There was a parlor game going around where someone else picks seven things for you to write about and you do -- short or long, meaningful or random.
Justin gave me: Faith. Family. Communication. Study. Music. Language. Service.
Faith: Faith is a combination of commitment, fidelity, and trust. It does not come easily to me; it has to be earned. Which poses a problem: how can I have faith in God, when I can hardly make demands of God? What could God do to earn my faith? This is something of a conundrum, and perhaps the answer is that I don't so much have faith in God as have entered a partnership with him. And perhaps this is why the Catholic view of God I was raised with never resonated but the Jewish view makes perfect sense: we have a contract with God, with obligations on both sides, and however hard it is to explain, I do have faith that keeping this contract will produce -- and has already produced -- positive outcomes.
Family: My parents will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary this summer. Their commitment to each other seems as strong now as what I remember when I was a child. That's fabulous, and I wish more of my friends (and my husband) had the benefit of such strong parental relationships.
On this Father's Day, let me list some of the important values my father
in particular taught to me, not through words by by modeling the right
behaviors. (a) Principles matter, and that can mean not taking the easy,
expedient path. (b) Education, and in particular learning how to reason,
is critical. (c) Reaching and failing is still better than not trying.
(d) Stand up for yourself, or for others, if you see something that's wrong. (e) You can accurately judge a man by how he treats animals. (f) Power tools are dangerous.
Communication: I communicate pretty well through the written word most of the time. I struggle with the other forms. I am not nearly as articulate and quick-thinking in conversation as I would like to be, and I miss subtle body language. On the other hand, I seem to have developed some sort of perception that can detect when a conversation is going badly (e.g. boring or frustrating someone) when others around me don't seem to, and I don't know what's up with that. But all in all people are hard, and I am most comfortable in environments where people are not afraid to be blunt and don't take offense if people are blunt with them. Fortunately, the software industry is full of such people. :-)
Study: I don't remember who said "when I stop learning, bury me", but that's spot-on. Study is the active pursuit of learning, but more than that, I've come to understand it as a pursuit of its own. I study talmud with one rabbi and midrash with another, both on a regular basis, and for most of what we're studying there is no earthly reason that knowing this material will help me (it's not practical knowledge), yet I love it anyway -- there is a "meta" level to the study that is about how arguments are formed and what factors are important to the rabbis and what implicit or explicit questions they had that needed to be addressed through law or stories. In a way, the same can be said for the historical study I do; knowing thus-and-such about Viking culture, or 15th-century cooking, or Iberian Spain, or military tactics, or any of a number of crafts doesn't really matter in the modern world, but it sure is neat.
Music: I enjoy singing, but spent a long time thinking I wasn't any good at it. (Public-school choir and its crappy alto lines of doom, I'm looking at you.) One of the things that's great about the SCA is that it provides a venue to try things you might not (yet) be any good at, so when a local choir formed I joined and learned some of the things I'd been doing wrong, like that there was something other than chest voice. (Getting some voice lessons also helped.) On the instrumental side, after several years of childhood piano lessons (I think I also wasn't very good at that, in retrospect), I didn't do anything until college or just after, when I started listening to folk music involving non-guitar instruments. I started with mountain dulcimer and then moved to hammer dulcimer, which seemed very natural and comfortable and didn't care how I breathed or whether I could fret chords. For all that the layout looks funky, it's a linear instrument, like the piano that was my introduction to playing instruments. Aside from the challenge of tuning a bazillion strings (and perhaps hearing them go out of tune in the span of one concert in a bad environment), it's a very nice instrument.
Language: I was and probably still am a slow learner when it comes to vocabulary. But when it comes to structure, I have strong instincts. This is a blessing and a curse; it does help me to write what I mean, but I will notice a misplaced "only" or a dangling modifier and wonder what the author really meant, and that can be frustrating when I'm just trying to read for enjoyment. It's kind of what I imagine having perfect pitch must be like. On the other hand, this makes me pretty good at reviewing laws and policies, a skill I've deployed in SCA and synagogue contexts. AEthelmearc arguably has me to thank for preventing the law that said all the crown prince and princess have to do is to choose a champion. :-) (They meant that choosing the champion is solely the decision of...)
Service: Service, to me, is the stuff that has to be done that isn't enough fun to be worth the effort on its own. I realize that lots of fun things are also service, and in the SCA we reward that service and I think that's good, but when I'm doing it, if I'm having fun I don't think of it so much as service. For the not-so-fun service, some people find altruism to be a core motivation. I don't, usually; I take more of my inspiration from the adage "if you want something done right, do it yourself" and the rest from social obligation, recipricosity, and avoiding the tragedy of the commons. Maybe that makes me a bad person or maybe just a realist, but there it is.