Monday, January 28, 2013

Making someone's day

     I may have met more people in two years than the past 10. I worked for an airport shuttle service from 1994 to 1996. The job included picking up and dropping off people from hotels and the airport on Maui. We would sometimes drive people to other destinations like boat harbors and shopping centers. The salary was low and the drivers worked for tips. When I first started there were several Dodge passenger vans. One was a minivan and the others were full sized vans. The oldest vans had no radio and the AC barely worked. The newer vans were the newer body style with AM/FM radios, tinted windows and working air. Having one of the nice vans could make my day. I loved coming into work and seeing that I had been assigned one of the nice new vans.
     Having a nice van could make my day. Conversely, having one of the kukai vans could be a drag, but they didn’t ruin my day. And there were things other than the vehicle I drove that would make a day good or bad. That was the passengers. It’s been 15 years and I still remember some of my passengers.
     I remember a passenger nearly knocking his head on the van’s ceiling when we saw a whale.    He was a doctor from India.
     I remember the woman who belittled me when I told her I was going to be going to teach English in Budapest, Hungary. She saw it as American Imperialism and then yelled at me when I couldn’t illegally park to drop her off right where she wanted.
     I remember the drunken Frenchman who yelled out my window at another car to “geet off de roahd suck-ayre”.
   Sometimes I went of my way for some people who made me count back their change and walked away without tipping and I remember the people who didn’t have the cash to tip me and actually apologized. I loved their honesty and tactfulness to thank me for the ride and not ignore the tip.
     A rude or arrogant passenger could easily ruin my day. And a nice passenger would make my day. What was nice is that they didn’t have to be a shining nice person and give me a generous tip. All it took was just some friendliness. To this day, 15 or 16 years later I remember driving with several passengers one night from the airport to West Maui. One man in his 50’s was traveling with his mother. She told everyone about living on a farm and when her son was a baby how he would climb everything and how one day they couldn’t find him and finally they spotted him high up on the windmill. The whole van was laughing. Of course I don’t remember the tips that I got that I got that night or what van I was driving. I remember the warmth and humanity that was shared with me and several other strangers over just about 30 minutes.
     I know I have a keen memory for things. But I’m not trying to showcase that here. I want to point out that it didn’t take much to make a regular guy in a dead-end job very happy. It’s easy to make people’s day by standing out and being real.
And here’s the thing: This isn’t a charge to anyone to go out and be nice. I just want people to consider that they may already be like this most of the time. If that is you, be encouraged. You may brighten people’s day quite often and not be aware of it. I can never thank that old lady who made the whole van laugh. There may be plenty of people who can never thank you. On their behalf, thanks.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Lights in the Darkness

     I thought it would be a foregone conclusion that my blog entry would be about me getting my new eyeglasses. I got them on Thursday and they were very disorienting at first, but it’s getting better. I wish I had gotten bifocals like the doctor suggested to me. My glasses are off now as I type this, but if I want to turn away from the computer to speak to anyone, I will want the glasses. Anything 18 inches or closer is out of focus with the glasses and fine without.
     I grabbed onto something else to write about though. It’s still along the lines of vision and sight. I was teaching Sunday school as usual. I teach the object lesson where I bring in an everyday object and tell a story about a person from history who models Biblical values. I don’t write the lesson. The curriculum is good, but I have to adjust it for to fit the 4th graders, then the 1st graders, and finally the 2nd and 3rd graders. Sometimes as I teach I see what the kids latch onto and try to impress the point that they get the best. It was just so good this time I wanted to share it.
     I brought my flashlight and told the story of Florence Nightingale. “The Lady with the Lamp” was a light to people in darkness. Back when hospitals could make people sicker for being there, patients were comforted and ministered to by her. I asked the kids, “Why would I need to carry a flashlight? What do we need it for?” The kids answered the easy question with easy answers. You need a light to see when it’s dark. I tried to get them to understand that a light is to guide us. I use it so I don’t bump into furniture in a dark room. But it doesn’t just show me the way, it provides security.
I didn’t bother to tell the kids about a time I was lost in some trees at night or a time I was walking through the underground labyrinth beneath Castle Hill in Budapest. Those were two very scary times of my life. Utter darkness is terrifying when I don’t know what’s there. Just like when I got my new eyeglasses, things appeared just a little wrong and for the first day I felt panicky. Darkness is the same. I’m not afraid of the dark, but there is an inescapable uneasiness when there is an unfamiliar darkness.
The kids I was teaching didn’t need to be reminded that the dark can be scary. So they knew how essential a flashlight is. Then I told them the day’s Bible Verse:
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. Matthew 5:16 KJV
I was getting it as I was teaching it. I was getting excited. “Do you know what?” I said. “Jesus says that YOU are lights.” The kids reacted in surprise. “That doesn’t mean you light up like my flashlight,” I continued. “You don’t glow in the dark…” a girl interrupted to share how her brother once was covered in glow-in-the-dark paint.
“That’s not what Jesus means when he says that you are a light.” I explained. “Now remember, why do we have lights?” I held my flashlight and the kids chimed about being able to see in the dark.
“So,” I said. “If Jesus says that you are a light, what does that mean? Jesus says you’re a light, what are we supposed to do then?”
Hands twitched but the kids just pondered. Finally one little girl raised her hand. I called on her and she said:
“We are supposed be a light to show people Jesus.”
I had her say it again and the whole class murmured in understanding.
I flopped down in my chair and thanked her. I thanked the whole class actually. I had twelve 2nd and 3rd graders. And at that moment I couldn’t think about anything but how 12 little lights were shining in that room.
Yes, kids are inheriting a violent and unpromising world. Like being lost in the dark without a light, some of us are stumbling in confusion with no direction, just panic. Even those like me who are supposed to have seen the light can be afraid and discouraged. I just had to share this. There is light out there. It’s not at the end of the tunnel. That light is inside us and inside those among us. We are the light of the world and are called on to shine and glorify God. And sometimes when it’s so very dark, a small light will be a beacon of hope.

Monday, January 14, 2013

See what's clear

     I knew long before I was told. I had known for a long time. I was finally compelled to face it, literally.  I got my driver license renewal in the mail and made an appointment to go to the DMV and renew. Deep down I wondered if I would manage to pass the test. Not a road test, thank God I don’t have to do that again. And I wasn’t so concerned about the written test either. I figured I could study up on what the speed limit is approaching an unregulated railroad crossing. I know that a pedestrian is second nothing as far as right of way and even though you want to sound your horn and teach them a lesson, that isn’t the correct answer. I figured I would be able to pass the written test. I was concerned about the eye test.
     For the past year or so, Prajna has said to me: “You can’t read that?” Well, no I couldn’t. And the thing is I don’t remember when the road signs became a little blurry. But my weakening vision never seemed to be a hindrance. Even driving, Prajna could read the street signs. If I was alone, no-one would be annoyed if I had to pass the sign before reading it and then turn around. And what was a little blurry vision anyway? It wasn’t like I was blind. I could still tell that something was there and wouldn’t hit anything.
     My appointment came. At the DMV I was not able to read the top line. I leaned against the viewfinder and looked in like a scientist searching for infinitesimal signs of anything. The letters all looked like fuzzy dots. I raised my eyebrows, frowned, squinted, and finally admitted I couldn’t read it. The lady asked me to read the next one down. I couldn’t read that one either. My right eye was finally able to read a line, but my left eye reached the 5th line before I read, or guessed correctly.
     The lady gave me a conditional pass. There wasn’t any actual condition on it. But we both knew what had to happen. I had my picture taken with the same lopsided expression I’ve had for the last three license pictures and did not have to take any written test.
     There was no denying anymore that I needed something to correct my vision, eyeglasses. And the thing that’s funny, and a little scary is this: Once I stopped denying that I indeed needed glasses, things got a lot worse. A few days later in a store I realized how much trouble I had with the signs labeling the aisles. If I was looking down at a book and then looked up and tried to see, it was almost disorienting.
So I went to Walmart’s optometrist thinking they took walk-ins. When I was told no and had to make an appointment a week later, I left the store in a haze. Everything looked like something depicted in a cheap sci-fi movie where light speed is achieved, all distant and smeared. The thought that I had to wait another week seemed impossible. My appointment is today. I don’t know how long it will take to get the lenses made. But Prajna helped me pick out some frames.
     It is interesting that once I stepped out of denial, the situation did not get better, but more urgent. Denial is like a wonderfully warm comforter that I can wear when it’s freezing outside. But to extend the metaphor, I am wrapped in the comforter and it’s outside, nailed to the frozen ground. The temperature is slowly dropping and the comforter stays warm, but I’m still outside and will surely freeze to death eventually. So I stand up and shake off the comforter. Suddenly the cold hits like an icy ocean wave. Now there is a sense of urgency that I have to do something. And I think I can stretch this metaphor just a little further without compromising it.
     I’m standing in the freezing cold next to a blanket that I shook off and I have to get warm. But there is no indoor shelter. The only place there is to go is a group of people who have also shed their blankets and are standing in a huddle close enough to each other that they are keeping one other warm and alive. I have to admit that I have to ask for help and join them if I want to be warm and live.
     I don’t know how much of my denial of my failing eyesight was actually life or death. But my denial in the past has kept me from seeking help when I needed it. Denial, no matter how trivial is not healthy for me. So I’m getting eyeglasses.
     Longer than Prajna has been asking “You can’t read that?” I have been asking her: “What did they say?” Yes, I have failing hearing too. One issue at a time. It’s scary to come out and admit that on my blog that corrective hearing may be next. I want to deny that too. It’s such a comfortable state of mind that I want to go back and delete this last paragraph. If you’re reading it, I managed not to. For now, if you’re speaking to me, please be clear and aim to my right ear.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

When will they ever Learn?

     My parents had record albums. I used to listen to only one side of them. I think that when first learned to use the record player, I put the side I wanted to hear face down on the turntable. I thought that it should be in direct contact with the apparatus that pulled sound from the black disk. The side that was face-up just stared at the spinning ceiling. So I ended up listening to side two of almost any record I played.
     I loved the twanging banjo of the Kingston Trio. The song “MTA” has a bridge where the banjo cheerfully strums. To me, everything is positive with a banjo backup. I sang along to the song “Billy Goat Hill” singing “I lit my log with a broken heart, I lit my log in the little green house that sits on top of Billy Goat Hill.” When my mother corrected me that they were singing I left my love, the song didn’t seem as fun. I enjoyed the idea of the singer, crouched on the floor of a little green house striking match after match trying to set fire to a huge log. It made more sense that leaving someone that they loved. Why would he do that?
     But the song that I thought was the funniest was Where have all the Flowers Gone? I even remarked to someone how funny the song was. The lyrics start out asking where the flowers have gone and the answer comes: “Young girls picked them, everyone.” The next verse asks: “Where have all the young girls gone?”  and is answered “Gone to young men.” Next verse, young men have gone to soldiers. Where have all the soldiers gone? Gone to graveyards everyone. When they finally ask “Where have all the graveyards gone?” the answer comes a capella: “Gone to flowers, everyone.”
     To my young mind, that was hilarious. Those flowers will never be found. The singers will run from the young girls to the young men looking for those flowers and eventually end up in graveyards, whatever those are, only to find out that those young girls have picked them. When will they ever learn?
     I miss having a little mind that didn’t understand too much. I don’t remember the day I learned what a graveyard was, or when I finally realized that the song wasn’t funny at all, but sad and ironic. But there came a time that I listened to the song and wasn’t amused at it. Understanding doesn’t always bring joy.
     Loss of innocence was part of my life, just as I think it’s part of everyone’s. Whether they came suddenly or not, there is a heartbreak in learning some things.
     These losses of innocence create character and can define who I am. Understanding of folk songs is little compared to a fallen role model or disappointment in something believed in. Those things happened to me too. Some of those things still ache once in a while. I will be including them in my spiritual inventory.
     Even though I miss having the naïveté that I used to have, I appreciate what I have now. It’s not a full understanding of how everything is, but a gradual realization that I am still a little clueless about some things and have more to learn. I hope that is a grain of wisdom growing in me. And in answer to the question of the song: When will they ever learn? I hope for me it’s each day.