The Most Important Things...
Some of my earliest memories in life are of family functions in the home of my grandparents, Louis and Gladys Hassell. They lived in the Oak Forest area of Houston on Gardenia Street. They bought the house and moved there early in 1949. It was in June of that year – on my mom’s birthday – that they planted the grass much to the dismay of my mom. This was certainly no way to spend a birthday. My mother and her sister were raised in that house and my grandparents lived there until my grandmother died in March of 2004, one day before the eleventh anniversary of my grandfather’s passing.
There were many family Christmases that took place in that house. Easters, Thanksgiving dinners, birthdays, and many other celebrations filled the house with laughter and joy over the decades, but Christmas was always my favorite. Their house became the center of our family it seemed, because while not every holiday or event took place there, we certainly gathered there more than any other place partially due to the fact that the rest of us moved to different houses from time to time, but mostly I think it was because that was just where we all gravitated to. That house was literally and figuratively the center of our ever expanding extended family.
There is a microwave oven in my bathroom. "Why is there a microwave oven in his bathroom?" is the question that I would assume most of you are asking yourselves right about now. The question that I ask myself when I walk past this appliance of modern convenience is "I wonder why it took me 50 years to realize I need a microwave oven in my bathroom."
And then there's the fact that I may not be in the best of conditions when I reach 100, if I'm still alive that is. I don't want to be a burden to anyone. I don't want to be scared because I can't remember where I parked my car, or where I live, or my own name. Living to be 100 seems to me to be a double edged sword… either a blessing or a curse. I guess I'll have to wait and see which it is for me, if I ever get there.
But anyway, back to the front nine. I've always told Rebecca that I may or may not be smarter than she is… she really is pretty smart in her own right. I've also told her that I have one thing that she doesn't have and cannot argue with, and that is 28 years more experience than she has. I've seen some incredible things in my life. I've been burned by people I thought were friends, and I've felt love from people I thought had forgotten me, either by will or by time. And I couldn't help but learn a few things along the way.
I learned pretty early not to stick my hand in the fire. That one was easy. It only took once for that lesson to sink into wherever things need to sink to so as not to ever be forgotten. I learned that gravity can hurt. That one probably took a little longer to learn. I know now that crawling across rough concrete with bare knees is not the wisest of things to do with my spare time, but I have moving pictures of a very young me doing that very thing, and not having too much concern about it at the time. I cringe and everyone else in the room groans every time we have "Home Movie Night" and we all see firsthand how I was not to be stopped by such trivial matters as rough concrete against bare knees. I was, after all, a toddler with places to go.
I know that just because something is on regular television doesn't mean that it's good for you. I used to watch Benny Hill's show on public television when I was a kid. That could be pretty racy at times, but nothing like the so-called reality we see on the tube these days. I used to think that if it was really all that bad, it would only be shown on cable or at a movie theater. Maybe it was that way once upon a time, but not today.
Yes, I've learned much in my time on the front nine. Some things I wish I didn't know. You know, the kinds of things that make people cynical or untrusting. I wish I didn't know firsthand how people who profess their love for you can turn around and hurt you and not seem to care. I have to admit that I have done that too, long ago, when I was a lot younger. I guess it's karma. I'm guilty and so I had it coming to me. I don't know, but that makes as much sense as any other reason, I guess.
I'm sure that as technology continues to advance at an ever increasingly alarming rate, there will be wonderful things to experience. I'm almost positive that someday in the not too distant future, we will be able to dine out or go on weeklong vacations without having to leave the comfort of our homes, and while such advances sound exciting and wonderful, they also sound horrible and even boring. Sometimes I feel that all these modern conveniences that we have grown so accustomed to have made us all weak and lazy. I dunno. Maybe I'm just getting a head start on the mindless babbling that I'm sure will take up most of my old age.
But here is one thing I know for sure… I will always have a microwave oven in my bathroom from now on. And why? Because I discovered the art of shaving with a shaving mug, soap, and brush many years ago when I was in the Air Force. The easy way for a guy to shave is to use foam out of a can. One can certainly get a decent enough shave that way. I started using hot tap water to create a warm lather with my shaving brush and mug. Then one day I thought about making the water hotter so I heated some water on the stove to use to create an even hotter lather, and that was better. Then I started using the microwave oven to heat water to the boiling point quickly and use that to shave. The natural progression of the thought process is a wonderful thing to behold, isn't it?
So now I need my microwave oven right there where it should be… in the bathroom. And it only took me 50 years or so to figure that out.
Necessity? Convenience? OCD? I'll leave it up to you to decide.
