One of the stories our youngest likes me to tell is the one about the time I inadvertently sang a song across the PA system to my entire high school. During the sound check for that afternoon’s pep rally – and thinking the gym’s speakers were self-contained – I belted out “In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight” and a bunch of “Dee dee dee dee’s”. (This was 1977, so I was in the Robert John soprano style… right smack in the middle between the Tokens’ 1961 chart topper and when Timon and Pumbaa introduced “Awimbawe” to a new generation in 1994.)
After a couple of minutes, I turned and noticed there were many people peeking through the small door windows on each end of the building. Among them: our principal. The redness in my face upon realizing why he wasn’t smiling served in sharp contrast to the blue Viking painted on the south wall. At senior honors ceremony the following May, the freshman class joyfully presented me a plaque for its Foot in the Mouth Award. I still have it.
There have been moments since when something slipped off my tongue that deserved similar recognition. The time in a restaurant when I took a bite out of a sandwich, spit it out, and said much too loudly: “Uh, that’s meat.” It was my brief vegetarian period. I don’t think the three ladies at the table next to me finished their meals.
The time when our young niece, her new husband and his mother visited our house. Wanting to engage with the one I didn’t know, I asked Sandy several questions: “Where did you grow up, Sandy?” “How long are you in town, Sandy?” “Where do you work, Sandy?” She answered each one with a smile. After about five minutes, Kathy sat down beside me and said: “I made reservations at the restaurant we discussed.” Wondering why she needed to tell me that right then, I glanced at the paper she was holding. On it, she’d written: “Her name is Wendy.”
The time when we were newlyweds and Kathy heard me say: “Marriage is hard.” She didn’t appreciate my perspective that day… and reminded me of it many times over the ensuing years. Then around our 10th anniversary – probably right after I’d blurted out something else I shouldn’t have – she said: “You know, you were right.”
Marriage is hard… and recognizing that upfront is important to having a lasting relationship. When two people who grew up in different families and situations – having different experiences and perspective – bind their lives together, it would be naïve to think everything will be be a rosy path. There are going to be challenging days, and the best way to survive is to address the issues as they occur, instead of sweeping them deep under the rug only to have something explode like a volcano somewhere down the road.
While I didn’t understand the significance of my remark a quarter century ago, those three words might be my legacy: much more so than – alone in a gym – trying to hit the high notes on a doo-wop song.