Chew on this

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For nearly two years, three tiny Tootsie Rolls have made their home in the console of my car, nestled among a pile of pennies. I can no more bring myself to eat them than to throw them away. Every time I try to do either, I remember.

My son and I were headed east to visit colleges. We’d stopped for lunch at a Panera a couple of hours away from home, where an old man tottered through the restaurant, handing out cheer and Tootsie Rolls. He was just trying to brighten people’s day, making even the grumpiest adults giggle like children when he placed his candy in their hands. I loved it.

When we headed back to our car, I noticed my son carefully place his candies on a ledge outside the restaurant. I scooped them up, afraid that the old man might see, and hopped in the car.

“Why did you do that?” I asked.

“I’m not going to take candy from someone I don’t know,” explained my son.

Oof. The wind went out of me.

Apparently all those don’t-take-candy-from-strangers harangues when he was a kid actually stuck with him. Mom win, right?

At the same time, I felt sad. Had he missed the joy of the moment? Do we find ourselves in a world where even the smallest gestures of goodwill must be rejected for safety’s sake? Would I have let a seven-year-old take the candy I was so willing to let a seventeen-year-old eat? There was lesson in here somewhere, but I wasn’t quite sure what it was.

I’m still not sure what it is, actually. There are so many options. Don’t take candy from strangers. Take joy in the small things. Be careful. Be grateful. 

I can’t throw away those three chocolate tidbits because I don’t know which lesson is the right one. Somehow, they both have merit, and neither claims victory over the other. Maybe the lesson is found in the balance.

And so they remain, giving me something to chew on every time I see them.

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A scary thought

What better day to talk about fear than Halloween? I’m participating in a training session where, like most group events, we started with an introductory exercise. You’ve probably done this before: pair off and learn enough about your partner to introduce him to the rest of the group. Ideally, you’ll throw in a few interesting tidbits that keep the audience engaged, and often the group leader helps this along by providing a framework for the interview.

This session was no different, but this framework included the following question: What do you fear most?

Being (primarily) a rule follower, I took the question to heart and answered accordingly. Rather than citing heights or snakes or spiders or death like some of my colleagues, however, my answer went pretty deep. What I fear most is looking stupid.

Looking stupid can be the result of a variety of situations. I may have been duped. I may not have known the answer. I may be flat-out wrong. It doesn’t matter why; I just don’t want to feel that blush creep up my neck and onto my cheeks.

Now, I could make an argument that simply admitting this makes me feel stupid. Indeed it does. Somehow there’s a vulnerability aspect tied in here, as well. I have a weakness (many, in fact), and I’m sharing it publicly. I feel pretty silly. *gulp*

So why do it?

To get better, of course. To conquer my fear. To convince myself that even though there may be a scary one or two or several in the bunch, people are people. We all have hopes and fears and dreams and successes and failures. We may look different, have different goals, and view the world from different perspectives, but somewhere at the core we all share whatever it is that makes us inherently human. Sometimes we get it right, and sometimes we don’t. Every experience has something to teach us, even the ones that make us feel stupid. Take it and run. My guess is that even when you’re wrong, you probably don’t look as stupid as you think.

Remind me of that often, will you?

Happy Halloween.