Friday, November 21, 2014

No One Cares About My Beard

One of the best parts about "growing up" -- at least to me -- is the ever-deepening understanding of how truly unimportant I am to everyone around me. I'm not saying that we are not all important in our little ways. Each of us has an effect, either grand or minimal, on those around us. But, for some, it is hard to latch on to the concept that we are not the center of everyone else's lives.

Now, that's a beard.
For instance, at the moment, I have a beard. It is not much of a beard, if you ask me, but it is a beard. There is no mistaking it for a beard, grant you, but it is not Gandalf -level robust. The fact is, be that as it may, that I never would have had a beard if it were not for a charity "Movember" event at my school for the benefit of one of our students.

Let me be clear: I bristle at things like this. The ice bucket challenge? It made me angry and I refused to participate. I like my charitable acts to be anonymous. (Also, to me there is nothing more annoying than a campaign to pressure people into good deeds... I could write a whole post, but I won't... Besides, Mike Rowe did the job already.) But this group-inspired fundraiser, I did. Why? Because this was for one of our kids. One of my kids in the school in which I work.

I fought and beat cancer once upon a time. I know the feeling and if by joining a charity campaign -- one  I would usually ignore -- I could contribute to this student's recovery, I didn't see any value in thinking of myself first. This thing is direct; this is something she would see; this is something I know would have an effect. At that point, my preferences ceased to matter. The cost (being uncomfortable with a beard and doing something that. both literally and figuratively, makes me uncomfortable) versus the potential benefit (elevating the spirits and contributing to the recovery of a young lady) is more than worth it.

Level one realization: My feelings and comfort simply are not as important as the young lady's recovery.

Then, there is the idea of walking around with a beard. I am not a beard guy, to begin with. I feel a tad silly with a beard. I am not knocking beards or beard guys, it's just that my self-concept never included a beard. But, guess what. No one cares that I have a beard. I go into stores; I go into school; I see people at drive-through windows; I see former students who come to visit... No one cares about my beard. Very few even mention it.

Level two: My beard is unimportant because I am not as important to others as I am to myself.

Of course, I knew this, but it is good to have graphic reminders, from time to time, that we are not the center of everyone else's universe. We do need to be egocentric to an extent; we have to live within our own heads...but no one cares about my beard, and that is as it should be. (Well, my wife cares...she wants to know when I will be allowed to shave it off. I'm right there with her.)

It is like my uncle once said to me when I complained that every time I went to a Phillies game, they lost. He replied, "What makes you think you're that important?"


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Rebellion in Socks

My boys are both in middle school. They are both in a few activities. Both of them are in the chess club. Both of them are in the band. One of them is in choir. They have also done things like "Lego Club" and they both earned quite a few belt-levels in karate. They come home from these activities and they "knock out" their homework. Then, we all eat dinner together.

Yes, you heard right. All four of us at the table, talking and eating.

After dinner, the boys will play their allotted video game time. My wife and I might read or watch something on Netflix. I might go up to my studio and work on some music or practice my guitar. On some nights, we will all watch a movie together in the living room.

Near the boys' bedtime, my younger son and I almost always go upstairs to read a chapter of The Lord of the Rings together. By then, it is time for them to go to bed.

Once the boys are in bed, I usually go up to bed and read until it's sleepy time for me. Karen, who may have been finishing up studying for a class comes up soon after. 

With some variations, this is our typical night. Sometimes I have to go to a lesson or to a rehearsal or to a gig; sometimes I have night time activities at school; sometimes the boys will have something at night; sometimes Karen has to go out. But, usually, this is how it goes for us: dinner and quiet evenings at home. (And even on nights when one of us has to go out, we usually have dinner together.) 

One can almost feel the vibrations of societal pressure pressing in at the walls of our house. I do react, though. You must know, I do react...usually, it's by wriggling my besocked toes and stretching into a more comfortable position on my reclining chair.

Monday, November 17, 2014

My Stupid, Beautifully Ugly Genius of a Daughter

I hate the words "liberating" and "empowering." They drive me crazy for some reason. Probably just overuse. But it occurred to me today how "liberating" it can be to have a dog for a four-legged daughter.

I was sitting on the couch with her this morning (my fur-daughter, Krimpet) and (I'm going to come clean with  you here -- I do this a lot) I was talking to her and petting her. And I, I mean, I talk -- like, full paragraphs.

We have a lot of one-sided conversations, Krimpet and I. She seems to try hard to understand.

Actually, a better way to put it is that she looks as if she is trying, with everything she has, to convince me that it is perfectly okay that I keep talking even if she doesn't have any idea what I am saying. In fact, she encourages it with all intense sincerity: "Really, Dad -- I'm interested, even if it makes no sense. Just keep throwing words at me... I love every minute of it, especially when you scratch my ears like that. You are the most important person who ever lived. Every vocal noise you make is like another beat of my heart..."

In short, she's good for the old ego.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Everything May Be Forgivable, But Everything Is Not Excusable

I keep coming back to the tectonic shifts in societal thinking because it keeps creeping under my skin. Here comes another post where my deep love for my fellow humans is bound to be interpreted as a judgemental rant by those who think we should be nice to even the most insidious and immoral among us. So be it.

Here is an article by a mom who was in a supermarket with her child. The little guy, the author's son, has Down syndrome. A cashier sees the boy in the stroller and "[spits], in a poison whisper," these inexcusable words:

“I bet you wish you had known before he came out. You know they have a test for that now…”

The test she is referring to, of course, is amniocentesis and/or a triple screen blood test, which were offered to my wife and me with our two sons and which we turned down because we would never have aborted because of a chance of Down syndrome. (The results of the blood test, by the way, are not even 100% reliable, so there is a chance of aborting a "normal" child, too.)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

No Free Passes for Jerks

Everyone gets angry; everyone gets overwhelmed; everyone faces occasionally unfair challenge levels; everyone gets ill. These are intermittent states of just about any human life. 

But, have you noticed that, while we all face the issues listed above, some people seem to see those conditions as a license to treat others poorly? 

For some reason, I have never really functioned that way. I'm not saying that I have never been snippy on a bad day, only that I don't make it a habit, the way I see others do. If I do snap, I am well aware and I am usually apologetic for it. And, no matter how bad things are going, I can still manage to say hello and give even the slightest smile of greeting to people whose fault it is not that I am in a funk. 

I'm not sure what else to say about this, other than it seems to be egocentrism of the worst kind. If someone is angry with me for something I have done, okay. But what makes people think they can mouth off to someone else because of unrelated problems? 

I even hear people defend those who do this: "Well, she's very busy and overwhelmed, right now..." I don't think I will accept that. The quotation was not "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you, unless, of course, there is a fly in your yogurt that day."

There are people enduring chemotherapy who have a smile for everyone they see. A backlog of unread emails and a coffee stain on a favorite tie doesn't give anyone the right to throw a stapler at the innocent guy in the next cubicle.