Alexander, the Not So Great

If my name had been Alexander, it would have made sense.  The morning at my junior high school hadn’t started out well, what with being sent to Mr. Chapa’s office for running in the hall.  Okay, so it actually started before that, when I missed the bus and my mom got me to school late.  After picking up my books from my locker, I was running to math class, but one of the teachers stopped me and sent me to the Assistant Principal.  “Paul, this is the third time this semester I’ve seen you in here,” he reminded me sternly.  “The next time, you’ll be getting swats.  For now, two afternoons of detention, but I don’t want to see you in here again!”  I assured him he wouldn’t, knowing that he would, and went to math class, only to have Debbie Gordon write on my shirt (in ink!) as she sat behind me.  What a day!  And my name wasn’t even Alexander!

But, like the protagonist of that popular children’s book “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”, it really was to be, well…just that.  After math, I stumbled through a few more classes which I hated.  Nothing bad really happened there, but never fear, that would change.  I headed for the one class I loved – Band.  Our band director, Mr. Olson, remains to this day, one of my favorite teachers.  He just had a knack for making you feel special, complimenting you when you got a difficult passage right, exulting with you when you had practiced for hours to be able to challenge the guy ahead of you in the seating arrangement and bested him.  My guess is that he commiserated with the loser in much the same way, to make him feel better, encouraging him to work harder the next time.  Band was the one place where this young nerd felt at ease and free to express himself.

On this day, that expression of myself was to be a big problem.  As Mr. Olson explained a fingering pattern to the flutes, Randy, who sat next to me in the horn section, and I started poking at each other.  All of the sudden, my horn…really the school’s horn, slipped off of my lap and to the floor with a crash.  The discussion with the flutes ceased instantaneously, all eyes focusing on me, and my face turned beet red.  An angry Mr. Olson (yeah, he could do angry too) snapped out a question which I didn’t understand.  I thought he said, “Did you get it?”, perhaps wondering if I had caught the horn before it was damaged.  I wasn’t sure, but answered timorously, “Yes.”  He grew even angrier, nearly shouting at me as he told me to put the horn away and get one of the beginner’s single horns to play.  I was mortified, but did as I was told, returning to my seat with the inferior instrument, to finish the period.  Afterward, the other guys told me that he had inquired if I dented the horn, which explained his reaction.  I hadn’t, but it made no difference by that time.

I stumbled through the rest of the day, but it wasn’t finished with me yet.  I had only gotten through the terrible, the horrible, and the no good parts so far.  The very bad was yet to come, although in retrospect, it was actually pretty funny.  That day, I couldn’t laugh about it at all.  I was preparing for All Region tryouts, so I had a private lesson scheduled with Mr. Olson after school.  While I waited my turn for a lesson, I went to warm up in the prop room on the stage, which was just behind the band room.  You went out through a door, up a short flight of steps to the stage, and the door to the room was on the right.  I closed the door, sat down, and began to play a scale.  It was a disaster.  The fingerings were all different and the bore of the horn was smaller, so it sounded bad, and I just couldn’t play anything right.  The time approached for me to meet with Mr. Olson, so I got up to leave the room, but found that the door was jammed!  It was completely stuck shut, and…it opened inward.  No amount of jerking the door knob would budge it.  I shouted; I pounded on the door, but there was no one in the gymnasium, and the other door into the band room was a solid slab of wood, so even shouting didn’t carry to anyone there.  Finally, as my panic subsided, I looked around for something, anything to help me; soon finding a long wooden pole lying on the floor.  Like many classroom doors in those days, there were slats in the lower half of the door, and one of them was broken out.  I stuck the pole out the slot, shoving it to the left and down the stairs, banging it again and again on the door to the band room.  Eventually, someone heard the racket and came up, shoving on the door from the outside as I pulled with all my might on the knob.

Free from that prison at last, I headed for my lesson; ten minutes late.  Once again, Mr Olson wasn’t happy.  By this point, he wasn’t even prepared to listen to my explanation, but as we started the lesson, he softened.  As I gamely struggled to play the notes that had come clearly and effortlessly on the good horn, he made a decision.  “If you hadn’t come to this lesson today, Paul, I was going to make you keep this horn all year.  I’m going to give you another chance.  Don’t make me regret it.”  Unlike the promise to the assistant principal earlier in the day, the promise I made to him was one I knew I could keep.  I’ve never asked him, but I don’t think he ever had a reason to be sorry.

Terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days happen.  Sometimes, when they come, I want to go home and wait for tomorrow from the safety of my bedroom.  I’m fairly certain that won’t work.  To get to tomorrow, hopefully a better day, you have to go through today.  The events which are put in our way are there for a purpose, sometimes to help us grow, perhaps to be an example to someone else who is watching.  How we deal with them speaks volumes about our character and our resolve to be who we say we are.

It is, however, a very good thing that those days don’t come every day.  And, when they do come, it helps to know that the bell is going to ring at the end of the school day.  Light at the end of the tunnel brings new hope…unless, of course, it turns out to be an oncoming train…

“To the victor belong the spoils.”
(William L. Marcy~New York Senator & Governor~1786-1857)

“‘I daren’t come and drink,’ said Jill. ‘Then you will die of thirst,’ said the Lion.  ‘Oh dear!’ said Jill, coming another step nearer. ‘I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.’‘There is no other stream,’ said the Lion.”
(C.S. Lewis~from The Silver Chair in The Chronicles of Narnia)

Keep your hands to yourself!

How well I remember the conversations from the back seat:  “He’s touching me!”  “You did it first.”  “Did not!”  “Did too!”  “Did not!”  “Did too!”  Another voice, this time from the front seat, injects itself into the back and forth of the argument.  “Both of you, get back on your side of the car and keep your hands to yourself!”   Immediately, all is quiet, until a few moments later when you hear a plaintive voice from the back seat again, “He’s looking at me!”

Any of you who grew up with brothers or sisters close to your age remember those days.  Someone was always getting into your private space; someone was always making you uncomfortable and breaking up the relative peacefulness of your life.  There was no telling when one or another of the siblings was going to push the boundaries, either real or imaginary, just to see if they could add a little piece to their territory, especially if they could tear it from your grasp.  I’m just amazed that we all grew up without hating each other, in fact, actually loving and respecting each other.  But adulthood also brings with it a different, and just as confusing, set of problems.  The thing is, they have a striking similarity to those of childhood…

One evening, close to 20 years ago, I got a call from an elderly friend, a widowed lady, whose middle-aged son was visiting for awhile.  His marriage was in trouble and he had left home for a little thinking time.    His mom asked me if I would “counsel” him.  I’m not sure why she picked me, but she must have been under the mistaken impression that I had some store of wisdom that could help his marriage.  I agreed to spend some time with him, but it would be so he could have someone to talk with, not as a marriage counselor.  In getting acquainted with him, he mentioned that he would like it if we could talk some about the Bible.  I knew a bit more about that subject than marriage counseling, so I agreed that we would do a Bible study and suggested that when we got together the next time, he should bring a passage that he had a question about.

As we sat down at the table, he hit me with it immediately.  Ephesians 5:22 was the verse.  In it, the writer says, “Wives be submissive to your husbands…”  No sooner had I read it out loud than he burst out,  “That’s my problem!  She won’t submit and let me be the head of our home!  That’s why we can’t get along! How can I make her do that?”  Well, that stumped me for a few seconds.  The obvious answer was that he couldn’t!  That’s why he was here in Arkansas and she was in California!  But, that’s not what he needed to hear.  So of course, the next thing I told him was, “Get back on your side of the car and keep your hands to yourself!”

Okay, what I really did was to ask him a question.  “Does that statement give instructions to someone specific?”  “Well, yes,” came the reluctant answer.  “It tells wives how to act.”  “Well, unless you’re a wife, it’s obviously of no interest to you.  Move on.”  So down we went to the verses below that.”  He read verse 25:  “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church.  He even died for it…”  He looked at me as if I had punched him.  It wasn’t necessary to ask if he got the point.  It was pretty clear that he did! 

It seems that most things are like those letters I get with the directive printed on them, “To be opened by addressee only, under penalty of law.”  When the instructions are targeted at me, I should do my best to follow them, otherwise, I need to leave them alone.   I really can’t make anybody else live the way they’re supposed to, so it’s unproductive to try.  That’s not my job! And, it does more damage to relationships than any benefit that I’ll ever achieve.  I’ve also finally begun to realize that if I follow the instructions I’m given, somehow it becomes a whole lot easier for the people I’m with to do their own part, but as far as obedience goes, I’m only responsible for me. 

