place, not amidst the crowds and suffocating city streets, but in the confines of her own home. Daughter to a single mom and hardworking school teacher, survival, as she put it, was their primary aim and only real objective.
For Sarah, it seemed that survival would have to come through escape: "All I wanted to do was travel, experience greatness and newness. There was always an anxiousness to see more."
I couldn't help but take notice of the word anxiousness. Running to and fro only to be confronted by that same old shadow of hers. As the saying goes, "Wherever you go; there you are." This was not the expression of some healthy and youthful sense of adventure. She told me that if she could give her 16-year old self some advice it would be "the fight for freedom isn't worth it." All that the struggle did was tangle and bind her up even more and delay the inevitable liberation that has since clearly occurred.
Who sat before me now was a content and settled woman, wife, and mother who appears to be at complete and utter peace with herself and her surroundings. "That need to search has subsided in the best of ways. Koon and Attitan gave me a sense of importance and rooted me in a place. I can now live fully present in this moment."
And in only the way an adoring and fulfilled mother can, she gushes and says: "His cheek on my cheek, his laugh, watching his cartoons, this is the greatness I'm searching for."
Perhaps this is the greatness we are all in search of.
You get the sense that the harshness of Bangkok for Koon and the chaos of childhood for Sarah has informed and led to the hard fought and won formation of this serene bungalow they now share. But it's really not the juxtaposition of physical environments that is most evident here. It's much quieter, more still. What we are talking about here, in the words of Koon, is "an internal reality mostly."
For Koon and Sarah, a place will only yield and reveal beauty to the degree that there is peace. And they'd be the first to tell you that they, just like the rest of us, have shared plenty of those moments of un-peace. "There have been times along the way when we could have called it quits, but we didn't, and that too is part of building a home." To the Vega's, a home is built not of bricks and mortar, or craftsman style siding in their case, but through happiness and sadness and the shared experience and memory of both. Home is togetherness. No matter what. Come what may.
There is this ancient Hebrew word and tradition that the Jewish community and culture has embodied for generations that, with all due respect, I'd like to introduce: it's called shalom. Shalom is all about completeness, wholeness, and not lacking any good thing.
Author Shauna Niequist describes shalom in this way: "I have glimpses every once in awhile of this achingly beautiful way of living that comes when the plates stop spinning and the masks fall off and the apologies come from the deepest places and so do the prayers, and I am fighting, elbowing to make more of my life that life. I want that spirit or force of happiness that is so much deeper than happy - peace that comes from your toes, that makes you want to live forever… Shalom happens when we do the hardest work, the most secret struggle, the most demanding truth telling. In those moments of ferocity and fight, peace is born. Shalom arrives, and everything is new. And when you've tasted it, smelled it, fought for it, labored it into life, you'll give your soul to get a little more, and it is always worth it."
As I leave the Vega's home, now through a propped open front door for the weather has shifted oh so pleasantly throughout the course of the afternoon, descending that same short flight of stairs, crossing the walk, stepping down off the curb and onto the street, turning to bid them farewell one final time I catch a glimpse of that lamp and all it represents, and those rockers too. Before I even begin that relatively short walk back home, I realize that I will be doing so with refreshed vision and a heightened sense of awareness:
For I was welcomed into a home but ushered even further into matters of the heart; Reminded all over again that changing the world is not a requirement nor prerequisite to a meaningful life, and that when all is said and done, the world is not, in fact, even ours to save, but ours, given to us for just a short while to enjoy; Reintroduced, as if for the first time, to the simple power and wonder of the day to day - that we can get both lost and found in the splendid mundane; Convinced once more that while trusting in the difficult is damn hard it's exceedingly worth it. ⊙
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