You can’t see me from where you are
On the stage, in the spotlight
Because I’m in the back, in the dark
But I see you as you walk out to your place
On the stage, under the spotlight
I watch you make people laugh
and I laugh with them.
I hear the people sigh at the exactly right places,
and I sigh with them
as I mouth each line with you
From my place in the back, in the dark
Then I hear the applause
and I clap my hands and
even though you can’t see me from where you are
on the stage, in the spotlight
I give you the thumbs-up
and I smile as I wipe off a tear
This may look like just another small plastic bag. Just another plastic bag with a plastic bracelet inside. And to most people, that’s exactly what it is. Just another plastic bag, just another plastic bracelet, except that at second glance, you may notice that the bracelet is a Fitbit, one of those activity trackers, workout buddies that count steps and calories, and track sleep.
Yet, it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in a while.
And I’m going to tell you why.
I have to say the kid was good-looking. He looked goofy, sure, in his bleached jeans and a yellow ski jacket, and he looked a little confused, absolutely, but most of all he looked real nice. I had forgotten how good the kid looked, it’d been ages since I had last seen him. Well, decades, and three decades to be exact.
I recognized him right away. He just appeared in front of me as I was riding my bike to the mall the other day.
“Hey, kid,” I said. “Wait up.”
The world was different in 1964 when Gun opened her little store from what it looked like in 2004 when she decided to retire and sell the tiny store. You may think the city’s always looked the same, especially around her store, because the store is on the ground floor of a big old stone building, and was there even before Gun – but it hasn’t.
When I was ten years old, Paul McCartney was my favorite Beatle. After school, I’d be alone at home – well, me and our dog – listening to the Beatles, and maybe “Fonzie’s Favorites”, 50s rock tunes in the spirit of the hit TV show “Happy Days”, singing along at the top of my lungs.
When I got older, and realized that John Lennon was assassinated on my birthday – although, technically, it was already the day after my birthday in Finland – I switched allegiances and John became my favorite Beatle..
But I always liked “Let It Be”.
You know, “when I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, let it be.”
My mother’s name is not Mary, but when I found myself in times of trouble, she did come to me and she did speak words of wisdom.
The other day, at the Gelateriana Italiana, when Son, Daughter, and I were having our usual Friday ice creams, Son pulled an essay he had written out of his school bag. It was a story he’d written the week before, and had now got it back, graded.
“You gotta read what the teacher wrote,” he told me.
Unsurprisingly – both because he does tell a good story and because he hadn’t asked me to read it had it not been praise – the teacher had praised his storytelling skills, his vocabulary, and his cliffhangers.
“Congrats. This is fantastic. I guess I can take some of the credit here, after all, I did tirelessly tell you stories when you were just a small boy,” I told him.
He nodded. Continue reading
Had the self-checkout machine worked properly, I hadn’t even seen him there. I would have just paid for my taco chips, hot salsa, baloney, and a carton of milk (the one thing I had actually come to buy) and then gotten on my bike and riden home.
But the scanner didn’t send the items to the cloud, or whatever, so the self-checkout didn’t work, and when I went back to the screen, having violently shaken the scanner in its locking station, I saw him stand outside the grocery store with his lady friend.
I like bumping into people like that because it somehow makes me feel part of the community, and especially so now that I’m the associate assistant coach of Daughter’s soccer team.
And the man was a father of a player on the team, so I gave him a quick wave and a smile, before focusing on the checkout again.
Just as I realized the scanner still hadn’t sent my baloney to the cloud or whatever, the man (and his lady friend) walked into the store, and right behind me he turned to me and said, “Enjoy this time while you can.”
Oh, we’re finally here. But, as all fans of Back to the Future know, the appropriate question is not “where the hell are we?”, it’s “when the hell are we?”
That’s what Marty McFly learns from inventor Emmett “Doc” Brown when Doc demonstrates his time machine for the first time in the 1985 film “Back to the Future”, and sends Einstein the dog one minute into the future in a DeLorean sports car.
By the time the sequel rolled around four years later, McFly had learned his lesson:
McFly: “Where are we? When are we?”
Doc: “We’re descending toward Hill Valley, California at 4:29 pm, on Wednesday, October 21, 2015.”
An old man in Indiana named Glenn was once asked at a church meeting about his religion. He replied, “When I do good I feel good, when I do bad I feel bad, that’s my religion.” Now, Glenn’s words of wisdom probably wouldn’t have spread much farther than Indiana if Abraham Lincoln hadn’t heard him speak and later repeated Glenn’s words to describe his own moral compass.
Altruism as a concept isn’t very old. The word itself didn’t exist until 1851 when the French philosopher Auguste Comte coined it based on the Latin word alteri, “others,” but the act of giving may go back to the beginning of time. “When I do good I feel good” is something most of us can relate to.
A good deed does make us feel better. A smile of thanks after you’ve helped a person lift a stroller off a train, or the gratitude in the eyes of a beggar when a few coins land on the bottom of their paper cup, will make you feel like a good person.
And most of us want to be good people. It’s the definition of “good” that varies.
Twelve years ago, Wife and I shook hands in the little kitchen of our little apartment in downtown Helsinki, on a closed deal. She’d start up a Swedish-language site and a discussion forum for expecting and new parents, and I would start up a Finnish-language site and a discussion forum for … hockey fans.
Wife’s site was up and running a few weeks later, and it turned into a big success.
Meanwhile, I was still working at my day job, while trying to get my writer friends to contribute to my new magazine that was going to come out that fall, still six months away. I wrote several articles myself, translated the ones my buddies – and brother-in-law – had written in English and Swedish, traveled to Sweden to meet with the designer who donated his time for my cause, negotiated with the printers, and the distribution channels, while trying to be a father and a boyfriend.