“Get back on your side of the car, and keep your hands to yourself!”  Turns out, Dad’s instruction for feuding siblings was also great advice for most relationships.  If we take care of ourselves, we won’t be getting  into spaces that aren’t ours.  I’m still not sure he ever figured out how to take care of the “He’s looking at me” problem.

“Child…I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own.”
(Aslan, in “The Horse & His Boy” by C.S. Lewis)

(common anagram used in text-messaging for “Mind your own business”)

Dinner is Served!

A gentle nudge is sometimes all it takes.  Other times, more drastic measures have to be resorted to, but we eventually get to the car to head home.  I can’t help it.  I’m a last minute conversation guy.  We’ve been at the church since before 9:00 AM, but now it’s noon and there are still people to talk with.  I’ll never understand the folks who dash out the door immediately after the last “Amen”.  I understand that not everybody is put together like I am (thank goodness!), but these visits with friends are some of the best moments of the week.  We catch up on children and jobs, even exchange a short joke or two, but we love spending time together.  However, the lovely lady is nudging again, so we say our last goodbye and head out.  Oh, one or two more conversations along the sidewalk crop up, but we have to keep moving.

What’s the hurry?  It’s just another Sunday afternoon, after all!  You say that and think you mean it, but you must not understand the meaning of Sunday Dinner.  We don’t eat “lunch” after church.  We have Dinner!  There are important people coming to share our table with us today and we have to get ready.  The list of dishes was made earlier this week before the visit to the grocery store yesterday.  Roast chicken and dressing, mashed potatoes, green beans, and spinach salad are on the menu today, among other things.  The lovely lady was up well before I was this morning, making the dessert and preparing the meat for the oven.  Important events like this take planning  and preparation!

We spend the last hour working feverishly.  I arrange the dining room and set the table, making sure that everything is just so for our VIPs.  She puts together the salad while making gravy, rolls, and the vegetables.  You understand that her role is much more difficult.  I do one thing at a time, while she multi-tasks, stirring this pot, cutting up that salad green, mixing a bowl of ingredients for another dish.  She knows better than to push me.  I’m hard pressed to remember which side of the plate the fork goes on, much less, not to forget the homemade peach jam. But, we get the work done; me, step by lumbering step; her, gracefully and efficiently.

As the last push comes to get dinner on the table, the important guests begin to arrive.  The lovely lady’s mother, accompanied by her brother, comes in first.  Great-Grandma lives at the local rehab/nursing center, but she is sharp as ever, noticing a different piano in the living room right away.  Brother-in-law plays a few chords on it for her and then, I’m back to the kitchen for some more last minute jobs. Then the doorbell rings again and in come the grandchildren, all calling out “Hi Grandma!  Hi Grandpa!”, with varying success in forming the words, but still entirely successful in letting us know they’ve arrived.  They are, not coincidentally, accompanied by our daughter and her husband.  Bringing up the end of the procession is our son, who also lives in town.  His arrival is met with cries of “Steben!” by the kids, who all adore him, although he pretends to be aloof. 

With much ado, and very little organization, the dinner commences.  Arguments about seating arrangements are par for the course, with the coveted position being the one adjacent to the lovely lady.  Those differences settled and drinks having been distributed, we ask the blessing, holding hands around the table.  When I was a child, the blessing was a prolonged affair, taking into account the leaders of the country, our missionaries, the heathen in darkest Africa, and various and sundry incidental requests, but, knowing the attention span of those in attendance, we keep ours confined to thanks for the food, and a quick request for showing love to each other.  Even with the abbreviated blessing, the next to the youngest manages to get a loud “Amen” out before I can finish, much to the amusement of all at the table.

Dinner is a boisterous affair, with conversations going on at all points of the compass, jokes told, and a few severe instructions issued (“Eat your green beans or no dessert!”, “No, you can’t get up.  You haven’t been excused yet!”).  Since Great-Grandma is a little hard of hearing, we have to speak up when addressing her and this doesn’t help the level of the din much.  Still, good food and good conversation are the order of the hour.  Most of this time is spent sharing the events of the week, both trivial and momentous.  We laugh, we cry, and the time speeds past.  After it’s all done, one by one, the groups of visitors head out, goodbyes and last-minute conversations finished as we stand at the door, with Uncle Steben leaving last after we’ve shared a bit of football time in front of the TV.  After some cleanup (not an insignificant task), peace reigns again.

