If you haven’t heard Disturbed’s version of the Sound of Silence… you absolutely have to check it out. Song covers don’t usually blow away the originals, but this one does it. And I fully expect some hate mail for this view. Actually, I would absolutely love it if someone mailed me a physical letter with a disagreement… but alas… it will be comments in the digital world.
Life is nuts.
New job. Family. Planning the most amazing event ever (Man Games). My obsessive reading habit. Exercise.
Whew… it’s a lot.
But here is where I have found some peace that helps slow down the day and start it on the right foot.
Have you ever tried to sit still, in complete silence?
It is impossible!
My house creaks, the kids scream, the construction crews across the street are noisy, and I get it, your vehicles need to beep when you’re going in reverse… but are you ONLY driving your machinery in reverse? #stopthebeep
I’ve actually invested in a set of noise cancelling headphones… just for the noise cancellation feature. They arrive today so I’m super excited.
But here’s where the sounds of silence are absolutely wonderful.
Every morning, I wake up, at an hour that I won’t share, and listen to the silence around me. My wife shifts in bed as I head to the shower. I move as quietly as I can so as to not wake up the world that lives in my house. The dogs get up and want food so their little claws click across the tile in the kitchen. I brush my teeth and pause for a second, looking in the mirror (“hey good lookin'”). I can hear myself breath. I can feel my heartbeat.
I head to work. My drive is about 10 minutes down a slow, winding road. Right as I pull out of my driveway, I roll down the windows, turn off the A/C, and shut off the radio. Silence (sort of).
It is the sounds of this silence that get me amped for the day. If I pay attention, I hear sprinklers shutting off. I hear the subtle whooosh of cars on the road behind us. My engine purring.
As I make my way to work I hear more cars. There’s a fountain in the front yard of one of the houses I pass with water pouring down a rock feature. I can actually hear the tires as they roll over different parts of the road that have been covered with tar.
The smells are fun as well. I smell wet grass from the before-mentioned sprinklers. There is a taste of dirt as I drive through a construction zone (the perpetual reverse drivers). Some homes have beautiful flower beds and, if the breeze is just right, I’ll get a whiff of wonderful flowers.
I see trees, gardens, manicured lawns. I see a slow-moving snake of cars filled with people headed to their jobs, probably just as groggy as I am, and I hope they enjoy it. I see the majestic Wasatch mountain range that towers over the valley. This drive is so peaceful.
During this drive, I’m not only noticing the sounds and smells, but I’m trying to connect with my inner self.
What is the plan today? How are we doing, self? How is life going?
I’m a religious man, so I take the time to pray while I’m driving. “Are we good?” “Where can I be doing better?” “Hey, thank you for this. Life is something else, isn’t it?”
This 10 minute drive does wonders for my mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
I have many flaws. Just ask Caitlin. And they wander into my brain during this time, but they are quickly replaced with an overwhelming awe for the world around me.
Can I make a suggestion (or two)? Find the time to embrace the silence. Find opportunities to shut out everything else and listen to the things you take for granted.
Meditate, find your inner self, pray, connect with God, or the universe, or nature, or whatever it is that you believe in, but connect.
I’m telling you, the best way to connect with yourself, is to disconnect from everything else.
Life is awesome. No matter what anyone tries to sell you through fear, chaos, or manipulation… Life is precious.
Live. Love. Laugh. Enjoy this time because, as Macklemore once (several times) wrote,
“I wish somebody would have told me babe Some day, these will be the good old days All the love you won’t forget And all these reckless nights you won’t regret Someday soon, your whole life’s gonna change You’ll miss the magic of these good old days.”
If you’ve never played in an event with referees, this may not be as visceral a situation to you as it is to those who have played in such competitions. Likewise, if you’ve never actually been a referee, and only a participant, it may do you some good to step into a referee’s shoes every once in a while… or just once should do the trick.
We’re going to use basketball as the competition just to make things easier for me, because I’m sure that’s all you readers care about… my well-being.
Basketball was my life growing up so I’m most familiar with it as a sport, and referees can have a lot of influence on the outcome of the game.
You see, a referee must make decisions and calls based on the split-second actions of 10 other humans running around within specified lines, throwing/dribbling a ball, and running into each other. And, as we all know, a basketball game to parents of a 3rd grade child who can barely lace up his own shoes, is life.
Millions of parents across the world are certain that their little Billy is going to get noticed in some obscure gym by some college… no… pro scout who will sign their little pumpkin to a multi-million dollar shoe deal right there on the spot if Billy can just dribble the length of the court without bouncing the ball off his foot. Think of how many free throws Billy could miss if the referee would just open his eyes and call a flagrant foul on that bully opponent who intentionally aimed his breath in the direction of Billy!
Nearly every call a referee makes during a basketball game is considered wrong by 50% of the people in the gym at that time. If a referee calls a foul, the player, coach, team, and fanatical parents of the person who committed the foul are fully convinced that the referee is a moron, should get his glasses checked, and somehow developed a life-long grudge against the kid and his parents for no apparent reason.
Billy could tackle another player like a linebacker meeting a running back at the line of scrimmage (sorry for mixing sports here) and still, the parents and coach would scream at the ref, accusing him of favoring the other team.
In fact, I once refereed a church ball game, which of all basketball settings you would think is the most tame. I mean, the game begins with the teams petitioning to Jesus to keep everyone safe and kind to one another, inside a building with religious pictures and words all over the place promoting love and acceptance, what could go wrong? This should be a nice, casual experience for everyone.
I found myself having to separate full grown men, usher someone off the court because he was bleeding profusely, and receive some choice words directed my way full of several expletives I didn’t even know were legal to string together in that order.
I was just doing my best to maintain order but so many opinions and so much disagreement left me feeling like everyone in the gym wanted to fight me in the parking lot.
Here’s the connection I’m trying to work through. It seems as though the major (and many minor) life decisions are no different.
Well, hopefully not the bloody, expletive-riddled church experience.
I mean the referee/game relationship.
Here’s the poorly formed, way-too-complex analogy I guess I’m trying to make:
Life is a game… and sure, you’re kind of player in the game… but you’re also kind of the referee… so this gets super confusing, but being a referee sucks… because half the people in the gym (your life) are convinced you’re making the wrong calls.
Phew… we worked our way through that one together.
A Life Changing Decision
This past week, I gave my employer my 2-week notice. It was a tough conversation to have with my boss, who I enjoyed working for and respect immensely. I don’t think she saw it coming and it wasn’t a good feeling knowing that some people were now going to have to take on some more work because of my departure.
I am learning that, to the employer, the timing of an employee voluntarily leaving (assuming this employee was decent at his or her job) is never convenient.
I was responsible for projects that needed to be wrapped up. Couldn’t I have waited until they were done?
Well, once those were done, I would be in the middle of another 4-5 projects… meaning I’d have to wait for those to be done while other projects were added on… lather, rinse, repeat.
The loop is infinite if you are responsible for areas in a growing company, so I am convinced that there is no “good time” to leave a company.
When you decide to turn in your 2-weeks, to one team, you have made the wrong call, betraying any loyalty or trust someone had in you. To some, you never cared for anyone to begin with and have secretly sabotaging the company since the day you got there. Some family, friends, and LinkedIn connections are quick to throw in their two cents about how you’re probably making the wrong decision and it’s too risky.
Important note: my boss took it amazingly well and had nothing but kind things to say and amazing encouragement. She is in the group below.
To the other team, the new place to which you will be taking your talents in hopes of wonderful times, you made the right call. The timing is perfect. There are projects with your name on them that seem to have been built just for you. Your previous work impressed the right people and they want your skill, talent, work ethic, humor, and viral blog following to join their team. This side has similar friends, family members, and LinkedIn connections now calling you brilliant and destined for greatness.
Same decision. Two very different perceptions.
I’m finding more and more that most decisions I make have a negative impact on one group of people who firmly believe that I am acting with intentions that range anywhere from dumb to murderous. These same decisions have a positive impact on another group of people who firmly believe I am acting with dignity, wisdom, and kindness.
How can it be both ways? How do I know which group to listen to?
7 seconds of politics
An election is months away. If you vote for Donald Trump, half of the country thinks you are saving the world while another half thinks you are a racist, homophobic, sexist, moronic imbecile.
If you vote for Biden, half of the country thinks you are saving the world, while the other half thinks you are a racist, sexist, socialist-loving, soulless, moronic imbecile…
See what I mean? So, good luck with your vote this year!
Moving off politics…
Even seemingly small decisions turn into your own children shrieking that they’re going to run away from home because you never really loved them.
“Seriously?! I just told you to brush your teeth!”
This fight wakes up your 2-year-old from her nap, interrupting your wife’s nap time, and now your entire house thinks dad is a jerk who is only good for… well… ruining nap times.
Wait… this isn’t a daily occurrence for you like it is for me? Hmm…
Look. Life is cray cray right now for everyone. Life is always crazy at any given moment (except when you’re reading these entertaining posts… amiright???). There are people in your life who are your biggest fans and will cheer you on no matter how absurd and crazy your actions are. They are the types that would wake up in the middle of the night to come pick you up out of a destroyed car you drove into a ditch after four too many drinks. These fans will then start ranting about how the car maker should’ve made the seats less comfortable so you could stay awake and that the road itself didn’t seem to be up to code.
“You’re awesome. It’s not your fault!”
Caitlin is really good at this with me.
Not picking me up out of a ditch. Nor the driving into a ditch part.
Just to be clear, none of that previous paragraph actually happened. It was just a random example of how my mind comprehends loyalty.
Let’s try this again.
Caitlin is really good at listening to my decisions (that don’t involve nap time) and making me feel like I am brilliant and anyone who disagrees with me doesn’t have a working brain cell left in their skull (she goes a little over-the-top sometimes).
Some unqualified advice
I’m no psychiatrist. I’m not a spiritual leader, intellectual, or philosopher, so take this advice for what it’s worth.
Any decision worth making is going to piss some people off. Know that going in. Some people genuinely want you to succeed. Others feel like your success is getting in their way, or is somehow threatening to them. You can’t change that.
When you find yourself needing to make a decision, do what is right to you, even if it may tick some people off.
Unless that decision is to bash my blog… then keep that to yourself…
This is by far the most frequently recommended book I’ve ever read, meaning, I have probably bought a couple dozen copies of this book and given them to friends and family. I’ve had discussions about this book with those who have read it and belong to the same church as I do, those who belong to other Christian faiths, as well as those who consider themselves agnostic. Regardless of religious believe, all seem to hold this book with similar respect.
This book changed my entire understanding of who Jesus Christ was. This book, I believe, has made me more kind, thoughtful, and humble when it comes to who this man was that we believe is the Savior of the world.