Christmas was coming and as always when I was nine years old, Christmas couldn’t get here fast enough. That was years before I would feel any kind of stress from a rapidly approaching Christmas for which I was ill prepared. As someone who believed that he had become an adult and was therefore somewhat responsible, I began to feel that pressure in my twenties. Sometimes I would start feeling the dread of the upcoming Christmas as early as December 26th.
Man, that’s just wrong.
I really do welcome the spiritual part of the season though. I enjoy my reflections on the true meaning of Christmas, the celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior. I like to read the account of the birth of the Son of Man from the second chapter of St Luke. I feel the peace on Earth and good will to men when I hear Christmas carols. I welcome the feelings of love towards my family, my friends, and the people in my life and from my past that have had a profound influence on who I have become.
And I have become patient over the years when it comes to those packages under the tree, the ones that right after the word “to:” have my name on them. It’s not as though I don’t care what’s in those packages, or have no regard for the time and effort it took someone to pick out and then carefully wrap the item in question. It’s just that I would rather wait until the appointed time to unveil what was meant to be a surprise.
I have known people, and probably still know people today, who simply just can’t wait. They find gift-wrapped present with their name on it and it gnaws at them, it keeps them awake at night, it consumes their lives because they have to know and they have to know NOW. Rational thought becomes scarce. After ensuring no one else is in the house, they will shake this package and listen carefully for any hint of telltale rattling or clinking from within to indicate the contents. If that doesn’t work, they might carefully take note of the shape, size, and weight distribution in order to determine what’s inside.
Then if that fails, there may be a series of actions that goes something like this: There will be a second survey of the house and this time phone calls may be made to confirm the whereabouts of anyone who might suddenly appear through the front or garage door. There will be a methodical studying of the wrapping itself in an attempt to determine the reverse order of the wrapping process. This will be done several times before a cautious finger is ever so carefully eased under a corner the scotch tape. After taking a deep breath, the finger is painstakingly slid the length of the tape with surgeon-like precision in an attempt to separate one flap of delicate wrapping paper from another. As the anticipation grows, another look over the shoulder and a few moments of motionless silence is observed. Once satisfied that the coast is indeed clear, a slow and deliberate lifting of the newly liberated piece of wrapping paper reveals one end of a plain and nondescript brown box. A new strategy must now be formulated.
Meticulous removal of more tape will allow the plain and nondescript box to gradually slide through the opening in the fragile paper and out of the confines of its green and red prison to freedom. More tape is found on the box. More careful finger sliding and tape lifting is needed.
The treasure is finally ready to be revealed. The box is slowly opened and then it’s over. Just like that, it’s over. It is now known what is in store for the future. The surprise is over. No more anticipation. No more wondering. No more guessing. No more trying to catch the giver of the gift off guard and trick him or her into letting the cat out of the bag. It’s known and it can never be unknown again.
And now comes the cleanup. With crime scene attention to detail, there must be a careful retaping of the box, a cautious sliding of the box back in through the opening in the wrapping paper while fearing with every millimeter that one corner of the box will catch and rip the wrapping paper, a deliberate refolding of the paper and then trying to make sure that the tape is reapplied to the exact same position, and finally a placing of the package back under the tree so as not to alert anyone that any gift tampering has taken place. There may or may not be feelings of guilt or shame. There may or may not be sleepless nights worried that a reused piece of tape has lost its adhesiveness and is slowly coming undone. There may or may not be numerous hours spent in front of mirrors practicing reactions of shock and surprise for when the package is officially opened in front of family and/or friends.
Man, I’m exhausted. I need a nap and I need it right now. I personally have never done this so I can’t really imagine how someone who actually performs this procedure would feel afterwards. I’m not judging here. I know that every person makes decisions and has to live with the consequences of those decisions. I know that my way of doing things doesn’t have to be anyone else’s way. It’s just not my thing to let curiosity drive me to do such things as described above, and for me it is a rare thing that I know exactly why I feel a certain way about something. For one, I’ve never been one to handle such intricate details without ultimately making a mess of things.
Mostly though, I remember vividly how I felt when I was nine years old and Christmas was coming.
That was the year I campaigned unabashedly and without pretense for a chemistry set. I’m not really sure where such a desire originated, but I remember that I had to have one, probably to keep up with the Jones’ so to speak. It’s possible that one of my good pals, Randy or Barry or Payson, had one and so ownership of one would of course be required in order to remain in good standing in this circle of friends. I can’t remember. What I do remember however, is that I needed one as surely as my lungs needed air to breathe. Ralphie’s quest for an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot, range model air rifle was certainly pitiful in comparison. And “pitiful” may be one of the all time understatements in the history of mankind.