That’s it?  That’s what your great Sunday Dinner was all about?  Your VIPs were just some family members getting together and eating food?   You bet!  When we can, we include other family members and friends from church.  This is a sacred time.  Oh, we don’t spend a lot of our time discussing theology (although that enters into most conversations), but the time spent with family, both old and young, is priceless.  Memories are being made.  Young minds are learning the respect that is due to those advanced in age by seeing it in practice and they are discovering how we interact with other people.  These are occasions that every single one of us will keep in our memories for years to come and treasure for all of our lives.  Some of my best memories from childhood are the times when we got together for meals with grandparents, with cousins and aunts and uncles.  They were more rare in my experience than they have been for my children and grandchildren, but that doesn’t make them any less cherished.

Family traditions don’t always just happen.  Some traditions you have to nourish and labor for.  We make this important, because we need this. Our parents, our children, and grandchildren need it.  Would it be easier to chuck it and go get dinner at KFC or some local restaurant?  You bet, much easier!  But, the time we spend nurturing each other and our memories will one day be the subject of the “remember whens?” and even some “when I was young” conversations for their children and grandchildren.  All the work (and even leaving church earlier than I want) is a small price to pay for the dividends all along the road.

Oh, and after the hub-bub and cacophony of dinner is finished, the lovely lady and I get to settle into the den for some “down time” (nap for me, stitching for her).  It seems that there are other family traditions besides Sunday Dinner that are just about as important.

“After a good dinner, one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.”
(Oscar Wilde~American poet)

Breathe In, Breathe Out!

Growing up wild in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, I learned lessons as a youth (both good and bad) that still inform this soon-to-be senior adult of life’s truths.  When I say “growing up wild”, I don’t want you to infer that I was a carouser or a gang-banger.   I don’t even mean to imply that my parents didn’t have discipline, because they did have that.  We’re told, “Spare the rod and spoil the child,” and let’s just say that I wasn’t spoiled!  However, we did have full run of the neighborhood, and by neighborhood, I mean anyplace within walking, and later on, biking distance.  During summer vacations and after school, we ranged far and wide and discovered all the hiding places, the best locations for dirt clod fights, and climbing trees that were to be found.  We got into a little trouble too, but we’ll leave that subject for another day.

In those days, when the city hadn’t spread out into the local farmland, there was wildlife galore.  Garter and bull snakes were common, and lizards beyond count.  My favorite was a strange-looking creature that in those days of innocence, we called a horny toad.  One day, I’ll rant about how our language has been hijacked by double entendres and gutter-discourse, but suffice it to say, the round, tubby lizard was called that because of the myriad of sharp horns all over its sand-paper rough body and for no other reason.  It’s real name is the Texas Horned Lizard, with some tongue-twister of a scientific title tacked on, but we called it simply a horny toad.  These placid creatures, for all of their ferocious appearance, wanted nothing else but to be left alone.  They had no real defenses; they weren’t lightning fast like those we called racers (Whiptails), nor could they change their body’s skin hue to match the ambient surroundings, like those we labeled chameleons (Green Anoles).  They were doomed to lumber along amongst the grass and rocks and rain-parched earth, eating the big, red ants that lived in abundance on the ground and keeping an eye out for the passing coyote, dog, or snake.

 They did however,  have a couple of defense mechanisms that made them undesirable to predators.  The first one I observed on any number of occasions, since to these little critters, I looked like a predator.  When approached by their enemies, they would first try to flee.  Failing that, since they just weren’t built for speed, they would stop and turn toward the dangerous party, pushing themselves up away from the earth and then, puffing themselves up with air, would expand to a much larger size than they were originally.  I don’t know all the data, but I’m guessing that more than one young bullsnake, when faced with this “giant” lizard, would give up and move to easier prey.  It probably wouldn’t seem appetizing to think about that sliding down one’s gullet.  So, the little so-ugly-it’s-cute varmint goes on its way again, with one less danger to worry about today.  The other defense mechanism?  Well, I never saw it happen, but the books tell us that when the ruse of “Big” horny toad doesn’t convince the attacker, he can actually shoot blood out of the corners of his eyes at them.  The blood has a chemical which is unsavory to its attacker and discourages further confrontation.

