We must be careful to make a distinction between the intellectual and the person of intellectual achievement. The two are very, very different animals. There are people of intellectual achievement who increase the sum of human knowledge, the powers of human insight, and analysis. And then there are the intellectuals. An intellectual is a person knowledgeable in one field who speaks out only in others. Starting in the early twentieth century, for the first time an ordinary storyteller, a novelist, a short story writer, a poet, a playwright, in certain cases a composer, an artist, or even an opera singer could achieve a tremendous eminence by becoming morally indignant about some public issue. It required no intellectual effort whatsoever. Suddenly he was elevated to a plane from which he could look down upon ordinary people. Conversely — this fascinates me — conversely, if you are merely a brilliant scholar, merely someone who has added immeasurably to the sum of human knowledge and the powers of human insight, that does not qualify you for the eminence of being an intellectual.

Tom Wolfe

Patience is Passion Practiced

I’ve seen several quotes on patience recently. I’m not sure if it’s because my impatience makes those words jump out at me or if we’re just getting to the “Ps” in all of the quote books. I’m learning that patience isn’t what I thought it was — a state of utter calmness and disconnection. No, patience is a place of turmoil and restraint and battle. Patience is passion practiced.

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Many of my readers know that I have learned a lot from my dogs — past and present. But I never thought that patience would be on the list of lessons. And particularly not with Togo. But at 5:45 this morning, there he was, a model of patience.

Togo is our 70+ pound husky-wolf mix. He’s an amazing little boy and a tightly-packaged bundle of energy and, often, mischief. And he’s a gourmet when it comes to dog food. We tend to settle in to one particular brand and one particular type of food for Togo. Frequent changes sometimes lead to upset stomachs so we try to stay consistent. But stores don’t always stay consistent and the merchandise on the 25 lb sack aisle sometimes change. Thus was the case this week when Nancy went to replenish our stock.

On the advice of the clerk, Nancy selected a new brand and flavor. And, as responsible pet owners, we began the process of slowly introducing the new food to Tog0, mixing it with the rapidly disappearing old food. To do this, I carry a pre-measured position of the new food in a plastic bag. If I can, I’ll hide this treasure in a pocket of a jacket. But hiding doesn’t work when it comes to Togo and food. He can smell it. He knows it’s there and he knows it’s for him. He is, shall we say, passionate about his dining experience.

As I pour the new in with the old, he stands next to me with his front paws up on the counter, pushing at the bowl and the bag with his nose. Then, as I pick up his bowl he bounces toward and around me, sometimes barking, always urging me to relinquish my hold. As I begin to lower the bowl to its appointed place on the porch, he sits, looks at me and leans in toward his breakfast.

But he waits. Some of you may remember part of our feeding ritual with Togo. We pause for prayer before eating.

So, with his enthusiasm just bursting from within, Togo sits and waits for me to say the prayer. And only on that “amen” does he begin.

No, Togo isn’t a practicing theologian. No, he doesn’t understand my words. Yes, if I didn’t ask him to wait, he wouldn’t. But what’s remarkable is that he values the moment enough to practice patience.

Part of my prayer is that I could be more like Togo in that regard. Passionate, fighting and struggling to do what is right and expected, valuing the moment, but patient to wait.

Some Things Grow on You

Four summers of my life, my mother helped me pack a footlocker procured from the Army Surplus Store and I was loaded on to a bus with old friends and those who would become new friends for a couple of weeks at Camp Blue Haven. I loved those camp experiences for many reasons. And, to be honest, I detested some of those experiences.

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I distinctly remember the bathroom facilities. Those weren’t on my “things I love about camp” list. Very little hot water for showers — probably because someone had figured out that hot water stunted the growth of whatever it was growing in the cracks in the shower floor. But the scarcity of hot water wasn’t the big thing. No, the big thing on my “things I hate about camp” list had to be the lack of stalls for the toilet. That’s a common practice in many pseudo-military encampments — even though Camp Blue Haven was far-removed from anything military. But to this day, I just don’t approve of “open seating.”

