Lookin’ for a Hard Headed Woman
Eddie Deathrage looked at the long wood splinters embedded deep under the palm of
his right hand. He looked at us. He looked at the fractured stud. He looked at us. He looked at
his right hand, curled it into a fist, breaking the splinters into small fragments, and picked up his
hammer. Two days later, Eddie missed work. The doctor lanced his swollen, infected hand and
spent more than an hour digging and picking splinters out of his flesh.
“Eddie, you’re not being tough, you’re being stupid,” one of his workers told him. “You
could have lost your hand!”
Julie and I stood by the side of the pool, brows knit, glaring threat in each faces. “No
way you win this,” I said. She laughed. She rolled her eyes. We both eyed the pool in front of
us, the snow on the banks, and the rim of ice at the water’s edge. Across the pool, perhaps ten
or twelve meters away, a five-meter waterfall poured bone-crushingly cold water into the pool.
We had stripped down as far as decency permitted, while Linda stood ready to issue the
go signal. We planted our feet, leaning forward and ready to leap, and Linda dropped her arm.
The water felt like cold sledge hammers against our skin and took our breath, but we forced our
way through the frigid pool until we passed under the waterfall, slapped the rock behind it, and
completed the agonizing return to shore.
We will never agree upon who won the race.
Half-way back in a line at the Zipper, Linda and our two young boys advanced slowly
toward the gatekeeper. Three teenage boys, impatient with the slow pace, peeled away from
the queue and went straight to the gate, pushing their way in at the front, despite muttered
protests and angry looks.
Linda told the boys to stay put, then walked calmly but confidently to the front of the
line. She caught the attention of the teenage boys and told them, with an irresistible authority,
“Get to the back of the line. Now.”
They stared at her, stunned.
She glared back.
Their mental generators turned slowly, but a small light came on. Squaring their
shoulders, they tipped their heads slightly back, forced a comically confident smile, and
swaggered to the rear.
Andrew’s story follows a common plot line. He did not call his boss a liar, exactly, but
exposed his boss’s lies. Integrity, basic human decency, required that he do so. He had
challenged his boss in private repeatedly, imploring him, pleading with him, and arguing on
behalf of simple honesty. Eventually, the conflict went public.
Truth seeps upward, inevitably, finding seams and pathways out of the dark soil of
corruption, just as water seeps downward, irresistibly, through the most compacted earth.
Andrew lost his job. With nothing in a savings account, two small children, and a wife
giving up her part-time work, he sold his house and headed toward another life.
At the expense of seeming boastful, I will tell this story about myself. At a basketball
game, Chris, a student from the college where I worked, decided to harass the loud,
rambunctious male fans from our rival college. As he walked nonchalantly past them toward
his own crowd, he turned suddenly and struck one of the opposing fans with both fists, an
upward thrust under the ribs, lifting him off the floor and throwing him backward.
The fan landed hard on a woman sitting behind him. She had a brace on her left knee,
crutches resting beside her, and a tortured grimace on her face. Clearly, many people around
me had seen Chris’s assault on another student. I heard muttered protests and a few gasps.
No one moved.
I moved. “This cannot stand,” I said to myself, and immediately made my way down
through the full bleachers, around the playing floor, and over to the tightly packed students
from my college. I forced my way through them, pressing up bleacher by bleacher until I stood
face-to-face with Chris. He had seen me coming and met my eyes nervously.
“You will not leave this gym until you apologize to that student and that woman.”
“Okay, I’ll say I’m sorry, but not because you tell me to.”
Ignoring the absurdity and impertinence of his response, I moved back down out of the
bleachers and planted myself where I could prevent him from leaving. I also alerted the athletic
director to call the police. “Hey, I will,” he said, and then, “Thank you for confronting Chris.” I
did not ask him why he had not.
When the game ended, I made my way immediately across the court and waited for
Chris to descend from the bleachers. I beckoned to him with one finger, and said nothing. He
followed me dutifully toward the gymnasium entrance, where the opposing male fans had
amassed, in order to prevent Chris from escaping. As I approached the crowd of threatening
and cursing young men, I realized that Chris had slowed his pace. I turned, walked several
paces back to him, and tugged the front of his shirt. “You. Will. Apologize. Now walk.” Pale,
sweating, and shaking, Chris followed me into and through the threatening crowd.