I’m thinking that there are multiple examples in the animal kingdom who make themselves bigger to defeat their attackers.  Any number of non-venomous snakes threaten attack by spreading out and raising their heads as if to strike.  The cute little puffer fish, which has the same spiny appearance as the horned lizard, is perhaps the most famous of these pretenders.  He is not in any way equipped for sustained speed and so, is the target of many predator fishes in the ocean.  But not many of them want to swallow that spiny balloon when he’s puffed up in his intimidating pose. 

So, what is the point of this nature lesson, you may ask?  I’ve been thinking about the comparison of these natural responses in animals to our own response to perceived “attacks” on ourselves.  Speaking purely for myself (you are free to draw your own conclusions),  I know that when threatened with exposure of my inadequacies, my immediate reaction is to “make myself bigger” and do my best to impress the would-be attacker with my abilities.  Rather than suffer the exhibition of my true incompetent self, I will build an awe-inspiring facade to head off the embarrassment.   My puffed-up, spiny exterior will often keep the assailant at bay.  The real dilemma of using this sham to protect yourself,  even occasionally, is that in order to sustain the perception, you have to stay “big” more and more frequently, until at last, you’re wearing this false persona anytime you’re around people.

There’s been lots of talk about bullying recently, especially in our news.  I’ve been bullied, as have most of you at one time or another in your lives.  I remember way back, while still in elementary school, one kid was shoving me around on the playground, as he did on a regular basis.  I finally had enough and shoved back, prompting him to challenge me, “I’ll meet you across the street after school!”  This was the well-known code for arranging a fight off school grounds and I wasn’t about to back down (in spite of the fact that I’d never been in a fistfight).  “I’ll be there!”  I snapped and stalked off, hands in pockets to demonstrate my machismo (failing miserably, I’m sure).   Evidently, the horny toad impression worked though, because 10 minutes later, he was back, mumbling, “I just remembered, I have to be someplace after school, so I won’t be there…”  So, no fight (whew), but a lesson learned, only to be used many, many times in my life, and not always for the right motives.  It’s a little discussed fact that many times bullies have been bullied themselves.  They’ve just learned how to make themselves big and they like the power it gives them over others.

I don’t have much advice on how to avoid this behavior, but sometimes, just recognizing what we’re doing that is wrong is the first step to recovery.  Additionally, I do remember reading a great little saying that Chuck Swindoll quoted in one of his books.  The sign was posted in a kid’s clubhouse for their house rules:

Nobody act big.
Nobody act small.
Everybody act medium.

Pretty good advice.  I’ve got one more piece of advice to add to it.


Let another praise you and not you yourself…
(Proverbs 27:2)

Something’s rotten in the den, Mark!

I’m fascinated by odors.  Wow!  Is that a strange thing to admit or what?  I hope you won’t get the wrong idea and think that I go around sniffing the air all the time.  I do have some odd habits, but the Gollum act is not included in the panoply of weird symptoms you will observe in me.  It’s just that I seem to notice aromas even more now than I used to.  Perhaps it’s because odors have such an evocative effect on the brain.

I smell bacon and eggs, and I’m back in the breakfast nook at Grandma’s, waiting for an early morning meal after a Friday night spent at her house.  I catch a whiff of Pine Sol and I can still see the bathrooms at Crockett Elementary School where long ago, I spent 6 long years (in the school, not the bathrooms).  I know, that number of years just speeds by for us as adults, but honestly, don’t you remember waiting for the final bell at 3:30 every day?  The last five minutes were as interminable as any hour that came before in the day.

One of the most vivid odors I smell on a regular basis is that of burning bone.  I frequently have to cut bone pieces for guitar parts, such as bridge saddles and fingerboard nuts.  As the Dremel cutting wheel spins along the surface, the odor emanates in billows from the material, filling the atmosphere in the music store.  Along with it’s completely obnoxious stench, which is suffocating in its nature, I have to suffer with the image of sitting in the dentist’s chair while he drills in preparation for a filling.  You folks who’ve had cavities, you know what I’m talking about.  It’s all peppermint and flavored rinses until, BOOM!, that stench fills your mouth, throat, and nasal passages and you start to think that maybe a pureed diet wouldn’t be so bad after all.  My better half has requested that the bone cutting take place after business hours, when I’m working by myself.  Unfortunately, in my situation, although “misery loves company”, apparently that company doesn’t have much of an urge to consort with misery.

