I own an old manual typewriter, similar to what you might see when visiting the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C. Weighing at least 10 pounds, it comes in its own grey/green carrying case, proudly baring the name, Smith-Corona on a black and chrome nameplate. Inside is a beautiful instrument of mechanical artwork, operated solely by using the knowledge and creativity stored inside the human brain, and the strength of a pounding finger or two. For a writer going into battle against a stubborn book, it can be a brutal as the axe, or subtle as a fine blade. It doesn’t need a wall plug, internet or IT technician to operate, yet its simplicity is vastly outgunned in speed, agility, and brainpower of a modern computer. The typewriter is a beautiful metaphor to life.
Once upon a time, in a land not very far away there was a small town, nestled in brown rolling hills and oak trees, inhabited with mostly happy people who got along with each other and with neighboring cities. Gardens were planted, golf was played, churches attended, businesses thrived, and many a feast was eaten; that is until the day of the great let down. On that day the banks, money changers, manipulators, and Federal Regulators let everyone down: and so the Great Recession began. Every town had lived through recessions in the past, but nothing had been seen in decades like the Great Recession. Where once flowers had grown on the land between the lanes of traffic now stood people with cardboard signs asking for work or food. Stores, restaurants and shops all over the land closed their doors, leaving many people without a way to care for their family. When people could not pay their mortgage, the same banks from the great let down threw the people to the street. Families cried, asking their leaders for help.
Sometimes, being swept off your feet is not at all that romantic. Consider walking into the ocean. The warm grains of sand wrap around your feet and toes, giving way just enough as you walk to build a small hole that tries to hold on with every step. The sand nearer the ocean is damp and cool from the remnants of waves that retreated only minutes past. Gathering your courage you press onward until that first taste of ocean water touches your toe. It is cold, and you stop walking – jerking your foot backwards, but only for a moment. Before you realize it, the waves are slapping against your knees and an occasional drop hits your chest.
The lady seated to my left is quietly sleeping, now that the turbulence has ended and the plane is smoothly making its way across Texas. Her neatly groomed white hair frames a lightly tanned face, with lips that support a broad smile, and wrinkles that testify to memories of a life fully lived. She boasts those fine lines at the corners of her mouth that come from smiling more often than frowning. I had the pleasure of speaking to her while she was being helped onto a wheelchair while boarding. She didn’t understand English and it didn’t matter, because she said thanks with a sincere smile and nod when I offered help. I did not need a linguist to interpret her meaning.
As Thanksgiving approaches there will be numerous articles written, radio programs broadcasted, and television shows aired bringing to our attention the need to be thankful. Setting aside one day a year to remember, and acknowledge all the reasons we have to be thankful is a very good tradition. I encourage everyone to embrace this holiday; to be with friends and family and carefully consider how lucky we are to be American’s, living where we do, having food in the pantry and people who love us. Only, my goal this season was not to write about Thanksgiving simply because everyone else is, yet here I am mentioning Thanksgiving three times in the first paragraph. So, I’ve decided instead to focus my writing on You’re Welcome; it’s what happens after thanks.
Saying “You’re welcome” is the finale of a three part process initiated by an action; not just any action though. For instance, stepping on someone’s foot while dancing doesn’t usually lead to you’re welcome, nor would denting a car door in the grocery store parking lot. To arrive at the desired good outcome, the first step is to do something that brings joy, happiness, relief, comfort or love to another person, whether you know that person or not. An action is needed to start the process. Being thankful unto itself normally is a passive experience, and living in the level of good fortune that we do, begs for more than a passive gratitude.
