Wednesday, February 11, 2009

It's a matter of experience

As I was reading about the latest in the POTUS's saga, I was struck by a sense of déjà vu. When Clinton ran for president his character and moral integrity were an issue -- at least for a lot of people. Clinton's backers said none of it mattered and America found out that character and moral integrity do matter. Fast forward to today when we have a president for whom people voted because they said his inexperience didn't matter and we are in the midst of Amateur Hour in a complex environment where government leaders around the world are licking their chops and rubbing their hands together because the POTUS's inexperience makes America seem like a lamb waiting its turn for slaughter. Kathleen Parker says it best. The first however-many days of Barack Obama's presidency have been a study in amateurism.

Experience, like character and moral integrity, matter, as I found out this morning. Chicken Soup picked up another of my stories for a new book to be published in October 2009: All in the Family. They wanted stories about family and I gave them the late Esther Sherwood, my ex-mother-in-law who died before I married her son, who in many ways is like my own mother who is famous for being late, although I doubt Mom will be late to her funeral. She chases Death just like her father did.

I can remember Grandpa saying he wouldn't be around much longer and I felt like he stayed around for me. I coaxed him with food and promises of firsts: first date, first grandchild, first time driver, first time honor student, first graduation, first wedding. I have one cousin older than I am and she was the first driver, first high school graduate and first bride in our family. I remember all her firsts because I was there and amazed my hair didn't turn white.

I was in the car when Uncle Bob let Laura drive their station wagon (this was before SUVs) on the I-71 freeway from Columbus to their house out in the country. In the back were baskets of mildew-smelling laundry, her brother and two of her sisters, and me. Laura was skittish at the wheel but anxious to prove to her father that she was a competent driver and could handle rush hour traffic on one of Columbus's busiest freeways. Uncle Bob urged her to speed up and keep with the flow of traffic and she did, the back end of the station wagon fishtailing wildly across three lanes of traffic while I sat in the back seat with her sister Bobbi Jean facing the oncoming traffic and praying I wasn't about to die. Laura finally got control of the car, but not before the rest of us found out what it was like to see our all too short lives flash before our eyes. It took all our strength and courage not to fall to the ground and grab up handfuls of earth and kiss them when we got out of the car, our legs shaking and our hearts still pounding after more than 20 miles. I don't think we even breathed until we turned onto to Old State Road where traffic was scarce on the two-lane country road that led to their little house across from the dairy farm. We all took deep breaths of fresh country air laced with manure and new mown green fields and released our white knuckled hold on each other and our seats.

I've had quite a few adventures in cars when someone else was in control of the wheel, like the night my father towed me from Worthington to Hilliard behind his truck on the I-270 freeway in the dead of winter. Dad loved that story and laughed about what happened, but I have never found frostbite and near death experiences all that humorous.

Experience matters. Whether it's to tell a good story that recreates a moment in time or someone's life or in knowing what and how to do what's necessary, even when it means people will revile and hate you when you make an unpopular decision, it's nearly impossible to get through the difficult times if you've never been through that way before. We all have to crawl before we can walk and then run. Fresh from the egg, we are little more than turtles racing to the sea beneath a sky full of ravenous and experienced predatory birds.

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