So I campaigned. I thought about hinting and quickly discarded such foolish thinking. Instead, I blatantly stated to anyone within earshot. I left catalogs lying around the house in conspicuous places opened to pages that proudly displayed pictures and descriptions of the kinds of kits in which I was interested. I did my best to convince Mom and Dad that a chemistry set was essential to my education and development, reciting the benefits of discovering compounds, mixtures, solutions, suspensions, and more. A world of possibilities would open up to me if only I were to know how to make plastic out of milk, a stink bomb, a smoke bomb, and colorful slime all while learning about the basics of elements, atoms, organic chemistry, electrochemistry, indicators, polymers, and much more. Subtlety would not do. This was no time to insinuate. There could be no doubt in anyone’s mind what it was that I would be expecting come Christmas morning.
Now, in our house there on Sierra Madre in Austin, Texas, the family room was the center of activity. That’s where the television (yes, the ONE television) was. It’s where the sofa and reclining rocking chair and fireplace was. A few feet behind the sofa there was a window to the kitchen, a pass-through of sorts. The sofa faced the wall with the television of course, and on that wall to the right of the television was a door. The door opened into a small room off the family room and when opened fully, it was against the wall on the right that separated that room from the garage.
Sometimes that small room was a guest room. Sometimes it seemed to be Mom’s sewing room, though I think she did most of the actual sewing at either of the kitchen or formal dining room tables. It was more like her sewing gear storage room, full of materials and buttons and spools of thread that would someday become serviceable garments for her family. Sometimes the room appeared to be an office. I seem to recall that a desk might have been in there. Not really sure. I do remember that I often had occasion to go into that room for a variety of reasons. Mom might send me in there to grab something for her. Maybe one of my Hot Wheels cars accidentally rolled in there and I had to retrieve it with my Hot Wheels wrecker service. Maybe I was looking for a pencil with which to do homework, but that actually seems unlikely and perhaps a little farfetched upon further reflection.
One day as I went in to that little room for some reason I caught a glimpse of something behind the door. Now, I understand that most people who know me at all will think that I am being sarcastic and even dishonest when I say that I really wasn’t looking for Christmas presents. I must ask for a little faith and trust here. It’s not that I didn’t ever look for hiding places; this just wasn’t one of those times. Whatever I went into that room looking for was in no way connected to Christmas and was immediately forgotten when I spotted that shiny, unwrapped, white metal box hidden behind the door to that little room. I stood there frozen for what seemed like until the next Christmas, not exactly sure what I should do. Dad was at work and I could hear Mom in another part of the house doing some kind of mom-type thing. My little sisters weren’t a real concern either because even if they saw me they were too young to understand the implications of my actions.
I eased the door towards the closed position just enough to get a clear look at that box, and there it was. My chemistry set. It looked like a real cool one too. I remember the excitement I felt oh so clearly. I also remember that this happiness lasted somewhere around a second and a half. What took the place of joy and elation came as a surprise to me, and there were several emotions that came over me. One was guilt, but this was somewhat minor because I hadn’t actively sought out this hiding spot. One was fear that I might either inadvertently let it slip in casual conversation that I had discovered my present or that I might not be able to pull off the surprised reaction when I opened this gift and thereby ruin Christmas for everyone. I was able to easily discard this feeling also, but I would have to be careful.
The feelings that were the strongest were sadness, regret, and disappointment, and not for the reasons you might be thinking. It wasn’t the wrong gift. It wasn’t too small. It wasn’t a different kit that the one I wanted. I was very pleased and most appreciative of what I was to receive. I was sad and disappointed because I had indeed ruined Christmas. Not for everyone else, not even for anyone else, but for me. I had ruined the surprise. No one knew it but me, but I knew. I hadn’t initially done it on purpose, but when I saw that white shiny box I did peek behind the door to get a better look. I was disappointed in myself and I couldn’t truly grasp that concept at such a tender age.
I knew some form of disappointment, sure. I could become crestfallen and sullen when I didn’t get my way. Mom and Dad had been forced to deny many of my requests in the past such as wanting to bring home stray dogs, numerous attempts to spend nights at a friend’s house when we had school the next day, having my own car, or airplane … things like that. But this was the first time I can remember being disappointed in myself for my own actions. I’m sure it happened before that day, but this time it was profound. I hadn’t yet been exposed to much of the ugliness that the world is capable of showing to us so this made a real and lasting impression on me.