I consider myself a religious person. I was born and raised in a Christian home where we read scriptures centered around Jesus Christ. I went (go) to church every Sunday when not under quarantine and listen to lessons about Christ, his life, and his teachings. Even with all of this, my world view and entire understanding of who he was as a person was blown up (in a good way) after reading The Jesus I Never Knew.
The author, Philip Yancy, was also raised in a Christian home, albeit a different denomination than mine, and describes going to Sunday School as a child/youth and seeing pictures of the beautiful Savior with deep brown eyes, soft, flowing brown hair, a smooth, pleasant face and soft, straight-toothed smile. As the author learned more about the life of the Savior, Yancy began to realize that Jesus was nothing like these pictures depicted him.
Jews at the time were deeply entrenched in traditions and a culture that had evolved over thousands of years. The Pharisees were set on holding to the letter of the law and placing culture above charity, love, and God. Jesus came and torn down centuries of long-standing culture, culminating in his crucifixion.
Jesus was not the beautiful specimen that the paintings make him out to be. He wasn’t tall, strapping, chiseled, and clean. Isaiah describes him as “he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him” (Isaiah 52:2).
Jesus was a political rebel, a religious revolutionary, and at times, a blunt vehicle of truth who would cut to the crux of God to some, and speak in confusing stories to others. He felt emotions. He cried. He laughed. He became frustrated with his closest friends. He became angry. He felt betrayal.
After reading this book, Christ became much more real to me, if that makes any sense. Yancy’s words help illustrate how quick I am to judge others based on incorrect perceptions of Christian teachings. Yancy persuaded me to step back and internalize the overall point of Christ’s mission and focus on helping people rather than looking for what they are doing wrong.
What I enjoy most about this book is the author’s ability to show you the historical relevance of Christ during that time. The author’s research and citations of historical events that must be taken into consideration when deciding who Christ really was. We tend to look at history through a modern-day lens. This prevents us from comprehending important aspects of the stories we read about history, and Christianity is no different.
Yancy takes you through Roman rule and laws in place at the time that influence the people’s behavior.
He highlights who the different religious groups were and their beliefs (Pharisees, Sadducees, The Sanhedrin, Zealots…). He describes where he would likely fall given his current outlook and asks you do to do the same. The first time reading this book, I would totally be a Pharisee (not a good thing).
He explains political forces existing within Judaism.
He explains geographical areas and customs. Back then, even in a relatively small area (although large if you don’t have cars), there were certain stereotypes of people living in Bethlehem, Galilee, Nazareth, etc.
All of that comes into play and is significant, like when Nathan asks, “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” There’s a reason why Nazareth is in Nathan’s doubtful question.
What doctrines did Christ confirm and establish? What policies did Christ eliminate and implement? What cultural practices did Christ condemn?
Most importantly, which of his teaching and doctrine have we twisted and morphed into incorrectly interpreted cultural problems?
Look, I’m just a guy trying to stumble his way through life and find cohesion between what I believe and what I observe. I think kindness and love are the answer, but that doesn’t mean you can’t also have firm beliefs. If you’re anything like me, give this book a read.
I was driving home from a late-night pickleball battle. Once a week I’m able to go out after the kids have gone to bed and get what some would consider exercise. We play from 9 pm until that moment when a ball is flying toward your face at 75 mph and the lights suddenly shut off. That ball you were about to cram at the other team disappears and pegs you in the eye, which tends to be precisely at 11 pm.
This past week, my partner and I crushed it. Undefeated. The freeway was mostly empty on the ride home and I was listening to an audiobook while contemplating the mysteries of the universe. It was a good night.
I’ve driven this route so many times that my brain and body are on a form of autopilot as I drift onto the off-ramp, following a car that seems to be going slower than my liking, but what’s the rush?
The off-ramp lane merges to the right and into another set of lanes that head toward my house. The far-right lane doesn’t have a stop light or stop sign so the car in front of me and I should just be able to maintain our cruising speed and continue on our merry way.
I saw the brake lights go on and I assumed they were just slowing down a bit to glide through the turn at less than the 5 Gs I normally try to achieve at this particular turn, giving me the opportunity to pretend I’m a race car driver.
I assumed incorrectly.
He must have been an idiot.
Rather than reading the many signs informing the world that our lane doesn’t need to stop, this guy decides this is a good place to slam on his brakes.
I wasn’t tailgating, but the sudden stop meant I had to react quickly, otherwise I was going to end up in his back seat… while still in my front seat.
Luckily, my reflexes have been fine-tuned over several years of children throwing things at each other and at me. I have years of catching these same kids as they tripped over sidewalk cracks, fall off bikes, and attempt to spill every bit of food or drink all over my nice pants and shirt. I had been preparing for this moment my whole life.
I slammed on my brakes and had to veer to the left of the sedentary vehicle in front of me. I laid on the horn, rattled of some words I shouldn’t repeat, and was ready to start ascribing every adjective representing a person of low IQ to this guy.
I had heard of people who try and get people to rear end them in attempt at getting insurance money, and I was sure this was what was happening.
I stopped so close to this car’s rear bumper that I could tell you the ID on the license plate decal and see the flaws in this car’s bumper paint (probably from other victims he had lured into an accident).
The driver and his car just sat there motionless for an inordinate amount of time. I started thinking he was going to throw his car in reverse and try to back into me, or worse, get out of his car and try to murder me.
Let’s be honest here, I’m not super tough, so if someone is going to try and murder me, they are 100% going to succeed in murdering me.
As my life is flashing before my eyes and I’m considering recording a final message to my family using my phone’s voice recorder, something moves in front of my murderer’s car.
I was the idiot
At 11:30 at night, at this particular crossing of a freeway off ramp and side street, a father was on his bike, escorting his daughter across this intersection. The guy in front of me was no crazy, insurance fraud, murderer. He had narrowly avoided taking the life of these two people.
His awareness, and the fact that he wasn’t texting and driving or distracted enough to miss two random people riding their bikes in the dark of night, meant that four of us avoided a potentially deadly accident.
In the matter of seconds, I went from autopilot, to rage, to certain death, to gratitude, to embarrassment, and finally, to reflection.
We like to judge people, including ourselves
“We tend to judge others by their behavior, and ourselves by our intentions.”
Stephen M. R. Covey or Albert F. Schleider… I’ve seen both attributions
If you’ve ever driven in Utah, I think you’d agree that this quote is pretty accurate.
I don’t have enough fingers or toes to count the number of times I was sure the other drivers were out of their minds (to put it mildly) as they wandered into my lane, cut me off, or (the most unforgivable) were only going the speed limit in the fast lane of the freeway.
“We all know that the fast lane speed limit is 15-20 mph faster than the posted speed limit!” I shout while shaking my head and throwing my hands in the air as I have to pass these fools on the right.
Admittedly, I have also caught myself accidentally wandering into a lane I shouldn’t, cutting someone off, and yes… only going 5 mph above the speed limit in the fast lane with an absurdly-lifted truck riding me waaaaay too close.
“He must be overcompensating for something.”
Isn’t it interesting that every time I make a mistake driving, I sheepishly mutter, “I’m sorry” in my car and try to avoid any eye contact as the person I’ve wronged drives next to me… slows down so they don’t pass me… and stares me down for a couple seconds? my gaze is fixed directly in front of me, or away from the other driver as I admire the beautiful scenery out that window and not the window nearest to this other person.
I tell myself it was just a stupid mistake and that I’m going to focus better. “I’m still an excellent driver!” “Everyone makes mistakes sometimes!” “I’ve already confessed my sin and experienced the process of repentance!” “I’m a good person, I promise!”
However, anytime someone wrongs me on the road, I’m certain they hate puppies, probably stole the car their driving, and should be locked up because they are clearly a threat to society based on their behaviors.
Caitlin’s brilliant idea
Caitlin has this genius idea that I think would actually solve a lot of road rage. Also, if any investors out there want to make several dozen dollars, let me know, we can make this dream a reality.
She wants someone to invent a sign that goes in your car and can light up.
The sign has two messages. 1. I’m genuinely sorry about that. I’m an idiot. 2. F-U
This way, if you made a mistake… and you know you made that mistake… and you want that person you’ve wronged to know that you know you’ve made a mistake… you can just switch on the “I’m genuinely sorry about that” message.
Think of how many incidents of road rage could be eliminated! All the wronged driver wants is validation that the person who just wronged them is sorry and acknowledges their mental and physical ineptitude.
At the 2nd sign?
Well… we all wish we could make sure the other person knows exactly how we feel when they’ve wronged us…
Move out of the fast lane! *Switch on message #2
Here’s where I’m going with this…
The next time you feel someone has wronged you, whether that’s a boss, a coworker, a client, your kid’s little league coach, or someone on the road based on their behaviors, and before you go assuming or ascribing intent, take a second to process your emotional reaction.
You have a few options in front of you during this second of processing.
Understand that this person made a genuine mistake and knows he or she made a mistake, but is embarrassed to come out and admit it.
Understand that this person may be completely ignorant to how they wronged you. Their wrongful behavior wasn’t intended to hurt you. It was simply a result of their lack of mind-reading ability and them being unable to understand every past event that has shaped your character and mental outlook on life, analyzing that complex information, and then behaving in a way that was guaranteed not to offend you.
Or… Know for a fact that they are not only the most selfish person in the world for taking that last Costco taquito sample, but they are also complete morons and they most likely fully intended to ruin your entire life and the lives of your family, posterity, and the United States of America when they did that.
I know what you’re thinking… It’s ALWAYS #3, isn’t it?
This world is full of people.
Like, 7.5 billion of them.
Each one brings with him or her a different set of principles, values, beliefs, and histories. We’re all wandering through life trying to do the best we can.
We have all wronged someone else. It is easy for us to justify our crappy behavior with our intention to do something good. The problem is, people can’t know your intention, so they have to infer it based on your crappy behavior.
Sometimes, you will experience intentional ill-will from others toward you. This sucks. These situations are unpleasant and hopefully don’t happen to you often.
But, I think, more often than not, the majority of interactions we have that leave us a little perturbed, or upset, or offended aren’t intentional ill-will at all, but instead, a misunderstanding of observed behavior and impossible-to-know intent.
With all the potentially inflammatory issues out there, let’s remember that everyone else’s reality is just as equally intense, valid, and legitimate as our own.
It make look like they are completely ignorant to the signs you see that they don’t. But maybe, just maybe, they are slamming on their brakes because they see something you don’t. And maybe, their seemingly irrational behavior is actually saving the life of someone else.
Last thing, and it’s a quick tip: If you want to know someone’s intent after they’ve said or done something… ask them. It might clear things up for both of you.
