Monthly Archives: April 2012
Some of life’s most important lessons are the ones we sometimes never learn at all.
And some of life’s simplest lessons are the ones we often just ignore - like the problem with rocks in the road.
As a bicyclist, I ride an average of at least 10 miles a day. Because of that, I ride over a lot of rocks. For the most part, I don’t even realize the rocks are there. But every once in a while, my tire hits a rock and – due to speed or angle – I get knocked off course and sometimes even knocked down. Getting knocked down hurts, and sometimes the resulting injuries even leave scars.
Because of that, when I do notice a rock, I try to avoid it. And when there are a lot of rocks, I might even change course.
That’s life on my bike.
But I’ve noticed a lot of “rocks on the road” in the rest of my life too.
These rocks are often comments or actions that people believe are completely normal and appropriate. But to the nearby traveler on the road of life, those same words or actions may be slightly offensive or, at worst, hurtful. Sometimes they can also cause people to change course or fall down.
Just the other day, I was having coffee with a colleague who told me that years ago she had come to my office to talk about the possibility of interning with me. When she dropped by for the unscheduled visit, she was told I was in a meeting but that I was just with my intern and could be interrupted.
That one word “just” was enough to make her turn around and walk out the door. She didn’t want to be “just an intern.”
To be honest, I think I might have been the person who told her not to worry, and she changed the story to make me feel better. I don’t remember, but regardless of who said it, the word “just” became a rock in her life’s road.
Fortunately, for my colleague, her change of course is working for her. But she also had the advantage of already having several life successes under her belt. She could handle that rock.
I worry more about people who have so many rocks in their road that they can’t avoid them: people who have been knocked down so many times that they don’t trust that the road ahead gets any easier. Sometimes they’ve fallen so much, they have permanent scars.
For the most part, I don’t think we are doing this on purpose. But, at times, I think we are, especially when we make judgments about people whose circumstances we know nothing about. That’s when we become victim of the rocks in our heads.
I’ve noticed a trend of people posting comments online that belittle others who are “on welfare” or “on food stamps” or that make assumptions about people based on appearance. I don’t know which is the bigger rock: those comments or the bitter ones about people with expensive shoes, phones or cars who are receiving some sort of government assistance.
Here’s the deal. I, like most people I know, don’t believe that government assistance should be a permanent way of life. I also don’t believe that government assistance should be used for anything but basic needs. And I don’t believe smart phones and SUV’s are basic needs. I also agree that some people manipulate the system, and that we need to be diligent about stopping such abuse.
However, I also know that most people who receive assistance have fallen on hard times. Some may have previously afforded a lifestyle that included expensive clothes and cars. But then they lost their job or faced another crisis that caused them to deplete all their available resources, including help from friends and family. After that, they were forced to seek public assistance. That expensive car may be all they have left after losing their home, a spouse or a way of life.
Instead of assuming the rocks in their road are their own fault, maybe we should think about how we can pick some up, roll them out of the way or help these individuals navigate a new course.
Doing this follows the simplest life lesson: do unto others as we wish them to do to us. I know if and when I hit tough times, I don’t want to ridiculed and/or blamed.
But this lesson is so simple that a lot of us ignore it when convenient. Or until there’s a rock in our own road. Or until we get the judgmental rocks out of heads.
Unfortunately, sometimes those rocks in our heads are harder to get rid of than the rocks in our roads.
Quite the opposite in fact.
The moment he joined our family, his fate was sealed.
I was too young to remember how Mr. Muffet arrived at our house or even when his name changed.
All I know is that Mr. Muffet was Miss Muffet until my cat-loving grandmother from Massachusetts visited our Oregon home. All things considered, my grandmother probably thought my parents were trying to make some kind of statement about gender stereotypes, but she wasn’t going to have any of it. She told them in no uncertain terms that Miss Muffet was just not an appropriate name for a male cat.
My father, who had previously tried unsuccessfully to breed rabbits, (he was unsuccessful because they were all female) heeded her advice, and Mr. Muffet’s name was modified accordingly. But his status as a full-fledged member of the family never changed.
Which, apparently, is why he went with us on a family vacation to the Oregon Coast.
I was recently reminded of the trip during a conversation with a couple of co-workers. Both were discussing the trauma of having to ship their cats overseas.
“I’ve never shipped a cat,” I said. ”But I do remember the time my family took our cat to the beach.”
They both looked at me in disbelief.
“Why,” they wanted to know, “would you take your cat to the beach?”
I couldn’t answer their question. But since cats were the topic, curiosity got the best of me. I had to call my mom and ask why.
“I don’t remember,” she told me.
“But we did take the cat to the beach, didn’t we?” I asked.
“Yes, we did,” she answered. “I just don’t remember why. Probably because cats are easy, and we didn’t want to travel an hour to have him boarded.”
I didn’t even ask why a neighbor couldn’t have taken care of Mr. Muffet. Instead, I pressed on with the bigger issue. “And he pooped in the car, right?”
“Yes,” she sighed. “Yes, your memory is correct. He pooped in the car.”
She was obviously done with the conversation, so I didn’t push the issue. But I did tell my co-workers that I wasn’t imagining the trip.