My students understand why I say to them, “I work hard to be honest, fair, gentle, and
compassionate. Do not, do not, ever think that I am ‘nice’.”
Yes, I enjoy that story. I do feel some pride there, but carry a conviction, born of success
and failures alike, that the world too much suffers cowards.
Linda saw the boy fall. So did his mother and a few others who stood at the top of the
waterfall. It appeared that the boy attempted to cross the top of the waterfall by jumping from
stone to stone. As he fell, his left boot caught between two crossed logs jutting up out of the
pool below. His position left him hanging inside the waterfall, a five-meter torrent of ice cold
water. Hanging upside down, the boy could not free his head and breathe.
Linda quickly scaled the rocks beside the waterfall, shimmied over to the logs, and
climbed high enough to reach the boy and lift his head out of the rushing water. Every time she
pulled his head from the waterfall, the boy screamed, “Oh god oh god it’s so cold. Am I dying?”
The exertion left Linda exhausted, so until help arrived, she had no choice but to lower
the boy’s head back into the water, rest her left arm, then free his head again, so that he could
breathe. He and she repeated this routine until the rest of us reached the scene.
The next morning . . . well, you can imagine. The physical strength and force of effort
that this brief crisis demanded of Linda left her aching to the bone, with muscle strains from
neck to feet.
I had fallen in love with Linda initially, for a number of reasons, her fearless integrity
being one of them. I fell in love with her again that day.
The Voices I Hear
Whether cultural mores or religious rules allow us to hug, or merely to shake hands, or
compel us to avoid touching altogether, let me say I love you while close enough to see clearly
the color of your eyes. I do not so much grow tired of talking with you by voice chat, text, or
email; I merely grow frustrated at not having that most wonderful option: speaking to you in
person, friend facing friend. I want you close to me, near enough to hear your voice without the
thinning, sharpening effect of electronics. Your voice comes as a joy to me, a deep solace,
nonetheless, no matter how it comes, even when by the silent progress of a text message
across my screen. Over time, even over great distance, I learn your voice and hear your voice
among the patterns of your texting.
I used to say, “I inherited a boot for a tongue; please forgive me if I step clumsily or kick
you accidentally.” My forthright wife has assured me, however, through years of hearing me
stumble, that I have learned; my words do not so often outpace my brain or trample someone’s
heart. Indeed, I have worked hard to refine my voice, to soften my footfall, so to speak, and
more skillfully choreograph the dance of words among my best intentions, my reasoning, and
my passion. All of this assumes that I do, in fact, have a voice, not merely a speaking voice, as
nearly everyone has, but a voice that carries some power, for better or worse, as, in fact,
everyone has. But does everyone have a voice that carries some power? Can anyone, anyone
at all, speak with power, or speak effectively to power? I will come back to those questions.
My Father’s Voice
My father could not hear my voice. I stood always at the intersection of his poor hearing
and his selective listening. Most of the time, I stood silently there, as speaking seemed rarely to
correlate with being heard. Indeed, it seemed most often that speaking on my own behalf
meant not being heard. I might sit next to him and speak directly to his ear, and he, with face
contorted by annoyed frustration, might say to my mother sitting across the room, “I can’t
hear. What is he trying to say?” In a soft voice, she would repeat my words to him. At other
times, astonishingly, he would hear a near whisper from me and accuse me of saying something
inappropriate. “I know what I heard!,” he would shout, my denials only fueling his anger.
Governments function this way, do they not? Especially those governments bent on
Voices Speaking Truth to Power
We need voices speaking truth about Power, about corrupt leaders, institutions,
corporations, and governments. Even more, however, we need voices speaking truth to Power.
Truth about Power and truth to Power are not the same. I speak truth to Power if the Power
poses a threat to me, that is, if I risk something substantial by facing that threat and speaking a
dangerous truth into the ear of Power. On a small scale, I have spoken truth to Power and lost
a job and my health as consequence. Soon after losing my job, my doctors handed me a
twofold diagnosis: viral infection of my central nervous system and multiple sclerosis (MS).
They suggested that the stress from that year of conflict contributed to the onset of both
diseases, as intense stress suppresses the immune system.
