How to survive a major storm –and (maybe) find your inner hero
As we hunker down tonight for Kentucky’s Blizzard-Palooza, I am reminded of an even bigger storm I endured over 20 years ago and, as awful as it was, I actually remember in a weirdly endearing way.
I was a newlywed and recent law school grad and had just moved to Tamarac, Florida, to start a new job in Ft Lauderdale. I chose Tamarac because I was able to get a great deal on a condo rental and had rented it sight unseen.
As we drove into Tamarac we noticed it wasn’t the young hip town we had hoped it would be but was a retirement community. The first restaurants we saw were all buffet restaurants and each block was dotted with prosthetic stores. I admitted to Rebecca
I probably should have researched Tamarac better (this was pre-Internet days; there was such a time) but encouraged her to look on the bright side: it was a great deal, we wouldn’t have rowdy neighbors, and hey, it was Florida.
We found our pink pastel retirement condo, unpacked, picked up some toiletries, rented some movies at Blockbuster and got dressed-up and headed out for our first big date night in Florida.
We got home late and as we got ready for bed, Rebecca flipped on the television and yelled for me to come quickly.
“What is it?” I asked.
Rebecca pointed to the TV, “Look! They are warning that a major hurricane is coming tomorrow and saying we should evacuate”
“Nah.” I muttered reassuringly. “It’s Florida. They have hurricanes all the time. We’ll be fine.”
We turned off the TV went to bed and didn’t wake up until noon the next day.
We leisurely headed to grocery to stock our new home but noticed the grocery was busy–crazily busy– and much of the shelves had been cleared.
We bought a few items and headed home to find out more about this hurricane. It was called Hurricane Andrew.
I still wasn’t overly concerned. I’d been through hurricanes before. But Rebecca hadn’t and was getting worried.
I decided to snap into action as the strong protective husband I sensed my wife and our small shih-tzu dog, Julep, were yearning for me to be. Since the grocery stores had limited choices, I went to Miami Subs and bought half dozen sub sandwiches. I proudly
showed Rebecca how I’d outsmarted our bleak circumstances and made sure we wouldn’t be without food.
But instead of being relieved, Rebecca looked more nervous than before and told me she thought we should evacuate like everyone else. She had been watching the news and miles of streaming cars were south Florida in a mass exodus.
“Look,” I implored. “How many times will we get to say we lived through one of the worst storms in modern history —and survived it?” I paused. “Think about it.” I paused again. “This is an historic opportunity.”
It was my way of coping. I was trying to appear brave and considered Mother Nature throwing down the gauntlet to us. The movie Forrest Gump hadn’t been released yet but I was already channeling Lt Dan defiantly trying to take on a vicious storm on a sinking
shrimp boat. Of course, in my version, I wouldn’t be outside on a sinking ship but inside a air-conditioned pink condo eating a gourmet sub sandwich. But it’s the same basic idea.
As I jabbered on, I noticed fearful tears welling up in Rebecca’s eyes.
“What about Julep?” She asked. “What if we all die?”
I felt a lump welling in my throat and despite my brilliant sub sandwich maneuver, I was beginning to second guess the wisdom of my plan to stare down Hurricane Andrew.
We looked again at the TV and now it was eerily quite outside—the chilling calm before the storm.
Reporters were telling us the roads were now clear; that the city had been evacuated and those who stayed behind were hunkering down to brave the storm.
“Get the dog.” I said resignedly. “We’re leaving.”
Rebecca hugged and thanked me, got Julep and a change of clothes, and we hopped in the car and were off.
We had a clear shot —hardly any traffic –all the way to north Florida as we outran Hurricane Andrew. It was a bizarre consolation prize for our (my) foolhardy delay.
We were nearing the Georgia border and now were exhausted and ready to find a hotel room for the night. But tens of thousands of others had the exact same thought and started hours before us. Hotel after hotel told us they were full. About 5am we were
nearing Valdosta, GA and found a La Quinta Inn. There was a single room available someone had reserved but they hadn’t shown and the manager graciously gave it to us. We didn’t dare tell the manager about Julep in case they had a “no pet” policy. I tucked
Julep under my arm and smuggled her by the manager and she thankfully didn’t yelp.
