Life

The Sword, the Frog, the Diaper, and the Corps

It was a small congregation of Mormons in, I believe, Lake Mills. I was wearing my monkey best suit, white shirt, and tie, looking far more wholesome than perhaps my seventeen years warranted. As I looked out over the shining Sunday faces in the audience, I smiled back at them, because I was about to do the unthinkable: upstage my Dad.

He was the main speaker that day, but I was accompanying him as his “opening act”, so to speak. I knew that people were looking forward to his talk – he’s known for his dry wit, his skill with wordplay, and the amazing skill he has at making his message both accessible and meaningful. He’s also known for carrying his sidearm, on occasion, to Church – as a law enforcement official, at times that was simply required by his work, and it had inspired more than one joke over the years.

Which is why I chuckled inwardly with Jack-Nicholson-Joker-esque “Wait’ll they get a load of me…” as I finished my standard opening “Thank you for inviting me to give a talk today, brothers and sisters. The subject my father asked me to talk about was ‘Building Character thru Adversity’…”

Then I reached under the podium, held the sharkskin sheath over my head and drew the razor-sharp katana, letting it glimmer and sparkle in the bright lights to the accompanying “schninggggg…” as the tip cleared.

I’m proud to say that I was able to successfully resist the urge to shout either “There can be only one!” or “By the power of Grayskull!” Instead I began (with the rapt attention of the audience, may I add) to describe the process by which katanas are forged – strong heat, pouding the metal flat, folding it, heating it, pounding it again, folding it, heating it again and again. It’s kind of an insane process (“fold it over itself 1000 times”) but in the end you have the kind of swords that become legend.

For my talk that day, I was speaking of how we could look at life in that way – God would test us, over and over, and pound us and burn us and fold, spindle, and mutilate us, but in the end it was so that we would emerge as something so superbly capable of fulfilling our function that we were a work of art.

What’s amusing now, twenty seven years later, is that the seventeen-year-old me thought he understood what he was talking about. I was filled with all the typical angst of a high-school junior and then some, with nary an inkling of the interesting journey ahead of me. It was truly a prescient talk, whether I knew it or not.

Plus, it was really cool to hear people gasp when I drew the sword.

Breakfast of Champions

Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.Another allegory often used to explain the same concept is the old gem about eating frogs that came to us from Mark Twain. It is, I would think, a pretty optimistic view of life – I mean, what if eating the frog wasn’t the worst thing that happened that day? Then not only did you have a sucky day, you started out by chewing on a hapless frog for no good reason!

Personally I’ve found that if you have to have herpetological metaphors to get you through the day, it’s better to adopt the one where you see a somewhat startled stork being throttled by the not-quite-swallowed frog in his gullet. Rather than trying to convince yourself that your day isn’t that bad (because hey, it is) or that it will get better (because hey, it might not) perhaps a better attitude would be something along the lines of “You may devour me, Day-From-Hell, but by all that’s holy I’m taking you with me!

Change is Gonna Come

The thing about the frog (and other adverse situations) is that while they may not work to accurately predict the degree of suckage in your future, they can easily be used to combat the degree of suckage present vs past. I realized this the other morning as I changed my grandson’s diaper before we had our traditional Miller Pancake Breakfast.

It was a truly epic diaper. Easily the worst I’ve ever changed on the young lad. Contrary to dozens of movie portrayals of men changing diapers, however, I did not groan, mutter, plunge my nose into a vial of Vick’s Vapo-Rub or demand my own Repo-Man outfit. No, I just chatted with Victor as I took care of cleaning him, changing his diaper, and disposing of the waste.

No big deal. Why? Well, aside from the fact that diapers aren’t that complicated to begin with, there’s also the fact that I’ve raised four daughters. And not to embarrass them too much, but his twin mother and aunt used to have worse diapers than that and I’d be changing two of them before breakfast. And that was back in the day when there weren’t Koala stands in men’s bathrooms, which means I was trying to keep one wiggly child from falling in the sink while another cried in need of changing and simultaneously trying to convince their slightly-elder-sisters that no, they weren’t white hockey pucks so put them back.