P.S. If I have wronged or offended any of my 7 readers, just remember, it was probably on purpose.
Brace yourself… a super sappy quote is coming, and I just wanted you to be prepared…
“Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart.”
Awwwwwwww!!! My heart is melting with sentiment and love and lots of footprints.
If you thought I was this big, burly, tough, chiseled man with no emotional connection to anything in the world… you’d be mostly right… minus the burly, tough, chiseled, no-emotional-connection part.
I happen to have an overdeveloped sense of sentimentality that, as a child, caused me to start crying out of nowhere in the back seat of my parent’s car because I remembered a pre-school friend of mine whom I hadn’t seen in two years.
“I just miss him, bahaha!” I wailed as they looked concernedly to one another and asked the other who the hell I was talking about.
“Aaron! We were best friends and now I don’t know where he is, waaaah!” (Those are the sounds I made when I cried. I’m pretty sure I’ve grown out of it.)
My mom was brilliant at handling these sorts of meltdowns and took me to the pet store. She bought me a betta fish, that I named Aaron, and that calmed me down.
Side note: The average lifespan of these betta fish is 3-5 years. That betta fish lived for like 9 before it stupidly swam up into a seashell that was in its bowl, got stuck, and died.
Looking back, I wouldn’t be surprised if my mom was buying a similar-looking betta fish every so often to replace the original Aaron for several years until she felt I was emotionally capable of handling the loss of a fish at the age of 29… ahem.. excuse me, I meant 15.
After a moment of silence, tears, and reaching way too far to find some sort of symbolism around the loss of this fish being a sort of bridge from childhood to manhood, I put him and his shell-coffin in a metal tin, dug a hole in the middle of our backyard lawn, and buried him there.
Turns out, the hole was waaaay too shallow and the shell/dead fish combo gave off a pungent odor, which led to our dog finding Aaron’s resting place. Our dog felt it was necessary to move Aaron… and destroy his shell… and eat his remains.
“Get to the point, Erik!”
My point is… I take friendships very seriously. I am who I am today because of the relationships I’ve had over the years with people who have been with me during life-changing moments. These friends have kept me grounded. They’ve kept me safe. They’ve helped me grow and learn and be a better person.
I guess what I’m saying is, I’m thankful for my friends… and you should be to.
Grateful for my friends I mean. You should be grateful for MY friends.
No, no, no… I make jokes… be grateful for YOUR friends.
After one of these posts, a friend reached out and said he wished we could stay in touch better. He and I were besties during high school, and I echoed his sentiment. I, too, wish we could see each other more, but life happens. Work, spouses, kids… all take over and that means we only see each other once every few years.
Does that mean our friendship wasn’t as strong as we thought?
I don’t think so.
But we used to be so close! We knew everything about each other. We discussed the future and made plans to buy neighboring houses, have our kids play on the same sports teams, go on vacations with our families, start businesses together, make bazillions, and be BFFs.
Looking back at the people who, at some point in my life, held the title of my “best friend,” I wonder how we could go from hanging out every day for years, to not seeing or talking to each other for years at a time.
Does that make either one of us a bad friend?
I hope not, because I would hold the label as world’s worst friend. And there’s no way I would ever consider them bad friends, in fact, I think the world of them.
If any one of them called me at 3 a.m. needing help, and somehow my phone wasn’t on silent, and was able to wake me up, and I could recognize their name through my groggy, tired eyesight, I’d probably answer… and I think they’d do the same for me.
Maybe I should test it out.
If anyone reading this at one point considered me a best friend, keep your phone on, I’ll give you a call tonight. (I won’t.) (Or will I?)
I’ll wrap this up with a challenge to you.
Go back as far as you can and write down the name of your earliest best friend.
Then, make a list of all those friends you’ve had throughout your life up to this moment in time that at one point held the title of your best friend or great friend.
Finally, one by one, reach out to them. Start at the earliest and make your way to the most current. I recommend a phone call, but if you want to be lazy or they prefer text, email, fax or a handwritten letter, then do those.
See how they’re doing. Let them know you remember them. Let them know you still care about them. Let them know you miss them. Share a couple “remember that one time when” stories.
It might get awkward, especially if your friendship was halted on testy circumstances or if you are married and they are of the opposite sex and also married. Don’t be reckless or creepy or weird. Just let them know that you appreciate the friendship you had/have.
I’m in the middle of doing this challenge myself.
That’s the end of this post unless you’re interested in some of the great friends I’ve had in the past. They are below.
Otherwise, get out there and connect with some of the people who, at one point, were the most important people in your life.
Let me know how yours goes.
My best friends This is tricky, because I have several friends who could be on this list, but time and space are limited. Don’t be offended. I still love you.
Kimmy – Kimmy was my first best friend. She and her family lived directly across the street from me. We had to have been, I don’t know… 3 or 4 years old. I don’t have many memories that far back, but I do remember feeling like I always had a good friend to play with just outside my front window. Kimmy’s family moved away and the last in-person memory I have of her was when we ran into each other at a Chuck E. Cheese a few years after she had moved away. There was a birthday party she was at and I’m not sure what I was doing there. Probably dominating the Pirate Ship game.
Caitlin and I moved into our first house about three years ago and that meant my mom could pass down my inheritance of EVERYTHING I had ever done. It was truly a remarkable collection she had amassed over the course of 28 years. She had every report card, spelling test, newspaper article, art project… Everything I had done since birth.
Well, one of the things she had was a stack of letters Kimmy and I wrote to each other when we were little. I did a quick Facebook search and found her. We exchanged quick messages and it sounds like she is doing amazing things with her work and her husband. As part of this challenge, I reached out again and shared the Chuck E. Cheese memory.
Aaron (the fish’s namesake) – I have never been able to track down Aaron. After the meltdown in the car, my mom did all she could to try and find him and his family. We literally pulled out the White Pages (anyone remember that?) and called all the people in the state with his same last name, asking if they were the correct Aaron.
Aside: My mom is absolutely amazing. What mom, after seeing her son randomly cry about a pre-school friend pulls out the phone book and calls everyone with the same last name?
Back to the mom-private-investigator: We finally got in contact with an Aaron who we believed was the same one and…
he couldn’t remember who I was.
I was devastated. Clearly my emotional investment in that friendship dwarfed his… by like… 100%.
Stevie – Steve’s dad and my dad were best friends as adults. They played on the same men’s league basketball teams so Steve and I would play together on the sidelines. I’m a month and a day older than Steve, but like, several years wiser…
Steve and I grew up playing on the same Jr. Jazz and Super League basketball teams. We even won a National Championship in 2-Ball together. The NBA flew us out to San Antonio during the NBA Finals where, after we won, they treated us to Game 1 of the finals. San Antonio went on to win their first NBA championship in 1999 (the birth of my Spurs fandom).
We loved basketball and Steve was a remarkable shooter until a tragic accident left him without vision in one of his eyes. He continued playing basketball, but the sport becomes much harder when you can’t see one side of your body.
Steve and I have always been close without having to see each other often. Steve has a way of persuading people to do silly things and, as we got into competing high schools, he would persuade his student section to cheer an opposing team’s player (me). Somehow, at an away game to his high school, their student section would be cheering for me during both warm ups and the actual game while at the same time, viciously heckling everyone else on my team.
“Why are they cheering for you?” a teammate asked. “Long story. Just give me the ball.”
In a previous blog post, I mentioned someone with different political views as myself who would go to lunch with me weekly while in college. This was Steve. He and I recently had an hour-long phone call where we talked about the BLM movement, COVID-19, presidential candidates, and (most important) his first child on the way.
I still consider Steve one of my best friends and, even if we don’t talk for a year or two, when we do get together, we’re immediately back to our irreverent, silly selves.
Justin – Justin is my cousin. We grew up living down the street from one another. We walked to elementary school together every day. We drove to middle school together every day in the same carpool. During the summer, I’d go to his house and break in so I could wake him up and drag him to a park to play tennis or just hang out. I had a lot of fun with Justin and, being the older cousin, I probably bullied him more than I should have.
He moved about 25 minutes away during high school and we didn’t see each other as often, but we still kept in touch. After I got home from my mission, we turned into full-fledged adults and really only see each other at family gathering (Christmas parties, weddings, etc.) where I get to remind him that he may be a decent ping pong player, but there can only be one Highlander!
I’m the Highlander of ping pong. You don’t know who Highlander is?! Check out the 1986 movie titled: Highlander. *Warning… pretty violent.
I miss our friendship terribly. Justin has a cell phone, but NEVER ANSWERS! If he’s reading this, when my name pops up, push or slide the Green button!
Brandyn – Oh man… Brandyn has one of the most embarrassing stories of my life to hold over my head involving a scout trip to Tracy Aviary and me needing to go to the bathroom really, really badly. He also performed one of the greatest feats of loyalty I’ve ever experienced during the 6th grade fun run.
We grew up in the same neighborhood and shared a love of sports, specifically basketball. Brandyn had 2 hoops at his house so we could play a modified full-court game. He could lower his hoops, enabling us to have dunk contests and to recreate the moves we saw Michael Jordan do on TV. Brandyn could always jump higher than me and do much cooler dunks than I could.
I’ve never felt like I deserved Brandyn’s friendship. He has always been much nicer to me than I have been to him. We get together occasionally or run into each other at random times. Most recently, he painted our previous house that we sold about a year ago and, in my opinion, did such a good job that we were able to get a lot more for the sell of our house than we would have otherwise.
Brandyn is a great man. He has an adorable family and has always been upfront, honest, and kind to everyone I’ve ever seen him interact with.
Jacob – There was a brief time in elementary school where Jacob and I were super close. He moved here and started his new life in my 5th grade class with Mrs. Vimahi (still my favorite teacher ever). Jacob was an incredible artist. He could draw the most amazing things without having to trace or look at a picture to copy it. I specifically remember him drawing a jaguar (the cat, not the car) that was so realistic I couldn’t believe anyone had that kind of talent, let alone a 10 year old. I was soooo jealous.
He and I ran together (as in jogging) a lot during recess or when there was scheduled track time where our entire grade would run around outside. I remember he gave me a fossilized turtle head he got from South Carolina. I thought it was the coolest thing ever.
He moved to a different elementary school for 6th grade and we ended up running into each other again in middle school. By that time, our interests and hobbies diverged pretty dramatically, but I still randomly see him every couple of years at a Turkey Bowl football game.
Donald – Where to start with the Don… First off, Donald and I are pictured as the main image of this post. I didn’t want to use a stock photo because most the pictures that came up were of two girls and I just don’t know that they fit this post. That picture was taken in Moab, UT with matching hats and shirts. I warned him about that picture making its appearance about 5 seconds before I published this post. You’re welcome.