Not only did we take Mr. Muffet on vacation with us, but we didn’t even have a carrier for him. (Were cat carriers even around in the early 1970′s?) Because of that, he was simply free to move around the cabin. But he didn’t. He stayed on the vent behind the back seat where my brother and I were riding.
That was either his favorite spot or he was too terrified to move, even when he had to poop. As a result, he pooped in the vent right behind my head.
There is no way to describe 1) the smell, or 2) how determined my mother was to get the mess cleaned up.
My mom was determined for a long, long time.
The good news for Mr. Muffet was that he soon had a lot more places to poop.
Always an equal member of the Bartlett family, Mr. Muffet accompanied us on our first walk on the beach (a beach comprised mostly of sand dunes.) He probably thought he’d landed in the world’s largest litter box.
He did his best to take advantage of the situation, but after an hour of running through the dunes, scratching in the sand and doing his business, the poor cat was simply exhausted.
Fortunately, our trip home was much less memorable than the one to the coast. Unfortunately, I don’t have many more memories of Mr. Muffet.
He disappeared shortly after the infamous vacation.
For years, I was convinced that a less adventurous family had found and adopted him. I was equally sure that he was quite relieved that he didn’t have to live with my crazy family anymore.
I was well into adulthood before I learned the truth: Mr. Muffet had been hit by a truck on the highway near our home.
I appreciate that my parents tried to protect me from the facts, but I also think they were trying to protect themselves. I’m certain that the adventures with Mr. Muffet had a significant impact on them.
He was, after all, my only cat growing up. After he “disappeared,” we only had dogs. And, I must say, dogs travel a lot better.
Apparently, I’ve never been very impressed by men with power. If I had been, my life may have changed forever when I was seven years old.
But I wasn’t, it didn’t and all I have to show for my brush with fame is yet another story about how headstrong I can be.
There are a lot of those stories, but only one about my brief encounter with Hollywood.
A television crew had arrived near the small town where I lived in Central Oregon. At the time, my mother was an enthusiastic newspaper reporter who never missed an opportunity to combine her job with the opportunity to expose her family to a world bigger than the one where we lived.
As I recall, I was already impressed with the world around me. But then, my memory may be a bit biased. One of the advantages of living thousands of miles from your childhood home is that distance enhances the warm fuzzy glow of nostalgia.
And when it comes to my childhood, I am a completely nostalgic for everything that isn’t part of my adult life: sagebrush and juniper trees, cattle drives and rodeos and, most of all, ghost towns.
I loved visiting Shaniko, the ghost town near our home. I loved the stagecoach. I loved the jail. And most of all, I loved the old hotel with the wooden Indian standing guard next to the front door.
Apparently Hollywood felt the same, because Shaniko was the site of an episode of the short-lived television show “Movin On.”
(Thanks to the internet, evidence of that event still exists at http://www.fredmiranda.com/forum/topic/875245. I’m even convinced my dad is
in the third to last photo standing just to the left of a sign that says ‘Home Style Cafe.)
At first, I was excited about the opportunity to be on the set of a national television show, but my interest was short-lived. Watching the television shoot was tedious and boring. The actors and crew just repeated the same short scene over and over and over again.
And while I was completely bored, my brother sensed opportunity and tried to seize the moment. Every time the cameras started rolling, he started coughing. There was no doubt he was determined to get his voice heard on national television.
The director was just as determined that it would not be heard.
And the battle between the two became epic. At one point, the frustrated director took a break to mingle with the crowd.
But he didn’t do much mingling.
Instead, he headed straight for my family.
I was hoping that he was going to ask us to leave or at least give my brother a muzzle. Instead, he focused all his attention on me and serenaded me with “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head.” He ended the song by kissing me on the forehead.
I should have been in awe. I should have been gracious. I should have seized the opportunity to suggest that I join Ron Howard’s brother, the kid from “Gentle Ben”, who was a cast member for that episode. Instead, I gave him what, in my adult life, has become known as “the Trina look.”
That look said it all: I didn’t want a song; I didn’t want a kiss; and most of all, I didn’t want to be watching this boring television show.
Our family left shortly after the incident.
Since then, I’ve often wondered if the director had recognized potential in me. I like to think so, although he probably just felt sorry for me because I had such an annoying brother.
Whatever the reason, he singled me out, and I didn’t provide the reaction he was most likely hoping for. Because, even back then, I didn’t like feeding the ego of people in positions of power. I still don’t.
But I’ve also come to recognize all the opportunities I’ve lost because of that.
Acknowledging their power, or perceived power, doesn’t mean I’m giving up mine. When I’ve rushed to judge people who seek the limelight , I’m most likely the person who is losing something. After all, the television director in Shaniko didn’t need to sing to me to build up his ego. He probably just saw a little girl in a crowd and wanted to make her feel important too. And I didn’t give him that chance.
And I’ll never have that chance again.
But other opportunities may arise, and when they do, I’m hoping the memories I make don’t end with “what if.”
Because a life with “what ifs” is similar to a ghost town: a shell of what could have been with few opportunities to make new memories.
I’m planning on making a lot more memories.