Courage is armor
A blind man wears;
The calloused scar
Of outlived despairs:
Courage is Fear
That has said its prayers.
-Karle Wilson Baker
Courage is armor
A blind man wears;
The calloused scar
Of outlived despairs:
Courage is Fear
That has said its prayers.
-Karle Wilson Baker
“No matter who you are, your life will have storms; you will encounter discouragement, doubt, and defeat. The difficulties you will face will amaze and overwhelm you at times, but it is your very response to such trials that will build your character and determine your destiny.”-Michael Middleton
You always have to be a careful when you talk about your employment when on the Internet, so I will tread lightly here. But about a month ago I was asked to resign from my job and given six weeks to find a new job. Where I was once happy, now I was forlorn. This was a shock for sure. I have been working for over 30 years and have never once been asked to step down from a job. Usually, I am the one leaving the job moving onto bigger and better things so this came as a surprise to me. Even worse than this was now having to face the prospect of going home and telling my wife the “good news” about the possibility of not being able support the family. Strangely, though, as I drove home underneath soggy skies, I didn’t feel panicked or downhearted. I had worked hard, honestly and competently, I really had nothing to be ashamed of.
But regardless of how I felt about myself at the time, here I was essentially out of a job. As someone who has countlessly talked about adversity as being part of God’s plan, part of what we had signed up for before coming down to earth, I guess I would now have to live what I had preached from my behind my computer screen. It is painful to have to take your own medicine because then you learn how hard it is to swallow, or worse you learn just how bad your own advice is. I would typically classify mine under the heading of “ill-advised”.
“We always think of failure as the antithesis of success, but it isn’t. Success often lies just the other side of failure.”
Surprisingly, my wife took the news about as well as she could. I mean she didn’t carp, henpeck or browbeat me and that was a good thing, right? Pretty much she said “it is done” and immediately got on the computer and started to religiously redo all of her budgeting spreadsheets. Among the many potential difficulties this could have put us in was that this resignation was ill-timed (Is there really any good time to be let go?) because we had already committed to remodeling our kitchen and it was too late for us to back out. In fact, the remodel was to start the next week.
After I gave her the job loss briefing, I did what any respectable man would do and I went upstairs and uncontrollably cried into my big boy pants, wildly throwing punches in the air. When I was just about to break into my angry dance a la Kevin Bacon in Footloose, my wife who had just come up the stairs stopped me, saving us both from a lot of grief and some mild embarrassment.
To her credit, she didn’t mollycoddle me or feel sorry for me, but gently explained to me that big boy pants were for wearing and not crying into, then handed me a chocolate-colored pocket square so I could finish weeping. About an hour later after my tear stains had dried , I came bumbling downstairs in my big boy pants feeling a lot better about myself.
As someone famous once said, “when you don’t have a job, then your job is to find a job”. So that is what I did in earnest and took it as a challenge to change. Looking for a job is definitely a humbling experience. I can’t say I like it. I have a hard time selling myself. I have a hard time convincing myself that I should be hired. It takes a lot of convincing, but once I get past persuading myself I usually do okay in interviews.
I did have my parents help me prep for a Skpe interview. I have to admit I was unprepared for the questions they peppered me with. I am pretty sure I failed the mock interviews. It’s difficult to pass off all of that job flim-flam to the very people who brought you up, changed your diapers, taught you to eat, walk, read and write and more importantly taught you to never stretch the truth. Despite my struggles, my parents, as always, were positive and encouraging even though my performance was atrocious.
“Everyone’s life is different, but all of us experience hard times. Sometimes we may feel sad or lonely. Sometimes we may be sick or confused. But there is one thing we can always do to make life sweeter and more joyful. We can be grateful!”-Dieter Uchtdorf
Despite all of the agonizing and worry, I did end up finding a job. Mercy fell on me like a gentle rain from heaven. In hindsight, my plight ended up just being a tiny bump in the road of life, but it was a good test of the tiny faith I do have. However, not sure my faith wouldn’t have wavered if the job search had gone on any longer. It’s no easy task to find a job in six weeks. I was both lucky and blessed. A little bit of rough patch in life is not the worst thing. Many people would do away, in vain, with pain and suffering. A promise they can never keep. And I think it’s been proven time and time again that those who promise to take away pain and suffering only compound the existing the misery (See Venezuela as a most recent example) rather than make anything better. Trials and tribulations, while not wishing to take on more than have come my way in this life, are all good if in the end they make me a little kinder, make me more understanding of others, and make me a bit more cheery, and a tad braver.
