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Excerpt from "Reaching for Insights: Stories of Love, Faith, and the Kitchen Sink"

by Mitch Rosenzweig

Oh Fudge
I laughed out loud, although I really shouldn’t have. She was a cute as a button. Curly blonde hair and petite, maybe 3 years old at the most. She had on the cutest little dress with a Christmas print, white tights, and bright, shiny Mary Jane shoes to complete the perfect picture. Her Dad, at the other end of her hand, was clearly a work-a-day type. Gnarled and whiskered, there were paint spatters flecking his plaid shirt and blue jeans. As they walked into the black Friday store, Dad remarked, "Look at all the people!" And in a cute, tiny voice with a little-kid accent, the delicate princess exclaimed loudly, "No Shit!" My coffee almost exploded all over me as I guffawed. Red-faced and embarrassed the Dad bent close to his daughter and gave her a loving reminder: "Now Chelsea, we don’t say those bad words in public." I wondered if it was okay in private. With wide eyes she nodded, obviously confused and overwhelmed by the bustle of the store.

In the 70s, George Carlin made famous the seven words you can’t say on TV. But really, if you ask anyone, there are way more than seven that we classify as expletives or bad words. When we are kids, we rejoice in their delicious sounds. From the "doo-doo head" and "poopy" of childhood, to the rude mother-degrading curses of teens, we continue to thrill at the obvious insults. It’s not just an American thing; I have seen comedic dictionaries about how to curse in every language. We classify them as "bad" words. Never to be spoken, especially not in public.

Of course no words are really "bad." They are just sounds on our tongue or letters on a page. It is in the meaning and context that the moralistic value occurs. We can exclaim about abundant waste in a toilet but we better not tell someone they are full of it. It’s all about the context. I have to re-train my brain after my various military stints, where bad words are sprinkled throughout casual conversations. I once heard a Platoon Sergeant use more than 14 of them in a single sentence. The worst part is that I understood and agreed with what he said—an dhow he said it. I shook his confused hand in congratulations. Bad, bad, bad.

What I don’t understand is why other, non-curse words aren’t considered bad. They have negative connota­tions in all contexts: such as “hate,” “unemployed,” “addiction,” “kill,” and millions of others that produce a visceral response in any setting. We don’t use them in polite society either. I will avoid further examples but I am sure you can think of your own that are far worse than "doody-head."

As parents and polite adults, we teach our children and train ourselves to avoid using bad words. Even though the best of us occasionally drop an "f-bomb," most of us don’t cuss like drunken merchant marines. We realize that as reserved and thoughtful adults there are better ways to express our emotions. Only the vulgar cuss—until you stub your toe in the middle of the night. And then that raw instinct forces us to damn something to the nether regions. I’m not holier-than-thou; I am just as likely to slip one in now and then. Especially the milder ones, like sh*t, damn, and hell. Somehow, "doo-doo happens," or "oh fudge " just doesn’t cut it in all situations. 

I have a proposal. Can we create a list of the seven words that we must say? Wouldn’t it be just as important to teach our children those words? The positive rather than negative? Wouldn’t it be amazing to see a dad stooping to teach his to child to say, "Holy love!”? My list of seven words we must say would be: love, faith, caring, peace, giving, forgiveness, and thanks. I’m willing to bet we have just as many reasons to say them in public. Maybe they are prohibited too, since I rarely hear them.

Today, I am going to offer my seven every chance I get. I will fully express myself and let people know how I truly feel. No holds barred. If I offend, so be it. I don’t need a filter. I will pepper my conversation with them and shock people. Even when I stub my toe, I will offer thanks for having a toe to stub. OK, well, maybe after I cuss and fuss a bit.

Express yourself—it’s healthy. Let it out already, Dagnabit! 

Get Carded

Every place I worked, I would get new ones. If I had kept one of each business card, I could have probably wallpapered my house. Even though they all they were all the same, they were different. Each was unique in color, photos, and design. But in their essence, the function is the same: to proclaim, to the lucky receiver, who you are and what you do, in tiny 6-point font. Yup, in 3.5 x 2 inches, you’re supposed to say everything someone needs to know about you. 

