Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Share the gratitude #3

This is my silver-lining-themed post because it seems that wonderful things often emerge from terrible things. I'm grateful (in retrospect, and in retrospect only) for the following five fonts of foetid feces "of which vertu engendred is the fleur," as Chaucer declared six hundred years and a Great Vowel Shift ago. Here are five of my experiences with growing flowers from shit.

I am grateful for:

1. Bullies.
My dad fought in WWII in the Pacific Theater and was even awarded a Bronze Star but he was a fervent Catholic so when he returned home after the war he chose the path of "ain't gonna study war no more" and my early upbringing included the maxim that fighting is a sin and we, meaning me, do NOT fight. The neighborhood bully quickly learned that I was a perfect target because I would not fight back and I soon became his favorite punching bag. This went on for quite a while and, in case you didn't realize it, this is the shitty part of the story. I did not enjoy those times but I endured them because "fighting is a sin" and sin buys you a ticket straight to Hell. At that time I believed in Hell and definitely had no interest in going there.

My folks rarely fought but this situation caused one of those occasions. The ultimate result was that my mom told my dad, "You teach him to fight or I will!" (My mom was also a devout Catholic but, unlike my dad, she was a badass Catholic. She did not embrace "Turn the other cheek!" as much as she did "Let one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one!") Dad, as usual, gave in.

Most of my fighting instruction from my dad consisted of a long discussion about how it was ok to defend yourself, but only defend yourself and only when attacked. But he did change "fighting is a sin" into "defending yourself is ok." Thank you, Jesus! That was enough for me. My very next encounter with the neighborhood bully changed the course of my life. From then on I knew intuitively that not only is it ok to defend against bullies but also that it's vital for yourself and for your society to resist them. Instead of looking ahead to decades of being bullied physically, mentally, and socially, I could now look ahead to a life in which I had the final say. To this day, bullying is one of the things which really gets my blood pressure boiling. I will not put up with it. No one should have to. A crucial life lesson I'm grateful for.

2. The Jesuits and the U. S. Marines.
Those who know me have previously heard me piss and moan about my prep school experience at some length so I'll keep it brief here. It was a hellish time and just about the worst environment I can imagine for a teenage boy. It destroyed any tiny progress I'd been making in the context of learning how to function in society. It was institutionalized bullying which drained me completely as I fought it for five endless years but my earlier experience and intuition about bullying gave me the strength to endure and resist to the best of my ability.

Thus, eventually, from the profound depths of that adamantine coprolite, I ultimately emerged with the sublime flower of an intellect sharpened, focused, and broadened by a nonpareil education. Whatever else you say about 'em, and I could say plenty, the Jesuits give good education. Oh yeah, and the Marine component helped to distill my position as a(n imperfect) pacifist. I'm grateful for those lovely blooms.

3. Disneyworld.
Ronnie and I reached the nadir of our relationship at Disneyworld in '96. Without going into dreadful detail, it was a culmination of a lotta stress and conflict which reached a head at the shittiest place on earth. What flower could possibly bloom from such mephitic maleficence? The best flower of all, of course.

We worked together to address our difficulties. The realization that we could do such a thing and that we were both committed to doing whatever it took to be together was perhaps the greatest revelation a couple can ever have. It was the New Testament's "pearl of great price" in flower form, a blossom of august beauty which, if it were an actual physical perianth, would no doubt be Tyrian purple.

4. Our Zombie Princess (mis)adventures.
On the face of it, our Zombie Princess adventure was horrible. We spent scads of money. We spent gigajoules of physical effort, maybe terajoules. Ever done fiberglass work in the deep lazarette of a boat in New Orleans in August? Yeah, terajoules. We spent the coin of emotional attachment profligately, cutting ties with friends and family to head out to sea "for a while." The result of all that promiscuous expenditure?

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in New Orleans, plus life in New Orleans post-Katrina. A terrible crossing of the Gulf of Mexico from New Orleans to Florida, a couple of days of which comprised the worst time I've ever had sailing. Reaching the Florida Keys only to be set upon by Hurricane Wilma. Ultimately, a final decision to return home for Christmas, instead of pushing on to the Lesser Antilles. All very sad, no?

In retrospect, no. Not completely. It's still a somewhat sad memory for me, but some lovely flowers bloomed from that particular poop patty. From that seemingly shitty experience, which was nowhere close to our intended idyllic Caribbean cruise, we emerged as a family which could work together, face adversity at a significant level, and emerge triumphant. We bonded under circumstances which were harsher and more threatening than most families ever have the opportunity to face together and we overcame them. My wife and children demonstrated the extensive depth and breadth of their inner strength. That's a wonderful thing to see and experience.

5. Chronic depression.
I have a long history of clinical depression. This is another story where I won't bore you with a lotta details but Ronnie has had to put up with a pathetic, self-loathing vegetable more than once, and for somewhat lengthy periods, in our history together. Shitty for me, shitty for her, shitty for the kids.

The felicitous flower emanating from this particular fecal fen is that in growing past and recovering from my depression (Make no mistake, my family is what made that happen.), I have an intense appreciation for the happiness I have with my sweet family. The contrast between the vale of my depression and the pinnacle of my happiness is astonishing and it makes this particular flower the biggest of them all.

So, out of curiosity, I Googled for the biggest flower in the world. It turns out that there's some mild disagreement about that. The Rafflesia arnoldii and Amorphophallus titanum are the contenders and both are commonly referred to as the "corpse flower" because they smell like… well, take a wild guess. The Amorphophallus titanum (Remember your Greek roots and take another wild guess as to what that means.) has the largest unbranched inflorescence but the Rafflesia has the largest (single) flower.

Given that we're talking about me, I'm gonna ignore the specificity of Rafflesia being the biggest single flower cuz I really wanna be analogous to a flower called "huge shapeless dick" (Amorphophallus titanum) which smells like a corpse. That's my kinda flower!

I'm grateful to be the human Amorphophallus titanum of happiness.

The preternaturally prominent Amorphophallus titanum


  1. lol... I think Anon said it all but I'll just add that this is a great post and thanks for blogging not just this post but all the hilarious and thought provoking posts on your site. Naturally, it's fabulous.

  2. You've always been a silver lining for me, FM. I'm grateful for that!

  3. love your writing. love your thought. love your vocabulary. love your hair.
    we've been in the same locale before but not said an actual how-d'ya-do. sometime soon. thanks for writing, frank

  4. I like making lemonade from lemons. And while mucking my way through shit is less than an ideal day, there is a sense of perspective that time and age may have imparted that makes me feel like shit washes off, and everybody poops. Or something.

  5. Is that a flower in your pocket, or...? Seriously, I really enjoyed this post, Frank. Thanks for sharing it.

  6. I'm grateful for that one! Thanks for sharing! :O)

  7. Beautifully said Frank! While witty, you provide a wonderful perspective. Thanks for being a part of starting my day off with a smile. I feel empowered to see the silver lining in whatever shit comes my way today!