Ever have one of those weeks where every stray thought you have jumps into your head, rattles around and refuses to leave? When this nagging persistent thought thing happens to me, some kind of reconciling Truth is usually trying to climb its’ way back out to help make sense of the pieces. Maybe that’s why I’m struggling to get it all down on paper.
First stray was a quote I read as part of my morning focus. “Hope is Faith holding out its’ hand in the dark”. Simple. I like it. But why won’t it leave me alone?
A little while later, I caught myself wondering why we put so much energy into making the good things like our life spans, summer vacation or Christmas morning stretch while at the same time, compulsively compressing everything else into the smallest abbreviated form possible? Is it a cave-man coping mechanism or just a self-induced dose of attention deficit disorder?
Yesterday I received a text message from a friend of mine. Their 100 or so characters were so chock-full of abbreviations and slang I honestly couldn’t make heads nor tails of what he clearly felt was important. English, man. Too many shortcuts. Use your words!
Verbal short-cuts aren’t anything new. Shortly after learning to speak and long before ‘LOL’, we humans came up with the idea of nicknames. As proper of a noun as any given name, nicknames were shorter, descriptive and if you were lucky, held a certain panache…something you could swagger around with.
Like language itself, nicknames have rules. One of the big ones was you never bestowed a good nickname upon yourself. If you wanted it to stick, you had to be knighted with it by your peers. How as a kid, I used to yearn for such good fortune!
The more I thought about the idea, the more I wondered if a good nickname also comes with an inferred level of intimacy – a kind of kinship, if you will. Alan was big, good-looking and the best singles player on my high school tennis team. No wonder he was popular. But if a kid from Debate Club dared call him ‘Smash Man’ in the lunch line? Food fight in 3, 2, 1…
More random thoughts…so what’s going on here?
On the one hand, here we are calling those we want to spend the most time with by the shortest possible name. But those we don’t? Same short-cuts with an opposite purpose. What better way to inflict maximum damage with the least amount of effort than fall back on a tag like Fatso, Camel Jockey, Slut Girl, Retard, Fag or Spic… Remember the whole sticks-and-stones thing you may have learned as a child? Admirable, but does it help at recess?
No sooner had I tucked all that inside my brain, the whole nickname thing flipped on its head – again.
Some nicknames aren’t for the masses at all. Some of them are reserved for only one. I’m wondering if single purpose comes as boilerplate language inside the standard Terms of the Relationship clause. Look it up. See if I’m right? In fact, I’m so certain I bet you can think of three nicknames you have for the people close to you and you can do it in less than 10-seconds. Right now. Go!
Me and mine? When we’re alone, I catch myself calling Rick ‘Sweetie’. Why? No clue. Did I set out for that to be one of the terms of endearment I use for my Other Half? Nope. So how come that one? I don’t know. But I know it’s his. Only him.
The last time I saw my dad was years before he died. For all that didn’t happen with my dad, one thing I remember from that afternoon happened as we tried hugging each other good-bye and him leaning into me, whispering, “I love you, Tiger” . Why that nickname for me when I was a kid? No clue. He wasn’t one to use it often, but when he did, it was a big deal. What did it mean to him? Will I ever know? Nope. Did he know we might not ever see each other again? Don’t know that either. But I knew Tiger was me. Only me.
Same thing for my son. I’ve said it before. Once he turned 21, those several years we invested in getting to know each other after reuniting were some of the happiest ones of my life. Period.
Early in the reintegration process and right on cue, I caught myself calling him “Buddy Boy”. Why? No clue. Did I go through a careful selection process? Nope. So how come that particular turn of a phrase? Don’t know. And even though my extended birth family were eventually successful in napalming our joy, the nickname still stands. “Buddy Boy” He and I both know it’s his. Only him.
A week or two ago, there was some good natured razzing going on between me and a few of my coworkers out on the shop floor. Maybe it’s a guy thing, but why is it when you like your co-workers, you insult them? After getting zapped a good one, I heard myself zinging back with an awesomely sarcastic slam that began with, “OK, buddy boy, you know what?…”
Though everybody around me was laughing as we went back to work, my heart wen icy and cold for the rest of the day. I had slipped. In the heat of battle, I had used a sacred nickname in casual combat with someone I didn’t really even know except for being a co-worker. On the outside, it was no big deal. We’re all friends there. No one else had a clue I’d violated my own cardinal rule. But I had. For the rest of the day, I silently apologized to my son for the infraction…but there was no one there.
For the next few dawns, thoughts about my son and my dad uncharacteristically made their way back in front of me as I did my deep breathing. Or I’d hear a particular song and they drifted into my consciousness which led me to wonder something else. Does unconditional love have terms?
I didn’t used to think so…anyone who’s had a dog knows such love exists. But now I’m not so sure when it comes to other humans. How can that be good? Which is exactly when I heard, “Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn”. Great book title by John Maxwell, but his quote is an even better life lesson. Maybe this is all about the learning?
The thoughts kept coming. This time, it was Eleanor Roosevelt. “Remember, no one can make you feel inferior without your consent”. It makes me think of everyone battling cancer or depression. I think about people (good people) trapped in dysfunctional families or maybe facing the prospect of having their family blown apart…people like immigrants, refugees and my friends in the transgendered community.
In the here-and-now, I’m doing my best to think globally and act locally. I don’t know what’s going to happen in these rapidly changing currents of walls, bans and violence. Last night, there were 3 funerals for little kids shot to death, not in some far off land, but in the city I call Home.
Besides gunfire, there are other things happening in the streets we haven’t seen in quite awhile. It’s all kinds of people coming together and standing up for what they believe in. I don’t know I’ve ever witnessed this much protest or resistance, but speaking up matters. So do our actions. It’s why people march. I think it’s good for nobles to look out their palaces and see villagers at the gates…the dynamic tension keeps us all honest to our better angels.
The other day, someone emptied my trash box at work. I’ve done it for others and never thought twice about it…it’s just what you do. But when someone did it for me (and I still don’t know who), it struck such a positive chord I felt good all day long. What would happen if that happened for all of us? What would happen if we were the ones who started it?
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words? They matter. In fact, they matter a great deal. Maybe I’m not completely sorted out here, but I’m going into my new week particularly mindful of using my words in sync with my actions. Maybe the grand plan is they all link up with each other in ways we never see or would ever be aware of. But I do know nothing good happens if each of us don’t deliver our part where we are and with what we have.
Son, if ever there comes a time when you read this and remember when I called you Buddy Boy, know it was my way of holding out my hand in the dark to you, only you.
Josh Groban on his album, Stages. Thank you.
Banner Coastal Redwood Forest by Eric E Photography is used with permission.
Stray Thoughts – by Linda Kemshall: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/182466222376613368/; Hope quote – George Illes: http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/562997-hope-is-faith-holding-out-its-hand-in-the-dark; Learning quote – John Maxwell and his book. Good interview with Mr. Maxwell at: https://michaelhyatt.com/sometimes-you-win-sometimes-you-learn.html; Consent quote – Eleanor Roosevelt: http://womenshistory.about.com/cs/quotes/a/qu_e_roosevelt.htm; Boy and his Dog (Source): http://bahaiteachings.org/do-animals-have-souls
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