The next day we took it easy and reflected on how grateful we were that we fled and were safe and dry in a nice hotel with electricity. We stayed a second night and the next morning I called UK law school to see if final grades had been posted. I called
from the phone in the hotel room (we didn’t have a cell phone; there was such a time) and gave the administrator my social security number while still on my knees, where I had just prayed fervently for good grades allowing me to graduate.
“Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!” I yelled into a pillow to muffle the sound of my ecstatic scream when I received the merciful news I had graduated from law school.
As an aside, I have always had an affection for LaQuinta Inns ever since.
We decided it was time to head home to survey the damage and face the consequences. We pulled in just before nightfall and to our amazement our condo building hadn’t been hit at all. We even had electricity. We had remarkably been spared.
Other towns nearby, like Kendall and Homestead were nearly decimated. 25,000 homes were destroyed and 100,000 more damaged. Over a million homes were without electricity –many for weeks. 26 people died and property damage totaled over $26 billion. Hurricane
Andrew was the most destructive hurricane in American history.
We went inside and threw away the four extra sub sandwiches, unpacked and turned on the TV just as if nothing had happened since we turned it off two days earlier.
It’s truly amazing how quickly we can return to our petty normalcy even after just being spared major devastation.
A few days later I returned the movies we had rented from Blockbuster and was charged a late fee. I argued that Blockbuster should waive the late fee because the hurricane was an “Act of God” that caused me to flee the city for several days and return
the movies late. I tried explaining in a lawyerly fashion that these clauses were in all contracts and called a force majeure clause. The teenaged clerk looked at me like I was a babbling ass, which I was. But that didn’t stop me.
“Look, I’m a lawyer.” I explained. “Trust me. This is not something you want to fight me on.” I didn’t threaten to sue Blockbuster over the $2 late charge but tried to insinuate that was a distinct possibility.
The clerk told me he’d have to talk to his manager the next day but had to charge me the late fee for now. I shrugged and paid the late fee and strutted out of Blockbuster as dauntingly as I could in a T-shirt.
I probably hadn’t impressed my teen accuser, but told myself I had grown a lot the week of the storm. I was now a law grad and just had my first legal run-in over a movie rental late charge and, despite losing, had made some forceful legal points.
And, of course, I now was a fearless survivor of a major storm.
I got into my car and headed back to my pink pastel condo where I was sure my wife and shih tzu were waiting eagerly for their hero to return home.
Maybe tonight in Kentucky there are some young insecure newly married young men awaiting the avalanche of snow and fearful they won’t know how to handle it. Fear not. This may be the night you find your hero’s voice. Or maybe it won’t be and you’ll end
up like me with only a silly story about how you survived Kentucky’s winter storm in 2016. Either is fine as long as you are lucky enough to come out unscathed.
My advice? Do what they say on the news and don’t get hung up on ideas involving sub sandwiches. And most importantly, realize your wife really knows best and if you trust her instincts, you’ll both be fine — and she’ll still love you and pretend you’re
And, finally, if you decide to pick a fight with a teenage clerk, don’t. Just pay and walk away. Trust me on this. I’m a lawyer, you know.
This year, ironically, it was Fancy Farm itself that was the recipient of some of the most potent barbs from the speaking dais.
The annual Fancy Farm picnic is famous for hosting an annual platform for face-to-face political zingers, barbs and put-downs. It is unique to the nation and perhaps the last living remnant of the historic stump speaking tradition of political campaigns that preceded modern media and the current TV/Internet/Social Media dominance of political campaign messaging.
The old-fashioned way of political campaigning on display at Fancy Farm is, some are now arguing, a useless and corrosive relic that needs to be politely euthanized.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Matt Bevin began his speech by questioning the value of what he characterized as the mean-spirited vacuity of Fancy Farm rhetoric. “We are celebrating our divisions, and we’re doing it in the childish way that frankly does not resolve any of the issues we face.” Bevin then zigged and zagged with several variations of what strove to be a statesman-like speech, including the Pledge of Allegiance, but instead came off as more of a politically tone deaf misfire for what is expected at Fancy Farm.