I was still learning much of the differences between right and wrong, but I knew perhaps instinctively that this was wrong. The fact that it was accidental didn’t really matter and was of little comfort because the bottom line of the situation was that I had discovered what I was getting for Christmas that year. Sure, it was cool that I was getting it, but I wasn’t supposed to know. This destroyed all anticipation for Christmas morning. I remember almost dreading its arrival. I wanted to forget what I saw, but of course that was impossible. It was done, it couldn’t be undone, and I was sad and disappointed, and I was sorry for what had happened but who could I really apologize to?
I also remember thinking of Mom and Dad and how excited they would be as I opened this awesome present. They should see amazement on my face and I was so scared that my reaction would betray what I knew in my heart… that I had cheated. I broke the rules. This was one of my earliest memories of actually thinking of someone else’s feelings instead of my own. Man, I was heartbroken, and this time it was me that had broken my own heart.
Christmas morning came as scheduled and I opened my presents and was truly happy and joyful when I opened that package that contained the chemistry set. It was the “big” present for me that year. And while the happiness and joy were real, I had to feign surprise. Maybe I pulled it off, maybe not. Even if I was transparent in my attempt to fake surprise, I doubt that anyone who was there that Christmas morning 40 years ago will remember anything that explicitly stood out about the incident. It’s probably no more than a very minor footnote from a Christmas long ago for everyone else, if even that.
For me though, it was a life altering accident and then error in judgment.
These days, Sheri will on occasion let me know that she has some kind of surprise for me. I do the same for her. It’s fun to surprise someone you love, especially if it’s a good surprise. I finally grew out of the kinds of surprises that involve such things as jumping out from behind doors. Those aren’t the good kinds of surprises. The kinds I’m referring to involve happiness, smiles, hugs, and maybe tears of joy. Over the years though, it’s become a fun game for me to try to get the secret out of her and the first few times we engaged in such a battle of wills she gave in too easily. I was disappointed all over again when that happened.
I think she knows now that it’s more the challenge of breaking her than it is actually discovering what she’s trying to keep from me. It’s a game. The real fun is watching her get frustrated at my attempts to trick her into revealing too much. I think she really knows how I feel and will sometimes spill the beans on purpose me just to teach me a lesson. Maybe it’s too dangerous a game to play even if the ultimate outcome may seem insignificant.
I truly do not want to know now what is meant to be a future surprise. I don’t even want hints. I love pleasant surprises and I will wait patiently until I am told I can uncover my eyes and look upon what someone has put much thought into. I prefer to not know the gift of a surprise that someone has taken the time and energy to create for me. I will be patient. I will not try to find out until you are ready for me to find out.
I’ll just wait, and then we can enjoy the moment together.
I feel as though I have starting losing control of my own life. Some of this loss is of my own doing, but some is not. The illusion of control itself is an interesting concept to me as far as how much control we can really have. Consider the following strip from Bill Watterson:
As you can see, what we think of as control can become nonexistent in a hurry. I like this strip as a reminder of how things really are.
So what does this have to do with me losing control of my own life?
Back when I was in grade school, I learned (unwilling though that learning might have been) the three laws of motion. In simplistic terms, they are as follows:
1. An object at rest tends to stay at rest unless moved by an outside force.
2. An object in motion tends to stay in motion at the same speed and direction unless changed by an outside force.
3. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
Recently, I have begun to view my life a little differently, not so much as a timeline, but as such an object that is subject to Newton’s laws of motion.
Let me explain.
My life will go on with or without my influence as long as it is supposed to. How long is that? I don’t know, nor am I supposed to know. I’m sure that my Father in Heaven doesn’t need my opinion on the matter, but I’ll give it anyway. I think it’s a wonderful idea for us not to know the hour of our departure from this life. If I knew, I could fill my life with sin, debauchery, and other vile habits, and my only responsibility would be to keep track of time so as to be able to make a full confession, repent, and turn my life around completely and totally five minutes before the appointed time of death. Good idea from the viewpoint of the sinner but not really what God had in mind for our test, right?
Anyway, back to the explanation. My life will go on in a straight line and at the same speed (Newton’s 2nd Law) unless outside forces change it. If we can agree on that, then let’s examine what some of those outside forces are. First and foremost is God. There’s an old saying that goes “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” I believe that we are allowed to make our own plans for our lives, and that we can implement those plans, but only so far as they don’t conflict with God’s plans. Illness, natural disasters, other people are but a few of the influences that can alter our plans. Remember Job? Here was a man who did everything right and he was full of faith and was prosperous, but God had other plans for him, at least for a while.
The opposing team can certainly alter our plans too. We can start to feel inadequate or undeserving of the fruits of our plans. Where does that come from? We can start to question our own faith in ourselves and in our plans, especially if those plans are in harmony with God’s desires.