He and I were very close from 3rd grade on. We played on the same baseball/basketball teams for years. We worked at the same golf course together. We went on family vacations together. And somehow, we never went to the same school together. He was also the one I considered my best friend through the crazy years of high school.
We were very similar athletically, meaning we were both about the same size and we were both highly skilled in several different sports. He and I could challenge one another at a very high level in pretty much any activity we tried.
When we were on the same team, I felt like we didn’t need to talk to communicate. We just knew what the other was thinking and what we would do before it happened. There was this almost mind-reading experience playing on the same team with him and I felt we would always beat anyone foolish enough to challenge us (and we did).
When we had to play against each other, I always felt like I had to prove that I was the Alpha. I don’t think I ever did, but that was the mindset. Whether it was guarding each other during practice (the coach ALWAYS favored Donald by never calling fouls on him) or when we found ourselves on opposite teams in high school, we pushed each other to become better at everything we did.
As I mentioned before, high school is a stressful, emotional time for any teenager, and Donald was always there for me. My parents divorced when I was a junior. I was devastated, and in my teenage rage, I wanted to get away from both of them. He and his family had a little apartment set up at the back of their garage with two bedrooms and a bathroom. Donald and I lived there for a couple months while the chaos at my home calmed down.
I could write a book about the adventures we had but that would just embarrass both of us. Given both the length of time and the period in our lives that we were the closest, I treat this friendship as sacred, and even though he lives several states away, if he ever needed anything, I’d be on the first flight out.
He just got married and is a freaking doctor! What a stud. We competed with and against each other most recently in Man Games (I won if anyone is curious. I organized the whole event and chose the sports so… kind of had an advantage… but still… Alpha).
Josh – Josh and I grew up in the same neighborhood (I’m starting to see how important your neighborhood is). We had a rivalry early on with Nerf gun fights, soccer at recess, and the annual 5k fun run. Once we moved into middle school, it was less a rivalry and more of a goofy friendship.
We had a tough time taking anything seriously. School projects usually turned into questionable comedy sketches with Shakespearean sonnets about the rains down in Africa and the most amazing Tom and Huck reenactments this side of the Mississippi.
We served in neighboring church missions and both learned Russian. We came home and both majored in Russian and had several college classes together.
After college, life happened again, and we tend to see each other at Turkey Bowl games or talk on random phone calls.
Alex – Alex is a friendship that, admittedly, I feel like I ruined. We were super close in middle school and if we needed to do a partner project in some class, he and I would team up. We made arguably the greatest research presentation in history that covered Albinism with crystal clarity and endless detail. He also played a role in a church movie and I thought that was so cool. I’ve seen the movie a hundred times and I feel pretty special whenever I can say “I know him!”
Even though we went to different high schools after middle school, during our sophomore year we still hung out with the same crowd frequently (Josh from earlier was part of this crowd).
Our friendship hit a rocky spot because of, you guessed it… a girl. My recollection of events is that he had a big crush on a girl. Given that we no longer attended the same school, I wasn’t aware of the amplitude of this crush and I ended up with said girl for a month or so. My intention was never to act maliciously or shady, but I can see how what I did would be seen that way. I think it drove a wedge between us that never fully recovered.
I see Alex occasionally and think the world of him. Even though we don’t talk much, I still enjoy learning through the grapevine how awesome he and his family are doing.
Jen – I was super awkward from elementary school through high school. Especially with girls. Caitlin says I still am so… there you have it.
Other than Kimmy when I was 3 or 4, Jen was my first really good friend that was also a girl. I don’t even remember how we became friends, but she was my bestie in 9th grade. We could just hang out and talk about anything.
We stayed friends through high school, and she married her high school sweetheart who happens to be one of the coolest guys I know.
Sam – Sam was my first great friend at my new high school. I lived in the boundaries of Hillcrest High (Where Jen, Alex, Josh, Donald, Jacob, Brandyn, and Justin all went to school), but I ended up going to Jordan High. Go Beetdiggers!
I didn’t know many people at Jordan when I started my sophomore year. I honestly don’t remember how Sam and I met, but we soon became best friends over our shared love of basketball.
He had a high-end basketball hoop that didn’t break your hand every time you dunked on someone, so we spent hours at his house playing dunk ball until his parents or neighbors came out saying we were being way too loud for midnight.
He was with me when I took my Corvette out for a drive and, while trying to be cool, soon realized that there was this terrible burning smell coming from the car. I thought my dad was going to kill me, and I had no idea what I had done wrong. I got out of the car and noticed the smell wasn’t coming from the engine, but from a rear wheel. I got back in the car and saw that I had been driving the past several minutes with the emergency brake engaged… hence the burning smell.
Sam was with me when I drove by my crush’s house at night one time and, mistaking her sister for her, yelled “Hi Caitlin!” and drove off as fast as we could.
I ended up marrying that crush of mine though so was it a stupid, awkward high school move or a brilliant dating tactic?
Sam is now a great man with a beautiful family. He prompted this blog post after he reached out to me. There are some bricks outside Jordan High with alumni names on them. He and I are right next to each other and will be for as long as bricks last. Quick rant… my high school literally NEVER spelled my name correctly. Every certificate, trophy, medal, plaque, and brick have my name spelled wrong!
Sam’s brick is a row above mine, which is a metaphor for how he will always be a level above me in life.
Brock – Brock is a character. We met on the football team at Jordan and I couldn’t stand him. On a designed run play, he’s waving his arms 15 yards downfield trying to tell me he’s open. I was the quarterback. I didn’t have the ball, BECAUSE I HAD ALREADY HANDED IT OFF!
Somehow, his mixture of craziness and insanity together with my calm and stability came together to confuse everyone on how we were friends.
Countless late-night runs to Del Taco and hot tubbing prompted several conversations about life, lacrosse, how Kobe will never be as great as MJ, and religion.
Brock went through a tough time as his mom was diagnosed with cancer while we were in high school. He moved into our house for a short time and I’ll never forget looking into his room (where we kept our pet bird) and he was nodding up and down, mimicking the bird’s head and squawking at it. He didn’t know I was watching, but it had to be one of the dumbest/funniest things I had ever seen. He was hilarious.
Brock has a heart of gold and would stop the world to go and help a friend. That sentence there sums up Brock the best way I know how.
I last saw Brock at his mother’s funeral this past year. She survived another 16 years before cancer got her. When we saw each other, it was like nothing had changed… well, except his hair. He has a wonderful wife and beautiful child.
Shake n’ Bake!
Brigham – Brigham and I met at tryouts for the high school basketball team in 9th grade. We were approximately the same size and likely going to play the same position. I hated playing against him because he was way more athletic than I was and played much more physical than I did. Somehow, I’d always walk away from an encounter with him with a dead knee, fat lip, or hurt pride.
Brigham and his family became a second family to me during high school. His mom and dad were always referred to as Mama and Papa Mero.
Three of my favorite basketball memories involve Brigham.
1. An alley-oop dunk he had at Timpanogus. 2. A game-sealing dunk against Hillcrest at Jordan (my personal rival if you have read about previous friends). 3. A buzzer-beater 3-pointer in a hard-fought game against a team in Las Vegas.
Yours truly threw Brigham the ball on all three of those plays.
I don’t always pass… but when I do… I hope Brigham is the one catching that pass because I know he’ll make good things happen with it.
Brigham met his wife on a blind date accompanied by Caitlin and me. We didn’t introduce them, nor did we go on any other dates together afterward, but I’ll still take credit for that assist as well.
I miss playing ball and just hanging around Brigham. He always makes you feel good as a person and has one of the prettiest jump shots I’ve ever seen.
Matt – Matt is another friend who, like Brock, I didn’t particularly like when I first met him. We looked different. We acted different. We were good at sports the other hated. We were bad at sports the other loved… Except ping pong.
Matt and I spent countless nights staying up until 2 or 3 in the morning playing ping pong at my house and talking about life, girls, school, and sports. I lost track, but he is one of the few people on planet earth to have beaten me more than five times at ping pong. The head to head record is somewhere in the neighborhood of 1000-7, but still, 7 is impressive in my book.
In Matt’s words, “No one knew we were friends, so they wouldn’t make the connection. I remember someone asking, ‘wait, are you friends with Soda?’ and I said, ‘well, we don’t hang out with each other’s friends, but we hang out with each other after we hang out with our friends,’ and it blew their minds.”
Matt was the catalyst to me connecting with Caitlin after my mission. He planted the seed in her brain that I was somewhat normal, and he got her phone number for me. He has since moved out of the state, but we still text each other fairly regularly.
Evan – Evan is Brigham’s younger brother. He played on the same high school basketball team with us and was always mature beyond his years. He and Brigham both have some dirt on me involving the classic Hinder song Lips of an Angel, but we won’t go into that here.
Evan and I eventually ended up working together as we were making our way through college and starting young families. He became my supervisor, but could never keep me in line. Evan has dry wit and a laugh that is infectious. He is a great man and someone I look to emulate.
Chalyn – Chalyn dated another friend on this list for a long time, which meant that we hung out a lot. She would ask me if I could help her understand her boyfriend/my best friend’s mindset and I’d ask her for help with other girls I liked. Our nicknames for each other were Roommate because that’s the kind of friendship we had. We spent so many weekends and summer nights hanging out at her house playing pool and driving around in her Escalade.
This may be TMI, but when I was heading on my mission, I received advice from several returned missionaries that I should have a photo album with family and friends. They made a point to say that I should have a picture of a girlfriend that was waiting for me. Even if I didn’t really have a girlfriend waiting for me, I should say I did, otherwise, there would be girls making all kinds of awkward attempts at getting with me or old people trying to line me up with their kids or grand kids.
Chalyn and I were not boyfriend/girlfriend and she was not waiting for me, but she was my closest girl that was a friend at the time, and I had a picture of her so, she became that picture. It didn’t stop some strange advances while in Russia, but I think it hindered a few.
We lost touch after I went on my mission and came home. I see her dad fairly often and get news on how she’s doing. I truly hope she is happy.
Andrew – Andrew and I met at a basketball camp. I was the only one from my high school. He had a couple other buddies from his school there and, because I was a teenager, I decided they were punks and I needed to embarrass them.
He was an incredible defender and I always had to be en garde when he was on me. We later played on the same men’s league team where we quickly became close friends.
Andrew looked like Zac Efron, just not a tiny person, so it got pretty annoying when ladies just wanted to be my friend to get his number. Andrew helped me get out of my shell by always being ready and willing to have an adventure. Late night drives singing Apologize by One Republic at the top of our lungs with our heads out the window were common place, as were 1 a.m. text messages from him saying he’s coming over.