I’ll leave some of the other odors to your imagination, just to be sure that we don’t get a PG rating for this missive.  Suffice it to say that I don’t work in a sterile atmosphere.  Evidently, varying opinions exist regarding the satisfactory standard for cleanliness in public, so the levels of pungency also vary greatly from time to time.  Sometimes, I find it difficult to even concentrate on the task at hand, much less to remember that all of God’s creatures deserve respect, but that’s what has to be accomplished.  Odd, isn’t it, when you really consider the idea?  I’m fairly certain that we assault God’s nostrils with our stench continuously, yet He tolerates the smell and even calls us His sons and daughters and holds us close.  So, I work on, careful to show respect and honor, even as I recoil from the emissions!  If He can stand it for all time, I figure I can deal with it for a few minutes.

As I consider all these aromas, while there are some that I think I could do without, I’m struck by how amazing is the world we’ve been given to live in.  Some odors warn us of danger, like solvents, or natural gas, and burning food (never happens at my house!).  Others lure us into situations we should avoid.  No I’m not thinking about perfumes and scented candles (although that could be problematic, too).  I’m thinking about the delightful aroma of baking cookies, a perfectly cooked roast beef, or any number of foods that, while quite pleasant to experience, leave their manifestation for years of discomfort to come.  What an amazing assortment of signals and informative details are brought to mind by the simplest of smells wafted gently (or not so gently) to our noses everyday.  And, what a drab and dangerous world this would be without this very simple gift.

I’m still fascinated by odors…

But for tonight, I’m headed home and going to bed very soon.  I think I’ll be careful to take my shoes off in the bathroom…

“Best way to get rid of kitchen odors?  Eat out!
(Phyllis Diller)

Baby Steps and Split Lips

Smack!  The baseball hit the six-year old boy right in the mouth and it took all the fortitude his young dad could muster to keep from running onto the field.  The lad was at his first ever tee-ball practice and he was used to people lobbing softer balls toward him.  This one had been thrown by another kid whose aim was a bit errant, so the sphere skimmed the hard dirt surface in front of him, bouncing up to batter a target it wasn’t intended for.  But the dad stood where he was behind the fence and let the boy’s coach run out to check him.  A little blood and a little more wounded pride, but he tearfully assured the coach that he would stay where he was and keep on with the practice.

On the way home later, the conversation went something like, “That ball hit you pretty hard out there.”  “Yeah, and look at it now!” (Said with a split, puffy lip stuck out.)  “You know, you can quit if you want to…”  “Quit?  I’m going to play baseball!”  And play baseball, he did.  It was about 9 years later that he finally put away the cleats and glove, after many different teams and All-Star games.  He turned into a really good baseball player, but more than that, he became a young man who knew what it was to tough it out and go for his goals.

It’s been a few years since that young man showed the doggedness it took to stick through the pain and effort, but the early lessons keep bearing fruit 20 years later.  Those lessons aren’t lost on the dad either, now a little older and a very small amount wiser.  Of course, one of the things he’s learned is that these lessons are neither rare, nor remarkable.  But sometimes, the reminder still helps to keep life in perspective.

This week, his youngest granddaughter took her first steps on her own.  She turns one in another week or so, and her frame of reference is widening at an amazing rate (not that this is unusual, either).  As we all do, she started out aware of only the most basic needs, food, sleep, a mother’s touch.  As she’s grown, her scope has expanded also.  Still very much self-absorbed, she realizes that she wants other things; brightly colored toys, different food than she usually has (even hot coffee), certain people (Grandma’s the best!).  She even wants more mobility, but she herself is perfectly willing to leave the transportation to anyone who will carry her.  She started crawling only out of the most dire need (Mama has 4 kids and was thoughtless enough to leave her on the floor!).  And now, even though crawling is good enough, these adults around her keep standing her up and having her walk on the bottom of her feet.

And still today, she doesn’t really want to walk.  She has to be put upright on her feet and have someone in front of her for whom she is motivated enough to put out the effort.  She even fusses about it.  But parents and grandparents understand that this is the next achievement in the natural progression.  Yes, she’s going to fall down a time or two.  She may even split her lip open, but this is how life moves along.  We try new things even when we are frightened of the effort and the possibilities.  And, the result is a complete person, one who has taken their fair share of licks and won their fair share of victories.

For today, she knows she’s done something really good.  Everyone praises her and Grandpa sweeps her up in his arms, telling her how smart she is.  It’s a picture that’s been seen millions of times before and will be repeated that many more times, but for right now, all she knows is that she’s done something stupendous, and the smile on her face is living proof.