The insurgent Republican nominee for governor, Matt Bevin, has already defined himself as a successful critic of Kentucky political traditions. Bevin’s first major political pronouncement after winning the Republican primary was that the statue of Jefferson Davis in the state Capitol Rotunda, where it had been on display for over 50 years, needed to go because it was offensive and out of step with modern values. And Bevin’s leadership stock soared as most other Kentucky politicians –from both political parties –quickly agreed and also called for the removal of the Davis statue from the Capitol rotunda. Will Bevin’s declarations against Fancy Farm, the 135 year old political stump speaking picnic, meet with similar success or be viewed as an overreach? That is the question playing out now as the Fancy Farm relevancy discussion intensifies.
After Bevin’s speech some commentators seemed sympathetic to Bevin’s questioning of the modern value of Fancy Farm. They asked, What value is there, really, from candidates running for high political office congregating in deep Western Kentucky for one weekend in August each year to simply throw hard political punches and cutting verbal jabs at their opponents?
Fancy Farm seems to invite and even celebrate the most frivolous of political maneuverings and machinations. Observers cheer and jeer their candidates and political party –often jeering more than cheering. The criticisms being leveled at Fancy Farm are largely high-minded appeals that liken Fancy Farm to a political form of Internet bullying or vicious Twitter insults, which likewise have no role in our public discourse and shouldn’t be tolerated or encouraged.
Certainly, there would be value in better ensuring that the speaking and politicking at Fancy Farm more closely honor the historic practices Fancy Farm seeks to celebrate. It’s hard to disagree that, at times, Fancy Farm rhetoric and activities get derailed into something more akin to a vaudeville act than old-timey political stump speaking. I’m not suggesting a sanitized version of Fancy Farm. That would miss the point. One of the great values of Fancy Farm is that it provides a political forum that is unsanitized, as political commentator Scott Jennings aptly put it.
Citizens and voters today are bone weary of the modern consultant-controlled and remote TV/Internet/Social Media political campaigns. More than bone-weary, they are starving for authenticity and spontaneity. Something extinguished by the modern political campaign machines. Fancy Farm offers a glimpse, even if only a crude and momentary one, to voters seeking genuine human contact and real unscripted interaction with political candidates. The opportunity for that kind of “old fashioned” political interaction is rare and seemingly on the cusp of extinction. Fancy Farm, in it’s own rambunctious, rakish and rube-like ways is trying to fan that flame before it gets extinguished entirely.
At bottom, Fancy Farm may be a brutish attempt at trying to preserve something noble in politics: the genuine human element. An attempt, by the way, that all well-mannered and high-brow efforts to retain have failed to preserve. And, oddly, the raw carnival nature of the way Fancy Farm captures this voter-to-candidate connectedness may be what helps it succeed.
The chief complaint from Fancy Farm critics seems to be that the weekend picnic late each summer brings out the worst in our political instincts by encouraging candidates to say harsh, personally cruel and caricature-ish things about one another that demeans and diminishes our political process and needs to be eliminated rather than celebrated.
Ironically, the harshest barbs hurled against gubernatorial candidate Matt Bevin weren’t originated at Fancy Farm but were quoted directly from television, internet and radio ads (our more modern campaign tools) by Senator Mitch McConnell when Bevin challenged Senator McConnell in the Senate primary last year. And the same can be said for much of the harshest Fancy Farm rhetoric—it is merely a repetition of what has been (or will be) run for months as paid political advertisements on television, radio and the Internet.
Ironically, then, what really makes Fancy Farm appear so crude and cruel isn’t what is actually said or done from the dais. Rather, it is simply because it is being said face-to-face rather than said more palatably by an actor in a soft voice-over for a paid political television advertisement.
Perhaps, what is truly shocking about Fancy Farm is that it reminds us of just how uncivilized, coarse, bizarre and ridiculous our “modern” political campaigning methods have become. And how it is actually these modern political campaign tactics that may be the real relics that are corroding our political process and need to be politely euthanized.
I believe Fancy Farm is a jarring reminder of that fact. But understanding the bigger problem requires looking beyond Fancy Farm and connecting dots that are much bigger and much more worrisome than a little picnic in the recesses of western Kentucky. Eliminating Fancy Farm won’t eliminate coarse political insults from the political process. It will only relieve candidates from ever having to say it to their opponent’s face.
This doesn’t justify the excesses of Fancy Farm but does help put them into a more honest perspective.
