#1129 – Dick Bernard: In Praise of Exasperating People. A Thought for Mother's Day.

Last Sunday I had the honor of saying a few words at the celebration of the life of a friend who I’d known the last seven years of his near 95 years; and later that day more words at a now-annual dinner that wouldn’t exist were it not for him.
(More details on both can be found at A Million Copies, click on Lynn Elling, and, there, click on “celebration” in first paragraph at the top of the page.)
The real problem: how does one condense this guys life as a peacemaker into a few words?
I had four minutes.
At coffee over many days I made a list of experiences I had had with Lynn over the seven years. It became a very long list.
I finally zeroed in on a single vignette from another Memorial service I had attended in Comfrey MN at his request June 23, 2009. And within that visit, a single recollection from the piece of paper he asked me to read at that Memorial about the LST he and his friend, Melvin, had served on for two years in the Pacific in WWII. That summarized Lynn’s life for me.
(LST? Officially, that’s a “Landing Ship Tank”.
In his words, on his piece of paper from which I read, “LST” was a “Large Slow Target”. LST crew would understand…. Somebody in that congregation that day, a man, laughed out loud. He knew….)
As I prepared my list about Lynn, it dawned on me that Lynn was not alone as a positive example in my life.
I began another list, this one of people I’d known at many other points in my life who were in one way or another, like Lynn.
Then I decided to use part of those four minutes to talk about Lynn, the “exasperating” individual. He could be, I said, the kind of individual you saw coming, and ducked across the street to avoid. You knew that he wanted to tell his story, and that the pitch would include something he wanted you to do.
Some folks in the pews chuckled. They understood.
They were there because they knew Lynn.
I mentioned my new list of exasperating people, (the last entry was #27 – there are 14 men, 13 women.) They came from all points in my life. The list could be much longer.
That list is a keeper. You’d be honored if you were on that list!
From that list, last Sunday, I mentioned only Geography Prof. George Kennedy, who, back in about 1960, got very angry at me, calling me “lazy”, and that was for starters.
Well, that is exactly what I was: Lazy.
He knew I had talents I wasn’t using. I never forgot what Prof. Kennedy said, and how he said it. It was very pointed and very personal, and it changed my life.
Too bad I couldn’t tell him that he made a difference for me while he was still alive.
Exasperating people can be very irritating and annoying. That’s what the word means.
But if you take a moment, you can learn something about what you learned from them, about yourself.
Hopefully, I sometimes fill that role, of being “exasperating” to somebody else.
Exasperating. Remember that word…. At times, I fit that word. You?
Happy Mother’s Day May 8, to Mom’s (and all others who in one way or another have filled that oft-times exasperating role).

2 replies
  1. dthoferngmail.com
    dthoferngmail.com says:

    One of the (few?) benefits of getting older is the ability to look back on people we’ve engaged with and realize the contributions they’ve made in our lives even though at the time they seemed highly critical of us or even, “exasperating.”

    • admin
      admin says:

      It did surprise me, when I began to generate the list, to see the number of people who in various ways were a challenge at a particular time about a particular thing, but when put in perspective much later were really helpful to me. One in particular that comes to mind I wrote as a review to the book, Swallow the Ocean, about a mentally ill mother. I wrote the review in January, 2008, and it remains as the first review to this day, and the book remains in print. This is what I said about this particular exasperating individual, Mike, my “lone wolf” brother-in-law who was mentally ill: “This is a moving and beautifully written love story by a daughter about her mother and her entire family. It is a must-read for anyone who has ever lived in proximity with someone who is ‘walking wounded’ as a consequence of mental illness, but is not ill enough to be hospitalized. In a most beautiful and moving way, Ms Flynn tells her story of growing up in San Francisco as her Mom descends into mental illness.
      I was truly blessed with Swallow the Ocean only a few weeks after caring for and then burying a mentally ill relative who had simply worn out those who lived in closest contact with him. He couldn’t help being ill; the relatives who weren’t around for him could be forgiven for giving up on him. He was not easy to love.
      Ms Flynn builds a bridge for us to help better understand mental illness and how families struggle to do their best under very trying circumstances.”
      I learned a great deal about myself in the several years I was the “go to” for Mike – learnings I never expected.


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