Thursday, July 23, 2015

Destiny in more than one sense of the word


I am firmly ensconced between jobs at the moment, and as such, I've become reliant on video games to help me pass the time.

When I first bought my Xbox One, I heard about the game Destiny, and decided to download it. I waited an interminable amount of time for it to download and install, then picked up the controller and had a go.

I am not a young man. I am traditionally terrible at video games, especially when it's an FPS. The storyline of Destiny seemed awesome though, and I became a Warlock, then pushed through the initial bit, struggling as I always do to line up the sights before squeezing the trigger, then watching enemies dodge the bullets because this isn't real life and you have to pull the trigger like you're beckoning a child who has just punched his brother in the face with his Elmo doll.

I got to a level 2 and quit. There is one mission where you have to run into a dark room full of Thrall, and I get scared super easy, and I sat the controller down and gave it smooth up.

Now that whole introduction was a set up for this story:

Several years back, I was a youth minister for a local church. During my time there, I befriended a couple of young men who were in truth not so much younger than I was at the time. Their names were Tyler and Cody.

One day, I decided to go fishing at the Illinois River, a river close to home known for two things: being ice cold, and holding a nice supply of stocked trout. Because I hate doing anything alone, I called Tyler and Cody to see if they wanted to go. They both said yes.

We geared up and headed out. When we got to the river, we found a nice spot to dump our tackle, then we waded in and proceeded to catch exactly zero trout. Looking back, I don't think we were properly geared, but no matter, the water was refreshing on a hot summer day, and we were laughing and having a great time, so we soldiered on.

We eventually decided that the fishing was no good where we were, and we decided to wade downstream a bit. This was no trouble as the water wasn't more than knee deep, and the current wasn't especially strong.

We wound up walking at least a mile downstream, casting lines as we went, and not catching anything at all. Oh well, the fellowship was sweet, and I was sure there was a sermon in it somewhere, full of spiritual rhetoric and allegory to wow the youth group the next time I spoke to them.

All of the sudden, a puff of ice cold air breezed by us, completely different from the otherwise dry and humid breeze we'd been feeling.

"Did you guys feel that?"

"Yeah, what was it?"

"I have no idea, that's weird though."

And we kept fishing. After two more puffs of cold air passed us by, we noticed something. The water was rising.

What had happened was the dam upstream had been opened, and was spilling water into the river at an alarming rate. But we clueless to that bit of information.

Knowing the water was coming up, we opted to turn back and walk upstream to where we started. Now, the intelligent thing to do would have been to walk to the bank, climb out, and head back. I'm not sure why that idea was never brought up, I don't think I handle pressure very well, and as I was the adult in the situation, I think the other two were looking to me for guidance.

The water became waist deep, then stomach deep, then chest deep. Eventually, it became neck deep for Tyler and I, which meant it was over the head of our dear tiny friend Cody, and Tyler wound up taking Cody on his shoulders, and I, being somewhat portly (very fat) at the time, led the party and allowed Tyler to follow with minimal current resistance.

To this day, I am convince it was the grace of God that got us back. It was a situation that should have been far more serious, but wasn't too bad because we all laughed and joked about how they would find our bodies downstream, and how I was a terrible youth minister for doing this, and how their parents would yell at me.

At one point, we saw a sock floating towards us.

"Hey Cody, isn't that your sock?"

"Yeah, leave it, we've got to get back, all our other stuff was sitting there with it."

And we laughed.

We made it, finally, and were relieved to discover someone had moved all of our things (minus one lone sock) back up the bank and out of the current. We laughed more, then jumped in the truck with a heck of a story and feeling an extreme sense of camaraderie.

Now I've told you that story to tell you this story:

A few weeks ago, Tyler got in touch with me and asked me if I was playing Destiny. I told him no, I had the game, but I hated it and was terrible at it.

"Well, Cody and I play a lot, you should get on there with us sometime."

Always one to sacrifice personal hatred for a chance to hang out with old friends, I logged back on, dusted off my Warlock, and joined them to rank up my character.

Fast forward a few weeks. I am now addicted to Destiny, and my Warlock is a level 33, but I am still awful. If we meet in the Crucible, I will most likely be the one standing in the corner like Jim from The Office, jumping up and down, trying to Blink my way into a space where I will be immediately killed.