We should all work to find ways to provide authentic political events that better provide a vehicle for citizens to interact face-to-face with their political candidates. Any move away from the “modern” political campaigning practices of spending billions of dollars annually (that’s right, billions) for paid political advertisements featuring sanitized viciousness and nonsensical blather should be encouraged.
Crude and unsavory political insults should never be the bread and butter of our modern political discourse, but until we as a society are ready to have a serious discussion about really changing that very serious and chronic malignancy in our body politic, it’s hard to take seriously those focusing in on a once-a-year annual picnic that, at worst, merely caricatures in a fun and festive way –and allows us to laugh at it— the kind of political debate that we as citizens and voters have to endure remotely and pretend to take seriously as “real political campaigning” the rest of the year.
During a recent routine physical, my doctor found some concerning results in my blood work and asked me to come in for some follow up tests which indicated I needed to see a specialist for still further tests to rule out anything serious.
I felt like I would probably be OK but was concerned and that night after I told Rebecca about it asked if we could pray together and she said, “Yes. Of course.”
I felt comforted by my wife joining me in prayer. I believe in the power of prayer and couldn’t imagine anything but good coming from it. Rebecca and I had done this before at the suggestion of a friend who told us praying together can be a great habit for couples if you can not worry about “sounding eloquent” and stay focused on your own praying and not your partner’s.
We knelt down, held hands and I prayed first. I asked God to please help me be free of the health problems that were concerning me and then added some “filler” prayer about other people and things so it wouldn’t seem to Rebecca (or God) like I was being overly self-centered and praying only for myself.
Then it was Rebecca’s turn. She asked God to please give her a “fuller heart” and then something else I couldn’t quite make out. I asked her to repeat it. I figured if I couldn’t hear it, God may not have been able to either. Rebecca again prayed for God give her a fuller heart and then followed with a more detailed way of saying what she had already said. Frankly, I didn’t feel the second part of her prayer added much at all. But I was trying to focus on my praying and not Rebecca’s.
We both said “Amen” and then stood up and hugged. As hard as I tried not to think about Rebecca’s prayer, I couldn’t help notice she never asked God for me to be free of any health problems. I figured it was just an oversight on her part. I couldn’t imagine Rebecca purposely not praying for my health because she felt like she would give up an important chit with God that she was saving for something more important. So, I just let it go.
The next morning Rebecca and I got coffee and saw a good friend from church who had gone through some serious health challenges a few years ago and now was doing well. I shared with him my recent health concerns and he kindly assured me, “John, I’ll be praying for you to get a good medical report.” I made sure Rebecca was listening and responded, “Thank you. I’ll be doing the exact same thing myself!” I paused and looked over at Rebecca to see if she had anything to add. But she didn’t. Rebecca just smiled and hugged our friend goodbye and wished him a happy Derby weekend.
This was Rebecca’s second prayer snub for me in 24 hours and was obviously much harder for me to dismiss as just an oversight on her part. I didn’t say anything but was definitely bothered by it.
That night Rebecca and I were at dinner and she asked how I was doing. I told her I was a little anxious about the follow up blood tests being done the next day and hoped everything was OK. I tried to resist saying anything more but couldn’t resist. “Do you remember when we prayed last night?”
“Sure.” Rebecca answered lovingly.
“Well, I kinda noticed when we were praying that you didn’t pray for me for my tests to come back clear.”
“What? Yes, I did!” Rebecca shot back defensively.
“No. You really didn’t. Because I was listening closely for it and it just didn’t happen..” I paused to let it sink in and added, “At first, I thought it was an oversight. But when you had a second chance to pray for me this morning at coffee and didn’t take it, it bothered me.”
Rebecca explained, “The reason I didn’t ask God for you tests to be clear is because I have been taught only to pray for ‘God’s will to be done’ instead of asking for specific things that I want Him to do for me.”
“What?” I responded incredulously. “You’re saying you didn’t pray for my health because of some new prayer orthodoxy you just learned?”
“Yes. I’m serious. ” Rebecca defended herself.
I sighed and shook my head. “I’m sorry. I just don’t think I can buy that. If you were praying for our children —or even our dogs for that matter —- I suspect you would ask God to ‘please help them be in good health (or whatever you wee wanting for them) and then maybe after that add ‘If it be Thy will.’ But I can’t see you just praying, ‘Thy will be done’ without offering God other suggestions if it involved our kids or our dogs.”
