Sunday, February 12, 2012


Sunday Reflection: The Truest Insult

When I was in my first year at Yale Law School, most of us felt like the admission department's mistake. The talents and experiences of the 160-odd people in that group were overwhelming, and we knew that we were supposed to go on to do great things. The stone stairways of the school were worn down in the middle of each broad gray stair, the gentle depressions created by the footfalls of those who had come before us-- the brave and the great and the tragic and the lost, all of them memorable. The air was heavy with intrigue and expectation.

Of course, we spent a lot of time analyzing one another, having been thrown together in a hat this way. We ventured speculations on little information, deducing facts about people we did not yet know, who were from places I had never seen-- Brooklyn and South Texas and Los Angeles. But still, we had opinions.

It was in the midst of this that one of my classmates described me (outside of my presence) as "The smartest kid in Lake Woebegon."

I knew that (at least in part) it was meant as an insult-- that I was not sophisticated in the way that the people from New York and Washington were. Still, I took no offense. It was pretty much true (except the "smartest" part) and settled on me like a favorite shirt still warm from the dryer. I was flattered, because the description (like all the best compliments) was a mixture of truth and hyperbole.

What the person who called me "The smartest kid in Lake Woebegon" probably did not know is that I had grown up listening to Garrison Keillor tell stories about that place on Prairie Home Companion. My dad would tape the shows and dump them in a shoe box and bring them along on long car trips. It is a wonderful memory my siblings and I share: dusk coming down, in the van out on some two-lane road, and listening to one of those stories. It was a town where I would fit in: People are a little goofy, they talk about church, they are open-hearted and surprising, and they have a bit of fear of what might lie over the next hill. The story would finish, a song would come on, and we would sing along with our own broken voices as the shadows grew long on green fields.

So, last night on Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor wished me a happy birthday. (Thanks, Carrie Willard!).

I suppose that it might feel strange to hear my name on the radio, on this show I have always heard, but it just felt... right, like the shirt from the dryer, a good loose fit.

A week ago today, I sat in the sanctuary at Memorial Church at Harvard and looked up at the stone tablets on the wall. "Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Class of 1903," stared back at me. His feet had worn down the stone of the entry. But I felt comfortable there, too, because I wear that warm shirt everywhere, unashamedly, and if you say I am the smartest boy in Lake Woebegon, I will thank you and dip my head and mutter a protest at the word "smartest," because that is how we are, and were, and will be, at home or at Harvard.

Happy belated birthday, Mark!
Actually, not belated at all-- it's not until the 21st!
“Today I will…, and I know the place well…. If it (life) will take a while, I will leave it there (essence of self) and walk home.” “The stone stairways … (are) worn down in the middle, …each broad gray stair, the gentle depressions created by the footfalls of those who had come before …-- the brave and the great and the tragic and the lost, all of them memorable. The air … heavy with intrigue and expectation... settle(s) … like a favorite shirt still warm from the dryer.”

When embraced, life is a small town blessing. A companion, transported along on our journey – a safe haven that embodies person, place or both. Shrouded in an air of self assurance, publicly visible or comfortably at home, with courage to initiate or respond to what (“Sal the butcher) recommended you try that day.” Engaged “because, even if they don't know your name, they pretend as if they do; encouraging ... conversation … (when we choose) to chat – easing the reluctance “… to look people in the eyes.”

Birth, initiates moments when all will be remembered as “…the brave and the great and the tragic and the lost;” called, contributing, sharing and defined by encounters or actions.

The unlimited potential, possibilities, dreams and opportunities destiny calls us to seek, discover and nurture are being culled, categorized, limited and established. Each new tomorrow is filled with opportunities offered and thresholds encountered requiring guidance and courage to cross.

Choosing the road less traveled and embracing new experiences often sourced from blessings that settle upon us “like a favorite shirt still warm from the dryer.” Life, is adding to “… the gentle depressions created by the footfalls of those who have come before.” Who will we notice, embrace, encourage and invite on our journey? If the (their) light is left on, will you knock during the walk home?
This may be my favorite post of yours; partly because of my shared admiration of Garrison Keillor and jealousy of the "shoutout" and mostly because you found and embrace the perfect description of you. As I continue to embody the perfect description of me without even knowing yet what it is, the idea of a favorite shirt will be a new guidepost. Thanks for always sharing so wonderfully your thoughts.
Mark; Yep!
Does GK know that you too once hosted a popular radio show?
Your dad, dkendall and so many others are correct. You continue to keep raising the bar!

Your walking the talk, like a wink from our morning mirror - a "nudge" each new day reminding us, On deck, in the hole, your serve!

It's exhausting - Please continue...
I have often thought, though I may be wrong, that moneyed does not necessarily equal sophistication, as so many of our chums from the island off the coast of America or from the District, or other places, so often believe. True sophistication, if it means anything, at least anything uplifting, arrives only after a healthy experience with failure, and an appreciation for the foibles which we all share to varying degrees. At least, that is my nickel.


PS Love GK even more than the British one!
Speaking of which Mark, can you recommend a business in GP to frame my YDS Diploma (I have had it for almost sixteen years now and came across it in a box in the basement). If I remember correctly, Cavanaugh's is a good place...

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