How often we spend our time trying to figure out people. What makes them tick—why would they act this way or that way, or say something like that? We receive all kinds of messages, most of the time mixed, about who they are trying to be or what they are trying to communicate. 

How simple life would be if we could just walk up to someone and hand them a card that would say it all. Not what it is we do to make money, but what we are all about. Simple messages that convey our values and character. Just reach into your pocket and pass it out. It certainly would cut down on the guessing and confusion.

What would your card say? Would it be covered in 6-point font with all the things you think you are—barely readable, but comprehensive? Would it include your life roles, such as husband, wife, father or mother? Would it show an important value or quality—like optimistic, or “I believe”? Perhaps it would show your wishes or dreams. The possibilities are seemingly endless. But of course, the more you cram on it the more confusing it gets.

I know what mine would say. Clean and simple, with no flowery distractions. Simple black and white type, with the largest font that would fit. It would encompass everything I am and that I value. Five words would say it all. 

With apologies to Descartes, it would simply say: I care, therefore I am. What’s in your pocket? 

The Great Secret
I am not sure when I first learned the truth. It could have been one of my oh-so-helpful brothers who told me, or I could have learned about it in some dark alley. Of course, I wanted to believe in Santa. I think like many, I wanted to hedge my bets. Better to believe and get presents than doubt and get coal. Of course, I knew that all the presents didn’t come from Santa. We got them from Mom and other family members. When I was raising my children, we were pretty sneaky. We had four types of wrapping paper. Santa had his own for each of the kids, and mom and dad had different paper. When my daughter was old enough, she too wanted to know if Santa was real. I think she asked me the day after Christmas, just to be safe. 

Inevitably we go through challenges and changes in our beliefs as we grow up. When we were young, we believed in magic, fantasy, and things unknown. I remember my older brother magically making quarters appear for my son after he had stealthily hidden them around the house. My son was amazed. As children, we are very willing to believe in the unknown. It’s not that we are gullible; it’s just there is so much we have yet to learn about life and the world that the mystery of faith seems natural. Of course there is a God—that’s easy to believe.

As rational and ideology-challenging young adults, we lose much of our faith. We get all Missouri-like and say, "Show me. If you can’t prove it, it can’t be true.” It’s a by-product of our education system. The quest for the right answer. Perhaps it was exemplified by the Beatles’ claims about God being dead back in the 60’s. Prove it. Many young adults walked away from their faith in those days.

Now that I’m way  ‘growed up’, and in spite of the logic programming, on Christmas morning I still believe. I believe in the magic of Christmas. Wide-eyed children will race to open their gifts full of joyful happiness. We will express our faith in our carols and prayers. On bended knee or surrounded by torn wrappings, we will give thanks.

Many will have nothing. No presents, or trees, carols, or even prayers: the forward-deployed, the im­poverished, and the lonely…. Lost on this day, just like every other day. For them, like us, the best gift isn’t under the tree anyway. Rich, poor, faith-filled or not, we are still loved. God is there whether we believe or not. He always brings his presence to those that believe—and those that don’t. What a gift that is. That is the magic of Christmas.
I do believe. 

A Good Tip

I am forever trying to calculate tips. It doesn’t seem to matter how good or bad the service is, a tip of fifteen to twenty percent is expected— at least in this country. In Europe, it is a bit different. They just round up the bill and add a few dollars (francs, lira, etc.), regardless of the total. Although we like to think that it’s a reward, it really isn’t—at least not to the server. What started as an incentive (“to insure prompt service”) is now critical to their livelihood. I can’t even imagine making a living on the minimum wages that service workers earn. And of course, our generosity helps some servers to far exceed the minimum wage. I talked to a bartender in a mountain resort who astounded me with his earnings. But most of us don’t begrudge gratuities. It’s our way of alleviating the guilt for letting someone serve us.

If you think about gratitude, it is kind of a peculiar thing. We are supposed to be grateful for all we have, for all our gifts. But for many people, our prayers consist of what is still on our wish list—usually for things to get better…for the yuck to go away. Most of us do pray more for others than ourselves; at least, I think we do. But do we pray for those we don’t know? Not usually. But there is so much around us to be grateful for, even if it is mundane and average.