So when Cody suggested we try the Level 32 Prison of Elders the other night, I pretty quickly reminded him of how awful I was. Tyler is pretty good, but he's no Cody, and we both asked Cody if he was ready to throw us on his back, much the way Tyler did with him all those years ago. Cody laughed, and loaded up the mission.

We "breezed" through the first four missions, and all of us only died once. I died immediately upon entering each level, and the game kept spawning me away from Tyler and Cody, which is something I want to speak to Bungie about.

Cody kept saying, "Guys, this is nothing. We've got a boss fight at the end, it's terrible."

Tyler and I laughed. "How bad can it be? We're amazing. You're amazing. You'll get us through this Cody."

Then we got to the fifth level.

As the big pink eye spoke our mission then bolted backwards, exposing the corridor to get to Gilrot The Unclean, Tyler and I headed out. Cody stopped us. "Guys, we should really plan this out."

So we listened to Cody, and my mind flashed back to the past, and suddenly we were in the river again, and the threat of death was kept at bay by my refusal to admit how bad it was. I was cracking jokes and not taking it seriously.

Finally we went in...and I realized how serious it was.

I died 30 seconds into the mission, and waited patiently for my teammates to revive me, which took a lot longer than usual because of the Wizards. I have begun to have an irrational hatred of Wizards since I started playing Destiny, which is weird because I love Harry Potter. I guess if I could just yell Avada Kevadra at these Wizards and they died, it'd be way cooler. But no, I'm stuck using a Vestian Dynasty that I fell in love with but that doesn't do solar damage, and I'm blasted so hard that my charred remains are only identifiable by dental records.

Soon, we all were dead.

"Alright guys, see? This isn't a joke. This is way tougher. Let's pop a heavy ammo synth and try again."

"We're sorry, Cody. We'll do better."

So we loaded up...and all died, faster than the last time.

And again.

And again.

We tried eight times, and got increasingly frustrated with each other each time. Tyler and Cody were kind of annoyed that I died each time I entered the mission, and then got sick of me yelling instructions as I lay there, waiting to be revived.

"GUYS THERE IS A KNIGHT COMING SWEET JESUS LOOK OUT CODY IT'S A WIZARD YOU'VE GOT TO MOVE MOVE MOVE, TYLER NO DON'T GO AROUND THAT...TYLER I TOLD YOU..."

"TRAVIS SHUT UP FOR THE LOVE OF GOD."

And somewhere in the fake firefights, the mission became more important than almost dying in a river.

Finally Cody said it.

"This is my last time. I can't take this anymore."

So we went out, for the ninth time, to take on Gilrot.

It didn't look good. I died immediately. But when I got revived, I actually got some shots in with the heavy machine gun. I wound up popping another synth halfway through, but then ran out and had to pepper him with my Hard Light.

Cody wasn't speaking at that point.

Eventually, it occurred to us that Gilrot had less than a quarter of health remaining. We perked up. Cody and Tyler were giving him the business with their Gjallarhorns, and I was pumping round after round into him with my tiny auto rifle.

And all of the sudden we did it.

He fell, vanquished, and none of us really believed it for a while. We had done it. We had won.

And in that moment, I was reliving climbing out of the river. The laughter, the closeness, the joy. We had fought as a team, and we had won as a team. We were victorious.

Life has given us a chance to fight together twice. And Cody tells us there's a Level 35 Prison of Elders that we've got to tackle next.

Video games are not real.

But the friendships they forge are, just like the trials of real life. Some folks would probably tell us that the universe is a random place, and the fact that Tyler, Cody, and I have fought for our lives twice now is a capricious event, something stitched together in the unplanned nature of the world.

But I'll just call it Destiny.

This pic isn't from the mission, but it was too good not to post.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

On being Brian Sloat's boy


It's happened innumerable times over the last fifteen years, and each time I thank God for the opportunity to learn more about my father's legacy.

It happened again last night.

I was standing in Charlie's Chicken, trying to get my family out the door, and an older gentleman looked at me.

Anyone who has ever had something like that said to them can attest to the time warp effect it can have. My mind immediately flooded with memories, all of which I've shared with you on this blog, and I looked the man in the eye and subconsciously stood up a little taller, straightened up, like a soldier in the presence of an officer.

I laughed and said, "Yes sir I am. How did you know him?"

"I worked with him for eight years when he first started at Unarco," he replied.

"And what was your name?" I asked.

"Jeff."

"Well it's nice to meet you Jeff."

