A Big Fish in a Drying Up Small Pond
There I was preparing for a couple online classes just before the fall semester began. I was attempting to resolve some techy issues on the teaching shell. To be honest with you, I do not get excited about solving technical problems on shells that want everyone to use a particular browser. If you do not use their favorite browser, you inherit the wind, and I did.
Right in the middle of my unhappiness, the phone rings. It was GiGi calling from Buena Vista, GA. I was delighted to have a respite from fussing over my teaching shell. It had been a couple of months since we were at the Café Ba-Ba-Reeba in Lincoln Park having dinner. I asked her about the weather down South, to which she replied that she and Forrest, her son, were in Chicago. I mentioned that I had not expected her back in the big city, which is her name for Chicago, until around Christmas time. GiGi said that Forrest had some medical issues and was being seen at the U. of Chicago Hospital. I told her that I could pick her up, have dinner at my place, and then take her back to the hospital after supper.
GiGi thought that idea was great. Therefore, I saved the changes that I needed to make to my shells and went to my kitchen to throw together a dinner and make a blueberry pie, which is her favorite. Within a couple of hours, I was on my way to Chicago. When I got there, I talked with Forrest and told him that GiGi would be back by 10 pm so that she could take care of him. Then he wished us well and off GiGi and I went to Crown Point.
We talked about all sorts of things on the way to my home. We talked again about President Obama. GiGi said, "Did you send the President that email about his eulogy and singing at Rev. Pinkney's funeral? I bet that he has gotten loads of emails and letters like yours."
I smiled and agreed with GiGi that he would have surely gotten tons of correspondence. I told her that I called the White House about my email. It contained several links to my website and the format that the White House uses for email does not copy live links. The operator said that he would make sure someone would get my email. Therefore, I emailed the operator my email. That was on Monday.
However, midweek something went awry with my webpage. I called my web administrator, and she called my Internet provider. Of all times to have my computer acting up, that was not the time. I did not want any of my links contained on my email not to function. After a day or two, my webpage was up and running. I hope that someone reads my email.
We got to my home, which is actually the first time that GiGi had been there. So, as I started to heat up the meal and baked the pie, we went around the house. GiGi loved seeing my office and some of the articles that I was in the process of writing.
Then GiGi noticed the dragon that fascinates Jack and Owen. I kidded her about not putting her finger near the dragon's mouth, because it would roar. So she tested my warning.
Then GiGi pointed out the bell used for bellhops, which I use when I teach onsite classes. GiGi smiled and said that she read my essay, The Value of Standing on Desks. Then I told her about the bayonet from WWI. It turned out that the bayonet is one of the objects that had spoken to me. I confessed that I had not the time to write the story yet.
By that time, dinner was ready, so the journey through my home was delayed by dinner. After a lot of talking, we ended with blueberry pie.
It was a lovely time together as we sat in the living room. Then GiGi started with one of her open-ended questions. "Al, you seem distort; what is troubling you?" I was surprised that she had detected something in my demeanor even though I love talking with her.
I responded to her question with a question of my own. I asked her whether she really wanted to discuss Agnes? She did not respond verbally to my question. She just rolled her eyes as if to say that I should cut to the chase. Therefore, I began.
I said that I wanted to get involved in a company that imports things from other countries. What I wanted to do was to help this company's interest in Myanmar (Burma). I truly want to return to Myanmar and help the people there. I had gone to San Diego a couple weeks ago to make my pitch to this trade group. This consortium of importers had invited me to discuss my plan. I only knew one other person in attendance out of over 500-attendees.
GiGi looked quizzical. "What would be the problem with you getting involved with international trade?"
I responded by shrugging my shoulders. I knew a great deal about Myanmar and cared even more about the people and their country. I told her that a couple of days after returning from Myanmar, I had a routine office visit with my cardiologist, Dr. Marchand. My heart was fine, but I was wired. My cardiologist's diagnosis was that I had seen the light. After traveling throughout the world, that singular trip radically changed me. I do want to invest some time addressing the needs in that country. Therefore, there I was in San Diego.
Prior to the meeting that morning, the guy that I knew and I met for breakfast in one of the hotel's restaurants. We were catching up on the various happenings in our lives. However, at the same table was a woman talking to someone at an adjacent table. While I did not know her, I thought to myself that her name had to have been Agnes.
GiGi interrupted with another Socratic question, "Why the name, Agnes."
I told GiGi that over four decades ago a hurricane came up the East coast and stalled over North Eastern Pennsylvania. The result was massive flooding and destruction. Hence, I saw the parallel between Hurricane Agnes and the woman railing over someone with whom she obviously had a problem. It was as if Agnes was stalled over her problem with a co-worker as she dumped on that person.
While anyone within a dozen yards could hear her rant, Agnes' attitude about the person about whom she was lambasting really bothered me. The trade group, in which she was a member, has a goal of helping developing countries improve their exporting. With her attitude toward one of her colleagues, Agnes does not do much to demonstrate her concern for another employee or those in other countries.
The person about whom Agnes was ranting may not have done as much as she might have wished. Nonetheless, Agnes was majoring in the minors of life in her dissing of one of her colleagues.
GiGi attempted to quell the waters with this rejoinder, "Agnes is a big fish in a small pond."
My retort was that I agreed, but Agnes was demonstrating a great deal of indifference to one of the employees of this trade group, which bugged me. I was now on a roll. The trade group had problems. In fact, they were losing members and influence nationally and internationally. Agnes' attitude was not going to help the person she railed against in particular nor the organization in general. Then I added to GiGi's comment about the big fish in a small pond that the pond had been drying up quickly in the last decade or two. Her attitude has not helped slow down the group's deterioration.