Compared to that? Changing one stinky grandson on a blanket in the livingroom with the promise of coffee and pancakes afterwards is just not that big a deal.

Eat the Apple

Probably the most useful experience along those lines for me was the United States Marine Corps. It is a continual surprise to me how much so little of my life affected everything else about me. Let’s be clear: I was in for just about two years. I never saw combat (just missed Desert Shield by a matter of weeks). I had minimal, if any, leadership responsibility, and I was by no means a shining example of the Few and the Proud.

At the same time I have never met a Marine who has held me as anything less than a brother, whether they were combat veterans or retired officers. There’s something about the three months of boot camp (and, in my case, the additional three months in the School of Infantry) that changes, quite effectively, the entire character of a person. Among other things, there has yet to be a day, in the twenty-five years since I stopped being “boot”, that has been harder than those days.

Not once. No matter how tired, how penniless, how frustrated or angry or lonely I get with life, I can always look back at what I endured in the Corps and say “Well, I made it through that…I’ll make it through this.

Regardless of what else I may or may not have gotten from my time in the Marines, that has been an invaluable gift.

The Wisdom of Churchill

The moral of this uplifting blog post? Simply this: if your life sucks, if it seems to be sucking worse than anything you ever imagined, then don’t pretend it’s not. Instead, embrace the fact that it is, and pay attention. Because like all things, this too shall pass, one way or another – and it will be your memory of surviving these tough times that can make the tough times to come that much more bearable.

churchill

 

If you’re going through Hell, keep going!
But take notes-you might want to blog about it later.

-Winston Churchill

4 thoughts on “The Sword, the Frog, the Diaper, and the Corps”

  1. Thank you.
    I was in need of a reminder that “this too shall pass.”
    Today I had a very difficult conversation with someone who wants me to feel sorry for how tough their life is and sacrifice my own well being to fix it for them.
    When I think of what you have lived through and accomplished (and I know I never saw the worst of it) I can see that they really don’t have it as bad as they think they do and I find I am able to say “no.”
    Maybe one day this person will gain the perspective and strength that you have earned.

  2. Haven’t read all your blogs but I do like this one. I remember when you were in the Marines and it was your birthday. You told me no one cared that it was your birthday. Just a thought.

    1. Hey, they didn’t care much when Middle Daughter was born (“Here’s a coke. Get back to work.”). So my birthday? Not that big a deal.

      But I’m glad you liked the blog. That means a lot to me. Admit it, the catchy title is what caught your eye?

  3. As of late I’ve found myself, more often than not on a daily basis, either muttering or screaming, “I hate my job.” This is to be expected; our busy season is now in full swing, so I’m working long stupid hours with little sleep.

    On especially bad days, I make myself remember the shit I’m going through, locking in the details. How tired and weary my body is. How little sleep I got that night (and the wish that I could pay to get more closed eyelid hours). How many gigs I’ve packed into my day, making actual down town almost impossible, my hours a blur of anger, resentment, and exhaustion.

    My memory exercise serves three main purposes.

    1- It makes me question my schedule more whenever I’m planning out work. Reminders of how craptastic a certain venue is help me to avoid repeat appearences. Also missing out on fun with family or friends is an often stinging reminder that I have to schedule time with them just like I schedule my work. Negative reinforcement is a powerful motivator.

    2- When I’m in the thick of it, when I’ve scheduled myself into a excrement filled corner, my memories of other suckage are a reminder that I can and will get through my current ordeal. I’ve done it before; I’ll do it again.

    &3- When I’m not at work, when I’m with friends or family having a good time, my memories of how awful my job can be fuel me to suck in every morsel of fun, delve into each glee filled moment, and be happy, utterly happy, that for this moment I’m not dealing with the BS that is my current employment.

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