Spring Break And Other Forces Of Nature

Published in The Ferndale Record-Journal, April 14, 2010

I had it all planned out.

The boy would be in California for spring break with his dad, and I’d have a huge block of uninterrupted time to get things done.  The house was going to sparkle, bathrooms would be scrubbed, floors that hadn’t seen a vacuum in months (that’s right), were going to be sucked free from impacted filth. I would be a cleaning machine and I had the box of latex gloves to prove it.

In addition to my sanitation frenzy, there would be daily fitness boot camp, baking projects, starting a class I’ve always wanted to take, and ridding our home of things we haven’t touched or even seen since 2002.

It was Friday, the day my son left, that I felt it coming on. But I plowed through the physical discomfort brewing inside of me because, well, how many times does a mom get the chance to be absolutely alone in her own home for one week?

By Monday I sensed something was wrong. It was an old problem, I knew the symptoms, but I fought it. On Tuesday it became serious. I had to call my doctor.

One week earlier, I would’ve had insurance coverage, but it ended on March 31st.  Denying my body would be foolish, not to mention dangerous. I bit the proverbial bullet and made the call.

Myriad tests and hours later proved what I thought. The old situation was back and hospitalization was the recommended course of action.

I begged the doctor. “I’ll do whatever I have to, just don’t put me in the hospital with no insurance.”

The nature of the malady made this a fairly easy decision. While it was serious, it wasn’t potentially life threatening. I could be at home, but must visit the hospital twice daily for injections to quell inflammation and make sure I was healing. I agreed.

Before my son arrived home the following Friday, I’d barely loaded the dishwasher once. My classes—cancelled. The floors were still encrusted with the unthinkable. My aching frame was slightly better, but my spirit flagged from what I considered a wasted week.

My new, latex cleaning gloves remained untouched.

I had, however, laid in bed and watched a boatload of Law & Order Special Victims Unit.

My regrets tumbled out when he got home. So much I wanted to do and so little that got done.  He gave me a hug and said, “I don’t care.”  I made him Texas brownies, his favorite, and that took all the energy I had.

I started to think about projects undone, why things happen the way they do, how to deal with ugly medical bills, unemployment, and the number of us who share these problems right now.  And I remembered something I’d read recently.

It’s about a Chinese farmer and his only son. Episcopal priest, A. Philip Parham tells it like this:

“One night the old man’s horse escaped, and the neighbors came to comfort him in his loss. He said, ‘How do you know this is bad luck?’

Several days later, his horse returned with a herd of wild horses. Now his friends congratulated the farmer for his good fortune, but the old man said, ‘How do you know this is a good thing?’

His son broke his leg trying to tame one of the wild horses. Again the neighbors gathered, this time to bemoan this new misfortune. ‘How do you know this is ill fortune?’ asked the old man.

Soon a warlord came to recruit able-bodied youth for his army, and the farmer’s son escaped conscription because of his broken leg. In true fashion, the farmer’s friends expressed their pleasure over such good luck.

Here the story ends, but it could go on forever.”

I don’t go gently with the flow of life. Most of us want it to be on our terms and we stomp around like defiant toddlers when it’s not.

Rather than label circumstances as fortunes and misfortunes, we can learn from the Chinese farmer, accept patiently, and move forward willingly.

Easy? Not so much. But trusting that I know all I need to at the moment beats fear’s icy grip any day.

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We’ll Be Back Right After These Messages…

Published in The Ferndale Record-Journal, March 31, 2010

You know that somebody did something right when you remember a TV commercial—even if it’s one you dislike. They got your attention and that was the point.

Here are a few that have rattled my cage lately. See if you agree.

First, the bad news.

Jack-In-The-Box’s enormous, white, bulbous head is starting to really annoy me. At first it was a little creepy, then it was a little clever, then I got used to it. Now, it’s time to mothball the novelty head and get fresh material.

But was it ever really that great of a marketing coup to begin with? The advertisers would have us believe that Jack is just a regular guy, married to a woman with a normal noggin. Really? Face it. These commercials have always been unnatural and a little perverse.

And while the brand name is unmistakable (mission accomplished), the ads in no way have made me more of a Jack-In-The-Box customer than I was before. I’ve visited this franchise twice in four years.

Next up are those superb Dos Equis beer commercials about “The Most Interesting Man In The World.” Even if you happen to just hear one of these ads from the next room, you get to the TV in a hurry to see what they’re talking about.

The narrative is classic: “His blood smells like cologne.” “He once had an awkward moment just to see how it feels.” “He lives vicariously through himself.” “His personality is so magnetic he is unable to carry credit cards.”

After a series of video clips showing the hero engaging in wildly intriguing situations with rugged and beautiful people, he’s seated at a table with adoring companions. He looks up and says, “I don’t always drink beer. But when I do, I prefer Dos Equis.”

Then, with that swarthy Latino accent, almost at a whisper, he purrs directly into the camera, “Stay thirsty, my friends.”

I don’t drink, and this advertisement doesn’t make me want to. It does, however, make me a little thirsty. Not to mention a tad bit curious about The Most Interesting Man In The World.

Well done, Dos Equis.

Finally, here’s the one that caught me off guard—in a good way.

It was a simple evening in front of the tube, and out of nowhere, The Scorpions’ “Rock You Like A Hurricane” started up. Instead of writhing dancers, black leather, or motorcycles I looked up to see soup and crackers. That’s right.

Bowls of thick soups in a prism of colors, splashing over the top in high, vertical peaks as perfect, square saltines rain in from above—all in slow motion.

An uppercut of marketing brilliance, this commercial had me mesmerized. Was it Nabisco’s Premium Saltines? Was it the raucous music set to mere crackers plunging into creamy tomato bisque?

I don’t know, but whatever it was, and without realizing what had just happened, the combination made me hungry for—you guessed it—soup and crackers.

Here’s the deal. I don’t watch a lot of TV, but when I do, it’s fun to see well-crafted commercials that demand my attention because of their creativity.

Jack, I beg you to hang up the giant cranium. And Dos Equis and Nabisco, you’re the clear winners for now. Keep ‘em coming.