Shoot Blanks

What do most (if not all) books have in common?  A blank page defiled by the words “this page intentionally left blank.”

As if failure to declare this intention would result in a lawsuit.  But who really cares in the first place?

I’ve bookmarked, color coded, tabbed, and dog eared countless pages. But that blank page always goes without attention.  Maybe there is more to

be told on that singular page than any paragragraph in any book.  At least

one beckoning message is for us to “leave room.”

Our lives are filled with obligations and we saturate every crevice of every hour with trivial distractions! I bet one thing they are not filled with is bordom. Think about it, when was the last time you were genuinely bored? I’m not suggesting our time should be idled away. But it is worth asking, have we left any blank space – with intent?

“Boredom is good when in a creative rut, often you will find gift wrapped answers.” -Stephen King

THE CHALLENGE:  How many minutes of your day are intentionally left blank? No seriously, count them up.  Do you leave any room to just sit and think? Do you leave enough white space to find those gift wrapped answers? I dare you to stop reading this, unplug, and go experience boredom for a few minutes. String together some blank pages and note the tremendous influence it yields on the remainder of your “book.”

Ignore That Too!

My mother-in-law has many gifts and talents, among which is a passion for quilting.  Browsing through the used bookstore recently, I picked up a title that I thought would help me better understand what makes a quilt worthy of regard.

“Plain and Simple” is a true story of an urban California woman, Sue Bender, who developed an obsession for the Amish and eventually lived among their people to discover their unique culture for herself.  The curiosity was initiated in the 1960s over a spectacular Amish quilt hanging in a department store.  Years later, in the fall of 1981, Sue found three strange looking dolls in a folk art gallery store.  She learned these dolls originated from the Amish and over a six month period received twelve of these dolls from seven different women.

Sue observed that the dolls had no face.  They were silent and serene.  There was no pecking order.  None was better or worse than the others.  They didn’t have to perform or prove anything.  No voice said, “Be happy, cute, or pretty.”  No voice said, “Be a star.”

She continues… “In my world, everyone has a face, and many of us try to stand out.  In their simplicity, these faceless dolls said more with less.  They left more to the imagination.  Maybe accepting who they are, they don’t waste their strength trying to change or compete.”

I’m reading this book to my daughters.  My twelve year old has developed a talent for crocheting.  She has made dozens of her own stuffed animals and other clever creations.  Yesterday, she presented me with a surprise gift, a faceless doll.

Adding to the depth of her message, and a lesson for all, was a message born of pure childlike innocence best explained in her handwritten letter.

“P.S. I know the bag says, ‘Happy Birthday’ on it, just ignore it!”

“P.P.S. I also know it says, ‘To Skyla, Love Grammy and Grampy on it, ignore that too!”

“P.P.P.S. I LOVE YOU!”

What a great way to magnify the message of a faceless doll.  We just need to learn what to ignore.  Truth be told, I didn’t even notice the elements of the bag she was asking me to overlook.  Fancy bows and glittery gifts stopped catching my eye many years ago, but there is a lot more work to do in the art of “overlooking.”  Even though I know we are all crafted from crooked timber, I still spend too much time marveling over the incompetence of humanity at large.

THE CHALLENGE: Noah’s ark couldn’t have smelled very appealing, but it was much safer inside than out in the storm.  Maybe your workplace stinks.  Maybe your family stinks.  Maybe your school stinks. When a patch or stitch in your quilt stinks, approach it like an ark.  Approach it like a faceless doll.  Approach it like the wise innocence of a twelve-year-old child who knows what to look beyond in order to get to the real gift and message!  A “faceless” approach will allow you to “FACE LESS” of the unnecessary noise, drama, and distractions of a turbulent world.

Three Halloween Observations

(1) The rich know how to give.
(2) Opportunities to teach children are abundant.
(3) It’s a great chance to get to know your neighbors.

I will not write about these lessons independently but will share a quick (mostly incoherent) snapshot that hopefully captures the essence of each lesson.

