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Monday, February 23, 2015


I love words.  Funny thing for a writer not so much, I realize.  I was practically born with a book in my hand, torturing my parents for “one more story” from the day I could talk, and I consider reading a good book as much of an experience as virtually any “real” experience I have ever had.  Some people think and imagine in pictures; I think and imagine in words.  Nothing suits me more than a clever turn-of-phrase, and the artistry of a well written sentence is as beautiful as any picture in the Louvre, by my reckoning.  All of this to impress upon you—language is my thing.  So you know when I now concede that words are often inadequate, I am not coming from a place of defensiveness about my inability to use them.   Words are so malleable; one man’s trash is another’s man’s treasure as the saying goes, and using the “wrong” word at the “wrong” time can set off a minefield.  And last but not least in the lexicon of the insufficiency of words—it’s just words.  Sticks and stones being more efficacious according to childhood legend, right?

My parents believed actions speak louder than words and frequently used the expression “vote with your feet” to impress upon us the importance of acting in accordance with our beliefs.  It is all well and good to speak your mind, but as it says in the bible “Faith without works is dead”.  Your “works” need not be flashy; sometimes a well-timed hug can be game-changer.   I believe as a modern society we have been trained into a sort of backwards equation… "Works without faith”, which are also dead, IMHO.  Do you ever find yourself conducting your day to day business with the same sort of pulse-pounding, adrenaline racing intensity of a contestant in “The Hunger Games”?  Like the action itself is our value, like the fate of the free world rests on our shoulders, like there’s plenty of time for sleeping when we’re dead, to paraphrase Ben Franklin?  What do we accomplish in this state, besides exhaustion?  I don’t know about you, but my most impactful work is done when I am present, calm and rested.  When I am most able to be myself, and not a wind-up toy that is teetering along the edge of a precipice.
After my Dad had a stroke, many words were lost to him.  He was always the family peacemaker and counselor, so this was a blow to all of us.  His pithy wisdom, the infrequency with which he got worked up over ANYTHING, his ability to use humor to diffuse tension…I don’t know if any of these things would come in handy with your family, but with mine they sure do.  So as we were adjusting to “the new normal”, there was a lot of anxiety, I think, about having to cooperate as caregivers to the man who had always taken care of all of us.  Needless anxiety, it turned out, as my Dad was able to use his very limited vocabulary to develop his new catch phrase:  “It’s fine”.  Or its companion, “You’re fine.”  Okay, so I’ll admit, there was a time when I didn’t quite understand the wisdom of these twin expressions, which became Dad’s go-to for nearly every situation laid at his feet.  Mainly because I think most of us have co-opted “fine” as a pejorative term, equal to acceptable-but-mediocre.  But that is not what Dad was telling us, not in the least.

The inadequacy of words again.  If I describe something as “fine art”, you will know this is the real deal, very high end and impeccable.  If I tell you that your outfit looks fine, however, you will want to instantly go and change it.  We don’t consider things being “fine” a very good state of affairs, generally speaking.  But consider the alternative…if someone asks you how you are and you can easily say “fine”?  I’d say life is going your way, frankly.  To be “fine” most of the time is a lucky, happy life.  Most especially on those days when things don’t appear too lucky or happy if you can still say “I am fine”?  You have discovered the secret to life.  That is what Dad was telling us.  You are fine, you’re going to be fine, things are going to be fine.  A mantra for tough days if ever there was one.  Another expression my Dad cobbled together after he lost agility with language was “Every day is a good day”.  This he could not say as clearly, and perhaps that is what made it so impactful.  He lost so much to the stroke, but he could still tell us, able-bodied whiners that we were, that every day is a good one.  And it was fine that we were able-bodied whiners at that. 
I have often detailed my love of the film “Meatballs”, but anything worth saying is worth repeating.  Another great quote from this summertime classic is Morty (“Hi, Mickey!”) trying to calm a belligerent child about taking a ride on a dilapidated bus by describing it as “A fine, old bus”.  To which the child replies, “It is NOT a fine, old bus.  It is a PIECE of JUNK!”  Hahaha, my sister and I love that one.  And it is a perfect illustration of a head game we play with ourselves every day.  We shout down the reassurances that we are fine, that it is going to be fine with vitriol equal to that child’s.  We don’t want to hear that we are good enough, that our effort is good enough, we want to impress upon anyone who will listen that we are “a PIECE of JUNK!”  Do you want to know another definition of fine?  Free from impurity.  “You are fine”, my Dad would tell us, over and over again.   You are fine.  You don’t need to hurry, you don’t need to be fixed, you don’t need to prove anything.  You are free from impurity in the most meaningful way.  You are fine; you are yourself, and you are fine just the way you are.  I am grateful to my Dad for telling me this.   I wish I had understood sooner, but I’m glad I figured it out.  Hope you have figured it out about yourself, too.

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