OK… so setting aside for the time being those two forces that can change the motion of our lives, what else is there? Well, quite a bit I would say. Other people’s plans for their own lives can alter our motion. Someone else’s agenda can easily knock us off course, especially if we’re the kind of people who are content with just letting inertia carry us through life, and not exerting much outside force to either change the direction or speed of our lives, or to get ourselves back on course when some other force causes an unwanted change.
Sometimes our own lack of focus can change the direction we are going. We can make a plan, a great plan, to do this or that and we make all the necessary arrangements and get everything in place and maybe even put forth the effort required to set that plan in motion. Things are going great and the plan is working out wonderfully because we are monitoring and making adjustments (outside force) as needed and then something distracts us. A new idea spawns a new plan. Someone comes by with an invitation to join their plan. Maybe we just get bored because the plan isn’t moving as fast as we thought it would. With some people, this happens more easily than with others. We stop monitoring the original plan, other outside forces change the velocity and trajectory of that plan, things begin to go haywire, and before we know it the results of our original plan are disastrous and are nowhere near where we thought they would be when we made our plan. Sound familiar? It sure does to me.
Sometimes our own lack of monitoring (called sensory acuity) dooms our plan from the get-go. We make a great plan, prepare it, and then set it in motion only to believe that it will go along as planned without any further effort. Try getting your car pointed straight down the road and then let go of the steering wheel and see how that works out for you. Minor, and sometimes major, corrections will always be needed to keep your plan from drifting off into the ditch, especially in the beginning. Other plans may have to be included in this plan, then others, and then some will have to be monitored more closely than others, and you look up one day and see what was once one simple plan has become something that has taken on a life of its own with many plans intertwined and tangled up looks to be at first glance nothing more than a random unmanageable mess. So we might tell ourselves that we just can’t handle this anymore. Time to quit. Time to cut our losses or save our sanity and move on. Time to make a new plan.
Sometimes other people will sabotage our plans. They might do this out of jealousy or greed. Maybe they do it out of meanness or spite. Maybe they just don’t like me and want me to fail. Maybe we started out with the same goals so we combined our plans together and then they wanted to change their plan. When they apply a force to their plan doesn’t it affect our plan too? Maybe it’s done unwittingly, not knowing that their actions are causing an outside force to alter the inertia of our own plan. Maybe they just don’t care. Even as I write this it seems that I’ve become cynical and untrusting, and maybe I have. I can justify my cynicism though because these things have happened to me and my plans. Sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally, sometimes even unknowingly, but they have happened. After a while it begins to wear a person down, you know?
Sometimes our plan just isn’t thought out all the way. Some people dive in head first before knowing how deep the water is. Unforeseen circumstances (outside forces) pop up and we aren’t prepared to deal with them and keep on truckin’, so we shelve the plan for the time being and then usually never get back to it. For every successful plan that achieves its intended fruition, there must be millions and millions and millions that never reached or even really came close to its desired outcome.
Even more tragic than that are the plans that were really awesome, well thought out, all the necessary arrangements and preparations were made, and then fear of failure (outside force) keeps us from giving the stationary object the needed nudge to set it in motion. We start to think to ourselves “Who am I to think that I can really pull this off?” or something of that nature. I’m sure that some plans just shouldn’t be put into motion, so ridiculous or evil or downright goofy are they that it would really be better off to set it aside and move on. More often than not though, it’s some kind of fear or self doubt. And the real tragedy is when those fears/self doubts come from other people who haven’t taken the time or spent the energy to learn all of the different aspects and nuances of the plan, and thus become nothing more than naysayers. We all have people in whom we trust lead us astray from time to time. It’s rarely of a malicious nature, but more likely stems from inadequate information or a lack of shared vision. For every successful plan that achieves its intended fruition, there must be millions and millions and millions that never really even got started.
There are also times when it is completely appropriate to let others tell us what we should be doing (apply outside force). Most of us work for someone else. It is up to that person or someone else that the boss designates, to let us know what our actions should be. When I went to work for my current employer, I agreed to let him apply the forces to the motion of my life that would help him achieve the goals of his plan in return for monetary compensation. That was the deal even though it was never really laid out in those terms. There is always a trade off though. If my boss tells me to do something that goes against my own set of beliefs or morals or personal standards, then I am free to apply my own outside force and either try to make a change in this person’s plan for me, make my own new plan and change jobs, or I can ignore my own rules and let this person have total control over the actions and forces that determine the path I travel, at least while I’m at work. I trust that he will not put me in a position to have to make that decision, or I would have never agreed to work for him. Isn’t that what we all do?
