I’ve got to be careful about this. I’m going to tell you about a guy who has been a friend of mine for a long time. And I think this is important. “Frank” and I have shared around 30 years worth of hamburgers and cold ones, bad jokes, and Auld Lang Synes. He was there to help me when my Lady Wonder Wench had that accident that almost cost her life. He’s the kind of guy you want around for laughs, and also for when the sky is crashing down around your ears. But there’s something we can’t talk about any more, because every time we get into it, he gets angry. Really angry. The subject is America.
“Frank” says this isn’t his America any more, and he is furious about that. Frank is a patriot. He flies the same starry flag in front of his house that flies at my house. He’s ex-USAF. But he is convinced that he can’t trust America to protect the way of life he’s worked so hard to achieve these days. He has gathered an arsenal of weapons to protect himself and his “stuff” because he feels a revolution will break out in the near future. “Frank” feels betrayed. And he has been. But I don’t think America betrayed him. I think he’s been betrayed by the message he got growing up: “Work hard and follow our rules, and everything will be ok.”
The other day he said, “I’ve worked hard, I’ve played by the rules, and I deserve better than this.” I was surprised, because I got a different message growing up. So I asked him, “Who says you deserve better than this?” That raised his pulse rate and his voice quite a bit and he said quite emphatically, “Everybody … and God.” What a jaw dropper. And all of a sudden I understood why he’s so scared. The message he got from his parents, his teachers, and the preachers in church was: “Work hard, follow our rules, and everything will be ok.”
I got a different message. It was, “Trust yourself. You can always find a way to get things done.” Two very different messages. If you believe the message I got, and I do, there is hardly anything that can scare you, because you can always find a way to make things work out. And most of the time that seems to be the case with me. I can always find a way to make things work. Maybe not the best way … but some way.
“Frank” is a generous guy with his friends and family. He has been successful in several careers, and he has now begun a substantial if not luxurious retirement. He has a wonderful wife, a couple of dogs, a small flock of parrots, an extensive arsenal and a beautiful home. He was counting on his beautiful, expensive home as an investment to secure his future. But his home has lost a lot of its value in the housing bust, and he also lost a considerable chunk of his planned retirement funds in the recession.
“Frank’s” scared. And angry, and he’s striking back. He writes a regular blog that screams against the government that he feels has betrayed him. He has more “stuff” than probably 50% of his neighbors, but he says the government is now plotting to take his “stuff” and give it to … “Them.” And “Them” of course, is the mob that he says “lives off the efforts of guys like us.”
“Work hard, do what you’re supposed to do, and things will be ok” sounds like a message about individual responsibility, but it’s not. What that message really says is, “Do what we tell you and we’ll take care of you.” That’s very different from, “Trust yourself. You’ll find a way to make things work”.
I’ve never been a political guy, and I’m not going to change that now. But I have the standard Brooklyn-American big mouth, so I can’t resist asking “Frank” and all my friends who are convinced that the sky is falling on our economy and our country, a couple of questions. For example: What would happen to a politician today who suggested that we build a highway connecting all of our major cities … all the way from the Atlantic to the Pacific. President Eisenhower did that … when the country was still trying to recover from the devastation of World War Two. How about, “Let’s dam up the mighty Colorado river so we can supply water and power to most of our Southwestern cities. We’ll call it the Hoover Dam.” How about some guy who puts on a powdered wig and says, “We don’t even have a treasury, but let’s send George and whoever he can round up to kick those pesky British with the biggest army in the world the hell away.” I suspect any politician who said those things these days would be locked up to keep him from hurting himself with a sharp object.
My buddy is so scared that he’s angry … no, outraged. And it’s not really his fault. He was brought up to believe that if he worked hard and followed the rules, everything would be ok. So he did. Now he doesn’t know what to do because there’s nothing in those rules to tell him what to do when things aren’t as ok as he thinks ok should be.
That reminds me of Big Louie’s advice about honesty. “Honesty = The Truth + Maybe.” When you apply that advice to, “Work hard and follow the rules, and things will be ok + MAYBE,” you at least have some heads up that no matter what you do, you may be in for a slap on the side of your head. But the rule itself doesn’t tell you what to do if things go wrong.
When you apply the same advice to, “Trust yourself. You’ll find a way to make things work + MAYBE …” that tells you that if you keep looking for a way to make things work, you might find it. So don’t stop. Keep looking. Another of Big Louie’s comments comes to mind here … “You can never tell when something wonderful is going to happen.”
When I make this case to some of my friends who also feel betrayed, their usual reaction is, “What’s the matter with you? Why won’t you fight for your rights.” And my answer is “I’m from Brooklyn. As in New York City. I have some nasty scars, a pretty good background in martial arts, and I know how to use my 12 gauge, and if worst comes to worst, I know a couple of very good New York lawyers…so back off.” Of course you fight for your rights. The point is, what are your rights.
Just because you’ve worked hard and followed the rules all your life do you have a right to expect everything to turn out ok? I don’t think so. Because in my experience, everything just never does turn out ok.
Does that mean that you just let the bad stuff crack your head apart? Of course not. What it means is that when the sky is really falling, you don’t just stand there screaming that you’ve been betrayed. You grab your woman by the hand, find the nearest cave and jump in. Then when the noise stops, and the dust settles a little, you climb back out and start all over again. Tough? Oh yes. But I believe that if you trust yourself, you’ll find a way to put your life back together again. And remember, you can never tell when something wonderful is going to happen.
There’s a story in the current podcast, from the lovin touch Personal Audio cd that fits here. It’s called, You Shine.
Bottom line: “Frank” has been a real friend for a long time. And I plan on us singing Auld Lang Syne, and burning burgers, and telling jokes, for a long time to come. Maybe you’re lucky enough to have a friend like “Frank” too. I hope you do. Maybe you got the same message he did…or maybe you got the message I got…or maybe you got some entirely different message growing up.
Whatever growing up message you got, here’s my message for all of us right now: Knock off the anger and the screaming, the throwing rocks at each other and the panic. Let’s share some bad jokes, some burgers and cold ones. And along with the cold ones let’s drink in the words of that song we sing before the ball game starts. The one about living in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” Let’s feel free to be brave again. We built that highway. We built that dam. Then for an encore we put brave American guys on the moon. Nobody could afford that stuff. But we did it anyway. We can do anything we want to do as long as we don’t give up, and we pull together. But we have to agree that “Compromise” and “Moderate” aren’t dirty words. Our Constitution is based on honest compromise. And cold ones are great in moderate amounts. You can have your burger rare and I can have mine well done. You can sip your Bud, while I chug my Sam Adams.
We’ve got to forget that old bumper strip that said “America love it or leave it.” Just love it. If you think something is not as ok as it should be, you don’t leave America. You trust yourself…and your burger buddies… to find a way to fix it.