We should spend more time being grateful in the here and now. Pay for what makes us happy with a smile, a thank you or a wave. If we go beyond social courtesy, what would that look like? More than kindness to strangers, but truly helping those that need it: to help the seekers find, the hurt to heal, and the tearful to find joy. Perhaps we should spend a large percentage of our gratitude doing just that.

So today, and each day, I am going to try to be grateful fifteen to twenty percent of the time. In my 16-hour vertical day, that equates to about three and a quarter hours. And if I can’t, I’ll try and remember how difficult it is to make a living without being grateful.

What a great tip!

Superman and Elvis Did, Too
I felt like Elvis, swiveling my hip into the slightly stuck front door; my hands were full in my superhuman feat of carrying 14 plastic grocery bags in from the car. Real men don’t make two trips. As it swung in a bit too fast, I heard a satisfying "boing" and the door swung angrily back at me, knob into ribs. Ouch! Doorstop must have been loaded and waiting for the unsuspecting. Although it saved the wall from the hole-inserting doorknob, my ribs are a little offended from its anger. A softer rebound and a louder expletive and I was inside.

Of course, we all know the metaphors about doors and the future. One open, one shut, on the threshold, etcetera, etcetera... I confess that I have cheaply used them a few times. Yawn. But what about the lowly doorstop silently waiting for that flung door? No poems or prose written, it just sits there slightly screwed waiting for its opportunity to serve. I am sure that none even give it a second thought unless they have hound-dog hips and hit the door too hard.

But I am grateful for the doorstops in my world. Being a seeker and adventurer, I always fling open doors. Forget the timid peek, let's rock that door open and see what is on the other side. Screaming fans, adulation, love me tender? I am in! Well that is, until I go too hard or too fast and then it’s nothing but heartbreak and bruised ribs.
Your doorstops are as important as your doors. They are there to stop you when you go too far and prevent you from doing too much damage. They serve to ground you when you go too fast and spring back with reality when you think you are Superman or Elvis. Yet, they don’t inhibit your swinging groove and are totally invisible when you are moving at the right speed. I am grateful to my doorstops in life—mom, my family, and my faith for helping to slow me down when I go too fast. A little poke in the ribs reminds me that I am not Superman, just plain ‘ole me.

But every once in a while I make the perfect entrance, and I can hear the loudspeaker announcing, “Elvis has entered the building.”

Always Right
At first I thought it was me. It was the first one I changed at daylight savings time as it is usually the first one I look at. Later that day I noticed it was wrong so I fixed it again. But later it was still off... odd, I thought. One more time I adjusted it. Satisfied I finally had it right, I forgot about it. A few days later I noticed it was wrong again, but not by a lot. Must be the battery, so I changed it. Seemed like the right solution. But the next day it was off by ten minutes again. Time for a new clock.

I like to quip that broken clocks are usually right twice a day. But in this case, it wasn’t true. It seemed perfectly happy being near exactly ten minutes off. I must have changed it five times, and the battery too, and it still wasn’t the right time. I did some tests, another new battery, and even gave it a good shake, all without much luck. After a few days of it being the wrong time, I began clock shopping. But after three stores, the only one I found that I liked was a Disney princess one, and that would just be wrong in the kitchen. I really did like the old one best. So I just forgot about it and figured what will be will be, and that someday I’ll get a new clock.

And then a timely miracle happened. Not a water into wine kind of miracle, but a little one nonetheless. For the past week, the clock has been keeping perfect time again. I keep checking and rechecking and it hasn’t lost a minute. How it could possibly have fixed itself is beyond rational understanding—it must be a miracle!

Often our fears and trepidations can be like trying to get somewhere but relying on broken clocks to tell us when it’s time to get going. A voice inside tells us it’s not the right time, to justify not taking any action and staying small. But despite being out of sync, we keep looking, hoping that this time will be the right time. 