Sometimes we forget that our lives are supposed to be spent learning and the pop-quizzes should come along fairly regularly.  It is possible to become a drop-out.  We just decide we’ve gotten the degree we want in the school of hard knocks and we’re done.  Sit tight, do the same things every day, and no one will ever hit us in the mouth with anything.  We figure we’ve learned everything that we need for our profession and just mark time.  But we were never intended to be done, never intended to quit learning, never intended to sit on the sidelines watching.  For many of us today, it’s confusing to see friends who refuse to learn about new technologies, refuse to contemplate and discuss current events, and refuse to take an active part in any unfamiliar activity.    We live in an exciting time, when information is at our fingertips, facts are verified with the push of a few buttons, and new experiences await us at every turn.  We were meant to live ’til we die! 

You’d better be careful, little girl!  One step leads to another all through your life!  And watch out for those wild pitches…

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet, 
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then?  I cannot say.
(From “The Hobbit” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien)

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the Faith.” 
(The Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 4:7)

Dancing to the Oldies

Sometimes we let the pizza get cold, but there is never a dull moment.  The four little ones come, more for the time spent playing outside and the suckers from the music store next door than for the pizza, but Tuesday evening without them is not nearly as much fun.  Uncle “Steben” is usually here, much to the delight of the young ones (and his dad too, truth be known), but he doesn’t know how to provide entertainment like these guys.  The after-dinner matinee is spectacular!

I’ll never figure it out.  They are surrounded by technological marvels, CD player, DVD player, computer, and digital television, but they want me to open up the 90 year-old Victrola, lay a thick old 78 RPM record on the turntable, and let them “dance”.  We’re not talking about good music either.  These are old hillbilly harmonies, sung in the most nasally voice imaginable, nothing nearly as sophisticated as “Little Einsteins” or “Yo Gabba Gabba”, but these kids love it.  Almost every time they come, we have to go through the rigamarole again…Select a record (Who cares what record, just a different one than last time), everyone gets a turn at winding the crank, open the doors to the voice cone (how else can you control the volume?), the selected kid gets to move the lever to release the turntable (a cherished job they vie mightily for), and the steel needle is set down on the record.  After that, pandemonium ensues!  They jump and fall, wriggle and writhe, run around in circles, and just generally make a noisy commotion.  This is called “dancing”, not to be confused with wrestling or tag, although the process for these seems to be the same, minus the Victrola.  If we’re lucky enough to get an operatic tune, perhaps Grandpa will add to the commotion with his Bugs Bunny imitation from “What’s Opera, Doc?”, probably a scene we don’t want to dwell on for long…

The music is bad, the dancing is not a thing of beauty, but you’d be rolling on the floor laughing if you could see it.  These are times when I could chuck technology and live a much simpler life.  But events move on, the children go home, and (after a short rest) the wife and I head back to work, with all it’s chiming emails, whirring disc drives, and really frustrating issues.  “Oh no!  I saved my changes the last time I used this form and now I’ve lost my entire master list,” comes the lament from the beautiful lady.  I have problems of my own.  I know my website designer told me how to do this, but it’s beyond me.  Download those files to this new one on the desktop, upload those newly downloaded files using the FTC or FTP (or something like that) to the S3 (3S?) site.  No, you download them with the FDIC to My Documents…no FDIC is what the bank uses.  Oh, just push that key and upload it.  What do you mean two hours and 53 minutes until the upload is finished?  How am I supposed to get my work done now?

How did we ever work before we had all this labor-saving technological equipment?    It used to be pencil and paper, adding machines, mechanical cash registers with the pull handles on the side…all relics of a distant past.  But they, at their inception, also promised the same thing all innovations promise;  the inveiglement of higher productivity and lower labor output.  Once the trap is sprung, the reality is revealed.  More productivity leads to more labor every time, regardless of the original promise of more leisure.  We don’t care, we love our machines, and again and again, buy the latest, the greatest, only to want more.

So, I sit at my computer, having once more worked into the early hours of the morning, and think, not primarily of the job at hand, but I reminisce of earlier in the evening (now yesterday).  For a few moments that I’ll hold dear forever, we were free of the encumbrances, not tied to any device, but just enjoying the abandon of childhood, and wishing (just a little bit) that we grownups were that carefree once more.

Second childhood is coming…maybe I’ll get that chance soon!

Progress might have been all right once, but it has gone on too long. ~Ogden Nash