Andrew was the first to greet me when I got home from my two year mission. We haven’t been the best at keeping in touch since we became old and don’t play in basketball leagues much anymore, but I still consider him an incredible friend. He is engaged! I better get the invite!
Jordan – Jordan and I were in the same group in the MTC. Jordan has this unique ability to make you feel like any walls you may have put up to the world to guard yourself have no place when you’re around him. In the first minute of meeting him, you basically spill your soul to him, and the best part is, he’s trustworthy enough to keep you safe.
We survived the MTC together. We saw Prague, Stockholm, Armenia, and all of Southern Russia together. Jordan is a great man and a great friend. He said he would bring his family over sometime soon for dinner. I’m going to hold you to that Jordan!
Devin – Affectionately known as Petie the Person in our home, Devin was my companion in the MTC and then again for 5 transfers in the mission field. In our 24-month mission, we were together as companions for 10 months (that’s rare). He is also the person I was traveling with during my Russian police story.
Devin and I are quite different. He was from the roaring metropolis of Firth with a population of like 100 people (492). I was raised in a slightly larger metropolis that had 2,723 times the population of Firth. He was a cross country runner (something I despise) and a potato farmer (manual labor also isn’t my thing).
Even though I outweigh him by a good 40 lbs., he would always beat me in wresting. Apparently every move I ever tried was “illegal,” so anytime I had him pinned he would just shriek that I was breaking the rules, but he was crafty and as strong as a really small ox.
Devin is the salt of the earth and never afraid to tell you how he sees it. He lives in Idaho on the way to Oregon where we visit family every once in a while, and he and his wife are always kind enough to let us stay at their house when we make that trip.
He is Petie the Person because we have a dog named Petie (named after Devin).
Steve – I met Steve on the mission as well. We cemented our friendship by singing the lyrics to songs along the streets and in the apartment buildings of Russia (we both have terrible voices… sorry Steve). His lyrical prowess spanned several genres and he seemed to know all the words to the obscure songs I liked. He joined me on trips to Stockholm and Madrid that were unforgettable.
We attended BYU and took a few classes together. He was on both the track and cross-country teams at BYU and had a twisted sense of pleasure. I’d want to get in better shape and he would offer to go for a jog. While I was dying and running at what I felt was break-neck speed, he was basically speed-walking, letting me know that I was terribly out of shape without ever actually saying those words.
Steve can be downright goofy and then shift gears to become the most spiritually deep person you’ve ever met. He is awesome.
Dmitry – Dima is that last of the mission friends highlighted here. Dima was born and raised in Kazakhstan. We bonded over a disagreement about how Adam (from Adam and Eve) was most definitely not Korean (Dima is half Korean). Dima’s native language is Russian, so he was a massive help to me as I learned the language and I credit him with what I felt was a decent accent whenever I spoke.
When it came to teaching together, I don’t think you could find a better duo. Similar to the Donald-basketball-mindreading experience, the same would happen while teaching with Dima. We just always seemed to be on the same wavelength.
We came from different cultures, we enjoyed a lot of different things, but we always got along incredibly well. I was fortunate enough to have a reunion with him a few months ago as he came to Salt Lake City as part of his job. We didn’t get to spend much time together, but after 10 years of not seeing one another, we had the same laughs, jokes, and his immaturity to fall back on.
Nathan –Nate and I played baseball growing up. My team always destroyed his, and I wouldn’t have called us friends at the time, but I knew who he was. His nickname back then was Joker, probably because he was super immature and weird. He was/is that guy who is never afraid to do crazy things and be the class clown.
Well, fast-forward a few years and we end up being mission companions in the middle of Russia. We spent 3 months as companions and, even though he was older than I was, I pretty much taught him everything he knows.
He returned the favor when we moved 2 blocks away from each other as adults. I’m not what most would consider a manly man. I don’t have nice tools. I don’t really have any tools. Nate was always willing to let me borrow tools and come over to help me with sprinklers, lights, yard work, or any of the other basic things related to owning a home. I figure he owes me a lifetime’s work of labor, though after I almost single-handedly dug his in-ground trampoline and moved 8 tons of rock around his yard.
We still talk regularly whenever he wants to borrow my tools or take advantage of my softball skills.
Bradford – Brad and I lived in the same neighborhood as I was finishing up college and starting my professional life. We ended up working at the same company together and developing an app together. Jamming with Brad about business ideas, the news, life, and just laughing through everything we did was always a real treat. Brad is a cancer survivor and I have never met anyone who routinely makes the day of any stranger with whom he interacts. He is never too busy to take the time to learn someone’s story and be kind to others.
My dad owns rental apartments that were supposed to be my inheritance. Brad bought one of them and has an eye on another. He’s basically trying to steal my inheritance, but I’m like… whatever.
Brandon – Brandon is who I consider my current bestie. Besties with testes… as they say… We work together and share many common interests like Harry Potter, golf, pickleball, ping pong, tennis, and deep, mathematical philosophy. Brandon is a wiz when it comes to numbers and his brain never stops computing every possible outcome. I feel like my role in the relationship is to tell him to stop thinking about everything and just buy stuff. His wife probably hates me because I’ve talked Brandon into Man Games, a guy’s golf trip to St. George, about 159 different pickleball paddle models, and a few new sets of golf clubs.
Brandon has what we both affectionately call a resting bitch face (RBF). He looks like a ‘bro’ because he is ‘swole’ and has the RBF, but in reality, he is so incredibly thoughtful and kind. He is the first to give you the shirt of his back if you need it (so he can show off his guns).
Caitlin – The greatest friend of all, my wife. Caitlin was my first and strongest high school crush. As mentioned earlier, I didn’t know very many people going into my sophomore year at Jordan. On the 2nd day of school, she walked into one of my classes and I had to pick my jaw up off the floor. My parents knew her as “Seminary Girl” because that was the class we had together.
I never had the guts to talk to her in high school. We went on two dates. She declined my proposal to take her to prom (she says she had already been asked… riiight). When I left on my mission, I thought I’d never see her again.
Thanks to the previously mentioned Matt, when I got home, I called her up. I was so afraid that I was going to screw something up whenever we went on a date. For some strange reason, she kept saying yes as I kept asking her on more dates, and finally, when I asked her to marry me.
She is my rock. She is the mother to our 3 precious kids. She has helped me reach my best, and she has pulled me out of my worst.
We have a craft that says, “Happiness is being married to your best friend.”
There are days when I succumb to this addiction for hours at a time and it leaves me feeling utterly worthless.
It takes me away from my family and I miss important moments in their lives.
This addiction can be crippling, even though it should be easy to overcome.
As I’ve gotten older, it has only gotten harder to avoid, and chances are high that someone in your direct family is fighting this same addiction.
How to get my attention
Growing up, there were really only three ways to get my attention. If you wanted to play, you had to write a letter (not very realistic), stop by the house and awkwardly stand on the porch hoping we were home and heard the doorbell, or call our home phone.
The actual means of directing my attention to you involved a doorbell, a phone ringing throughout the whole house, and/or a family member yelling my name on your behalf, letting everyone in the house know that you were trying to talk to me.
If we weren’t home, you either had to come back later or leave a voicemail on our answering machine (again, everyone in the house could hear that answering machine and who the message was for).
Our response could take minutes, or it could take days, and that was okay.
Cell phones became more affordable when I was in middle school. I was in 8th grade when I got my first cell phone. It was a flip phone that could really only make around 10 minutes of calls a month and was only to be used for emergencies.
I felt so cool.
My parents were the only people with the number, so if you wanted to contact me, the steps to reach me were still the same as above.
As 9th grade rolled around, my life changed forever.
I got one of the first color-screen cell phones. This thing was sweet! Now my phone icons and the Snake game were different colors. How cool!
I still couldn’t make a lot of calls, but I could send text messages. At the time, we were billed by each message sent and received.
Now, other friends had phones. I had their number and they had mine. No shared line for my parents and siblings to monitor. No more waiting for hours to hear back from each other.
This was the magical time when we all learned that the only explanation for you not answering my text within 1 minute was that you were either ignoring my text or you had died, because we all knew that your phone was attached to you at all times.
My parents also had a tough time keeping my text message numbers below the threshold of sending us into bankruptcy.
During high school, most of the phone technology available to me didn’t change much. It was still phone calls and texts going back and forth between friends. The big advancement was that you could now send pictures as well as unlimited text message plans, which saved my parents a ton of money, because I had a problem.
One day during my senior year, my dad called me into the family room and said, “we need to talk.”
He had (and still has) this specific tone of voice that conveys his disappointment, confusion, and a warning of trouble. He used this voice when he called me to the family room.
“I just can’t wrap my head around this. Can you explain to me how and why you would ever need to send this many text messages in a single month?”
He pointed to the cell phone bill and the messages associated with my number.
Total messages sent/received: 16,084
Part of me was proud. That was an impressive number and more than I had ever heard amongst any of my friends.
Then my dad started breaking down the math.
“You send or receive 518 messages every single day.” “Somehow, you are sending or receiving 21.6 messages every hour.”
“Take away the average of 6 hours of sleep you get per day and that becomes almost 29 messages per hour.”
“You are sending or receiving 1 message every 2 minutes of every waking hour of the day.”
“How are you doing this while still being at basketball practices and games, paying attention in class, keeping up with homework, and any other activities that you wouldn’t be physically capable of having a phone in your hand?”
“Maybe a more important question is, Why are you doing this?”
His calm during this conversation unsettled me.
“I dunno,” I muttered, “I just have lots of good friends and we text each other.”
My dad let me know that things had to change. I was addicted to something he couldn’t quite put into words.
The numbers went down a bit over the subsequent months, but not by much.
Keep in mind that Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Tik Tok, YouTube, online gaming, and any other now-popular apps either didn’t exist or weren’t accessible to me on a phone. I can’t imagine what my high school life would’ve been like with those in the palm of my hand.
Growing out of it
After my senior year, I served a church mission. The first three months of this mission were spent in the Mission Training Center (MTC). My life was simplified dramatically. Now, the only way you could contact me was through letters or a weekly email.
No text messages. No phone calls.
For the first several weeks, while walking across the MTC grounds or while sitting in classes, I could feel my phone was buzzing in my pocket with a new message. I’d reach into my pocket just to be reminded that no phone was there, and this phantom feeling was my body creating these imaginary sensations.
Once I left the MTC, I didn’t have these false vibrations anymore. I left the MTC and went to Russia. Our companionship had a cell phone, but it was mostly just used for calls (texting in a foreign language such as Russian proved difficult). The conversations were public in that you or your companion always knew for what the phone was being used.
Life went back to being more like my middle school phone, much simpler and more manageable.
