stand up and be counted


Since no one asked me to deliver a commencement speech this year, an obvious oversight, I’d like to offer the belated advice I would have shared if I’d been called to whittle down life into one neat package.

Forget the top ten. Who has the time? How about the top one. What’s the one thing you’d say to every beloved son or daughter, every adored niece or nephew that would help them sail through life a little taller, a little happier, maybe even a little longer?

After sifting through layers of wisdom painfully earned and heroically recounted for future generations that think I’m annoying, I’d like to add this to the conversation: Stand up and be counted. No matter how wacky you are.

The thought reared its noisy head after one grad complained about a difficult student she couldn’t confront on a school project.  

“I have a hard time asserting myself,” she admitted shyly. “I just don’t know how to do it.”

Welcome to the club.

After sitting next to a phone-shouting, table-hugging guy while I was having a peaceful lunch, I felt her pain. Although I was there first -- I called it first! -- I was unable to suggest he take his silly drivel somewhere else, like Japan. I too, on that day, was unable to stand up and be counted.

The same thing happened a few days earlier when I did not, did not know how, couldn’t quite get the right tone of voice when I tried to react to someone who again didn’t acknowledge my friendly greeting in a hallway. Such a tiny thing, yet it stuck in my chest like soggy mud.

I wanted to say, “Excuse me, HELLO!” but I didn’t.

The list of not standing up mounts -- yesterday, today, probably tomorrow.

My advice, get it over with. Start young to claim your itty bitty plot of earth.

I didn’t say that to this lovely grad, so now I have to get it off my tight chest and say it to you.

Instead of blabbering to some poor family hostage about all the things we coulda, woulda, shoulda, how about keeping it light, direct, and easy from the start. How about “get a room“which I wish I’d delivered to an overly amorous couple at the gym hot tub. Or “could you please shrink over one seat Lincoln” to a tall gentleman who blocked my view in a movie theater. Or “of course you can eat all my chips but first let me drown them in hot sauce.”

Something sweet and caring.

If the words are trying to bust out and you won’t spark an international incident, which is not a given but maybe you have to try because soggy mud is very congesting, gather up your courage and SAAAY IT.

But I didn’t tell the grad because, well, because I didn’t. Because sometimes, even as a full-fledged adult, in the moment I just don’t know how.

Sure there are times to put on the sunglasses and earphones for safety sake, for time sake.

But short of starting a riot, I should have suggested she experiment. Start small -- with bad food at a restaurant, a stranger who cuts in line, a filthy dirty roommate unless that’s you. Then see if you can move up gradually -- to the friend who dissed you, the lazy co-worker, the lame boy or girlfriend, the mean boss.

When you truly have something on your mind, I should have said, stake out your rightful plot of mud, before someone else builds a house.

Start young. Stand up. Be nice. Be polite. Be fair. Be counted. Duck when necessary. Let’s hope it isn’t.

Look, maybe what you have to say is drivel, pure and simple. Oh well, that may be the case.

But at least -- for this brief wondrous moment -- it’s not their drivel. Amen.

June 23, 2019

back to recent columns

send me an e-mail