Virtue, perhaps, is nothing more than politeness of soul. –Honore de Balzac
Growing up in small towns, I yearned for a way out. Cities like Chicago and New York seemed exotic, far away destinations where the streets were lined with tall buildings and people rushed constantly about. If you had asked me then what my life song might be, I probably would have answered you with titles such as Peter Gabriel’s Big Time or Glenn Frey’s You Belong to the City. I dreamed of anywhere but our little hometown.
As I look back, though, I realize just what we had in those rural towns and how much I miss certain aspects of that life. One of those aspects is politeness. I suppose I didn’t really notice it back then because it just “was.” I really didn’t know anything else and so had no comparison.
Some of the behaviors common to us back then are apparently almost extinct nowadays. For example, when I was growing up, men took off their hats before they entered a building, and everyone–men or women–took off their hats during the singing of The Star Spangled Banner or the recitation of “The Pledge of Allegiance.” In an area where wearing cowboy hats or ball caps was fairly common, I would see men politely remove their hats almost daily.
On a similar note, I remember riding in the back of a hearse after a family member’s death. As we traveled along the small, rural road, I looked out the window in an attempt to control my emotions. That was when I saw him. He was an elderly man who had stopped his car by the side of the road out of respect for the funeral procession. He stood by his car with his hat held over his heart. That one man’s small act meant more to me than anything else because it was true and heartfelt.
I must admit that it was a shock to move to my current city. Those niceties that I had taken for granted were gone, and I wonder if the loss of it has affected me as well. I have sometimes found myself forgetting my manners, something that would make my mother and grandmother shudder if they were still around.
I know we probably can’t go back to the politeness that I remember. I think that perhaps we’ve lost more than we can imagine, however.
“Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.” ― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
When I was fairly young–a long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away–we would often drive through the rural areas of Oklahoma in our trips to various destinations. These rides were fairly boring, with little to alleviate this feeling except books, games of “I Spy,” and occasionally AM radio when there was reception.
Sometimes, though, I would see a relic from the relatively recent past. Burma Shave signs still stood along the sides of rural roads at that time although the company had quit placing new advertisements back in the 1960’s. I don’t ever remember seeing Burma Shave in the stores, but I grew to love their quirky signs.
These serial advertisements that grew out of the desire to lessen drivers’ boredom–along with spread the word about the product–certainly livened up the trips during my own childhood. I eagerly looked for these small signs and would yell out the jingle to my parents. The final sign, the one with the product placement for Burma Shave, was screamed out as if it were some sort of punchline for the witty sayings.
Although I have traveled the back roads in the Midwest for years since then, I haven’t seen Burma Shave signs in years. Even with our endless electronic entertainment, our current rides through the countryside seem a little vacant of creativity and fun. Perhaps we’re missing something with our constant supply of movies and email.
I can see now that those Burma Shave signs found along rural roads were exciting discoveries and so more appreciated. Too, each group was different and provided a different message and some fun. Those periods of quiet in between the discoveries made those small bits of entertainment sweet.
How much do we think about the endless stream of Facebook or Twitter? Is there time to think and appreciate what we see? Or does it all feed a need for more?
I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I do know I miss those signs. Burma Shave signs will most likely not be remembered for long, but they are a cherished memory for those of us who loved them.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. –James 1:2
“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.” ― Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture
It is sometimes a struggle for many of us to even step out of bed in the morning. Whether it is a period of unemployment that never ends, a new diagnosis of a terminal illness, or a chronic mental illness, life often brings us to the point of giving in to defeat. I’m not so sure about the saying that “God doesn’t give us anything that we can’t handle.” I’ve seen plenty of people bear more than they should have to handle, ultimately succumbing to addiction or suicide.
If you were to ask me today how I’m doing, I would probably say, “I’ve had better months.” The upcoming loss of my teaching position has me at a loose end. I seem to be scrambling at writing anything possible online in order to gain some attention for my efforts and hopefully some employment. As I watch for comments and increasing scores–and not seeing either–it seems a futile effort, one that will ultimately bring me nothing.
But I’ve had worse months as well. And on those days when everything seems hopeless, I try to remember that I’ve come through worse times, ones that were filled with illness for myself and family members, along with the deaths of several family members. I’ve survived. And that’s what I’m trying to hang onto right now when the outlook for our future seems so uncertain.
In the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.–Andy Warhol
When I was younger, I still believed that I would obtain my “fifteen minutes” of fame. I thought that I would be famous for my writing or research or something. I suppose those are the dreams of youth, usually unrealized. As we grow older, we begin to understand that only a few people become famous, and then often for the wrong reasons.
We had our moment recently when our little dog, Anakin, appeared on CuteOverload. As a proud dog mom, I was overjoyed. He had finished chemotherapy not long before his appearance, and so that made the honor even more sweet. He was a survivor, and he was cute! It was a win for all those little dogs out there who have gone through some pretty tough circumstances and lived to strut their stuff.
Sure, I’d still like to be a famous writer or at least get a few accolades. But caring for Anakin during his illness and watching him play and enjoy his life after cancer, well that’s enough for me. I’ve made a difference in this little dog’s life, but he’s changed me for the better. He’s helped me to realize that sometimes we should let others have the limelight even as we support them from the shadows. That’s ultimately more fulfilling.
Let other people have fame. I’ll gladly take my sweet little Anakin any day.