Rebecca looked both perplexed and exasperated.
I continued, “Look, I’m not mad. I can’t tell you how you should pray. That’s between you and God. All I know is that if you were the one having medical tests tomorrow, I would ask God for your tests to be clear”
“OK. OK. OK! “ Rebecca interrupted, “I’ll be sure to ask God for your tests to be clear the next time we pray.”
“Don’t do that.” I said defensively. “I’m not even sure I want you now.”
“What?” Rebecca blurted in confusion.
“I sure don’t want you to pray for my health if it’s just to make me feel better. I want you to really mean it.”
“Of course, I’ll mean it,” Rebecca said . “I’m just not very eloquent at praying and wasn’t thinking. I want nothing more than for you to be well. I just forgot to say it.”
“Really?” I asked. “Do you mean that?” Rebecca assured me she did and I began to feel better about things and changed our conversation to a lighter topic.
Later that night before bed, Rebecca and I knelt down again and held hands in prayer. Rebecca went first this time and asked God for a “Fuller and more loving heart” but this time added, “And please help with John’s health”
I have to admit I was a little disappointed. “Please help with John’s health?” seemed weak and vague to me –and unlikely to have much of an impact at all. But I didn’t say anything. I was just glad Rebecca was trying. I bowed my heard and took my turn, I asked God to please help me to get “A clean bill of health with my medical tests” and before I could finish my prayer, Rebecca interrupted and added, “And please God help John to get a clean bill of health with his upcoming medical tests.”
Rebecca nailed it that time. Sure, she was just repeating my prayer verbatim, but I felt like Rebecca finally “got it” and was fully on board with doing all she could, prayer-wise, to help me out.
We said, “Amen,” and stood up and I thanked Rebecca.
The next day at the doctor’s office Rebecca and I held hands waiting for my results to come back. It was a long wait. I apologized to her for being so silly about how she prayed for me. I told her I was scared and wanted all the help I could get. She kissed me on the forehead and I said, “Thank you for being hear with me today. As always.”
Rebecca said, “Of course. That’s what I do. I’m always here for you and the kids. That’s my life.”
I smiled and said, “Well, I guess ‘being there for the ones you love,’ is about the most important job a person can have in this world.” Rebecca kissed me again on the forehead and we continued to wait.
Eventually the doctor came in and told us that the new tests didn’t indicate anything that we should be concerned about. It was a huge relief. There would be some follow up tests but I was essentially getting a “clean bill of health.” I hugged Rebecca tightly and thanked her for being such a good and supportive partner.
That night Rebecca and I knelt again to pray. We thanked God for all our blessings —with a special mention for my good test results. There were no special requests this time for either Rebecca or me. I was willing to pray for something for Rebecca if she wanted me to but she said she couldn’t think of anything. I did throw in a special thanks to God for providing me with such a loving an supportive spouse. I felt like it was the least I could do.
Praying together as a couple is a very good thing. But not as simple as it sounds.
I know we aren’t supposed to focus on each other’s prayers, but Rebecca noticed my special thanks to God for her and thanked me afterwards. There was nothing more I had wanted from Rebecca prayer that night.
It felt feally good and I was already looking forward to praying together with Rebecca tomorrow night.
And secretly hoped Rebecca would thank God for giving her such a “loving and supportive husband.” But decided I probably wasn’t going to say anything if she didn’t.
Call it pre-spring fever but every year in March (just before the basketball Madness begins), I break out with a serious case of roundball Walter Mittyism (James Thurber’s meek and mild-mannered fictional character with a daring and vivid fantasy life.)
Growing up in Kentucky means the usual childhood dreams of grown-up greatness inevitably include, at some point, imagined greatness as a basketball player. For the vast majority of us, basketball greatness never goes beyond the dreaming phase. But it’s a dream that continues to linger posthumously.
Kentucky basketball in March is a beautiful thing to behold. I suspect I am not alone in experiencing this annual psychological condition as our state’s college basketball teams emerge to dominate college basketball. The fever always passes but rarely before I experience obvious –and occasionally embarrassing – tell-tale symptoms.
This past Monday night I asked my 20 year old son Johnny to join me at a basketball court where we could play some competitive pick up games and he agreed.
