Monday, April 11, 2011

Park Placards

I was embarrassed. Or was it my ego knocking at the door? Both maybe. Either way I felt uncomfortable. It had been a while. It was unsettling and yet familiar.

The evening sun was lowering over the baseball diamond where my son and a collection of other young hopefuls were enjoying the first practice of the season. They scrambled about after the ball similar to the action you see when you throw a handful of corn to chickens. To many of them it was yet another step toward their image appearing on a box of Wheaties, to others–a great way to spend time with friends and family.

A handful of the parents sat on the aluminum bleachers. Introductions were extended as were idle pleasantries.

“That my son, the one with the blue shirt, grey shorts.”

“Great! Mine is the one with the yellow shirt and baseball pants.”

A smile of acknowledgment and then a reflective pause.

The conversations ensued around me.

“So, what do you do?”

The responses of the other parents contained a collection of letters I have not heard since my last bowl of alphabet soup.

“I am an XYZ from OSU with a PHD and an MBR and MNY from BYU...”

“That’s fantastic! I am an alum of OU with an MBA and a DNA from PU as well as a JKL from MNOP.”

Intelligent laughter bonded the two.

I put in my iPod headphones.

In my mind it went-

“So what do you do Tony?”

“I invented space travel, post-it notes, human reproduction, milk shakes, and a cure for cancer!”

“Really!!?” They respond astounded by my brilliance.

“No. I am an unemployed ex-hairdresser who can make a killer peanut butter and jelly sandwich.”

The laughter further crushing, making me even doubt my sandwich making prowess.

I left as they discussed their achievements. They were not bragging, just bonding and sharing. I walked the circumference of the park. I enjoyed the reflection, the balmy wind, and the sunset. I felt a bit small at the moment. Here I was in mid-life with nothing going on, no business card, feeling as worthless as a breast augmentation coupon to a nun.

I wrestle with where I am at times. I believe I have noble intentions. I do want to make a difference, but am I? Should I just say “screw it” and take the first job that offers a check, forget my dreams of helping others and be able to at least feel like a contributor? It’s coming way to slow for me.

I am well aware that often rewards are found only a few paces beyond where the mediocre give up. I need to practice what I preach. I have always said that my greatest fear is not my inability to practice what I preach, but my inability to become aware when I am not doing so.

I continued my walk around the park. I encountered laughter, sports, children, and nature. I reveled in the brilliant orange glow of the progressing sunset. I noticed my surroundings. The park benches called to me.

Each bench had its own placard at its base– a small metal plaque with the name or names of those who were to be honored or remembered upon initial glance and reflection. I wondered, “Will I ever be worthy of a park bench plaque? What does it take? Will I be easily forgotten? Do I matter?”

I continued and saw each bench and many trees had a placard with yet another name or two. They must have been special people. I guess I realized that I did not need to know them or their achievements to appreciate their time before me. “Good for you,” I thought.

I reflected upon the “alphabet soup” I listened to earlier. “Good for them,” I thought. They should be proud, and so should I. I refuse to compare who I am, where I am going, and the depth of the contribution I share on this planet by comparing myself to others of dissimilar paths.

I am a healer, coach, mentor, father, husband, and swell guy.

Earlier that day as I was having brunch with my folks, I received a random text. It was from a young lady I had spoken with about a year ago pertaining to certain challenges she faced that were harming her mentally, physically, and causing her family distress. She thanked me stating I “saved her life” in the first few months of her battle.

Later that afternoon, I reached out to a friend who had a recent stumble in his own battles. He thanked me for making contact and for the words of encouragement. Hopefully I made a difference.

I took my son to fly his first kite later that day watching his eyes light up as he held the power of flight in his hands.

I saved lives, encouraged lives, and enriched lives in one afternoon.

I don’t know what “alphabet soup” would encompass that. I do not know how I could put that on a business card. I doubt I will be issued a W-2 this year for my accomplishments. I don’t care as I do not need letters, papers, or a business card to feel like I “matter.” I will figure out how to make this financially viable someday. I feel I am still on the right path.

As I respectfully thanked everyone for coming to my pity party, I also thanked Ardith, Byron, and Paul for sharing their benches and shade with me as I sorted out the "stuff." Although I may not get my own park bench placard someday, the couple of texts I got, and the “I love you Dads” I got that day are all the recognition I need.


Ardith Haws said...

Tony, thank you for a beautiful post. I wrestle with this kind of thing all the time. I know I have value and that I contribute, but I lack any kind of alphabet validation. The other day I wrote a resume to include with my manuscript submission, and the glaring lack of degree hurt my heart. I have educated myself over the years in between raising four outstanding children who have grown to be four outstanding young adults. They are my greatest achievement but how does one put that on a resume? I needed your lovely words today. Thanks again.

Mary said...

Hi Tony,
Yet another great reflection! I believe we have all grown up with the thoughts of "are we good enough". This is a struggle for most and of course some try to "numb out" when they don't feel they add up.
Warrior Spirit comes from Wisdom and Wisdom comes from Experience. Some people never take a risk and remain "safe". But the ones who are willing to risk and gain experience, are the Spirits with Inner Strength. These Spirits are willing to be a guide for the many timid souls who are stuck in their fear of really living.
Be comfortable in your skin, for you have achieved much insight and wisdom. Listen to yourself,Tony, for you are the guide for MANY and are able to bring clarity to so many situations.

God gives each of us a list of lessons to be learned. And we seem to repeat these lessons throughout our lives until we LEARN the lesson.
Sometimes our ego gets in the way and we can't figure out why we failed. Yet when we let God guide us and live our lives in gratitude,
the mistakes of our lives can become
Lessons Learned. As we learn these lessons, we become closer to Him, as is His plan.

Failure can only occur when do not try again.

Tony Anders said...

Thank you both for your kind words. As my passion equally falls in writing, but I often ask myself, "Am I simply screaming in my pillow?"

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Deb said...

Great post, Tony!
I think it is so important to find the successes and the triumphs in every step of the journey. So often we rely on the "world's" view of success as a measuring stick but, often, it couldn't be more off kilter! We can make an impact in so many different and real ways.

I especially appreciate your comment: "I am well aware that often rewards are found only a few paces beyond where the mediocre give up."
My husband and I have been discussing this a lot lately. It is hard to push through the "norm". There is a cost involved in going the extra mile and leaving mediocrity behind. But it is so worth it.


Tony Anders said...

Thanks for your thoughts Deb. I too find I am often wondering "how many more steps" were they referring to! ;) Even time I have perservered, there has been a payoff. In all this horse "doo-doo" there has to be a pony! lol
Thanks for popping by!

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