I have to thank all the people who were praying for me. How can you ever dislike someone who’s praying for you when you’re going through a rough patch? I was genuinely surprised by all the people that cared. But now they can pray for people much more deserving of their prayers than me. My wife, my rock, took everything in stride. I think we celebrated by experimenting with crock pot mac n’ cheese because our kitchen is non-functioning. I’ll just say this about crock pot mac n’ cheese: straight-up gluten wrapped in melted cheese is an acquired taste. Not sure that recipe should be out on the world-wide web without out a warning of what it’ll do to your insides. But that’s okay, I’ll eat more salads because I still need to be able to fit into my big boy pants, which I have been wearing a lot more as of late.
For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.-Matthew 25:35 -36
But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.—Leviticus 19:34
Very little that is positive is solitary. When was the last time you laughed uproariously? The last time you felt indescribable joy? The last time you sensed profound meaning and purpose? The last time you felt enormously proud of an accomplishment? Even without knowing the particulars of these high points of your life, I know their form: all of them took place around other people.-Dr. Martin Seligman
‘Twas a dangerous cliff, as they freely confessed,
Thought to walk near its crest was so pleasant,
But over its terrible edge there had slipped
A duke and full many a peasant.
So the people said something would have to be done,
But the projects did not at all tally;
Some said, “Put a fence around the edge of the cliff,”
Some, “An ambulance down in the valley.”
But the cry for the ambulance carried the day,
For it spread through, the neighboring city;
A fence may be useful or not, it is true,
But each heart become brimful of pity
For those who slipped over that dangerous cliff;
And the dwellers in highway and alley
Gave pounds or gave pence, not to put up a fence,
But an ambulance down in the valley.
“For the cliff is all right, if you’re careful”, they said,
“And, if folks even slip and are dropping,
It isn’t the slipping that hurts them so much,
As the shock down below when they’re stopped.”
So day after day, as these mishaps occurred,
Quick forth these rescuers sally
To pick up the victims who fell off the cliff,
With their ambulance down in the valley.
Then an old sage remarked: “It’s a marvel to me
That people give far more attention
To repairing results than to stopping the cause
When they’d much better aim at prevention.
Let us stop at its source all this mischief, cried he,
“Come neighbors and friends, let us rally;
If the cliff we will fence we might almost dispense
With the ambulance down in the valley.
“Oh, he’s a fanatic,” the others rejoined,
“Dispense with the ambulance? Never!
He’d dispense with all charities, too, if he could;
No! No! We’ll support them forever.
Aren’t we picking up folks just as fast as they fall?
And shall this man dictate to us? Shall he?
Why should people of sense stop to put up a fence,
While the ambulance works in the valley?”
But a sensible few, who are practical too,
Will not bear with such nonsense much longer;
They believe that prevention is better than the cure,
And their party will soon be stronger.
Encourage them then, with your purse, voice, and pen,
And while other philanthropist dally,
They will scorn all pretense and put up a stout fence
On the cliff that hangs over the valley.
Better guide well the young than reclaim them when old,
For the voice of true wisdom is calling,
“To rescue the fallen is good, but ’tis best
To prevent other people from falling.”
Better close up the source of temptation and crime
Than deliver from dungeon or galley;
Better put a strong fence round the top of the cliff
Than an ambulance down in the valley.
It was early fall and it was time to harvest blackberries to make our famous blackberry jams and jellies for the winter season. That morning I over-exaggerated my enthusiasm for picking blackberries that morning to make up for the kids’ general lack of enthusiasm for any early Saturday morning activity before 10am. Blurry-eyed and moody, they quietly slurped down their obligatory bowls of Post Shreddies before we piled into our station wagon.