I explained to GiGi that I continued to talk to my friend about other matters hoping to deafen the dim of Agnes' tirade. It was now about 9 am when the CEO of the trade group got up and announced where the various committees would meet in the hotel. Then we would reassemble here for lunch at 1 pm.
Therefore, I went with my friend to the committee discussing trade with countries of Indochina, which included Myanmar. Then I paused. GiGi waited a moment and then said, "And...." I responded that Agnes was one of the members of that committee. When I saw her come into the meeting room, I thought this is going to be several hours of getting nowhere quickly. Agnes would stall again.
The committee took care of items that needed their attention and passed a couple of motions. After about a half hour, I was on the docket. The group wanted to know about why I was interested in Myanmar and trade development there. I talked about the month that I had been in Myanmar about a year and a half ago and talked about going to a protest rally at Sule Pagoda in Yangon. My attending a protest rally in a military dictatorship was a transformative experience for me. It took me back to the days of the 60s and the civil rights movement in America.
I explained why I wanted to work with this trade group. Myanmar was emerging from isolation as a country and needed to increase trade with the rest of the world. I was especially interested in local artisans in that country. Developing trade would do several things. It would assist the people in Myanmar to expand trade and employment within their country, increase income levels, give Americans some very nice artistic items from Myanmar, and help open the military government to the world in the 21st century.
My presentation was to the point at two levels: factual and emotional. I possessed the data, and I was driven. Agnes seemed either indifferent to my wanting to be a part of their companies or still angry from her breakfast rant. She asked whether I had anything else to add. I responded and spoke to the large committee that I am a different person than I was when I was younger. In the past half dozen years, I have danced with death. While I lead death in both dances, the dance awakened me truly to appreciate living. Additionally, I knew that my clock is ticking and did not want to waste my time.
GiGi nodded. I added that I have written dozens of essays about how dancing with death enabled me to live and renewed my life. I did not want to spend my remaining years uninvolved in life. I still to want help others as others have helped me. I paused for a moment.
GiGi just sat there, smiled, and asked, "What did Agnes say?" Agnes told me that she would look into how I could assist Myanmar within their organization.
GiGi's next question was, "And what has Agnes decided?" By this time, my Socratic friend already knew the answer to her question. Nonetheless, I merely said that Agnes would get back to me, to which GiGi asked, "And...." My rejoinder to GiGi was that I must have missed her phone call or email.
There was a brief moment of neither of us saying anything. However, it was not long before GiGi, my Socratic guru, started. "How did that make you feel?" I told GiGi that I was disappointed. The issues of dancing with death successfully and my experience at Sule Pagoda changed my life. I did not want to waste the next decade or two.
Then GiGi quoted me about those experiences; I would often say that I am a different cat. Then she continued, "So, what are you going to do?"
I told her that I am dealing with my disappointment. Before I had been hired, I was already planning the trip Myanmar, making a list of my contacts, and thinking about talking with the 88 Generation Group in Yangon, Myanmar. Nonetheless, Agnes is not as powerful as prostate cancer and traumatic brain injury. I have overcome both of them; I can deal with Agnes.
Once she gets on what I call her Socratic roll, there is nothing that will slow her down. She nodded with approval but continued with the obvious question, "How?"
I told GiGi that there are other things that I can do to help people. I love teaching and have taught at the college level for the past two decades.
GiGi interrupted me with mentioning that I talk about Steve Jobs as a mentor. I then responded as she often does with the question, why. She smiled and said that she hoped that she recalled what Jobs had said. Slowly, GiGi began, "Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work...As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it."
I told GiGi that Jobs was correct, but the transitioning is not easy especially since I know more than a dozen individuals in Myanmar whom I would like to help.
GiGi asked me what they made. I explained that none of them were artisans, but if I had some extra money, I would make sure that they got it. The people about whom I am concerned were struggling to make ends meet. GiGi asked another question, which was not necessary, "So that troubles you also; doesn't it?"
I replied that it really troubles me. I am 72-years old. I wake up, begin working at my computer by 8 am, and do not go to bed until 11 pm. I love working. However, Agnes got in the way. Then, in an attempt to outdo GiGi with a quote, I added what Ben Franklin said. "Many people die at twenty-five and aren't buried until they are seventy-five." Agnes died years ago but is not buried. I do not want to waste precious time that I still possess in life by talking to Agnes about the fish and the pond.
Then GiGi again nodded and then came another question. "Your problem with Agnes probably isn't the only example of your problems. Do you think that other dreamers like you have similar problems?"
GiGi caught me off-guard with her dreamer statement. So, I asked about her dreamer comment.
"You spent a great deal of time," said GiGi, "writing about all your mentors. One of them was Bobby Kennedy. Didn't he say, "Some men see things as they are and say, why; I dream things that never were and say, why not?" Surely, there are other Agneses out there standing in the way of a better world. If I were you, I would write an essay about dealing with their Agneses. You can lead by example. Perhaps, Myanmar is still in your future; time will tell. However, you could help other dreamers and multiply the number of dreamers and their effectiveness."
Then GiGi stopped, and I did not respond. It was as if she wanted to allow her comments to sink in. Then she smiled and said, "I need to get back to the big city and see how Forrest is."
Visit the On Seeing the Light page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Darkest Before Dawn page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Man in the Arena page to read more about this topic.
Visit the GiGi page to read more about this topic.
Visit The Mentors and Me page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Best and Worst of Times page to read more about this topic.