Phone technology exploded while I was on my mission. Smart phones became more prevalent and more affordable. My first phone after getting home from the mission had access to the internet, YouTube, and the ESPN app.
I got a job and could now afford to pay for my phone plan. I was committed to sticking as close to my mission phone behavior as possible.
I didn’t send many texts and preferred calling people. In fact, Caitlin and I rarely sent text messages throughout our dating life. Even now, after being married for almost 10 years, we still call each other about as much as we text one another.
Well, the phones got smarter. The apps got more and more useful/entertaining/awesome.
The consequence: My addiction reared its ugly head once more.
Your phone notifications are designed to control your attention. The consequence of that is an incredibly addictive feedback loop.
No matter what you may be doing at any given time, a notification is a little, “Hey… There’s something here and you may want to shift your attention over here… for the next 3 hours…”
A notification means someone thinks you’re important enough to want to get your attention. It’s flattering. It’s positive reinforcement that something you did was considered noteworthy to someone else. It means your attention, opinions, or thought are wanted by another person.
That’s a good thing, right?
My notifications come in these forms: Phone calls, text messages, emails, calendar reminders, and app-specific notifications (think a Facebook ‘like’ notification, budget alert, etc.).
I send and receive WAAAAAY fewer text messages than I did when I was in high school, but what about these notifications?
I’ve run a number of experiments on myself over the past few years focused on my cell phone and the notifications I receive.
I set out to document every notification I received across three days. I would mark what kind of notification it was (text, call, email, calendar, app).
Side note: The first time I ran this experiment, I had just started a new job, so I wasn’t getting a heavy amount of internal or external emails related to work.
Two years ago, tallying texts, emails, phone calls, and social, my average number of notifications per day was 288.
That amounts to 1 every 5 minutes of a 24-hour day. I was getting about 7 hours of sleep per night at the time, so that, translated into notifications per hour awake equals 1 every 3½ minutes. Close to my text message problem numbers.
Now, think about the habit-forming behaviors this instills in my brain. If I am used to having a new email/text/call/calendar/app notification every 31/2 minutes, what do you think happens after, I don’t know… 5 minutes have passed?
Just like the Pavlov’s dog experiment, every 31/2 minutes I tap my phone to see if I may have missed the phone light up or the buzz when a new message came through.
I resolved to fix this.
Two Years Later
Immediately following that little experiment, I went through a bunch of the personal emails I was receiving from brands I liked or from whom I had purchased something, plus some others I didn’t even realize I was following. I unsubscribed from all of these lists.
I unsubscribed from several other email lists connected to my work email.
I disabled social media notifications like Facebook and LinkedIn (the only two I was on at the time).
Two years after the initial experiment, I remembered what I had done and wanted to see if I had made any progress.
The 3-day average of notifications: 85. 1 every 12 minutes (of waking hours). Not bad!
Today, I’m somewhere in the middle, however, it’s not just notifications that are huge time wastes for me. The constant available content from video streaming services like Amazon Prime, Hulu, Netflix, Disney +, YouTube, and others make it so easy to find a distraction. Not to mention scrolling through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and the ESPN app.
Some content could be considered useful. How-to videos, learning new skills related to work, or online workouts can be useful. But, there are days where I spend hours watching a sporting event. Hours watching tennis and golf highlights I’ve seen 10 times on YouTube (Federer is soooo cool!!!). Hours scrolling through social media feeds. None of those are a result of a notification.
And it’s not just the phone. Screen time in general dominates my life. I tallied up the screens in our home:
2 TVs 4 Cell phones (2 active, 2 old phones the kids use to play games) 1 iPad 4 Computers 1 Video game console
12 screens scattered throughout the house and accessible at almost any time.
I spend 8 hours a day working on a computer monitor. I come home and write some pages to something I’m working on or a blog post. I’m in front of screens all day, every day.
Over the past decade, much of the human experience has transitioned from the physical world to the digital world. More and more of our reality is only accessible through a screen. More time is spent staring at a phone, computer, or TV, including the writing and reading of this post.
Less time is spent reading physical books. Less time is spent looking into my wife’s and my children’s eyes. Less time is spent working on my health or noticing the beautiful things and people around me.
I can’t help but think that our kids and their developing brains are not suited or capable of handling this kind of constant stimulation and connection without consequences. Hell, my brain isn’t suited or capable apparently.
I am starting to see the effects with my young kids when they are asked to put down the tablet or turn off the TV. I see the effects with teenage family members.
I have had several, yes, several friends and acquaintances whose marriages have been ruined by screen addictions even worse than mine as the husbands spend their days playing video games. They refuse to get a job. They forget to help out around the house or show attention to their spouse because they are gaming.
I hate seeing it happen with friends. I had seeing the dependence on screens in myself.
I justify it with, “It could be worse!” “It’s not porn!” “It’s not drugs/alcohol/gambling… blah, blah, blah…”
It’s still an addiction.
Don’t let it happen to you. Don’t let it happen to me.
Oh, and my diet starts tomorrow.
New Goals and Controls
Here are a few things I am trying out in an attempt to cut down on my screen time (and I welcome any others you may have to offer).
Silence is bliss I set all phone notifications to silent. This does not mean vibrate, this means silent. I can somehow hear that vibration noise from across the neighborhood, so vibrate doesn’t quite cut it for me. This helps me forget about it a bit so that I’m not listening or feeling for that vibration from a call or text.
Specific hours of use I’m setting aside blocks of hours where my phone is not in my pocket, or even near me. I’m leaving it in the kitchen while I am working somewhere else.
This strategy is applied to all screens, including the computer screen I’m staring at right now.
Emails I have turned off the email notification at work and I check my emails during specific times of the day. I may not have any emails when I check, or I may have 20, but I have designated specific hours of the day to read and respond to emails. This helps me focus on the projects I need to get done without my attention being pulled off to other things while I’m in the middle of the creative flow.
My family needs me… and so does yours
Given the worldwide circumstances, my kids experience school through online learning now. Most of their school day they spend immersed in online learning through a screen. They take a break and want to play on the iPad. Then, they want to watch a movie, so they can stay quiet during Claire’s nap time.
Somehow, we’ve got to find a way to move them away from the screen and into sports, friends, the yard, the mountains, and the physical world.
My three kids have taken up playing catch with baseball gloves. They have a golden retriever puppy to wrestle and play fetch. They like running, riding bikes, and building nests for baby birds.
They like playing with their dad.
They don’t need me buried in my phone screen. They don’t need me watching YouTube videos. They don’t need me scrolling through my Facebook feed.
There is a time for all this, but it’s not while my family needs me present.
Think of the children!
If you have kids with cell phones, please think about this post. I know from experience that it is sooo much easier to just plop them in front of a TV or iPad to keep them entertained when I’m exhausted or want to browse my own phone.
We’ve had to break our kids from this pattern. We’ve caught them a few times sneaking the iPad or old phones away to play games in a corner of the house. They fight over who gets to use the iPad constantly. They shriek that it’s not fair and they really really really want to play games rather than go outside.
If you are the parent to a child that has his or her own phone, all I’m asking is to be careful. They have almost infinitely more access to almost infinitely more content (good and bad). With quarantines, this only becomes more of a problem.
The future is only moving more and more away from physical reality toward a more virtual experience.
I hope I can resist the addiction.
Maybe I’m too old fashioned.
If any of you are succeeding with this, please let me know how you’re doing it.
Sorry for the downer post, but maybe you or someone you know could use it.
PS – Is now a bad time to ask you to subscribe to this blog?
I’ve officially crossed the threshold. I’ve passed on to the other side of life known as middle-age.
You might ask, “How does one know when this level-up status has been achieved?” Buckle up (you’ll get the pun later), you’re about to find out.
It happened two weeks ago.
There I was, thinking that I was still this young, vibrant, embodiment of millennial manhood. I own a house (sort of). I drive a super-economical compact car (40 mpg baby!). I can change a light bulb and/or diaper in less than an hour (Caitlin usually changes our light bulbs…and most diapers… but still… I COULD change one in less than an hour… if I had to…).
Then, Caitlin said, “You know…” followed by the six words no pretend manly-man ever wants to hear:
I could really use a van.
“No… you couldn’t possibly mean that.” “Why would you say such things?” “What’s wrong with the small SUV that has all the kids on top of each other, enabling them to grind Ritz crackers into every orifice?”
“I thought you were used to the car seat squishing your hand every time you tried to buckle the kids because they’re all smushed together.”
“Our parking awareness has really improved knowing that the kids will yell ‘This is Sparta!’ and kick the doors open as hard as possible into the next car.”
She tilts her head to the side with the “give him a second, he’ll comprehend what he just said in 3… 2… 1…” look.
Me: “why are you counting down?… Oh… I see it now…”
So, we’re buying a van.
Now the pun earlier makes sense, right? Get it? Bonus points if you didn’t have to scroll back up to remember the pun.
Car shopping is the worst.
Buying a car is a miserable experience. Van inventories are low at the moment because, well, we live in Utah, and the car of choice for the larger-family-Mormon community is the minivan. Corona has also halted production so dealership inventories are slashed in half.
The private sellers for the brands we wanted either had too many miles or were too expensive, so we decided to try a few car lots.
I don’t know why, but I always pump myself up when I step onto one of these lots. I treat it like I’m about to enter a life-or-death KGB interrogation.
“You got this, Erik. Answer all their questions with another question… yeah… and don’t admit to liking anything… What else? Oh! Make sure to tell them you’d never pay that price and you’re walking away.”
Stepping onto the lot
I did all this research and found a dealership that had the three different brands we wanted to test drive. We got a sitter for the kids and drove to the dealership. En route to the dealership, I get this strange thought that this must be what it feels like when driving to a vasectomy appointment.
As Caitlin and I are perusing the lot, I come to the realization that I’m at the wrong dealership. Rather than use Google Maps, I just assumed I knew where I was going and now it’s too late… sales guy has spotted us… and is sneaking up on us by weaving through the rows of cars like Pac-Man chasing ghosts after eating a power pellet.
“How can I help you?” Zach asks.
“We’re looking for a used minivan.” I say with all the authority and manliness I can muster.
“We don’t have any used vans on this lot,” he said, “but we have several new vans that are way outside your budget. We could put you in loads of debt to get.”
Zach didn’t say that last part, but it’s what I heard in my brain.
Zach was actually super nice, helpful, and wasn’t pushy at all. He looked up other vans at the dealerships other lots for us and didn’t waste our time with sales tactics.
Good job Zach.
Caitlin gave me another one of her looks as we were leaving the lot. It was the “I thought you did all this research and this was the place that had three vans I could take to the raceway tonight and test drive… How did you ever pass the 7th grade with those research skills? Maybe I made the wrong mate selection” look.
