Every once in a great while, someone truly surprises you and punches big holes in your mental image of them. My Dad did this for me in 1958. I thought I had the old man pegged pretty well, and then he went and messed it all up.
In several previous posts I have alluded to a … let’s say … a checkered college career. I graduated from high school at 16, but without the social skillset usually acquired by a young man at that point in his life. Off to college I went, in the pre-veterinary medicine curriculum at the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota. I began to do poorly almost immediately in all of my agriculture classes, while getting way more respectable grades in math, English, the sciences, etc. I dropped out in the middle of Spring Quarter, directionless and embarrassed.
The next year was almost a carbon copy of the first one. Uneven grades, wasting time, going nowhere slowly. And then in the Spring I received notice that the Dean of the College of Agriculture wanted to see me. I was filled with dread at having to face him, because while I could make up stories to tell my parents about why I was doing this or that, this was a man who would have my records in front of him, making my standard smoke screens and subterfuges useless. I thought of emigrating to Patagonia to avoid the conference, but couldn’t figure out the logistics of such a trip fast enough, so on a Wednesday afternoon I dutifully showed up at the Dean’s office.
Instead of caning me, which was what I richly deserved, he told me something that I could scarcely believe. That my father had visited with him, in person, in this very office, only a few days before. He had come because he was worried about me, and wanted to know if there was anything he could do to help change the downward career arc I seemed locked into.
I couldn’t believe it. My dad? That reticent man of few words, with only a high school education, coming to talk to THE DEAN. I didn’t have the phrase WTF in my armamentarium back then, but if I had I am pretty sure I would have employed it. If you had told me that Jesus Christ was right behind me in the waiting room and wanted to clarify a few details with the Dean about the Second Coming, I could not have been more astonished.
The Dean next told me that what I needed to do was “re-evaluate my educational objectives”- his exact words. Now if this story had gone the way any proper storyteller might have narrated it, I would have turned my academic life around and been a model student from then on. But no, I was a hardhead and had to fail more courses in two more quarters before I changed my track to pre-med. There were no more educational dramas from then on.
Even at this distant remove, I remember my problems reconciling the private man I thought my dad to be with his trip to the University. At seventeen I had arrogantly believed that there was nothing more that my parents could teach me.
[Some of you might have noticed that although I was obviously not cut out to be a veterinarian, I went on to enjoy a long career as a pediatrician. You might have also thought … isn’t that almost the same thing?]
From The New Yorker
There are some phrases in the areas of mental health and recovery that I have grown to dislike. A lot. One of them is the piece of AA flapdoodle that says we have “character defects”that we must be rid of. Although I have used these words in the distant past, they are no longer part of my recovery vocabulary. I much prefer a Buddhist attitude, which basically runs like this: everything that happened to us and all of our actions in our entire lives have brought us to where we are. Made us who we are.
Humans have beautiful parts that carry with them the scent of flowers. They also have muddy, gooshy parts that smell more like … well … manure. We all contain both kinds , and even if we’ve been taught to admire the first group more than the second, manure and mud are where those lovely flowers come from.
Whenever I have been really screwed up I have turned to advisors that I knew had themselves been screwed up at some time in their life. Why would I go to some person who had yet to be really tried by circumstance? Whose knowledge was learned, rather than experienced? Whose practice was carried on basically by rote because they hadn’t lived enough to allow them to move on to the art that therapy can be.
Nossir, I wanted to talk to people who had been where I was, and who had not only survived but had become strong enough to reach out to others. If someone had been to the Gates of Hell and made it back they had something to teach me, if no more than to draw me a crude map on the back of an envelope as to where those gates might be.
Yessir, I looked for the seasoned sinner who, even if they didn’t know all the answers, knew at least one. Because at those moments when you have zero answers, one looks pretty good.
From The New Yorker
I had a letter to the editor accepted! Instead of immediately consigning it to the trash folder, our local paper actually used real ink and real paper to print it … along with the rest of the news as well, of course.
from Idiot Poems, by John Snowdon
Our personalities are like sweaters
Which are never finished
For as we add a row or two
Of length, to fit where we are now
A cuff or collar may unravel just a bit
And need repair
I think that illness is a time
When rows are dropped too fast to be replaced
The wind blows cold through holes
That others can appreciate.
We stop, pull back
Repair enough to make the garment wearable
Then go on as before
Poco and I were relaxing out on the backyard deck. The refinishing and staining project was done, and even thought one would never confuse the work with that of a professional, it didn’t look too bad, really. The sun was at midday and it was suitably warm and comfortable and we were just sitting there blowing smoke, a favorite pastime of sentient beings of our vintage.
J: How’s it goin’?
P: Okay, I guess. Sun feels good on the fur, doesn’t it?
J: Take your word for it
P: Y’know, being fifteen wouldn’t be too bad, if it weren’t for the aches and pains
J: You’ve got aches?
P: Why do you think I’ve stopped jumping over the fence? Sheesh! Get out of yourself once in a while.
J: I’m listening
P: It’s the hips. Running and jumping just ain’t in the cards these days
J: Sorry about that. I mean, I have noticed …
J: I’m about 60:40 cranky myself, most days
P: Ahhh well, it goes with the territory. But hey … that sun does feel good …
There is a routine that has evolved at bedtime here at BaseCamp. Both cats will be outdoors lounging somewhere enjoying every last bit of the summer evening. Robin and I will go to bed, open our books and get back into our respective nighttime reading.
Once we have extinguished the lights everywhere else in the house, about five minutes pass before Poco comes indoors, jumps up on our bed, and curls up down at my feet, draped across my lower legs.
He sleeps there while we read, but when we put our books away and turn out our lamps he will wait for about another five minutes before he quietly gets up, drops to the floor, and goes back outdoors.
I believe the old fellow is tucking us in.