Monday, January 24, 2011

chutzpah, humility, and the weather

Ah, the weather.  That old stand-by conversation opener of the Sunday School fellowship time and cocktail parties alike. In my childhood home, only the minister and the family doctor outranked the David Reeves, the television forecaster in Macon, Georgia. I could understand concern over tornadoes and even fear of being trampled at the Piggly-Wiggly in a tussle over the last loaf of pre-snow bread. But atmospheric conditions were an obsession in our house.  Before every car trip, both channels (yes, two...this was B.C., Before Cable) were checked and the more extreme report accepted. "Better safe than sorry, honey," Mother would announce.  She stopped just short of calling the National Weather Service before football games. [Note: She did, however, call Bunny Waller before every movie to inquire about the National Legion of Decency rating. This seemed patently unfair since we weren't even Catholic. Didn't the Baptists have enough rules in place?]

During my sojourn in Kinsale, I threw caution to the winds which arrived sporadically in January. Slapped a hat on my head and ventured out. Never caught a cold. Patsy's Corner, home of the world's most incredible lemon meringue pie, was just around the corner from our cottage. In this building, William Penn once drank tea and journaled. He would've eaten pie, too, if Patsy had been cooking back then.

People-watching is one of my hobbies. I found the small eatery a perfect perch. And I learned something during those January afternoon visits. Try this. One rainy day, find yourself an out-of-the-way table and observe how people react to the weather. Some whine. Others launch tirades that would scare small children. But, sit long enough, and someone will come in, run fingers through wet hair, and smile.  Note the casual flick to banish the droplet of water that landed in the middle of the scalp, then trailed down the face. Consider hiring such a person. At the very least, offer the empty chair and have a chat. Adaptability, not to be confused with wishy-washy-ness, is a highly desirable characteristic in a companion or employee.

Some, however, move beyond adaptable. I call them "The People of the East Wind", those whose strong reversals catch us off-guard.  The subject of column by Birmingham writer Elaine Witt, the late Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina was a complex, exasperating man to the end. He had fought for states' rights. Opposed desegregation. Later he reversed his stand, this reversal, according to colleagues on both sides of the aisle, was, at least in part, sincere about-face. Championed the recognition of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday as a national holiday. And worked for legislation to provide greater opportunities for blacks and ethnic groups. His public conflict had its roots in the culture of his birth and his own story of interracial relationship, much of which was buried with him.

Elaine posed this question: “How does one make sense of the whole of this man?” Citing mathematical logic (Godel’s incompleteness theorem) as the source of her conclusion, she almost lost me but I am glad I kept reading. Her conclusion rests at the top of my list of epiphanies: “We can lead lives that are consistent but incomplete or complete but inconsistent.” 
Closing thoughts 
The word "chutzpah" in Hebrew has negative connotations...impudent or shameless.  The Yiddish equivalent has a more positive bent, "gutsy audacity."  Interestingly, the Arabic word with the same derivation (or cognate, just learned a new word), "ḥaṣāfah," means "sound judgment."  I like to think I fall into the "cheeky but somewhat sound" category.

Consistency requires you to be as ignorant today as you were a year ago.  
Bernard Berenson

friend's take on Berenson's words: 

"But...why not a week rather than a year, eh? 
We learn new things every day...."

The courage to change and the humility to admit mistakes...a win/win.

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