-photo by Dylan Baker
WHERE I GREW UP IN THE RURAL MIDWEST, DIY PROJECTS WERE A WAY OF LIFE—ONLY “DO IT YOURSELF” REALLY MEANT “DO IT WITH OTHERS.”
So the summer my dad needed to build a barn, he put out the word. And the people came. My dad, who adopted my siblings and me after my mom divorced my biological father, was an airplane mechanic, retiring after 37 years of service. For 21 of those years, he negotiated agreements as a union leader, accurately predicting the necessity of change if any airline were to survive the inevitable deregulation of the late ’70s. The people who helped my dad build a barn were the same people who had spent endless hours with him sifting through blue- and white-collar perspectives, understanding that both were equally important and needed the other, yet seeing, too, that both were unsure how and perhaps unwilling to move forward together. As airlines fought for a more certain place in an uncertain future, these times were as tense and as divided as political opinions during an election year.
My dad, who was forced to quit school after the seventh grade to help his parents financially, was a master at shifting perceived problems into doable solutions. His patience was unwavering. His timing was precise. His wisdom was beyond my comprehension. And his focus was always on joining together for the betterment of all. I suppose it was these same skills that enabled him to face the challenges that came with adopting a bunch of kids who were in need—like those he represented in the airline industry—of hope for a secure and better future. So when my dad needed help, coworkers and their families arrived from across the country. I watched men of varying demographics, backgrounds, and levels of education pick up tools to piece together a barn, while women prepared food and children freely roamed the rural outdoors, unfamiliar to most of their urban settings. By the end of the day, not only had a barn been raised, but people had been lifted, too.
I witnessed community that summer. Its purpose. Its necessity. Its beauty in rallying around and building up.
(Excerpt from Momentous Living: better self. better world. Buy it on Amazon).
–photo by Gabriela Arp
This drive to emotionally attach––to find someone to whom we can turn and say, “Hold me tight”––is wired into our genes and our bodies. It is as basic to life, health, and happiness as the drives for food, shelter, or sex. We need emotional attachments with a few irreplaceable others to be physically and mentally healthy––to survive.
–Dr. Sue Johnson, Hold Me Tight
Yesterday, I went to the USPO to mail books. Halfway through the weighing, stamping, weighing, stamping, weighing, and stamping, I realized I had left my credit card at home.
“Do you take checks?” I asked the lady who was still weighing and stamping. I hadn’t paid with a check at a brick-and-mortar business for years, but yesterday I had my checkbook for reasons that don’t add to this story. At any rate, to my relief she said, “Yes.”
After all was said and done, my total came to $26.30.
“I’ll need to see an ID,” the government employee said when I handed her my check.
I was afraid she might say that.
“My ID is at home with my credit card,” I responded. “But I promise you, that check is good.”
The lady looked at me, not knowing what to do. She had already weighed, stamped, and deposited my books into their proper bins. A check without an ID was outside of her government guidelines. She was flustered.
“Do you have any cash?” she finally asked.
I rarely carry cash, like I rarely carry a checkbook. I track purchases by using a credit card and while accumulating Southwest miles. What can I say, I love to travel. But…I suddenly remembered I had $25.00 in real paper money, still just shy of the needed amount, but very close indeed.
“Can you write another check for $1.30 and pay the rest with cash?”
Now I know she was just doing her job, but I couldn’t grasp this nonhuman exchange. Our government is billions of dollars in debt, and the USPO is worried about my $26.30 check? Before pausing, taking a deep breath, and thinking about my words, as I suggest in the very book I was mailing, my mouth opened and I spoke.
“I understand you need to follow your government rules, but this is an example of why the USPO is not doing so well.”
My comment, warranted or not, was true. “While our short-term financial challenges remain significant,” as reported in the U.S. Postal Service Five-Year Strategic Plan, “we remain committed to building a future where a vibrant Postal Service continues to deliver valued products and services that help people connect, businesses grow, and communities thrive in the digital economy. Because customer expectations and needs in the digital economy are changing rapidly, we have prioritized the customer experience in our Future Ready strategy,” with the first of four goals being: “deliver a world-class customer experience.”