As I strode onto the court, I imagined myself becoming transformed from a 5′ 8 1/2 middle-aged man in ” reasonably good health” (My doctors words) into a 51 year old basketball phenom who was about to dominate a new court playing against some unsuspecting innocent bystanders.
The other players on our pick-up team were impressive. In fact, daunting. They were regulars and probably played in high school and maybe even college. Two of them could dunk with little effort. As I took my warm-up shots from the range where Aaron Harrison strokes his tournament game winning 3-pointer jumpers, I imagined myself dishing a thrilling off-the-glass alley-oop pass to my one of my teammates who finishes with a thunderous dunk. My pass would be, I imagined, part John Wall, part Andrew Harrison and part John Y Brown III. After the dunk my teammate would find me on the floor and point as if to say “Nice pass, my man” and I would casually nod back (but without pointing) as if to say, “Nice dunk.”
My son Johnny was warming up with me but seemed more concerned about how successfully we’d match up with our fellow players on the court. After a few minutes, our pick-up game had begun.
And a few more minutes after that, our pick-up game had ended.
Political philosopher Thomas Hobbes would have described the game for our team as “Cruel, nasty, brutish –and short.” Dick Vitale would have simply said “Blowout, baby!”
Mostly, though, I didn’t care about the humiliating loss. I just wanted to steady myself against the court wall before collapsing or having to lie down on the floor to catch my breath.
One pick-up game, it turns out, was all I could handle last Monday. As we drove home, I said to Johnny in an forced upbeat voice (after having caught my breath), “Well…. I guess we did it. We played.”
“Uh, no Dad. We didn’t do anything.” Johnny responded slightly irritated with me trying to put a happy face on our disappointing performance.
“It was our first pick-up game in a long time. We are just rusty. That’s all.” I offered.
“Sure, Dad. If you say so.” Johnny said as be broke into a self-deprecating grin, “You know, even though I missed both my shots I was secretly hoping our teammates thought to themselves, ‘Hey, that guy may have missed his shot but he does have really nice shooting form. I hope he shoots again soon.’” Johnny laughed louder mocking his feeble fantasy.
“I think they probably did think that!” I offered compassionately. “You do have good form. Even great form. In fact, I was thinking that very thought when you missed your first shot.”
“You’re my dad. I can assure you no one else on our team had that thought” Johnny said shaking his head.
“Well, Johnny, when I shot my air ball I was secretly hoping the other players on our team were thinking ‘Hey, that guy may have just shot an airball but he does have really nice shooting form. He probably just feels nervous right now since it’s his first shot of the game. That happens to all of us including me. I’m not surprised at all he shot an airball. I hope he shoots again soon.”
I paused “Do you think the other players might have thought that after watching my airball shot?”
We both kept laughing at ourselves as we pulled into the driveway and we pledged for the remainder of March we would only play basketball on our backyard goal.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering about that stunning off-the-glass alley-oop pass to a teammate leading to a thunderous dunk? Well, it never happened. But it was a beautiful thing to behold. In my imagination anyway.
But there is a consolation for my annual March Mittyism. Some Kentucky college basketball player will make a comparable stunning play this month and do so on national television as millions of roundball fans watch in awe. And that makes my delusional fantasies just a little less absurd because I, too, am a Kentuckian in March.
A picture of a yellow bird hangs on our bathroom wall. I can’t say I love it but it seems to work. It wasn’t originally intended for our bathroom. I bought it on sale and in a hurry to fill up empty wall space in another room but now it hangs prominently on our bathroom wall instead. It’s part of my life’s daily scenery and will probably stay that way. It’s “good enough” and has grown on me over time and now seems to fit there.
Which made me wonder how many other facets of my daily live are what they are simply because they are “good enough.” Each day we have limited time to make unlimited life decisions –-small, medium and large— and these cumulative daily life decisions add up over time to become the sum total of who we are.
I look at another wall in our bathroom and see two pictures of our family hanging there. The top picture is slightly crooked and probably has been since we put it up nearly 5 years ago when we moved in. But you can barely notice the slant and they are good enough just how they are and will stay there.
I look at our shower curtain and it is pleasant looking and adequate, as shower curtains go. I can’t remember who decided on the shower curtain. But it, too, is good enough and seems here to stay.