“Let’s go to the rich neighborhood” we used to say as trick-or-treaters.  Not a Halloween went by without some discussion of potentially getting a full sized Snickers bar.  We never made it to “those” neighborhoods.  In fact, no matter where we went there were punk kids stealing bags of hard-earned candy.  (Ironically, I doubt those thieves will ever be in a position to hand out the aforementioned Snickers bars.)

My children love sweets just like anyone else, but they are also no strangers to moderation and healthy food choices.  For this reason, they have been content over the years to just fill up their Halloween buckets and call it a night.  This year they even seemed a bit uninterested, skipping houses that were decorated and had porch lights on.  I was shocked.  How could this be?!?!  “Kid’s we’re going to the rich neighborhood.  Tonight you are going to learn how to hustle!”

pumpkin

We jumped in the car, drove off the military base and down the road a couple of miles.  I explained that “when dad was a youngster” we used to run door to door filling up pillowcases full of candy.  I concluded my unsolicited history lesson and parked the car. We started to pound the pavement, albeit slow at first.  It took the kids an hour to really find their groove.

How rich was the neighborhood you ask?  Depends on your definition of “rich”.  Very small homes were selling for 1.3 million.  Every yard was perfectly manicured.  Most driveways were adorned with luxury vehicles and many families were driving door to door in golf carts.  One family was even driving through the streets giving out candy.  We ended up with 20 “full sized” treats between 3 kids.  (Score!)

There are undoubtedly snobs in this world who happen to be rich and therefore give the wealthy a bad name.  But, my experience last night was remarkable.  There was not a single home in which we were not greeted with exceptional warmth and kindness.  Almost every homeowner interacted with the kids commenting and inquiring about their costumes.  I asked some of the homeowners about a piece of art that I saw hanging up on the wall and they invited me in without hesitation.  There were home builders, artisans, orthodontists, and retirees.  Roughly 50% of the homes held out a bowl of candy and told the kids to “take what you want” and/or “take some more.”  It is evident that the financially independent have become so for a reason.  Most have worked very hard to get where they are, they have learned gratitude and are quick to give back and share, whether it be advice, friendship, material goods or services.

I found plenty of opportunities to teach the kids.  From safety, to hard work, to manners.  My boy is still a bit too young to use a filter and is often brutally honest (as a child should be).  At one home he told an older gentleman that he didn’t like trail mix.  The man’s feelings were hurt, based on the words he murmured under his breath.  I noted the address and will have my son mail him a handwritten apology letter.  My parents and grandparents never tolerated a lack of manners and that has trickled down to their posterity.

THE CHALLENGE:  First, if you think the wealthy segment of the population is a bunch of detestable shmucks, STOP!  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  Isolated incidents do not represent the masses.

Second, teach the rising generation.  They need to learn social skills.  They need to learn principles of safety.  They need to have fun, create good memories and spend time with mom and dad.  They need to learn how to work hard.  Halloween is a perfect opportunity for all of these.  Last night was not at all about the candy, it was about the children.  It was about the education.

Photo by Philip Hay

 

 

“Keep the Change”

While volunteering at a concession stand during a college football game I observed 3 types of customers.

1. The thief – “I need a new bag of popcorn…my son spilled the last one.” I wanted to tell him that we didn’t sell “popcorn insurance”. Perhaps if it wasn’t halftime with an endless line of customers I would have requested photographic evidence.

“Hey you just sold me this bud light and it’s filled with water.” My colleague poured it out and sure enough, it was water. Cause for suspicion?

2. The honest – Some people would stand back and look at the menu for 20 minutes. Others would roll right up without ever looking at the menu and say, “I’ll take a sprite or whatever you have.” Some people had wads of cash, others had to count their pennies. Whether they had money or not, they were honest. “You give me a product or service, I give you money in exchange.” This is 90% of the consumer population.

3. The giver – This percentage of the population made a particularly strong impression upon me.

No tip jar in sight, and they still asked “Do you guys accept tips?”  


As if it wasn’t enough to pay $6 for a soda (or a hotdog encased in a moldy bun), $16 for two beers and $8 bucks for a bag of stale peanuts…then they GIVE after being robbed!

THE CHALLENGE: Find opportunities to be “the giver”. Make someone’s day, remind them there is good in the world. Good is contagious.