Surprisingly, this look has made its appearance more than once in our marriage.
We move on to the correct lot, but none of the three vans we wanted to check out looked as nice as their ads.
We’re an hour into this emasculating activity, and we haven’t actually been inside a van yet.
Unbeknownst to Caitlin, the day before, I had stopped by a dealership about 30 minutes away so I felt I had an ‘in’ here. I knew she’d love the van at this specific place, plus I felt like I connected with car salesman Clayton, so I was totally going to redeem myself and show her my superior hunter skills.
We get to the lot and the van is all ready for us to test drive. Caitlin does great. The van works and feels wonderful. It starts. It stops. You push a button to turn the car on, so that makes you feel like you’re igniting a Space Shuttle launch. Blinkers blink. Backup cameras are apparently things people have been driving around with for like 10 years. Sliding doors are amaaaaazing!
She made up her mind. This was the van.
I have to admit, it is super cute… ahem… I mean pretty cool. For a minivan, it looks and drives more like an SUV (Kia Sedona if any other men out there are looking for a manly minivan).
This smashed-car image helps Caitlin realize how lucky she is that she selected a skilled car hunter like myself. We could’ve bought thaaaat.
Now, I know what you’re thinking… “Daaaayuuummm Erik! Why are you driving on a sidewalk near a pool of water?!”
The answer is, because why not? You can do anything you want in a minivan.
Also, this was taken from the internet. And I think it’s a luxury package that the van we had our eyes on didn’t have. But it gives you an idea of what we experienced… just better than what we actually experienced… It’s the Instagram age people!
Back to the story…
We return to the lot after I’ve kicked the tires and popped the hood to look at an engine that I have no clue how it works, or what to look for (but Caitlin doesn’t know that…). After admitting that I have no idea what I’m doing, she actually told me that it looked like I knew exactly what I was doing (man card still securely in possession). My seemingly-life-long friend Clayton comes out and asks how it went.
“Great! She loves it (don’t sound so enthusiastic, Erik!), I mean… there are others we’re looking at (we’re not), but if we can get to the right number, I think we’re ready to make this happen.”
“Sweet! What’s your number?!”
“If we can be out the door for $84,000, we’ll do it right now.”
…I got you, didn’t I?
You were all, “Whaaaaaat?! $84,000 for a minivan? Either this dude is way more loaded than we thought, or he’s got some great credit and serious future debt problems.”
I’m not going to tell you what our number was, but I let Clayton know where we needed to be and he told us he’d go get the finance manager to start talking money.
How car dealerships screw you (sorry for the language mom)
Car dealerships work around the quadrants below:
If you think you’ve negotiated them into a great purchase price, chances are, they got you in 1-3 other quadrants.
We didn’t have a trade-in because we had sold Caitlin’s car earlier that day. This meant we had one less quadrant to negotiate. This also meant that we needed a car ASAP, which put us in a poor leverage position.
What gives car salespeople and dealerships a bad name is that they won’t just come out and say what’s going on. It’s all a deceptive, shady, shell game of try and find where we’re charging you more than we need to. I acknowledge that I am speaking in generalities. Disclaimer: Not all car dealerships and salespeople are straight up liars.
Another disclaimer: The dealership from which we purchased our van was full of straight up liars. And earned the title of the most shady, deceptive, worst buying experience I’ve ever had. Hands down.
I’ll let you know where at the end of this.
As soon as we started talking numbers, everything went absolutely crazy.
You benefit from the results of our hour-long back and forth to get at what fees they were charging us. Clayton passed us on to Kyle to talk finances and then Clayton went to help other people. It took Kyle three trips back and forth to his manager to give us an itemized list of fees. These fees totaled $4,500 more than the list price.
Tax, title, license – These aren’t fees you can negotiate and are paid to the state, not the dealership. The sales tax rate where we purchased our van was 7.25%. Title and license was another $160 or so.
Dealer documentation fee – From what I understand, this isn’t something you can really negotiate. The dealership charges this to everyone. You can’t get rid of it, but you can try and get them to reduce the purchase price by the doc fee amount. The dealers we spoke with ranged from $260 – $300.
Vehicle preparation fee – This is a completely bogus fee they will throw at you stating that it covers the costs of preparing the car to sell. Usually this fee is between $100 – $300. Vehicle preparation is part of doing business and the fee is straight profit for the dealership.
Kyle told us their fee was $800.
I said, “No chance.”
Kyle came back to inform us that usually, they charge $1,600 for this so he was already giving me a deal at $800… but his manager gave approval to get rid of it.
VTR fee – Vehicle Theft Registration is another dealer rip-off scam in which the VIN is etched onto the vehicle’s windows and then the vehicle is “registered” into some kind of database in case it is stolen. Apparently, the registration process is optional, and you should have been informed beforehand. This fee is common across most dealerships, but you do not have to take it.
Kyle told us it was $400 and required by law.
I told him, “Nope. Not paying that either.”
Blinking Light Fee – If I didn’t want to get this deal done so badly, I would have laughed out loud. Caitlin and I asked Kyle what on earth this could be after he mumbled it in between his disclosure of the tax, title, license and VTR fees.
Kyle: Clayton already explained that to you.
Me: No, he didn’t.
Kyle: … *stares at me and shrugs*
Me: … *stare back confusedly at Kyle*
Kyle: … *repeats his stare-shrug*
Me: … uh… will you please explain that one to us?
Kyle: *rolls eyes* We installed a blinking light on this car so when you brake, the brake light blinks. This way, people don’t tailgate you and run into you when you stop.
Me: Are you serious right now?
Kyle: Yes, it’s an upgrade and is a fee you have to pay.
Me: We’re not paying those. I’ll pay this much for the car, I’ll pay tax, title, license, I’ll pay the doc fee. Not paying any of the others.
Kyle: Let me go talk to my manager.
Kyle came back and said we have to pay the VTR fee and Blinking light fee. Caitlin and I both stood up and walked out.
The next day
Our sales guy Clayton wasn’t around for our fun finance talk with Kyle. Once we left, I sent Clayton a message letting him know we had to walk away.
The following day, Clayton and I connected. He wanted to know what my out-the-door number had to be to make it happen. I told him. His manager approved a number close enough, so I told him we’d do it. I also asked if there was anything else. I didn’t want to make the 30-minute drive to the dealership if they were going to pull some bait and switch on me. He assured me they wouldn’t.
This brings us to our last quadrant.
After arriving at the dealership, I got to wait for 45 minutes as another person was finishing up in the finance office. No one entered nor left the finance office in those 45 minutes so this ‘other person’ must be able to disapparate or is wearing an invisibility cloak…
I did, however, look up if Utah was a one-party consent state, allowing me to record the upcoming conversation, with me being the one party to consent. Utah, as of this publishing, is a one-party consent state.
Even though Kyle had assured me the previous day that they work with my credit union and that I could make any down payment I wanted to get my monthly payment where we needed it to be, the new finance guy, Cord, told me something else. Cord told me that I could not buy the car at that price unless I put $0 down and financed the whole deal through their bank at double the interest rate at which I had already been pre-approved.
Cord also tried to sell me an extended warranty. I said no. He then continued trying to sell the extended warranty to me for 15 minutes, eventually resorting to the tried-and-true sales tactic of calling me stupid and ignorant. I guess that works on some people?
Cord told me I agreed to these ridiculous finance terms by pointing at a handwritten paper from the day before that had “6-(indistinguishable scribble)-dealer.”
After walking away from the deal again, another manager was brought in. Concessions were made.
I didn’t end up getting the warranty. The other manager allowed me to make a down payment. I got an interest rate between where my pre-approval letter sat and their absurdly high rate. Cord told me I was essentially robbing the dealership and that I should just not make the down payment the manager told me I could.
I made the down payment. We got the van.
Learn from my mistakes
Not all car buying is this miserable (I hope). Actually, my stepmom has worked at a car dealership for years and was helpful through all of this. I would’ve gone through her dealership (Rand’s Auto), but they didn’t have any vans at the time.
Here are some tips:
Negotiate each quadrant individually
If you have a trade in, negotiate that price independent of the other quadrants. Repeat for each of the other quadrants. Your purchase price should not be dependent on any of the other quadrants. Same goes for fees and financing.
2. Have these negotiations when you don’t need a car that day. Being able to walk away is a wonderful thing. Not being able to end the day without a car is not a wonderful thing.
3. Watch out for the guilt trips.
Cord told me multiple times that they weren’t making any money on this deal. He told me I had agreed to the absurd terms by having a paper that said 6 ~~~ dealer.
If the dealership tells you that they aren’t making any money on the deal, that’s not your problem. Chances are, they still are making money, and if they aren’t, that’s their fault for buying a car above what they could sell it for. It happens in business. They won’t sell you the car if it doesn’t make sense for them. Just like you shouldn’t buy the car if it doesn’t make sense for you.
4. Watch out for fake-fee deals.
They’ll tell you they usually charge $X but are only charging you $Y for a made-up fee. Not your problem.
5. Plan on 1-2 hours of finance negotiation and signing.
It was 2 hours from when I got to the dealership agreeing to a specific price to when I left with the car and frustrated as ever.
6. Try to plan your purchase around the end of the month
We went at the beginning of the month. Probably would’ve had more success if we had waited a few more weeks.
Happy wife, happy life
I didn’t get all I wanted. In fact, I’m pretty sure I got swindled and hosed big time. But, Caitlin and the kids love the van.
My manliness is as low as it usually is, and I have officially entered middle-age-hood.
It feels… like I should probably be walking around in sandals with crew socks now.
I guess it could be worse.
PS – Caitlin has asked me my thoughts on a vasectomy… I feel like the minivan has accomplished the same desired outcome.
PPS – The dealership was Tim Dahle Nissan in Bountiful.
Clayton, the sales guy, was super nice and super helpful. I’m sure he sees this every day and has deals fall through once he passes them to the finance squad.
The salesperson seems to play the good cop role while the finance guys are the bad cop/straight up d-bags, followed by another good cop manager.
I have never recorded a conversation like this before, but I had the strange feeling that they were going to try something shady. The entirety of the purchase-day conversation is recorded in case one of them happens to read this and wants to try and defend themselves.
I’m on a train moving through southwest Russia, out in the middle of nowhere, right in the jaws of winter.
I’ve just fallen asleep after hours of trying. It seems like the more you think about falling asleep, the harder it is.
I’m in a coupé (koo-pay). For those who don’t regularly travel on trains, this is a small, private room with four “beds.” The picture gives you an idea of what we’re dealing with.
