Monday, April 23, 2012

Surprising People in Our Midst

The election that caused the Republican Party, or at least one section of it, to go off the rails into full paranoia, producing the abuses we remember as Watergate, is now forty years behind us. Given the passage of time, it's inevitable that we remember less and less about the whole complicated mess and the people involved. In some countries they never forget things, while Americans can't seem to think of a way to make remembering pay off, other than to make and sell bumper stickers. We don't really bother to remember at all unless the information is going to be on a test.
I mention this because another of Nixon's old crew, Charles Colson, passed away over the weekend at the age of eighty. At one time, Colson was seen as perhaps the most ruthless of the Nixonites, and his role in Watergate got him a modest prison term.. Unlike some of his cronies, however, Colson got the message of imprisonment, and became a clergyman, with a special interest in prison reform and the redeeming of some of our worst citizens one at a time. As to his eternal judgment, I can't say. But I can say "Rest in peace, Mr. Colson. Your battles are over."

I've mentioned my association with Toastmasters before. It continues, though my own role in our club has become more advisory than competitive. Last week's meeting was a reminder that people can spontaneously reveal some pretty surprising stuff if the circumstances are right. Here are some things we learned about each other - in a one hour meeting.
A younger woman gave her first speech as a toastmaster. From somewhere she has been given the gift of being able to say a great deal without using many words. With almost no details, she spoke of being born in a kind of commune in New Mexico, and that this had an effect on even her childhood play. At one point, she simply said, "My mother kidnapped me." This led to years of short stays in places which she nevertheless learned about firsthand. She spoke about learning about the Mississippi River - by crossing it. She broke into tears twice, but then soldiered on, giving a fine introductory speech which lasted just under FOUR minutes. Well done!
One of our older members has all kinds of experiences in life, and he told the story of how a mysterious wedding invitation, which came to him as a teenager, opened the door to a long association with , of all things, Italian royalty. Fascinating.
A diminutive woman in the club who's always smiling told us how deciding to take up hiking with a local group, something she had never done before, led to all kinds of new knowledge and skills, AND was the way she met the man who's now her life partner.
A woman still in her thirties talked about the turn her life took during a previous marriage. When he didn't quickly get his way, her former husband evidently had the habit of  aggressively asking "Do you want to get a divorce?" He must have overplayed this hand, because the last time he threw out the question, his young helpmeet simply reached for a pencil and paper and replied "Shall we just divide up everything NOW?" Yikes.     
We've all been in situations which force us to listen when the real message can be given in one minute or less, but, in fact, IS given in an hour or two. BY contrast, NONE of the last three accounts above lasted more than two minutes. Today's unsought advice? If you've ever bored anyone or find yourself going on and on about less and less, do yourself a favor and find your way into a Toastmasters meeting.
You might be seen someday, if you are not already, as a surprising person.


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