There is no such thing as the perfect time, regardless of what your clock tells you. If you count the minutes that you spend waiting for the right time, you will get good at counting but never get to your goal. And even if you’re convinced it isn’t the right time, it might be. The best solution isn’t a new clock, but overcoming your fear. And the right time for that is always now.

The Zone

At the gym, some of the equipment has them built right in; you just grab them and they tell you all kinds of information. Ideally, you are supposed to be at a certain heart rate, to maximize your efforts. But to actually get an accurate reading you either have to stop what you’re doing or, like me, hold on to the handles for dear life until it registers. Without them, it seems next to impossible to tell your heart rate or pulse. Just because you’re tired or out of breath doesn’t mean your workout has been effective. Too fast or too slow and you are not in the critical zone.

Many of us spend our days trying to chillaxe, relax, detox, and meditate away life’s challenges. Many things seem to assault us each day that we need to overcome, get over, or run away from. We seek solace in our own unique ways to get rid of whatever the yuck might be. We dream of trouble-free white sand beaches and tropical breezes. It is one of the most common things discussed in counseling: how to let go and let life. Many of us aren’t very good at it.

But if we spin too fast we burn more than calories. We wear ourselves out from being on the edge of spent. And a life of meditation offers no opportunity for growth or love. Without things that make our heart race, we just exist fat and unhappy. We are born to seize opportunities, risky or not, to achieve our maximum potential. That moment when you first know love, the exuberance of finding your purpose and "aha" of understanding: these are the sweet spots of the critical zone.

Do one thing a day that scares you, something that thrills you, settles you, and expresses your love and you will find your sweet spot and achieve maximum potential.

Now You Have Everything

At my house, everybody used to help out. And it seems it may be that way around the world. Why, it’s is almost as much of a tradition as the meal itself. After hours of fussing in the kitchen and an equal amount of feasting, laughing, and dessert-eating we all seemed to bond again around getting the remains cleaned up. The table had been so full there was barely room for our plates. A dish for everything—and everything delicious. But with all the anticipation and most of the food gone, the used dishes were piled on every surface and overflowing. From fine china to burnt bean casserole, the debris was everywhere. You would have thought we fed the 7th Marines. 

We didn’t have a dishwasher; we had five of them—and dryers too. Wrap, box, bag and put away the leftovers and scale the mountain of dishes. Scrape, soak, wash, rinse, dry and put away. It seemed endless. Although the work wasn’t enjoyable, we had fun, all laughing and smiling, everyone pitching in, almost dancing in the kitchen. And just when you thought the last dish was done, a few more would magically appear. It was hot and sweaty, but we didn’t mind... we were family.
In the joyful moments we forget about all the hard work that it took to get us to the feast and the challenges that still await. For some, that may be the holiday buffet in our homes. For others, it is the promise of eternal salvation. Either way, it takes work to get there. And there will always be dirty dishes left over from our banquet.

So as you plan and prepare in your life, wash away what is done and move toward your potential. Go ahead and use a new dish for each of your accomplishments and challenges—there is plenty of room on the table. It will all fit. When your day is done, take time to clean up and be grateful for those that have helped you enjoy your buffet. Our feast is nothing more than a sandwich without them. Without love we would certainly starve. And there is no such thing as unwanted leftovers of love. 
When I think back on those long gone days it is not the dishes I remember. It’s the joy of being together. Gathered around the kitchen sink, we washed ourselves clean of any other junk that remained. And we had piles and piles of potential in the clean.

Heaven may have an amazing buffet, but I sure hope that it has dirty dishes. Gather around and grab a cloth. Together, we can get it done. We can’t have everything without the kitchen sink.

In this new book Reaching for Insights: Stories of Love, Faith, and the Kitchen Sink , veteran clinical psychologist and social worker Mitch Rosenzweig attunes his therapeutic sensibilities to his daily landscape and uncovers life lessons for us all—treasures gained by observing the ordinary from an often amusing, and always positive, perspective. This rich collection of 200 brief essays penned from his personal and professional observations delights us and invites us to grow into better, more compassionate human beings. Amazon.com , price $14.95  For more information or visit www.reachingforinsights.com 

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