PS... A Column

on Things

By Paul E. Schindler Jr.
Vol. 4 No. 45

Some things are impossible to know, but it is impossible to know these things.

November 26, 2001

Giving Thanks

I no longer have a day job, so every word of this is my opinion, and if you don't like it, lump it. This offer is NOT void in Wisconsin.

Except, of course, that some material in this column comes from incoming e-mail; such material is usually reproduced in the Sans Serif type font to distinguish it from the (somewhat) original material

Family photos 1, 2, 3

Table of Contents:

General News:

    • Giving Thanks

General News

Giving Thanks

If this sounds familiar, it is because, in the great tradition of Herb Caen and Jon Carroll, I am recycling my three previous thanksgiving messages, and allowing for changes, including the fact that this year, I am posting this after the holiday, rather than before.

I know I have a lot to be thankful for. Although I no longer have a great job, I have my health, and I have my family. I can't imagine why I would bother getting out of bed each morning if not for my wife and my two girls.

Actually, I am grateful that I no longer have a job. It was a wonderful 22 years, I had a great time, I loved my job and enjoyed most of the people I worked with, but it was time to move on, and I didn't feel I could walk away from all the severance due me. My employer solved that dilemma by laying me off, and it may seem odd to you, but I am thankful for that act. It forces me to move on with my life.

My most important role is as husband to Vicki and father to Marlow and Rae. Of course, Marlow is off at Columbia University, living in Manhattan, so I don't see her as much.

Rae had Thanksgiving week off. Since I'm between jobs, I took it off as well. We spent it in Oregon with my parents, while Vicki went to NYC to be with Marlow.

I think we all lose perspective sometimes, forget what's really important. We get wrapped up in our jobs and spend too much time working on them, both at home and in the office. I have two thoughts on this.

One is an old aphorism, nonetheless true for being hoary: no one ever said on their death bed, "God, I wish I'd spent more time at the office."

The other is something my mom used to say to my dad. My father was a dedicated and hardworking milkman. If the dairy called on Sunday to say a grocery store was out of milk, my dad would drive in and spend the several hours needed to load up, drive to the store, then drive back to the dairy and thence home. Periodically, mom would say, "Paul, 30 years from now, who's going to be there for you, your family or that damn dairy?" As it turned out, the dairy went bankrupt, but we're all still here for him.

I used to think of that often as I made choices between work and home life. Whenever possible, I choose home life. In fact, I worked at home from 1979 until my layoff this October.

I eat breakfast and dinner with Rae every day. I see most of her fencing bouts. I help with her homework.

The years I have spent with my girls are priceless.

Not everyone can work in a home office--chances are my next job will probably involve going to work.

But no matter where you work, the next time you have to make the tough call between the meeting and the soccer game, go to the soccer game. You'll never regret it. I am thankful for my family. Be thankful for yours.

And Public Service Too

In the words of the Bible, as rendered by Lyndon Johnson when he withdrew from consideration for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968: "Of those to whom much is given, much is asked." (The quote, as rendered in the King James bible, is actually much less eloquent.)

The best put-down of Dan Quayle I ever heard (and there are so many good ones to choose from) was that he was "born on third base and thought he hit a triple." If my daughters never suffer this delusion, I will consider myself a success.

During this Thanksgiving season, I give thanks, as I often do the rest of the year, for the many benefits bestowed on me by society and my family.

I don't believe in self-made men and women. Yes, our choices and actions have a lot to do with where we end up in life. I am not advocating some kind of laid-back, que serra approach to life. But no one is an island, complete unto themselves.

Those of us born white, American and middle-class, raised in safe neighborhoods by intact families with reasonable incomes, who attended public schools that were still reasonably well funded and safe, have a leg-up over about 99.99 percent of the world's population that has nothing to do with how smart or hard-working we are. Maybe I wasn't born on third base, like Dan Quayle, but I was born somewhere between first and second, and I had a hell of a lineup in front of me and behind me to insure that my team won the game. Some of the win was the result of skill. Some of it was luck of the draw. Most of it came from society, which built the stadium and wrote the rules, things I could never have done by myself.

So, I have always felt a requirement to give something back to society. I gave more time and effort when I was younger. Since Marlow got active in basketball when she started high school, I scaled back on outside commitments, first quitting the MIT Educational Council, then stepping down from the Orinda Planning Commission at the end of my one-year term. I plan to give more time when I am older. For now, I give money. There, I violated one of the rules I gave Marlow for her college essay; don't mention the negative stuff, just the positive stuff.

I threw the negative stuff into this essay to let you know we all fail to live up to our expectations of ourselves from time to time. No shame in that. As they say in the dieting game, if you missed a freeway exit, would you drive home and start the journey over? No, you'd get off at the next exit and do your best to get where you're going by another route.

Richard Dalton, a friend for most of my adult life, says he never took a consulting job where they wouldn't let him start with an assessment of the present situation. "You can't get where you're going until you know where you are." The next thing he required was a clear goal. "If you don't know where you're going, you can't get there." This is a good way to consult; it is also a good way to conduct life.

This is all by way of saying that many of us were more idealistic when we were younger, and once gave more to the community and the world than we do now. Take stock of where you are, and where you'd like to end up. Try moving towards your goal. Don't give up if you miss your exit a few times. That's why I'm going to become a teacher. Because when I come to the end of this particular life, I want to be certain to feel a sense of accomplishment, improving lives not just at the retail level (my children, my wife, my friends), but at the wholesale level (classes of young people).

The period from Thanksgiving to Christmas is the one time when this dog-eat-dog society actually sends us messages that remind us to think about someone other than ourselves. Listen to these messages.

Give thanks for your family, your friends, and your good fortune. Spread that good fortune around in any way you can.

I have much to be thankful for this holiday season, as I have had every year of my life. In many ways, mine has been a charmed life. I try very hard to avoid the sin of hubris, which I remember reading about when I was 14. While I don't believe in the panoply of ancient Greek gods, and don't really think I'll be directly punished for thinking that I have earned and deserved my good fortune, I've still always thought it unseemly to take it for granted.

I know I was blessed with the head start of loving parents, married to each other and supportive of education. I will be thankful for that all of my days.

I am thankful for my health, which may seem odd to those of you who know that I was diagnosed with adult onset diabetes in the fall of 1999. I'll spare you the details. Those of you who know about it know that it's easily controllable, and for those of you who don't know about it, don't worry, I won't be checking out any time soon. In fact, if I lose weight [24 pounds so far--still working on it] and watch my diet [that I've done], I'll live every bit as long as I would have otherwise, maybe longer.

In essence, the diagnosis makes me thankful for several reasons. First, if could have been worse. Second, it serves as a wakeup call. As a friend of mine who had a heart attack told me, "It beats the hell out of a heart attack." And, by the way, I'm grateful this guy wasn't killed by his heart attack, because we've got a lot of mileage left in our friendship.

I am thankful that I have two living loving parents and a loving brother. I am thankful for my loving and understanding wife, and for the two most wonderful daughters I could have imagined, both of them turning into vibrant, intelligent young women before my very eyes.

I am thankful for every sunrise and sunset I get to see, every moment I get to be in, every flower I try so desperately to stop and smell. I am thankful that I can move closer every day to living a life in balance.

I am thankful, finally, for each and every one of you who is reading this column. I hope you had a great Thanksgiving! I promise to be much less serious next week.


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