On October 3, my wife and I returned from a week in New England. Mostly northern New Hampshire, to be specific. Historically, that supposedly would be the pluperfect leaf-peeper week, or at least very close to it. Toward the end of our stay the crowds began showing up in great hordes, even in the remote areas of the White Mountains, thus giving that supposition some credence. Lamentably for us all, the dry summer and warm September seems to have pushed “peak peeper period” back a few weeks. Hence we saw lots of beautiful green leaves. And yet, in a few of the upper valleys there was enough leaf color to give a hint of how spectacular it can be.
Most of the locals seemed happy, nonetheless: seems like the Patriots’ 4-0 start had a lot to do with their cheer. It’s always mystified me how a local sports team — with dozens of players and coaches and an owner making millions of dollars THAT YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW, but play in a stadium paid for by taxpayers— can affect the local mood just by winning or losing.
We not only caught the beginning of leaf season, but, as a bonus, we caught the beginning of presidential primary season. Since 1952 New Hampshire has held the first presidential primary in the nation. Why? Well, they like it that way. So much so, that it is a state law that they must be first! Indeed, the “New Hampster” Secretary of State has the power (and the duty) to move the primary date, when needed, to insure their first-in-nation-primary status. For the 2016 elections the date is set for February 9th. Even though only a very few delegates for the summer conventions will be selected, New Hampshire is regarded as something of a bellwether state in terms of national sentiment. Maybe it’s because their motto is: “Live free, or die.” It’s fitting too: we came across quite a few liberals and libertarians.
Throughout the week I did an informal count of bumper stickers, yard signs, posters and buttons. Assuming that is a reasonable proxy for the nation’s bellwether:
I feel the change coming;
I feel the wind blow;
I feel brave and daring;
I feel my blood flow.
– from Weekend in New England, by Barry Manilow
Based on my informal count: “I feel the Bern.” Yes, Bernie Sanders. The 74 year-old socialist 8-term US representative and 2-term senator from Vermont had more visible support than all other candidates (Democrat or Republican) combined. Maybe it’s spill-over almost-native-son appreciation for the guy from next door Vermont. Maybe not. By the way: Hillary had a big fat zero.
Over on the Republican side there was scant early visible support anywhere. From what I saw, it looked like Carly well out in front, with a few stickers for Ben. (That’s Carly Fiorina and Dr Ben Carson). Thankfully, The Donald also had a big fat zero. I do believe that none of those three have a snowball’s chance in hell of becoming president — although it’s interesting that the current top four polling Republicans (an orange-haired orangutan, a woman, a black brain surgeon, and a first-generation Spanish-speaking Cuban) demonstrate a lot more diversity than the top thee polling possibilities from the “party of diversity,” which has just three old white people.
Becoming president, I suppose, is one of those rare opportunities wherein what you say and do can have huge consequences. In the case of president, it’s how that country performs, and how that country is perceived.
Perhaps there’s an analogy in sports. Maybe once or twice in a long season an individual player will have a sudden opportunity to either: a) shine brightly, making the whole team appear marvelous; or b) fail to execute a basic skill or tactic, making them – and their team – appear ordinary at best, and pathetic at worst.
Since it’s football season I’ll bring up the ill-fated Jackie Smith and the 1978 Super Bowl. In the twilight of a Hall of Fame career, Smith finally got his one chance on the world stage as a backup tight end for the Dallas Cowboys. Late in the 3rd quarter, wide open in the end zone, on a critical third down play, Smith dropped a perfect pass from Roger Staubach. It was such an easy and critical catch. The Cowboys lost the game … and that drop was one of the biggest reasons why they lost.
Which is a long way of getting to the quandary. I’ve been in a few conversations with a friend named “John” lately. He’s been sharing his personal quandary that he’s been having regarding a friend of his named “Rich.” (Not their real names). It has to do with one of those rare opportunities we get in life wherein one simple act or choice can be a large statement of goodness and integrity, or a statement about mediocrity and hum-drum mushy morals.
John and Rich have been friends for a long time, and hold each other in pretty high regard. Well, they held each other in high regard until recently; until Rich shared a “Jackie Smith” sort of story that has caused John quite a bit of anguish.
As John tells it, Rich has had a decades long very successful career in a lucrative and glamorous profession. He was highly respected, well-compensated, and recently able to retire in his mid-50s with a nice retirement package plus a send-off bonus. He lives in a splendid home in a high end neighborhood, owning a house worth nearly 7 figures. Rich recently unloaded an investment property scoring several tens of thousands of dollars more than he originally expected to fetch. Things are pretty good for Rich, financially speaking. Among the lucky few percent.
Now it came to pass a few weeks ago that Rich told John a story that goes something like this: It seems that Rich was doing some home re-modeling and stopped by a major hardware store to pick up a large stock of merchandise. Distracted by a minor allergy attack, Rich did not check his receipt at all. Once Rich had his car loaded he noticed that the checkout clerk had made a huge error: a bill that should have been around $2,000 was only about half that. Rich had no compunction about keeping the money.
As Rich proudly told this story, John cringed internally. His mind ran wild for several days. “If this is what ‘good’ people do, what does this say about the human race?” — “If this is my choice of friends, what does this say about me?” — “How is this morally different than people who took advantage of the broken windows and rioting in
Ferguson to make off with stereos, large screen TVs and cases of booze?”
Eventually John confronted Rich and put the friendship on hold after hearing disappointing morally-ambiguous and squishy explanations.
What would you tell John?
I suggested he come up with a pro/con type of list. He came up with a different list, which (as well as I can reconstruct) looked something like:
Regarding judging people
How do they act when they think no one is watching?
How do they treat people who can do them no personal good?
Don’t judge people based on their worst behavior, or decisions made at weak moments
Judge not, that ye not be judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged… Matthew 7: 1-2
Look for basic goodness.
In bad times, no person or no situation is as bad as it looks. In good times, nothing is as good as it looks.
I praised John for his list. He told me it could have been longer.
I asked him if he valued friendships, and if he could be a better person himself. John answered “Yes, of course” to each.
“In that case”, I told him, “You hold the answer yourself. ”
Friendships are like warm pleasant autumns: there might be an occasional chill, but when they come to an end we usually miss them.
Joe Girard © 2015