Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 506 (293) The Story

This is Retirement Talk. I'm Del Lowery.

So there was this elephant pulling a big tent pole across a lot. He wore a harness and a thick chain hooked to it. It didn't seem like much of a job for the elephant. He moved gracefully and the long, heavy pole drug behind. A trainer or handler set right on top of his head and behind the ears and he had a big steel stake in his hand. I suppose it was used to stake down the elephant when the job was done. I have no idea what the elephant did that was wrong but of a sudden the trainer swung the steel stake down right on the elephant’s head somewhere right between the eyes. He never moved after he hit the ground.

I was five years old when I saw this in Springfield, Illinois. My uncle Ben, a railroader, came to town when ever the circus came to town.  It was a fun time as uncle Ben was an old bachelor and always showed up at the door with a box of glazed donuts . He would buy us pop, hot-dogs and maybe even ice cream. He was a funny old guy who always wore a blue pinstriped suit with a vest and gold watch chain. He also wore one of the big ten gallon hats like cowboys in old western movies. We always looked forward to those visits.

He took my brother and me to watch the big show set up. We were standing in the lot where they were setting up the circus when the guy swung the stake. The elephant fell to the ground instantly. The vision that sticks in my mind was the bottom of the elephants feet. They were just at eye level. People quickly gathered round and some guy who must have been the boss or owner really yelled at the guy who had killed the elephant. He was hot. My memory fails on more details. But seeing an elephant killed is something that stays with you. Especially when you are a young boy.

Is there anything more important than a good story? My response would be, "Very little". If there is one thing that we retired folks possess more than younger folks is the number of stories we have in our bag. We have had experiences that come only with time. Certainly everyone has had some things happen to them that can make a great story. It is just a matter of finding someone who is willing to listen. I'm beginning to think that is a major need we have in the world. People who are willing to listen.

Talking about events sometimes takes strange turns. They paint pictures. They can make the past present. They bring characters to life. They provide an interesting way to convey facts and figures. They can elevate the boring to the exciting. Who can ever forget the lesson taught to Job or Jonah. Parables are not used in religious texts for the fun of it.

My students use to repeat stories I had told in class years years before. They might not even remember the name of the class or subject but they would remember the stories; at least some of them. At times the stories came back to me close to the way I actually told them or experienced them. Other times they change a bit and I only agreed with the new rendition and let it go.

My friend, John, use to always worship the opportunity to collect another story. He always said that it is the only thing that we will remember. All the little stuff in life will drift away and we will be left with a story.  For example: One time the Pope came to Anchorage and the students were released to go see him. Schools closed. However, teachers were required to go to work. It wasn't considered educational to have the teachers experience a visit from the one and only pontiff.

John and I were never very good at following orders that seemed totally meaningless so we skipped out: jumped in the car and joined the throngs of people that lined the Park Strip where the Pope was to parade and then speak. It was winter. Everyone had on parkas and snow boots.

Now John had not been in a church for over 40 years even though he had attended catholic school all of his life. I had taught western civilization. We both understood the role the Pope played in our history. Different points of view but informed nontheless. It was a sunny winter day and all of a sudden there was the Popemobile just a few feet from us. The Pope was smiling and waving. The security folks were giving bearded, unkept John and I the evil eye.

Of a sudden John’s hand flew to the top of his head and then the chest in the shape of a cross. I have to admit my heart leaped sort of like it did when I looked into the Grand Canyon. "Wow! This was the Pope. Thee Pope." And then he was gone. I elbowed John and chided him about all of this crossing action. "What happened? I asked.  "I don't know," he said, "I couldn't help myself".

And just then. And I mean just then two hookers working the Popes parade tapped us on the shoulder and said, "You boys want to party". Our eyes got wide and John exclaimed, "There is a God"! We refused the invitation but shook with laughter all the way back to school. We also talked about the story we would always have.

Stories play such an important role in our lives. We love to tell them and we love to hear them. Today radio is blessed with This American Life, Radiolab, and a multitude of other podcasts. As the world has been conquered by new technology the radio still flourishes as a rich garden for stories that touch our souls.

I'm still stuck on the little line about everyone having stories to tell. Technology makes it possible for all of us to record our stories and throw them out into thin air for all to hear. Podcasting is only one method. Perhaps one is in your future.

This is Retirement Talk.

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