It’s not a great photo. A little grainy. I was too far away. But when I saw it this morning, it didn’t really matter to me how good or bad it was. What mattered was that it happened.
Seven years ago, my son picked up a nice little award. He was a finalist in the Laws of Life essay contest. Being a finalist earned him a cash award. Finalists are invited to a church basement awards ceremony where the first-place winners read their essays and the proud moms and dads munch doughnuts and sip punch. When it’s over, kids gather in groups for photos. A lot of handshaking happens. People smile a lot. It’s a delightful evening.
I’ve had sort of an insider’s view on the Laws of Life contest. For years I was a so-called “reader.” The “readers” winnow the pile of essays down to the best ones, which are then passed along to the “judges,” who ultimately choose the winners.
Each year I’d get a call from Frank Brandt, a local insurance salesman and all around swell guy, asking if I’d be a “reader” again. (Frank is actually in that photo I mentioned, arm outstretched to shake my son's hand.) I liked doing it, so I always said "yes."
A couple of years ago, though, I chose to dip out of Laws of Life duty. Thought I'd give someone else a crack at it. (I mean, who needs this old coot passing judgment every year on our brightest young minds, am I right? Seemed like a good time to pass the torch.)
Anyway, I was always amazed at the variety of essays. Some kids clearly wanted nothing to do with writing a Laws of Life essay, but it was an English class requirement ... and it shows. And for others, it seemed like they’d just been waiting for an excuse to throw down some serious wisdom.
For every kid whose life was fundamentally transformed by a mission trip to a poor neighborhood, there was a true gem of introspection. I remember one young writer talked about growing up on a farm and having a sense of disdain for that life. But the more he watched how hard his father worked on the farm, the more he realized that he was wrong to look down upon it. Maturity and a long, hard look at what was important in his life led this young man reevaluate things. And he came to the realization that the work ethic his hard-working father was modeling was more important — and more valuable — than he ever knew.
That kind of thoughtfulness, the kind where you can almost see the lessons being fully grasped as the essay was being written … that’s what I loved about being a “reader” for the Laws of Life essays.
I’ll bet some folks are learning some lessons right now. We’re in the middle of a doozy of a crisis. The weather is becoming gorgeous. Many people are daydreaming about sipping margaritas on an outdoor dining patio somewhere, or of eating hot dogs at baseball games, or laying on a sandy beach or beside a public pool. And we’re being told to put those daydreams on hold until it’s safe for everyone to socialize again. Some of you may be feeling frustrated that your life hasn’t returned to normal yet. And you’re absolutely right to be frustrated. I sure as heck am.
I’ll just throw out this food for thought: There are some people truly suffering right now, and it has nothing to do with not being able to get a haircut. Some of our neighbors are alone. They don’t have a loved one to get irritated by, they don’t have a family around to play Monopoly with, or a sweetie with whom they can cuddle and binge Netflix shows.
Worse yet, some of our neighbors are actually sick from this virus (thankfully that number is small compared to other communities, though we should be mindful that those communities are struggling, too).
So, in conclusion, my Laws of Life two cents is: Be kind. To steal an underappreciated cliche, everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Give people the benefit of the doubt, especially in the middle of a crisis.
And take care of each other.
Robb Murray can be reached, until June 12, at 507-344-6386 or firstname.lastname@example.org.