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Final Thoughts on Finding Kansas

I finished reading Finding Kansas this weekend.

If you want to learn a bit more about the author, Aaron Likens, you should visit his websites:
Aaron's father warns readers that the essays within Finding Kansas might seem depressing and hopeless. The essays don't promise a better future for Aaron. As Aaron reminds us, real life isn't neatly packaged with closure at the end — and this book is merely a beginning of sorts, anyway.

I'm left feeling miserable about autism spectrum disorders and about my own autistic traits. It is probably because I'm already exhausted and frustrated and reading Finding Kansas while sorting out my own path in life was a bit much to tackle.

Finding Kansas is not a self-help book. It's not a traditional memoir. There's no story arch, and I'm not certain there is forward progress. Being tired, I start to see my own "treadmill" and feel trapped while readings the essays. Thankfully, I can sit with my cats and my wife and remind myself that we have made progress and life, while cyclical, isn't a treadmill. Progress is merely slow and often a challenge, but there is progress in most of our lives if we stop and remember where we have been.

I was frustrated by the book. I wanted Aaron to "snap out of it" and realize he was moving forward. Maybe he did, in the end. I'm not sure. He must have realized something positive, because his websites indicate he has turned his book into self-employment of sorts. He is a speaker, a radio guest, and more. He's moved forward without always realizing his own progress.

Progress isn't easy to see on the bad days. I spent the last two weeks feeling trapped. But, looking back I see what my wife and I have accomplished.

We've moved from California to Minnesota to Pennsylvania. We've moved from an apartment to a small house, to a bigger house, to a really great new home. We've both completed graduate degrees. My wife has an amazing job with a great company, something she wouldn't have found without moving from California. I have found a place I love almost as much as the California's Central Coast — again, something that wouldn't have happened without pursuing other goals.

Life moves ahead. Each step did move us forward, even if we are always afraid and always worried that something "bad" is going to happen. Aaron is paralyzed by this fear that tomorrow will be horrible. Looking back at my own life, tomorrow might be worse for a day or two, but the general trend is towards a better existence.

I'm not sure what I'll be doing in a year or two or three. Unlike Aaron, I'm not paralyzed by that. I imagine the future will be better — it must be better. Whatever it is, it will be something built on where we have been and what we have done. It will be a step forward or upward or something, but it will not be standing still. Even the cycles in life seem to spiral upwards, if you are patient.

Maybe Aaron will find a way to race, or something close enough. He's found a voice in writing that lets him reach large groups. He's done a great deal, even if he struggles to feel good about where he has been or where he might be going.

Aaron will move ahead; not knowing that future scares him a lot. It scares most of us.

A tangent…

Maybe animals are easier to "get" than people.

Aaron writes that the only "love" he knows for certain is that for his pets. Animals are special, and I love our family a lot. They are calming influences, and they make me smile. Even our little anxious Pumpkin means the world to me — I understand him and want him to be content. When I see the cats with my wife, I'm even happier. They love her, especially Pumpkin. I believe that's a tribute to how great my wife is; the two anxious "men" in her life feel safe and secure with her.

But even with our little kids, in that moving ahead there have been the bad days. We've lost great friends, beloved "kids" we will always miss. I think about those painful memories often, much as I'm sure Aaron likely does. Bad memories are hard to ignore. Even a happy moment with one cat might remind me of the loss of another. I have to remind myself our kids have had great lives. Even the short time Simba had with us was special and happy for her.

Moving ahead means loss. We will lose pets and people in life. And yet, other people (and pets) will enter our lives. We learn to better people with each connection formed, nurtured, and lost.

Love is caring enough to do something you wouldn't want to do, something you might even dread, for the sake of another. It often surprises me how much I'll do to help our cats. And sometimes, the worst part, the least selfish act, is to let someone or something go. Aaron realizes this when he loses a cat to kidney failure, something we've experienced.

Now, for Something Completely Different…

The next book on my reading list is Storm Front (The Dresden Files, Book 1). I'm not a fiction reader, normally, but after Finding Kansas I need something as far as possible from serious topics. I was going to turn to Nero Wolfe, but a Dresden novel is a nice homage to the genre. My mind needs a puzzle with a solution.


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