And so goes our lives, in motion, changing speed or direction only when some outside force is applied. When all of that force is from external sources, God, Satan, spouses, parents, siblings, children, in-laws, friends, enemies, bosses, customers, DMV employees, business associates, strangers on the street, members of our church congregations, those two ladies that are talking loudly while I’m in the library writing this, etc… then we have little or no control of our lives. But when we make an effort to decide who will or will not be able to apply an outside force to the motion of our plans and lives, then we can regain some or even most of that control. That having been said, it must also be noted that my faith and knowledge of the workings of the Kingdom of Heaven tell me that the will of God will not be controlled by me, and the whisperings of Satan, while able to be ignored, will not be silenced by me.
So how do we ever even get through a single day with all of these plans in motion, and all of the outside forces that alter our plans, and all of the forces that we must apply to the inertia of our own lives, and all of the decisions that must be made regarding those forces, etc…? I mean, it really sounds like a daunting task doesn’t it, especially when you stop and think that all of this activity goes on during every single waking hour, not to even mention all of the outside forces that continue to alter our lives while we are sleeping and unaware.
Man, I'm tired all of a sudden.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this over the last few days, and have made some decisions regarding outside forces.
I am tired of letting every little outside force have a major impact on my life. I’m tired of being bounced around like a rag doll on a trampoline, pushed along like a twig in a raging river, or perhaps held back from my desires as though I were mired in quicksand. More often than not though, I basically feel like a ball-bearing in the world’s largest and most frenetic pin-ball machine. Ding-ding-ding as I get bounced from flipper to bumper to bumper to bumper, up this ramp and through a tunnel and down that chute only to be bounced and flipped and bumpered more and more and realizing that I am powerless to stop it or even slow it down. I am done with this pinball life.
I am in the process of revisiting some of my old plans and desires to determine which ones I still wish to pursue. I am also in the process of reviewing my own life plan so I can live the life I was meant to live. There are so many things I want to accomplish in this life and I have allowed myself to become complacent, letting any and all outside forces push me from here to there and having neither the courage nor the strength to push them aside or even to make an effort to apply enough force to get myself back on track. Letting that happen is how I ended up in Missouri in the first place. And I have decided that most of the force that I will allow to change my progress will come from me and me alone.
Oh sure, there will be others who will have some impact, I’m not foolish enough to think that I can live in a vacuum, not affecting anyone and being affected by no one. Aside from God, Sheri will surely be able to apply more force than anyone to alter the direction of my life. My parents, my children, my extended family, my friends, etc… will also have some input, albeit a lesser amount than I’ve permitted in the past. There used to be things I wanted to accomplish in this life, and as I approach what could ostensibly be the halfway point in a 100 year long life, it’s time to take back control, and start monitoring the forces that can alter the body in motion that is my life.
Anthony Robbins says that real change is usually a response to one of two things, desperation or inspiration. Most of the time people will only make changes in themselves when they become desperate. For me, it seems to be more frustration than anything else, which I guess is a form of desperation in this context. I can look down the road and usually see where I’m headed. It’s increasingly rare that I’m happy about what seems to lie ahead. Then I look back and see the forces that have changed the way my life has gone, and as I said at the outset, some of those forces were self inflicted, and others were thrust upon me. I take full responsibility for those which I caused myself. I will no longer be at the will of other people’s plans for me, and I will correct a few wrongs along the way. They say that two wrongs don’t make a right, and I have always believed that, but some things need to be corrected, and some people will answer for what they’ve done.
Apply force when I must, respond wisely and swiftly to outside forces, control what I can control, accept what I cannot control, and keep God and Sheri around to let me know the difference.
I’m still not quite sure how it happened, but once it happened the first time it was easier and easier to keep on going, so that’s what I did. As Bob Dylan so elegantly put it, “The only thing I knew how to do was to keep on keeping on.”
In hindsight it probably wasn’t one of my better decisions, but then who looks back at their good choices and thinks “You know, in hindsight that was a great move I made back then”? No, hindsight is best kept for those things we look back on with the clarity of a little more experience, and with the outcome and consequences in full and clearly focused view.
Then there’s the issue of Sheri’s thoughts about what I had done. She loved it. She’s one of those people who foolishly look back and thinks what I did was a great thing. She was happy with the outcome. She was thrilled with the new Lynbo. She wanted me to keep on keeping on and on and on. And that’s what I did for about three months.