My favorite spot for picking Rubus Fruticosus was about an hour away from our humble home. The ride was quiet as everyone was trying to get some additional sleep. Their silence gave me time to reflect on my relationship with blackberries. Ever since I could remember I had been picking blackberries. I thought of myself as a blackberry connoisseur and I’ll eat pretty much any blackberry put in front of me, but I am especially partial to the Chester Thornless because it has a firm body and is almost never tart.
Having arrived at my favorite bramble, everyone knew the drill, grabbed their plastic buckets and straightaway began to harvest. As the sun got warmer the kids gradually began to slip out of their morning reverie and their resentment towards me began to melt away beneath the cloudless autumn sky. We were probably about an hour into berry picking when one of the kids asked: “Papa, when is it okay to kiss?” There were about a thousand other questions I’d much rather have been asked that one. Why don’t they ever ask me questions about the Chester Thornless?
Beneath a sturdy oak near the thicket, I began to ponder this unexpected question. Boy, I guess I had never given this question much thought because I had honestly never imagined my kids ever kissing. I guess, or I was hoping, that Mother Nature would perpetually preserve them in their innocence. Plus, I was also one of the worst people to ask that question to. I had my first kiss way too young and got into the whole pairing off thing too young. I caved into the pressure at the time, did what all my friends were doing and gave into most of my crushes.
Of course, a lot of them had the encouragement of their parents. I, however, did not. My parents did not encourage young people kissing and didn’t think it was cute to have their middle school son start kissing on or start pairing off with middle school girls. Back then in my mind I found my parents to be too strict, way out of touch, with their values and questioned (not out loud) their wisdom as the parents of four children. What the cuss did they know about kissing, dating and courtship?
Of course, now standing at the precipice and having to confront the fact that my kids were growing up, I thanked my luck stars they were out of touch, they were freakin’ geniuses as far as I was concerned. Freud (a misanthrope) and Kinsey (a bona fide creep) had nothing on them. My parents weren’t acting out of some heavy handed desire to repress me, I could see they cared about my potential, the welfare of my wee soul and the souls of those poor girls that were subject to my awkward and immature courtin’ skills.
There were good reason they didn’t want to unleash their middle-school son onto the world. For as an addled-headed youth, I was that lethal combination of both physical and emotional immaturity. I had not figured myself out and hadn’t figured out much of anything at that point in my life. More than anything my earlier courting probably retarded and confused the process of knowing myself. I should have been out their learning how to be a friend with the opposite sex, a skill I found out that you desperately need for a successful marriage (not that I haven’t learned, but it hasn’t been painless, gosh, my wife is saint).
So back to the oak tree and the bramble, and that awkward but important question, “When should they kiss?” Finally, I said; “Listen closely you all, I hereby decree and ordain by the fatherly authority invested in me declare that no child in this family shall engage in serious kissing until you are 16. A peck here, a peck there is innocent enough, but kissing that leads to “dating” commitments or exclusiveness that can wait until your 16. Save that stuff for the right time, the right place, and the right person. There is a lot of time to grow up and experience all the jazz that goes into dating, all that making up and breaking up, the heartbreak, the bitter and the sweet, can honestly wait a few more years.”
Loving the sound of my own voice, I continued to drag out the point as I am wont to do, “You are entering a phase where there is so much to discover about yourself and the world (both spiritual and natural). The next 10-15 years are going to determine so much about your future. Don’t mess it up! Learn to be your own kind of beautiful. Don’t let a middle-school “love” and the inevitable pain that follows define you and take over your little lives, unless you happen to love heartaches and tears. I personally despise heartache and am hostile towards tears.”
Afterwards, I crossed my fingers hoping that they would actually follow my advice. We were probably going to have a few more talks like this. But, kids are going to be kids and the pressure and temptations permeate everywhere. Just maybe they’ll have eyes to see through the mirage and the myths being presented out there. They are going to explore their growing freedom as they become teenagers, and I’d be fooling myself to I think I can control them like I once did. But at least, they will know that there is a standard to look to and a reason behind it. It’s not all in vain. Being wiser than I was, my hope is they won’t be stiff-necked and that they will learn that life is sweeter and happiness more lasting when they learn to bear their temptations cheerfully, act bravely, await occasions, and never hurry.
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A visual remix of the American Dream as pictured in Mid Century Media
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