When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in Sochi, complain.

Lessons learned from first-world problems

I had every intention, before sitting down tonight, to spend the majority of this post chastising reporters and athletes and anyone else writing or tweeting from Sochi for their snobbery and eagerness to complain about the seemingly countless first-world problems they are experiencing in the host city of the winter Olympics. After all, I have experience from which to speak; plus, the prospect of placing toilet paper in a trash can hardly seems worthy of national news coverage.

I had my high horse fed, saddled and ready to ride, but the universe saw fit to deal me small dose of humility first. You see, writing tonight was to immediately follow Wisconsin’s official state chore – high volume snow removal. Considering the established pattern of this endless winter (massive snowfall followed by polar vortex… lather, rinse, repeat), clearing the driveway after today’s frosty offering was essential before it adhered to the concrete like Play-Doh in shag carpet.

For this heavy responsibility, I have a small snowblower. It’s old. Ancient, really. But tough. And reliable. It’s saved me untold hours and at least as many back aches, and despite its geriatric stature, it started right up tonight like it always does. I set the throttle speed, pausing only to wipe some blowing flakes from my eyes, and engaged the auger. At least, I tried to, but a simple squeeze of the lever caused the apparently fatigued cable that powers it to snap. My heart: sunken. The auger: motionless. My indestructible snowblower: destructed.

I’ll be honest. My first thought was not how lucky I was to have a driveway, or the house to which it leads or the relative health needed to void four inches of drifted snow from the ground. It is a first-world problem, sure. But it’s my first-world problem.

The impromptu workout, however, cleared my head, so by the time I peeled off the sopping layers of snow gear and sweatshirts, I was feeling a little less judgmental of the reports from Sochi. My grumbles about the necessity of self-propelled snow removal technology somewhat diminished my platform for criticism.

And then I read this article from The Wire, and I felt more lighthearted about the subject, even if still a bit intolerant of Americentrism.

I’m grateful for experiences in my life that have taught me that first-world problems really aren’t problems at all. Adapting to life in a country not native to you lends some perspective on the folks with whom we share this little green and blue planet.

When my wife and I were in Ethiopia for the adoption of our son, we stayed in a very nice guest house in the capital city of Addis Ababa. The fact that it had toilets and running water is one of the elements that made it particularly nice. The concept of discarding used toilet paper rather than flushing it is far from unique to Russia. Most people who have booked travel to locations with itineraries lacking the phrase “all-inclusive” can attest to how common that is.

As nice as our accommodations were in Addis, you did not create plumbing problems in a nation with clean water crises by needlessly flushing toilet paper. Similarly, we washed our clothes by rinsing them in the sink in a small amount of cold, soapy water. We wrung them out by hand (until we sported the calluses of a cowboy) and hung them to dry on any available surface.

While it might seem inconvenient to an American guest, it still felt like a luxury in Ethiopia. After all, from the balcony of our accommodations, I could see into the roofless homes of people below who were handling the same tasks in far less pristine conditions.

Experiencing other cultures and living among people whose customs and conventions are different than ours erodes the insulation of entitlement. You can’t truly appreciate the world unless you are capable of embracing the differences that make its residents unique and interesting.

Years after returning from Africa, I am still thankful for washing machines. I understand what it’s like to be without one. In Sochi, the complaints mainly stem from aggravations about the temporary absence of a certain convenience. It would be kind for visitors to keep in mind that they are guests among people who live without these “necessities” every day of their lives.

Now, excuse me while I figure out how much Duck Tape it takes to fix a snowblower cable. That driveway’s not going to shovel itself.


Poetry by Jeremy Podolski

First published in Auscult medical humanities journal, 2013

Your heart is a maze,
an architect’s jest.
An artist’s estimate of nature’s intent
Skewing abstract.

Swollen rivers are diverted. Mixed and mingled. Convoluted.
The toll of fighting the headstrong current
Is measured by wounds of the soul.

Wayward paths double back
to undermine their aim
of fueling life;
this strange design
is evidence of chance.

How elegant the danger. How delicate the flaw.
How well-refined the error that defends you,
as a fox protects a fowl.

Inherent, the anomaly
betrays perfection’s sense.
And grays your lips with shortened breaths—
echoes of mortality.

Yet through the tangled twilight is a means to intervene.
Ignite at once the beacon to deploy its steady beam.
By following we free ourselves from these despotic dreams.
On bridges raised to persevere a lifetime yet to lead,
Detours past a destiny once written in your genes.
An atlas for safe passage
Made possible by means
Other than heaven.
Lifting leaden spirits,
Mending shifting rhythms,
Granting youth a wisdom
Chiefly evident with age.
To chart a course discovering
The start of newborn days.
Your heart is amazing.

Congenital - Poetry by Jeremy Podolski


A poem to honor the journey of adoption

Celebrating National Adoption Month with poetry

I have been a father for six years, a gift first given me by my amazing daughter and made possible through  international adoption. My wife and I are also fortunate to have a remarkable son whose life united with ours three years ago.

November is National Adoption Month, and today, specifically, is National Adoption Day in the United States. Personally, this is a day to reflect upon the journey that led to my family, shaping us from disparate and distant parts into the loving collection of odd and beautiful souls that we are.

Adoption is miraculous, but rooted in trauma. A child’s loss. Parents’ pain. Only through our daily actions can we hope to honor that appropriately. Only through love can we revere the loss. It is a lesson we learned well during our nearly four-year wait to meet our daughter. The years were callous, but joy prevailed.

Our Trinity

By Jeremy Podolski

Among the worlds most never see
Where hope unfurled does little else
But dull a pain disguised to those
Who choose the surface and its peace

We hopped from stone to stone on toes
As rushing water snaked beneath
And slogged through mud that seized our legs
To bid us seek a calm repose

For such surrender we rebuffed
Though time pressed fire to our souls
Which turned to vapor in the heat
But ceded nothing as enough

When standing toe to toe with fear
Or God or Beast, with wait increased
The weight of passion also grew
Like gravity steadfast and clear

What map? What lighthouse shone our way?
The miles in our mind were matched
By those on breezes or concrete
The sum of these turned night to day

What wounds do we believe reverse
When choirs in their hymns converse?

A foolish question, to be true
When what was empty overflows
And daily jolts us from routine
To wonder at what love can do

Embracing each like woven reeds
From two and one we honor three
And plant a tree from distant seeds
Among the worlds most never see

Adoption poetry Our Trinity