“Dudley Do-Right, you are my hero!” was the all-encompassing praise of Nell, the ever so sweet girlfriend want-to-be of the good mannered, yet bumbling Canadian Mountie. Dudley’s goal in life, at least on the 1970’s cartoon, was to be Nell’s hero. Not a bad goal. We humans have, since the beginning of recorded history, searched for, and identified with a hero figure; someone that we want to emulate. Heroes are larger than life, they overcome great obstacles; heroes are fast, smart, typically good looking, wise, caring, brutal when dealing with a bad guy; yet humble, and kind to birds, kittens and bunny rabbits. Everyone wants to be a hero (at least secretly), and identifies with someone living, or from the past, that they call hero. Warriors have typically made good heroes for little boys, pitting good versus evil at terrible odds; but somehow good always triumphs. To be a hero it is important to win big and often. Explorers also commonly fall into the hero category, especially those who travel in either a wooden ship with many large sails, or a spacecraft with a single large engine; these explorers set out for places where “no one has gone before.” It is also important for a hero not to go to the same place over and over again, but to seek out exciting and dangerous new places. It is easier to be a hero if you are the creation in a book or movie, where life has a script to follow, and the writer can make certain that immoral choices are never made; where compromise is unknown and everyone (except for the bad guys) follows the rules. Life is much harder for the hero who lives, breathes, and makes decisions for themselves. We cannot just erase a bad drawing and start anew; real heroes, and their worshipers, must live with the consequences of a corrupt page.
We also like to expand the life of a hero into that of a role model. Not only will we praise the hero, and dream of them, but we will try to live just like our hero. “I want to be just like (fill in the blank) when I grow up.” John F Kennedy was a charismatic leader with true vision, and a great love for his country. Martin Luther King envisioned a better way to find the promise land, here at home. Neil Armstrong walked on the moon – we all saw it on TV. My list of heroes and role models included these people, and many more – sports figures, local celebrities, and of course, my Mother and Father. My parents were not always the hero in the moment, it was as I grew older, and had children of my own that their heroism became apparent.
Also, as I have aged, the reality that a hero / role model was imperfect has become abundantly clear. Heroes are people, and people are flawed; that was not a fact when I was ten, but it is now. Still, a person became my hero because of something specific that they were, or did: best batting average, first on the moon, amazing speech, or the finest example of character I have ever seen. Being human does not remove the heroic achievement, it gives it perspective. So, to cope with the reality of human heroes, we filter out the corrupt pages and only view the ones that fit the profile of our hero: kind, strong, wise, caring, decisive, moral, and fearless – a perfect role model as defined within our very human mind. The other pages: immoral, thief, liar, cheat, adulterer – they are torn out and cast aside, because they do not fit a hero’s mold. It is a very natural compromise, arising from the need to have a hero in our life, and the realization that a hero cannot be perfect in all things. I still keep heroes, who are human and very flawed; because I need them, and I think they need me. But, I realize, as I hope they do, that we are all a part of humanity, so perfection never enters into the conversation.
When I have a need for a flawless hero, I get on my knees and look up. I do this daily to remind myself, and Him, that perfection found its way to earth just once, and left an everlasting impression on all of us.
Thanks for reading.
I received a survey in the mail this week that asked the question, “Are things getting and better?” The question wasn’t that direct, but the intention was clear. It occurred to me that my answer will differ from another person by the way we choose to define “things” and “better,” because my things will differ from yours, and better is a very relative term. My perspective at the moment the question is asked will play a big part in the answer too.
If I choose definition of “things” to be narrowly focused – my waistline or retirement account, then I might conclude things are not getting better, since one is increasing and the other decreasing (guess which is increasing).
I am still sitting in terminal 1 in the C concourse at Chicago O’Hare airport on the 14th hour of delay, waiting for a flight home. The monitor, which I no longer believe, says that I still have two more hours to wait. So, I do what everyone does under these circumstances; I slouch in my uncomfortable faux leather chair, crossing and uncrossing my legs to maintain circulation, and watch people walk by.
There is a lot of talk about diversity, how everybody is different and the difference is good for everyone. Well, in this airport I have found the grand slam of diversity. I have seen every shape, size and color of person meander by my perch in just the last 30 minutes. I have a great location to watch and write about the world, and I don’t think I can even type fast enough to capture all that I see. My plan is simple; I will smile at random people walking past, not too obvious-just a pleasant hello kind of smile, and note their reaction. Here we go: