A simple word. Two letters. When it comes to packing a punch, ‘no’ is without peer. Very few words have fewer letters, but in the Pantheon of Versatility we bloggers call language, how many words can do more?
Yesterday, Rick and I spent more than an hour wandering our local home improvement superstore on a quest. We were in search of shelving solutions to two problems we have in the new place.
The first problem is a peninsula counter in the kitchen that used to have a middle shelf. Past tense. But now we live there and we want that shelf back in order to drop the box count of kitchen equipment still without a home. The second is a linen closet at the end of a hallway suffering from the same missing shelf syndrome. Having spent what we needed to spend to get this move made, the need for fuller function runs headlong, as it often does, smack into frugality, an art form I’ve spent years perfecting.
“No. Not that one. Too much.”
“How about this one?”
“No. Too flimsy.”
On and on it went, back and forth. But it was OK because we were there on a mission to improve our situation. From one end of the store to the other…and back again. “You know, I think I remember seeing something back on the other side…” And off we’d go, retracing our steps back to aisle 142 with a new thought of what might just work. “Nope. We’ll have to cut too much off.” And the walking tour resumed anew.
It may be one of the first words we come to understand as infants. Take a poll. Ask any toddler. Is there a word, any word, they hear more often? No. And do the polling numbers change once you’ve started going to school? No. ‘No’ is everywhere and it’s been spreading for centuries. “Sign, sign, everywhere a sign. Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind. Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?”
Yesterday, as we walked around the store looking for our answers, it struck me. It isn’t the face value of ‘No’ that makes it powerful. ‘No’ depends on which end of the motive we’re standing. “No, you can’t keep the dolphin you found and no, the bath tub is not big enough” can be flipped. It can become a source of power. ‘No’ becomes a measure of the quality you expect. “No, I’m an adult now. I saved my money. I can adopt a dolphin and I will not rest till I have a bathtub equal to the task. It’s called the Atlantic. Any questions?” I thought not.
Now ‘no’ is coming from the inside. ‘No’ transcends its former constraint when it goes all rogue positive. ‘No’ becomes a two-letter symbol for not settling for good when you expect better. You know you’re on to something when ‘no’ refuses to leave the conversation until your standards have been met, not someone else’s.
My last round of ‘quit smoking’ went down in flames. It happens. In fact, from what I’ve learned about beating addictions, it happens quite often. But my decision to stop smoking is not accidental. Neither is the urge to light up. Like so many other habits, the habit takes on a life of its own in order to perpetuate itself. I’ve named it Beast.
No. I’m not done. I will quit. So I begin again. It was real early this past Wednesday morning and I’m sitting on Chicago’s River Walk talking to my coach Kathy on our second scheduled phone call in the 8-week program. We’re talking about making each time Beast comes knocking on my door an opportunity to decide if I’ll let him in – or not. What did I think about the idea of practicing the art of saying ‘no’? Am I quitting smoking when I say ‘no’ or am I choosing something else that’s better instead? In that moment talking with her, I had a gestalt moment from a time when someone refused to feel sorry for me as they held their face about 3-inches from mine and said “No. No is not quitting. ‘N-O’ means a new opportunity. Get it? Now do it again!”
Bill Moss. I hated him.
I had been in the hospital for months since my accident. I had more doctors, surgeons and nurses than there were Osmonds and Waltons around a thanksgiving table. But I did not die. Too stubborn. Slowly but surely, the bones healed, feeling returned and the pace of recovery improved to the point where physical rehabilitation was about to become my next chapter. And that’s when I learned who my physical therapist was going to be.
“He’s one of the best and he’s an ex-marine.”
‘Great, everyone else gets a good looking positive thinking cheerleader for their PT and I get a crusty old ex-marine. It’s not fair.’
First of all, I was quickly schooled on the fact there are no ‘ex-marines’. Bill Moss had not climbed to the top of his profession because he was a warm and fuzzy guy. Eyes of steel and etched lines on his forehead, this guy had worked with every form of chaos war can inflict on a soldier. Any hopes of winning this guy over with my charm went out the window the very first time we actually met.
Monday morning: “Let’s just get this right from the get-go. You are not a victim and I’m not a volunteer. You are my job and as of this moment, I have become yours.” And with that the agony began. Boot camp had come to my hospital bed. “…and just so we’re clear, my name is Mr. Moss.”
But I digress.
My point isn’t to regale you with all that went into getting me back on my feet, but rather to relay to you something he taught me in the process. One week after another, I slowly climbed each new mountain Mr. Moss set before me. Eventually, my form of daily torture had reached the point of the parallel bars and dragging my mangled legs across the span in some twisted impersonation of walking. That particular morning, I had gotten closer to the other side than I ever had before when my arms gave out and I tumbled to the mat. Waving off the other staffers who had instinctively moved in my direction, he said, “Get up”.
“I said get up. We’ve practiced this and you know how to get up. This is going to happen on the outside and you will be able to do this for yourself. Now get up”.
“No.” I am so mad at this man at this point I was yelling at him. I can remember the sound track furiously running through my head, ‘he didn’t understand, he was mean. He didn’t care. He didn’t know who I was or what I’d been through…’
“No. No is not quitting. ‘N-O’ means a new opportunity. Get it? Now get up! Do it again.”
And I did. In that moment, something was unleashed in me he knew was there all along. He knew I had it in me even when I did not. He knew Life was tough. He knew it was his job to make sure I was ready to stand on my own two feet. He did. And then, so did I.
Yesterday, we found the lumber and solved both the shelving issues. I’m so goofy that I had to open the linen closet just to look at the new shelf before I turned in last night.
With shelve issues behind us, today had us solving another environmental ‘less than’ in the form of a kitchen faucet that swung so close to the top of the sink you could barely fill a pot of water. Why all the extra effort? Because we said ‘no’ to the status quo. There is no reason we shouldn’t have a faucet that fits how we live…and they’re on sale for $9 bucks this weekend….that’s nearly 80% off retail. My honorary ancestors are so proud.
In the same vein, I said ‘no’ to the urge to light a smoke no less than five times in the time it took sunrise to meet Noon. Like Ringo Starr said, ‘It don’t come easy. You know it don’t come easy’. And it doesn’t, but I’ll be fine because I’m so lucky to have remembered what it means to say ‘no’.
Four years ago last week, I began what I thought was going to be an experiment when I hit PUBLISH for the first time on August 13th, 2011.
I thank each and every one of you in the blogosphere for what you write; the way you challenge my preconceptions and for the times you’ve made me laugh or tap my feet to a song I hadn’t heard before. I wanted to set this down more than once, but always I came back saying ‘no’.
I am a better man than I was. Am I done? No. Are you? I doubt it. ‘No’ is not an accident. No is new opportunity wearing a disguise and knocking on your door.
If you want to go back in the Wayback Machine, click the link:
Horace Julian Bond
January 14, 1940 – August 15, 2015
“With Julian’s passing, the country has lost one of its most passionate and eloquent voices for the cause of justice. He advocated not just for African Americans, but for every group, indeed every person subject to oppression and discrimination, because he recognized the common humanity in us all.”
My tribute to you good Sir, comes by way of Johann Sebastian Bach, followed by Seals and Crofts. You and Mr. Biggs have something in common, ‘One person, two hands, two feet, and four melodies’. Somehow I think the acoustics are pretty good where you’re at. Thank you for showing us how to live like we know we may never pass this way again. Travel well. We’ll do our best to make you proud.
B”Fugue in G Minor, BWV 578″ by JS Bach and performed by E. Power Biggs
Seals & Crofts – We May Never Pass This Way Again
Banner Coastal Redwood Forest by Eric E Photography is used with permission.
Opening Photo: Jullian Bond Image: Courtesy of moralheroes.org, Dorothy Zellner, center, stands behind civil rights leader Julian Bond. Read more: http://forward.com/opinion/israel/217123/shame-on-hillel-for-shunning-civil-rights-veterans/#ixzz3j2G5gJyc; Lyric attribution Signs (Five Man Electrical Band song) Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Signs_(Five_Man_Electrical_Band_song) Lyrics at: http://www.metrolyrics.com/signs-lyrics-five-man-electrical-band.html; RINGO STARR lyrics – It Don’t Come Easy: Give the drummer a listen, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kFOdkBFzX50; NO: http://blogs.psychcentral.com/unleash-creativity/2015/04/say-no-others/; Parallel Bars: http://www.us.all.biz/parallel-bars-model-2000-g201849#.VdFW_PlViko; Blog: http://www.keynotecontent.com/reasons-why-you-should-be-blogging-entrepreneur/; Jullian Bond: https://www.splcenter.org/news/2015/08/16/weve-lost-champion; Photo from: http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/history-archaeology/julian-bond-b-1940 and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julian_Bond; No in a suit: http://www.skipprichard.com/overcoming-rejection-why-no-is-a-good-thing/
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