On our bathtub rim is the same brand of soap we have used for over 20 years. Buying soap hasn’t been a conscious decision in our lives for two decades. I figure either my mother or my wife’s mother recommended this brand of soap many years ago and it has been a fixture in our home ever since. That brand of soap didn’t have to become a fixture, of course. But it did because, like so many other things in our lives, it is good enough.
As I continue my observational journey I catch my reflection in the bathroom mirror. I stop and see myself and ask if I am who I am because the habits, personal qualities and attitudes I have chosen for myself were chosen because they were “good enough.” And have these habits, personal qualities and attitudes that make me who I am today somehow managed to grow on me over time and now just seem to fit, like the picture of the yellow bird seems to fit on our bathroom wall?
I stare deeper into the mirror looking at myself looking at myself and don’t want to answer that question. The question of whether or not I am an accumulation of life decisions that just seemed “good enough” at the time but were never given adequate thought — decisions made too quickly, too often and in too many areas of my life.
Instead of answering that question I choose to look back at the picture of the yellow bird to distract myself. And decide, for the moment, that I regret not trying harder to pick out a better wall hanging to fill up the empty space on our bathroom wall.
And hope my deflective response to the more poignant question I asked my reflection in the mirror is good enough.
A few weeks ago I was joking with a friend about my shirt sleeves always swallowing my hands unless I rolled them up. He suggested a website called “The Modest Man” which I checked out and it turns out that “Modest man” is really a euphemism for, well, “Miniature man” The website features clothing suggestions for short (or “short-er ” as they put it) men, i.e. men 5 ‘8 and under.
Welll, I was ticked! Offended and hurt. Was he suggesting I was a “short man” who needed special sized clothing? Why not just tell me to shop in the “Little Boys” section?
5 ‘8 and under! What was my friend thinking? After all, I stand a full 5 feet 8 1/2 inches tall! (And if you want to be really precise, I am actually 5 feet and 9/16th inches tall, which rounds-up easily to 5 ‘9.) So, yeah, I’m actually much taller than the 5 ‘8 cut-off for men’s clothing lines for the smaller man.
But as the week wore on I kept going back to the website. When no one could see what I was looking at on my computer. And there were a lot of links to men’s clothing lines for these slighter, more diminutive or “modest men.” Unlike me.
Then I began comparing my reaction — the umbrage I was taking to my friend’s suggestion — to a similar incident last year when a different friend suggested I drop some weight and I defensively reassured myself he was way out of line since the BMI level for “Obesity” starts at 30 and I was checking in with a mere 29.5 BMI. (He turned out to be right. And I took his advice despite my initial denial.)
I kept going back to the website and finally — and very secretly — bought a shirt. Just to see (mostly out of intellectual curiousity) what the shirt would be like. Would it make me feel even shorter? Self -conscious? Ashamed? Like my feet may not touch the ground when I sat in a chair?
Actually, something very different happened. The “modestly” (or “acurately,” as I prefer) tailored shirt made me feel none of the things I feared. I just — for the first time in my life -was wearing a casual shirt with sleeves that didn’t swallow my hands without me rolling them up.
And, frankly, it made me feel pretty good. In fact, it even made me feel about an inch taller, too. Not that I needed it, mind you!
After all, I am already too tall for this kind of specialized clothing. But I’m glad I didn’t let my copping a negative attitude initially keep me from eventually having an open mind –and shirt sleeves that actually fit me.
Even though I am not going to tell anybody, I am probably going to buy another shirt at some point. Maybe a sweater, too.
And may recommend the website to a friend who is 5 ‘8 3/4 –which is even taller than me.
Yesterday morning I found myself at Goodwill looking for a sports jacket to purchase that I had donated last week thinking it was a different — and much older– sports jacket that no longer fit me rather than the new sports jacket I bought as a present for myself over Christmas.
I was even willing to “buy back” my sports jacket –but still was going to be shrewd about it. After all, it was Goodwill and I did make the mistake of donating the wrong sports jacket but I was not willing to pay full price and was going to explain to the manager what happened and ask for a discount under the circumstances. I was even going to point out, if I needed to, that I didn’t take a “Donation Receipt” last week to declare a tax deduction when I donated the wrong sports jacket.