Now there was something in the bathroom I dearly loved. There was a small sign posted just above the urinal. I read it and laughed each time I stood there. It was such a great play on words — and utilitarian at the same time. Each word and each punctuation mark so cleverly placed.

We aim to please, so you aim, too, please!

Words to live by. I still think of them each time I . . . well, you know. I do try to suppress my laughter now since, in the absence of the sign, other patrons of public bathrooms wonder.

Well, very little of what I’ve written thus far is what prompted my thoughts of camp and my two great lists. Instead, it was a song I heard this morning.

The Christian camps of my youth were before the advent of what we would later call “Jesus songs.” We sang mostly the old hymns and we sang them a cappella. I loved those old hymns. So you might understand my concern when a new song appeared — literally pasted into the front cover of the old blue hymnal.

“O Lord My God” was “new” to me. In fact it had been copyrighted almost ten years earlier. But in my tribe of shape-note singers, it was new. And I didn’t like it. The range of notes was hard for me, I didn’t know the words by heart, and, irritatingly, those camp leaders thought we should sing it every time we gathered for . . . anything!

Indeed, this set of inspirational words set to an old Swedish folk melody, was on my “things I hate about camp” list. And you can imagine my horror when, on my return to civilization, I learned that all church people, everywhere, had been infected by the insatiable desire to sing this song. For years to come, I was in agony whenever the pitch pipe blew and our leader would launch into this tribute to “awesome wonder.”

But I realized today that, at some moment in my past, all changed. The shift probably occurred some years ago. I saw it today.

As I dressed for church this morning, I was listening to streaming music. I reached down to turn off the Pandora app and head out the door when the introductory notes of “O Lord My God” filtered through the speaker. I couldn’t turn it off. A rush of memories streamed through along with the song and I had this feeling of fulfillment and momentary communion with both God and the many blessings I’ve experienced through my life. And I let it play. And I let the experience sink deep within.

All of this from a song I once detested. All of this from words I didn’t fully understand. All of this because of the truth that we are works in progress and our thoughts and feelings are like clay in the hands of a gifted potter.

If you run up against something — or someone — you don’t really care for today, be patient. Some things might just grow on you. And you’ll be a better person for it.

Dealing With Difficult People

The hotel clerk simply lied to me. As I watched his face when I confronted him with his lie, I saw his eyes narrow and his chin become set. And thus began another real-life opportunity for me in an area I wish I didn’t have to endure — dealing with difficult people.

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I had asked for a simple form. “We don’t provide that form,” he asserted.

“You know,” I said, “I’m a frequent guest with this hotel chain — in fact, I have a fancy membership card. I’ve even stayed here at this hotel before. On many occasions, I have asked for the form and received it.”

“Well, my manager told me that we don’t provide that form,” he asserted. “So we don’t.”

“Let me get your full name so that when I talk with your manager, there won’t be any confusion,” I replied.

He shifted his name badge my direction but it had only his first name. “That’s all you need to know,” he said. “And if you want that form you can download it and print it.”

I did just that. When I handed it to him a few minutes later, I could see what he was thinking, “OH! That form!” He slid my keycard across the counter and said nothing.

“Thanks!” I said. “You know, an apology and acknowledgment now would be nice.”

He said nothing. I picked up the key and headed to my room. Within fifteen minutes, I had written and saved the text I would paste into the survey I always get from this hotel chain after a stay. Here’s what it said:

“Your desk clerk, Tim (not his real name), was having a very bad day when I arrived. I hope that you’ll encourage him. Tell him that I understand his difficult position and sometimes he just needs to pause and breathe. Often, the right thing to do is easy to choose when you simply pause and breathe.”

That, of course, wasn’t the first thing I’d written. It was what came to me after I paused and did a little breathing.