Oh yes, it was easier to maintain. And yes, it was nice to be able to not obsess for those three months. It took quite a bit of getting used to, and I’m not entirely sure I ever did get used to it, but I was dealing with the ramifications like a good little soldier, a real trooper right up until I realized that the person I was seeing in the mirror just wasn’t me, no matter how hard I tried to make it so.
So I stopped. I don’t know if I will ever do this thing again, and I’ve started telling people this. I even had to have the dreaded heart to heart with Sheri to explain my current feelings on the matter, much to her dismay because she really did love it.
First, let’s back up a few months to the last week in August.
Sheri and I were in Michigan taking a break from the everyday hustle and bustle of our lives in Missouri and visiting her family who live there. When we visit, we stay in Spring Lake at a condo owned by her father and step-mother. It’s so nice to go there and have this wonderful place to hang our hats for a week or so. We always get lots of family time in, the nieces and the nephew usually come out and spent some quality time with Sheri and me, and it’s a very relaxing place to be. It doesn’t end up being one of those vacations where you’re just so busy going here and there and visiting this person and those people and having dinner with this part of the family one evening and then be expected for an early brunch with old friends or….. and on it goes until you feel like a vacation is needed from the vacation. No, these are really nice leisurely trips and we have always returned home feeling relaxed and rejuvenated.
Well, this last trip was shaping up to more of the same, which is good with Sheri and me. If it ain’t broke, you know. On our second night there, I decided I needed a haircut. My haircut decisions usually come to me this way. I never have been on a hair maintenance schedule of any kind except when I was in the Air Force, and even then I resisted and waited until my commander would make the decision (direct order) that it was time for a trim. I always wait until way after I start getting, and then stop getting, hints from family, usually from Sheri. Sometimes those hints would come close to the “hints” my Air Force bosses would give to me, but let’s get real here… I’m not in the military anymore, am I?
So anyway, back to the decision. I decided that it was time. Now here’s where things started to go in a different direction than all of my previous haircuts. I once allowed myself to be talked into a really short haircut, a buzz cut so to speak. No scissors, just those electric clippers that barbers use for trimming the back of the neck or sideburns. Some guys of course go for this kind of look all the time, but this was a first for me and I really didn’t dig it. It was quite some time before I got another haircut after that.
Here we were now on a Sunday evening in the condo overlooking the lake and I decided that this would be a good time for a haircut. Sheri had been after me ever since the clippers experience a few years before to try it again. She suggested it again on this night as the moon shone down happily over the lake, and this time I relented. Yes, the buzzing was about to take place again.
I positioned a chair in the middle of the kitchen and went in search for my beard trimmer. That’s right; it was to be by beard trimmer this time. Then she and I thought about the mess we were about to make, and started looking for a broom. No such luck. We had to find another way to keep from walking across a hairy kitchen floor every time we wanted something out of the fridge. In the end, I ended up sitting in the chair and leaning over one of those big throwaway aluminum roasting pans while Sheri stood behind me, then beside me, then on the other side of me, then in front of me, then back behind me again, all the while buzzing away at my hair.
I couldn’t even look.
When she was done and I opened my eyes, there in front of me in the pan that I was holding was what was once my hairdo. As a guy who has been losing his hair steadily for most of his adult life, I was surprised to see how much hair there was in that pan. I decided immediately and resolutely that what I was looking at looked better on my head than it did in that pan. I hated what I was looking at. But there it was in front of me whether I liked looking at it or not.
Now this is the way I think sometimes. I thought for a few brief moments about going down to the market in town and buying some of that candle-making wax, melting it on the stove, pouring it over my head, and sticking all that hair back into it one hair at a time, only a little more spread out so as to cover up the thinning spots and bring the hairline down my forehead just a little. Then I’d have the best of both worlds, right? Good hair when I wanted it, and just take it off when it got too hot for all that hair.
For a precious few seconds, this was a viable and intelligent option, obviously not taking into account some very important details. For that short amount of time I didn’t consider that pouring melted wax over my head probably wasn’t the greatest of ideas. I also hadn’t pondered how I was going poke in one hair at a time in the exact location and at the exact angle to create this wonderful Michael Douglas hairstyle before the wax hardened. It also hadn’t occurred to me what would happen when I went outside feeling all great and confident about my new look and the hot August sun started doing its thing on the wax. Ever leave crayons out on the sidewalk in the summertime? Ever see the movie “Teen Wolf”?
So, no wax, no poking in hairs, no Michael Douglas coif.
Instead, I had another idea, and this was the “looking back in hindsight” idea spoken of earlier. A few months earlier, in a restaurant in Springfield, I spotted a guy a few tables over who shaved his head and had a goatee to kind of off-set things, and I thought it looked good. Looked manly, you know. My brother-in-law Robert had this same look when we went out to California for my daughter Jessica’s wedding, and it worked for him as well. OK, so some guys can pull it off. I would never know unless I tried it, right?