While I would rather experience again the year of physical hell that came with the viral
infection than face again the stress of fighting with corrupt leaders, I have no regrets. You
might recall the words of Cassius, from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:
And why should Caesar be a tyrant then?
Poor man! I know he would not be a wolf
But that he sees the Romans are but sheep.
He were no lion were not Romans hinds.
The Voice of Love
Let me paraphrase St. Paul:
If I do not have love, I have nothing.
If I do not have love, I am nothing.
Given the absolute prominence that Paul gives to love, I think it fair to paraphrase him further
by saying that without love, there is nothing—no Goodness, no Truth, no Beauty. We practice
“speaking the truth in love,” as he says, or we speak with no good purpose and to no good
effect, even if we do indeed speak truth to Power. In saying this, I fear being misunderstood by
those who equate “love” with all things sweet, nice, pleasant, and easy. I do not make that
equation. Indeed, love compels us to speak truth to Power, to risk our welfare, our health,
even our lives. In other words, love may compel us into battle. And then love compels us to
forgive the wrongs committed against us.
I do not mean to neglect the personal face of love, that compellingly beautiful, joyful,
healing, and empowering embrace, literal or figurative, between beloved and beloved, that
face-to-face, eye-to-eye respect, compassion, and affection. Indeed, I mean to focus on that
most of all. Let me say it concisely: Wherever Power, however great or small, stands in the
way of that embrace, speak out. Fight for that. Risk your life for that.
Hadduck's Rules of Order for Committee
Several years ago, reflecting upon my experience in academia as a member of various
committees, sharing table with administrators, faculty, staff, and students, I began to take
notes. I noted the commonalities, or at least typicalities, among committees, no matter their
purpose or membership. Wanting to be as kind as possible, I will suggest that the brilliantly
democratic idea of committee probably originated very far back in human history, under a tree,
with a man, a woman, and a loquacious reptile. Had Shakespeare penned in modern parlance a
note on the dynamics of committee, Mark Anthony might have said,
"Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of passive-aggression."
Before we consider the rules, we should first observe a general principle: The art of committee
lies in the interplay of three things: 1. talking incessantly about change; 2. avoiding decisions
that create change; and 3. blaming someone else for failure.
Nota Bene: Chronically tired people behave like drunk people--they make poor decisions. Thus,
a room full of tired committee members is like a room full of drunk people, but less fun.
Research bears this out. Of course, I depend heavily here upon research, as this pertains
primarily to academic committees. Nonetheless, I have wished that church and club
committees (and boards of all sorts) would likewise embrace such rules as these.
Rules for Committee
Tristi Nota: I served on committee once with a fellow who made this confession: “I get on as
many committees as possible because I do not want anything to happen without my influence.”
Devil, dunce, or zealot? I don’t know, but pitiable.
Your Existence Is Beautiful
My mother turned 90 recently. She tells me that she does not feel old, until she tries to
get up from her chair. She feels briefly old then, while rocking back and forth to build
momentum. I love her quick mind, her sense of humor, her firm convictions, her sea-deep
compassion. With her thin white hair done up in a perm, she barely tops 60 inches now, but
she rises in my imagination as a woman of great stature.
I recall her nearly blind grandfather at 98. I stood next to him, as he sat in his
wheelchair. Given my height at 12 years old, I know that I must have looked down toward him;
yet I cannot correct the image in my memory. I looked up at him, in awe, as he spoke my name,
remembered much about me, and took my hand in his.
The handshake dates back 25 centuries or more, a gesture of peace, indicating that
neither man carried a weapon: “My hand to you, sir. I do not intend to kill you at the moment.”
What troubled circumstances made that gesture necessary? Fortunately, we attend our typical
meet-and-greets without fear, but we still offer the hand as a sign of amicable civility and
I prefer another gesture, borrowed from another culture, and also with an ancient
history. Apparently the namaste means nothing more nowadays than a handshake for some, a
simple, polite gesture of recognition. The hands pressed palm to palm in front of the chest, the
slight bow, have a lovely ancient meaning, nonetheless. “I bow to the divine in you.”
You are young? Then be beautiful, as you are; be strong, as you are; be young, as you
are. You are old? Then be beautiful, as you are; be strong, as you are; be young at heart, as you
are. Your existence is beautiful.