Learning how to just do it

Published 11:19 am Friday, May 6, 2011

Our family friend Will lives in Texas now. He hasn’t managed to visit Birdland yet.

We do most of our communicating via email with an occasional phone call so we remember how each other’s voice sounds. My youngest son Nate and I visited him as we drove through Texas a few years back.

During one part of life, my wife and I worked in very responsible jobs in towns about 40 miles apart.

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We tried living in one town with the other commuting and when that was such a strain we switched and tried it the other way – that didn’t work well either.

Finally, we decided we needed to have a place in each community. Nate (about 15 at the time) and I found an apartment near where I worked and he could stay in the better of the two school systems.

The three of us spent time together when one or the other could easily make the trip back and forth, and we had almost all weekends together. Will, who was in his 30s, lived nearby and we became friends.

Over the next few years, through life’s many transitions, Will, Nate and I were sometimes housemates on a limited basis.

One weekend when my wife was out of town at a professional conference, Nate and I stayed at the apartment.

I worked all day Saturday catching up on paperwork and came home to a big casserole that Will had made for dinner. Nate said one of our favorite bands was playing that night in a nearby town and wanted to go. I agreed to take us all to dinner and the concert if the guys would put away the casserole, clean the kitchen and put the dishes away while I showered.

As I came out of the shower and into the bedroom, I heard the two guys arguing in the kitchen. I stopped and listened as Will angrily demanded that Nate clean up the casserole that was splattered over the kitchen floor. Nate protested that it was too messy.

I thought about intervening, but decided they were better served to work it out between themselves, so I watched and listened instead.

Nate tried every method he could think of to scoop up the mess with spatulas, cardboard, even the dustpan, but the majority of the casserole was just smeared around. Finally, Will could stand it no longer. He said firmly, “For crying out loud, Nate, just pick it up with your hands! It’ll wash off!”

Then he squatted on the floor and with wide motions gathered the oozing noodles, hamburger, cheese and other ingredients in his hands and deposited it in the sink for the disposal to crunch up.

His capitulation seemed to inspire Nate, who got into the spirit of things and began helping out.

In no time at all the mess was cleared and their hands were washed. Will got the mop and scrubbed the floor, while Nate sponged off the cabinets and wall. And we were soon ready to get on with our evening.

As we drove to nearby Dothan for dinner and the concert, I asked what the big deal in the kitchen had been about.

Will explained that Nate had dropped the casserole and then didn’t want to clean up his own mess.

“He didn’t want to get his hands dirty,” Will complained derisively.

I caught Nate’s eye in the rear view mirror. “That right, son?”

“It was just so messy, Dad. I dreaded putting my hands in all that stuff. But after Will said that it would all wash off and plunged into the cleanup, I realized that he was right. Once I got started, it really went fast and wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I had thought it would be.”

I thought, ‘Ah, a teachable moment;’ and said, “So what did you learn?”

Without hesitation Nate responded, “Nike’s got it right.”

To my questioning expression he followed up a few seconds later with, “Just do it.”

Lesson already learned.

In the 20 years or so since that day, I haven’t known Nate to hesitate to take care of messy situations like those we all create for ourselves and dread rectifying – at least not the physical ones. So Nate and I both owe Will for that timely lesson.

I suppose that the emotional messes we make in life are just as difficult to remedy and that overcoming the dread is also simply remembering to “Just Do It.”

Another of those things that my father never said comes to mind: “When you hurt someone, apologize, try to rectify your mistake and move beyond it. Dwelling on the guilt compounds the problem by adding you to the list of those hurt.”