This is called “pre- planning” and “postioning” in negotiation strategy and is always important to do in every kind of negotiation. I figured it would probably be on sale for between $60 and $75 dollars but I had decided beforehand that my starting offer to buy back my sportsjacket would be $20 and the absolute most I was willing to pay for it was $40. In negotiating tactics this is called your “anchor price” for beginning a negotiation and your “walk away price” or your “best and final offer” (or BAFO).
I was really pleased with myself that I was remembering all of these important negotiating strategies from a course titled “Negotiations” that I took over a decade ago while pursuing my MBA. And I was grateful I had such a great professor for that class, Dr Tom Byrd at Bellarmine University.
Unfortunately, Dr Byrd never told us to avoid putting ourselves into really stupid negotiating situations like the one I had gotten myself into. That would have been really helpful to me now–even more helpful than all the great negotiating tactics he taught us. I think I’ll suggest Dr Byrd include this pointer about avoiding dumb negotiating situations for his future classes.
As it turned out Goodwill no longer had my sports jacket. But I would have been ready to negotiate adroitly for it if they had. And apparently someone got a really good deal on a nice new sports jacket before I could buy it back at a discounted price applying what I had learned in my Negotiations MBA class.
But to tell you the truth, I now wish I had taken the course in “Bargain Shopping” instead of that silly negotiations course.
I think we may have a new scapegoat for our economic woes: Slacker Pre K’s.
When I read this headline last week my first thought was, “For what?” What are the challenges our Pre-K’s aren’t ready for that they will be facing in Kindergarten? Finger painting?
Maybe it has been too long since I was in kindergarten and they are now including Algebra and chemistry and a foreign language along with the standard fare I took.
But I talked to my sister who has taught kindergarten in the public schools for over 20 years (and who last year was nominated by our President as one of our nation’s best kindergarten teachers) and she explained to me that although things have changed and much more is expected of kindergarteners these days, they do not take algebra, chemistry or a foreign language.
Maybe I am wrong but it seems like the headline last week should have read “Parents of kindergarteners ‘Not Ready.'” I think it is wonderful –and vitally important –how parents are so involved and concerned these days about their children being “ready” for pre-school, middle school, high school and college but I also think that we as a society have gone overboard.
I recently joked with a young couple who are expecting that I had heard of a new Lamaze class that included instruction tapes played in the background for “In vitro SAT and ACT prep.” They didn’t know whether to laugh or ask how to enroll. And that is unfortunate, in my opinion.
So, no, I am not calling our 4 and 5 year olds as the new national scapegoat we can use to blame for “American decline.” In fact, just the opposite. I think our 4 and 5 year olds, if left to learn and do everything important in life for 4 and 5 year olds to learn and do (like making friends,making up games, listening to and telling stories, running during recess, building a fort in the den, learning basic language and math skills and how to say “please” and “thank you” during “Juice and Cookie” time (and all the other “Everythings We Need to Know in Life” that we learn in kindergartern — then I think our country will be in great hands 30 ot 40 years from now.
And hands, by the way, that will also know how to fingerpaint. Which matters a lot more than grown-ups these days seem to understand.
Footnote: I want to clarify that this post is a riff on what I “assumed” the headline pictured was referring to. The actual story is not about hyper-parening and instead discusses the many real challenges our kindergartners face. I don’t mean to diminish those concerns in any way. I was just using the headline as a vehicle/excuse to commenting on hyper parenting not the actual story.
I hate to admit this but sometimes when I am sitting alone at Panera Bread waiting for someone who is late meeting me for a business meeting, I don’t want to just sit there and look like I don’t have anything important to do –especially when everyone around me is talking to someone or working on their computer.
So while I am waiting for the person I’m meeting with to arrive I open my laptop and post things on Facebook But while posting something trivial on Facebook (like this post) I have a serious and thoughtful –even strained — look on my face so others will assume that whatever I’m doing is just as important as whatever it is that they are doing. And possibly even more important.
I am not a doctor but am impressed with my doctor’s voice mail message and am going to start using part of it for my new voice mail message.
“Hi. This is John Brown. I’m not in right now but if you will please leave your name and number I will get back to you as quickly as possible. If this is a true emergency then hang up and immediately go to the nearest emergency room. Thank you.”