So I put a pot of water on the stove, and once it was boiling, I took the pan into the back bathroom and proceeded to put to use all of my shaving experience. I prepped the head with a towel soaked in the boiling water. I used some of that same water to whip up a rich and hot lather with my shaving brush, shaving soap, and mug. I applied this hot lather to my head and spent the next 30 minutes shaving my head completely and totally bald. Yep, that right boys and girls. Telly Savalas, Yul Brynner, and Lynn Henry. (or Vin Diesel, Bruce Willis, and Lynn Henry for the younger crowd.)
It was slightly pale under there but all in all it wasn’t bad. A couple of days in the sun and a little of that instant spray on tan in the meantime fixed it right up. Sheri loved it. She said I had a good shaped head for it, and I think she was right. I looked at it over and over, sometimes with two mirrors so I could see the back, and it wasn’t as bad as I had thought it would be. I even had the goatee to go with it.
I took a photo of my new look and sent it to some family members and a couple of close friends. The following are a few of the text responses I received back.
From daughter Rebecca: Omg! What, did u, do!?
Then 17 minutes later: Its not bad! Surprising but not bad
From my friend Lee: Yikes skinhead
From my friend Paul: What happened to you?
From my friend Dave, who keeps his hair really short: Wow! That’s less than
mine! I love it!
From my niece Mary: You’re so bald!
From my daughter Jessica: What up baldy? ^_^
From my friend Melinda: Nice do! What’s the occasion?
Over all, relatively good support.
Then my mother called. The first words out of her mouth when I answered the phone were “it WILL grow back, RIGHT?” I knew there would be those who would be shocked at what I had done, but Mom clearly was not going to be a fan. I kind of knew this going in, but she really didn’t like it all. I knew Dad would love it, but Mom was going to need time to adjust.
Once I had sent out the photo and received some replies, some of the sensations hit. Men who have had a beard for years and then shaved it off will understand. Walking, even walking in the confined space of the condo, became distracting. Just the act of walking created a gale force wind sensation on skin that hadn’t felt so much breeze since it was… well, in gale force winds. Just by walking across the room caused my head to move through still air which created this feeling of standing about 3 or 4 yards away from a F3 tornado. It was most disconcerting.
And that was just inside. Going outside for the first time was even more discombobulating. And all of this new breeze was cold, even in August. The sun beat down and warmed my head, and the breezes blew and froze my head… this was way too much new sensation for me.
I bought a hat.
Over time I became accustomed to the breezes and to the way those breezes cooled my head, because it was summertime and it really was comfortable being outside and feeling the wind in my… scalp. There was one thing however that I could never get used to, one thing that drove me into near convulsions every time it happened. Rain! Rain on my shaven head totally freaked me out. And it wasn’t just the first time either, it was every stinking time it rained and I was out in it.
It was also a few weeks before I could take a shower and go through my post-shower routine without getting to the part when I go back into the bathroom and grab my comb. When I did this then looked in the mirror, I would usually say out loud to my reflection, “What an idiot!” That was always funny to me when I did that.
The actual act of shaving got easier too. I got it down from my initial half hour to somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes. I also started browsing websites for guys who shave their heads, my favorite being www.slybaldguys.com and picked up some shaving and head care tips. It was a new life for me, to be sure, and I wanted to make sure I did it right and enjoyed myself along the way.
As time went on however, that guy looking back at me in the mirror wasn’t right. Somewhere deep down, I have this idea of who I am, and that guy isn’t bald, at least not by choice. That guy was a child of the ‘60s growing up in Austin, Texas. That guy is, and there’s really no way around this, a hippy at heart. OK, maybe not a full blown pot smoking flower child VW van driving peace-sign waving hippy, but at least a guy who prefers longer hair (and ok, I’ll take the VW van too if I can find one.)
So, I have retired the head-shaving razor. I still have the microwave in the bathroom for face shaving and I still use the mug-brush-shaving soap-boiling water method of shaving, but I just stick to my face from now on. This morning, I even shaved off part of the goatee, the solid white part that was on my chin, and am left with the old Lynbo standard Fu Man Chu mustache and bottom lip whiskers, the soul patch. Sheri likes the facial hair better this way, and especially likes the white on the bottom (at the jaw-line) of the FMC stache, she says it looks like I dipped it in milk, but I know she would prefer the sly bald guy she was married to for a few brief months. She would even take the full goatee along with it.
Sorry Babe, it’s just not me.