The U.S. Postal Service employee did not respond. No world-class customer interaction beyond that, other than me handing her lengthy form back that I was instructed to fill out to get a signed book through Canadian customs, with an additional $15.00 cost. After all, my book was not a document.
I said, “I’ll mail this from somewhere else.” Somewhere like Print, Pack & Ship in New Smyrna. They always welcome me, smile, and treat me as if I’m human.
I left the post office feeling like I didn’t model “momentous living” very well, but also thinking that my forgotten credit card fell into the “not-so-black-and-white” world that I also talk about in my book. A gray area if you will, that requires we think beyond rules, insert a little bit of grace, and extend some benefit of doubt into the situation. Worse-case scenario is the USPO is out $26.30 (a mere drop in their billions-of-dollars-in-debt bucket) and I’m charged an overdraft fee. Best-case scenario is that my check was/is perfectly legit and the USPO retains a customer who doesn’t blog about its lack of humanity.
Momentous living is really hard to live out. It’s not about being nice to everyone, but rather examining ourselves in our present moments and taking responsibility for our responses and reactions. “Better self. Better world.”
My “reaction” was triggered from the mere fact that I grew up in a small town where mom-and-pop shops, as well as small government businesses, were known to occasionally step outside of rules to accommodate imperfect customers. The USPO employee, on the other hand, was doing a job within the confines of a large bureaucracy. And like her, I did not extend grace, resulting in even more frustration.
I hope my books arrive to their recipients, as they were all people who helped with the momentous project. In the meantime however, I’m going to start over with another day, and breathe in…really, really deep…and back out again…with more humanity.
And by the way, if you’d like a copy of my book, it’s now available on Amazon.
I welcome your support.
I pull analogies from most everything. I figure if I have to experience something hard (another hurricane) or even good (a vacation), I might as well expand as a result of it. So even though my “Three Lessons” came from Irma, I see them as life applicable.
- Focus on the facts. Sensationalized media stories, worse-case scenario predictions, and rehashing the play-by-play and day-by-day of what’s happening only add anxiety to an already-stressful situation. Limit updates and discussions (whether it be in person, on the phone, or through other technology) to information that helps with preparation and post-storm recovery, and with only those who contribute to forward movement.
- Be prepared, and then some. Whatever is known as smart planning, do it. And then, customize preparation to your ability to withstand a storm––physically and emotionally, your property’s ability, and what reliable authorities recommend regarding your specific situation and location. Fundamentals provide for the masses. We provide for the personal.
- Engage in your “better self”. Weathering a storm tests us beyond normalcy. Besides the basics of staying hydrated, eating well, and getting plenty of rest, know what makes your world better. Volunteering, playing a game, or cleaning your closet; watching a comedy, breathing deeply, sitting quietly with nature; or praying, exercising, or reading a book, can all be great strategies to relieving stress and calming your spirit. Self-care is not selfish.
Shot this photo while driving home a day after Irma, after riding out the storm inland. I have lived in Florida since 1999, and have now gone through five hurricanes: Charley, Frances, and Jeanne all in 2004, Matthew last October, and now Irma. I have learned a few things about storms I will share in a later post.
For now, know that my family and I are safe, and most have power, while many parts of Florida are still without. I’m thankful for air conditioning right now, as it is blazing hot.
Thank you for all your prayers and concern.
Saw this guy and just had to take a picture. The Luna moth lives for 7 days simply to mate. As Forrest Gump would say, “That’s all I have to say about that.”
I just got back from Kansas City and worked three days with the talented folks at Springboard Creative who are overseeing the graphic design of my book. I had a great time hanging out with Young Kevin (on the left), Miranda with baby Ollie, and Old Kevin (on the right). I can call Old Kevin old because I worked with him in college, which means if he’s old, I’m a little old myself, and therefore we can be old together, although I don’t think either of us acts very old. Anyway, he owns Springboard Creative and manages some really cool projects around the Kansas City area, as well as teaches graphic design across the country. I love his slogan: Continue reading
“This is a powerful place, when we can find purpose in our pieces, in our imperfect lives. It’s a place that I think Pat Conroy portrays beautifully in the movie rendition of his memoir The Water is Wide.” –Momentous Living