He looked the other way for a moment, the way everyone does. I've never figured out why people do that, but it never fails, I can tell the words are coming the second their head turns:

"He was a good man."

We went our separate ways, and I climbed in the car and told Alicia what had just happened.

With my eyes focused on the road to keep anyone from noticing any tears that might be forming, I said the same thing I always do, without fail, the only modification being the amount of years I have to add since he died.

"I hope people are still saying I was a good man fifteen years after I die."

I don't have to be known for great things, although it would be nice. But later in my children's lives I want someone to walk up to them and say, "You must be Travis Sloat's kid. He was a good man."

I know I look exactly like my dad, and I know my children won't look exactly like me. But I want people to know by how they act, how they carry themselves.

I'll be thrilled with that legacy. Just like I'm thrilled to be Brian Sloat's boy.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

You either die a hero...or live long enough to resuscitate another insect


Heroism is not only in the man, but in the occasion. - Calvin Coolidge


I'm pretty much a normal guy.

I like my coffee black, I have a penchant for Mexican food, I'm obese, I love Nic Cage, and I love Jesus.

I never asked to be a hero. Some men have heroism thrust upon them in the heat of the moment, like Nic Cage in Con Air, and some choose heroism at great risk to their lives, also like Nic Cage in Con Air.



I was swimming by myself in our pool the other day, when I noticed something struggling to free itself from the waters. I grabbed my net, ready to absolutely murder a wasp or bumblebee, and swam (floated) over to check it out.

Lo and behold, a lightning bug was on the surface, paddling rapidly with its tiny stick legs and making no progress whatsoever. The struggle was real. My heart twisted with sympathy for the little guy, and I knew I had to act. My time for heroism had come.

Image Credit
I lifted him gently out of the torpid waters and placed him gingerly on the rail of the pool. I'm going to be completely honest with you, it didn't look good. He appeared to be quite waterlogged, and had difficulty standing.

Obviously CPR was out of the question...but was it?

Determined to save my little lightning bug friend, and realizing that even the lightest of chest compressions would produce a messy end, I did the only part of CPR I could manage. I blew on it.

Between you and me, I didn't really regulate that first breath, and I dang near blew the little bugger smooth off the edge of the pool. But he held strong, and his little wings spread out as though to dry them off, and I thought, "This is it, this is my moment," and "One Shining Moment" started playing in my head, and I blew on that little lightning bug (gently) until...

The lightning bug took off! Into the breeze he flew, and I could swear he did a little dip as he did, thanking me for my service. I was intensely moved by the experience, and may have even shed a tear at the thought of being so intimately involved with nature.

The story should end there, but it doesn't.

Two days after resuscitating the lightning bug, I was once again swimming (floating) in the pool when I saw something else struggling in the currents.

Looking closely, I saw it was a butterfly, and it was in real bad shape. Its wings were soggier than the unfinished Raisin Bran that sits in my kids' bowls when they realize they don't like Raisin Bran. Its feeble attempts to free itself from the water induced panic in my nature-loving heart and I immediately lifted it out of the water and sat it on the edge of the pool.

Image Credit
I looked towards the heavens.

"WHY GOD?" I screamed.

And I did the only thing I knew how to do.

I blew on it.

Again, I didn't really regulate the force of that first blow, and this time it was almost a deadly mistake. The butterfly caught the full gale, and flipped off the edge of the pool, but somehow managed to grip the side of the rail and hang on. Mentally chastising myself, I pulled the butterfly back up on the railing and very gently continued my life-giving efforts.

Eventually, the butterfly was dry. He flapped his wings, testing them, and then soared into the heavens (about five feet above the pool) and looked as though he would take off.

But he paused, right above my head, hovering there. What happened next took me completely by surprise.

The butterfly landed on my nose, tickling it, but I didn't sneeze. I knew this was a moment, and I didn't want to sneeze the thing right back into the pool. That just seemed counterintuitive.

I looked into its tiny little butterfly eyes, and I swear it winked at me. Then, gently, it reached out a tiny butterfly leg and brushed my cheek in a gesture I can only assume was a thank you for services rendered.

A single tear rolled down my face. At that moment, I felt more complete than I ever had before. And then the butterfly took flight, free at last, swooping into the wind and into the Great Beyond.

Alright that last part is a lie, but I saved a lightning bug and a butterfly from drowning last week and not a single one of them thanked me, so I'm allowed a little creative license.