Friday, December 01, 2006

Leave the Gate

Growing up with farmers and ranchers one of the rules was ‘Leave that gate as you found it.’ I learned it through example long before I could express it. I didn’t need to know whether the cows were to be kept in or out or let wander between the fields. All that was important was to make sure that we kept the gates where they were to help granddad or my aunts and uncles do the work on the ranch.

That’s not a bad rule for life. Unless you know what you’re doing, leave things as you find them. The simplest form that I learned before kindergarten is just to leave things as they are. I didn’t always follow it. Sometime when I was about three I wandered into the kitchen and found that things were in a different drawer than I remembered. So I took my time and switched them back to the way they’d been. My mother had to sit me down and explain that she had changed the places of her kitchen utensils. I guess that I might have been following the rule since I thought I should put things back in the way they’d always been.

I suspect I may sometimes have been irritating as a child since I wanted things left the way that I’d put them. My brother and I shared some of our books in music lessons. There was a time when he was teasing me when we were switching places at the piano for practice and he put one of our shared books on the top of the piano. I asked him (perhaps demanded) to put it back. He didn’t. I left it there. And, until he found it, I kept telling him that he was the last one to have it. I told the whole truth, but I didn’t tell enough to help him out. And I gored my own ox since I was supposed to practice from that book. But being a little bit stubborn I didn’t touch the book since it wasn’t where I’d arranged my books to be and my brother hadn’t put it back. I suppose that’s a case of being way to stubborn about leaving the gate as I found it.

My mother once said, ‘You’re the most amenable of my children and the most stubborn.’ I wouldn’t disagree. If I didn’t think it was worth fighting over I’d go along. But once my stubborn side came into play – and I had to have what I thought was good reason – then I was stubborn as a mule.

And I was as stubborn as a mule my grandparents had while mom was growing up. This mule had a tendency to pull back and break the reins when it was tied up. A couple of my uncles thought they’d teach the mule not to do this. So they used a chain in place of the leather reins and hitched the mule to a telephone pole. The mule pulled back. The mule kept pulling back. The mule pulled the telephone pole down on its head. (Trust me, this story made it into the book of family stories that we collected for my grandparent’s fiftieth wedding anniversary.) The mule was knocked out, but survived. My uncles learned not to hitch the mule up to anything.

After I was in college my mother and I were traveling with one of my brothers and an imp of the perverse caused my mother to ask my brother if he knew who had sat in the middle the most while we were growing up. My one brother said the name of my other brother. Mom and I both smiled at each other as she said my name. My brothers fought over who got the window seats and I sat in the middle for three times and then just got in and let my brothers continue to fight over the window seat. I just didn’t want to fight and didn’t think it was that big of a deal. For some reason my brother, even by the time both of us were out of the house, just hadn’t noticed my stubborn streak, but mom had noticed both the amenable and stubborn sides. We’re in our forties and I still don’t think my brother (and this is my twin) has noticed how stubborn I can be at times. Oh well.

One reason I’m reluctant to use my stubborn streak is that it can be destructive. Yes sometimes is the time to get on one’s horse and ride into the battle. But, as in the earlier example of the music book, there are times when it’s just not worthwhile it harms me more than any goal that might be achieved. So I try to figure out what’s a constructive use of my stubborn streaks.

One of the ways I’m doing this is just like my mother. Every year she read through the Bible. In the year that my parents went back to Germany to see where his mother had lived, my mother read through the Bible in German – as she was learning German for the first time. This year my goal has been to read through the New Testament in Greek. I took the language in college and in graduate school, but haven’t used it much lately. So this year – it’s back to learning how to read another language. Next year, I’m back to English, but for one year my stubborn streak served me well.

And I also try to use that stubborn streak along with the lesson of leaving the gate as I found it. One of my issues is conservation. Some things are more easily done than others. But at our motel we save the soaps and lotions that we can’t put out and give them to people who need soap and shampoo. It’s not much but it is something. We also work on reusing what we can. If a key card packet doesn’t have anything written on it, then we can use it for the next customer. I may not be able to stop jump faxes – I tried calling the stop numbers and ended up with more – but I can cut them up, staple them together, and come up with note pads. Sure, it takes a little more time but those things make me feel as if I’m leaving the world as is came to me or a little better.

What are your inclinations that can be used for both good and bad? A stubborn streak, a tendency to jump in feet first, a tendency to hold back and see what’s happening, something more?

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