Tuesday, August 25, 2020

A Lifetime of Learning in Every Moment

A couple days ago, while walking our dog in South Lake Union Park, my wife and I had to dodge a champagne cork. Drinking alcohol in the park is expressly forbidden during normal times, but, of course, these are anything but normal times. As the cork bounced harmlessly past us, several people from the large family group that had gathered to celebrate a loved one's life transforming moment, called out, laughingly, "Sorry."

I was taken back to another shooting champagne cork, one from some 50 years ago. Our family friend, Mr. Hollingsworth, had left a dent in the kitchen ceiling when a cork got away from him during one of the many times our families celebrated together. I'd never been around champagne before. Indeed I don't think I even knew what it was until that dramatic moment. There was an explosive pop, followed by a brief moment of startled silence as everyone registered what had happened. Then came a second explosion, this time of laughter as the adults noticed the marred ceiling and pieced together what had happened. Mr. Hollingsworth, whose ceiling had been spoiled, laughed the hardest of all.

Just as that moment left a mark on the ceiling, it also, clearly left a mark on me. It comes back to me whenever champagne is even mentioned. I was obviously impressed by the surprising explosive power, something I often recreate to this day while goofing around with baking soda and vinegar with children, but what stuck with me more than anything else is the idea of laughing at the dent Mr. Hollingsworth had made in the ceiling. After all, I'd marred walls before (although never ceilings) and no one had laughed about that. I'd accidentally broken many things and laughing about it had never been an option. If anything, one crept away from such things, hoping, and generally failing, to create plausible deniability. 

At one level, I suppose, I was impressed by the fact that Mr. Hollingsworth had "gotten away with it," not through denial, but rather by boldly acknowledging it. This was what adults got to do, I thought. They got to laugh at their mistakes. In fact, in Mr. Hollingsworth's case, he seemed to actually take pride in this particular mistake. Not only didn't he repair the dent, but it became a prompt as the years past to tell and re-tell the story, which he did whenever we gathered, always to renewed laughter. In many ways I expect it was his constant retellings, perhaps more than the actual moment itself, that caused it to become burned into my memory. 

Looking back, I can see how unfair it was. The adults got to laugh at their mistakes while we children were scolded and even punished for our own, but that's not how I felt then, or even now. It was that moment that made me want to be more like Mr. Hollingsworth: I wanted to grow up to be a man who could laugh at his mistakes. I wanted to become a person who not only laughed at his mistakes, but who could even find in them a source of pride and joy. In many ways, I'm still trying to be Mr. Hollingsworth.

There were several children at the family weekend celebration in South Lake Union Park. I wonder if any of them will remember the time their father or family friend or uncle accidentally launched a cork at innocent bystanders. Probably not, but you never know. There is the potential for a lifetime of learning in every moment.


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