Sleeping pads fold down and you’re provided with a pillow, pillowcase, linen (a sheet) and a blanket. As with most public transportation (and blankets), this coupé (and blanket) isn’t built for people over about 5’10,” so with me being 6’ 4,” these became quite uncomfortable, quite quickly. I’d have to lay sideways and tuck my legs in so I would fit on the platform (and cover my freezing feet with this tiny blanket!).
This is part of the reason why it took so long to fall asleep. I would instinctively straighten my legs only to be met with an ice-cold wall that seemed to be getting closer to me. The sleeping pad was about as soft as kitchen tile and it and my pillow smell like they’ve seen 50 years of smoke, alcohol, urine, and probably death…
…but I digress.
It’s 2:45 am and I have just… drifted off… to sleep…
The nightmare begins
The coupé door crashes open and flashlights are blazing a foot away from my eyes, blinding me and my travel-mate. Russian police are yelling at us and it takes me a few seconds to clear out of the sleepy fog.
“Am I dreaming?”
It’s freezing. And loud. Nope… this is not a dream.
The police are telling us to get up and show them our documents or we’ll be arrested. I reach under my musty, smoke/vodka/urine/death pillow where my passport and train ticket are lying and flip to the pages that confirm that we are here legally and that we purchased a train ticket.
“Give them to me!” demands the police officer, “let me hold it so I can see.”
He is standing above me, inches away, because again, these coupés are not designed for 4 people to move about freely.
“You can see it, but I’ll hold it.” I croak in my tired, hoarse, sexy voice in what I’m sure is a thick American accent.
“No, I want to hold it.” the officer responds.
“I’m sorry, I’ve been instructed by your government not to give my passport and ticket to anyone. You may look at it, but I’m going to hold onto it. By the way, I’m going to need both of your badge numbers.”
“You don’t need our badge numbers, just give us your passport.”
“Officers… you’re not the first we’ve dealt with and you won’t be the last. We know our rights here, and it is our right to have you identify who you are before we hand anything over. My passport and ticket are right here, and I’m happy to show them to you, but I need your badge numbers.”
They reluctantly rattle off their badge numbers, combining several of the numbers into one word. I write down the numbers and show them my passport, firmly gripping it with both hands.
The officer shines his light on mine while his counterpart does the same for my travel companion. He reaches for my passport to try and pull it away and I pull it back, similar to playing keep-away from my nephew with a ball he wants to try and steal.
“Uh oh! Too slow! Hahaha!” (I didn’t do this in this particular moment)
I ask him if he has any other questions and he says no, reminding me that next time I should let him take my passport.
It’s 2:55 am.
I’m in the middle of Russia. I am cold. I am tired. I am irritated. And I’m not going to be sleeping the rest of the night.
This wasn’t the first time
While serving a church mission in Russia, I traveled. A lot.
For 7 of the 21 months, my companion and I would travel between all of the cities in our mission several times over, visiting every missionary in every city. We’d be on the road or rail to a different city every 3 days or so, sleeping on trains, floors, couches, busses, and taxis.
Our mission was roughly the size of Texas and if traveling from the northern-most city to the southern-most city, you could expect a 12-14 hour train ride. A more common ride was from the mission center to some of the outer cities. These trips were about 8 hours. We’d get to other cities by bus, taxi, or a version of light rail, but the train rides were something else.
Train rides meant you at least had the chance to fall asleep for more than an hour at a time. That wasn’t happening on a bus, taxi, or light rail. I never mastered the ability to sleep restfully while sitting straight upright in a bus seat or against a window with my head slamming against the glass whenever we hit a pothole.
Fun fact, Russian roads had a lot of potholes 10-12 years ago.
At least with a train, it was mostly private, you could lay down (sort of), and often times the repeating thuh-thump of the wheels along the track could be quite soothing. The banshee-scream, screeching brakes were not so soothing and woke you up every hour or two at each stop.
Sometimes we’d have other people join us in our coupé, but usually only if the train was close to capacity, and this is important, because any time we were joined by a fellow Russian travel-mate we never had any issues with the police. Not once.
However, every time we traveled in a coupé by ourselves (two Americans), we would be interrupted by a late night/early morning documents check. Our locked (apparently not locked) coupé would be forced open by two police officers, lights blazing, and demands to see our documents. No polite knock. No identification of who they were. Just a forced entry surprise party.
Maybe they went through and verified the documentation of all the other coupé inhabitants, but I never once heard any other doors being knocked on, forced open, or brusk voices after they moved past us.
The previous experience was near the end of my mission. I had already lived through several of these interruptions, so I knew what to do, I knew what to say, and I usually did just enough to agitate the officers, because I knew what they were up to and wanted to help them along as they came to the realization that they weren’t getting paid a bribe by me.
However, the first few times were so terrifying and unsettling that I dreaded train rides. I still, to this day, have nightmares about Russian train rides.
After a couple of these incidents, I asked our local legal representative what police officers could and couldn’t do with us, as well as what I could and couldn’t say to them. This is why I asked for badge numbers and held onto my passport.
Here’s the bottom line:
I was conditioned to distrust the Russian police by a handful of bad officers within the Russian police.
I have several stories of Russian police officers shaking us down for bribes or other instances of prejudicial targeting. Other missionaries had passports stolen by police who would then tell the missionaries they were going to be deported because they didn’t have a passport.
“But it’s right there in your hand!”
“Nope, I don’t see one.”
“Here’s $100 (in Russian roubles).”
“Oh! Here’s your passport! I didn’t see it before.”
We had missionaries taken to jail and we had missionaries barricade themselves in their apartments because rogue officers were trying to break in.
It’s just something we had to live with for 2 years, simply because we were clearly Americans and we were clearly talking about Jesus.
It didn’t seem fair.
We were hyper vigilant with paperwork, followed local laws to a ‘T’, and didn’t stay out late. We were only targeted because we looked like American missionaries.
We weren’t doing anything wrong.
Racism in America
I’ve done some serious soul-searching lately and had several conversations with friends and family members about racial affairs here in America.
This post comes well after the peak of tensions and news coverage because I guess I’m slower than most people. I wanted to think deeply about this issue and work through the problems in my head.
I’ve watched movies I’ve been told to watch. I’ve read books I’ve been told to read. All in an attempt to better understand racism and white privilege.
It wasn’t connecting for some reason. I saw and read the stories of racism and I thought to myself, “Yes, this is wrong. Are there really people out there who think this treatment of another human is okay?”
I read the explanations of white privilege and accusations that all white people are racist, and I couldn’t understand that either.
I couldn’t understand the anger. I still can’t understand the rioting and destruction of private and public property. I can’t fully empathize.
I struggle being called a racist simply because I am white. I don’t like being told that any good thing in life I have is because of my white privilege.
I live in one of the most white-washed states in the country. Utah’s black population makes up only 1.6% of the total population. The majority of interactions I’ve had with black people have come through my former athletic endeavors, business relationships with contacts out of the state, and foreign travel.
I don’t have the life experience to know what it’s like in other areas of the country. I don’t know how bad it is. I don’t know what it’s like to grow up or raise kids outside of my sheltered area here in the Salt Lake valley. I may not ever know.
Does this make me racist?
Then… something clicked
The family and I recently went on a road trip where we had time to think, talk, and visit with friends along the way.
I had conversations with close friends and family members about all that’s going on and, admittedly, got a bit riled up and defensive around the media’s call for me to apologize for something I can’t control.
Then yesterday, for whatever reason, the train memory fluttered into my brain and a prejudice connection clicked.
The prejudicial treatment we consistently had to deal with from cops in Russia drove me nuts. I grew to distrust the Russian police. I would avoid eye contact with them. I would cross to the other side of the street if I saw them. I felt like their job was to track us down and bully us into a bribe.
Did every Russian cop bully, intimidate, and try to use us to pad his income? No.
Did the majority of them? No. Although, even Russians admit that the cops are notorious for seeking bribes.
Did some of them treat me poorly and cause me to distrust all of them? Yes.
I had to endure the train interruptions, late night knocks on our apartment door, and “random” car searches at all checkpoints for 21 months.
Remember, I volunteered to go to Russia in the capacity of a church missionary and make it obvious who I was.
Now imagine having to endure that kind of behavior, only much, MUCH worse, over generations, for things you did not choose and could not control.
Only one generation removed
I am only one generation from Emmett Till, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the March on Washington, and Bloody Sunday. My parents were alive during each of those events. In even the not-so-grand scheme of things, that’s really not a lot of time.
These major events are the more talked about examples of racism in the 50’s and 60’s, but countless other violent occurrences were happening.
Every. Single. Day.
If one of my children ever decides travel to Russia, given my personal experience in dealing with Russian prejudice during my 21-month stint, what advice do you think I would give to him or her?
Make sure you don’t let your paperwork out of your hands.
Be careful while traveling.
Be wary of the cops. They will find any chance they can to extort you for money.
Now, let’s focus (for simplicity’s sake) on if you are black, lived through the Civil Rights Movement, and experienced acts of prejudice and violence first-hand from law enforcement, the government, and private businesses.
What advice would you give your kids who are now my age?
Make sure you don’t… let a white person think you’re flirting with a white woman? (Emmett Till)
Be careful while… choosing a seat on the bus? (Rosa Parks)
Be wary of… police officers? They will find any chance they can to get you. (Bloody Sunday)
Is this advice really that far-fetched given the life experience?
I don’t think so.
But, I don’t buy it
Does genuine, horrible, uncalled-for racism exist? Yes.
Is every white person a racist? No. Despite what certain talking heads and books may claim.
That is, as long as we can agree on the same definition of a “racist.”
Oxford Dictionary definition Racist – a person who shows or feels discrimination or prejudice against people of other races, or who believes that a particular race is superior to another.
An audiobook I listened to recently stated the following (not a direct quote, but a summary)
“White people often get offended when they are called racist because they think a racist is defined as someone who believes a particular race (theirs) is superior to another. But actually, a racist means something else. A racist is any white person who cannot and will not ever be able to understand the struggles of blacks.”
Uh… I struggle to accept that definition of a racist.
Calling someone a racist carries with it highly charged, culturally shaped, evil connotations. If someone calling another person a racist is using that word to mean something other than a definition upon which we can agree, then let’s find another word.
Are many, possibly all white Americans racially ignorant to varying degrees? Yeah, most probably.
I will agree with the author that I and my fellow white men and women will never be able to fully understand the intense struggles of blacks in America.
Why can’t we white people admit that lack of understanding and not try to back ourselves out of it?
We don’t understand. We can’t understand. So, to fellow white people, let’s not diminish the struggles of the black community by shifting the narrative.
Oftentimes, we get charged up and devalue the statements of suffering we see in the black community.
I know I have… and recently… and I’m trying to work on it.
Here’s an example of a narrative shift:
“Well what about the Latinos/Native Americans/Asians/Muslims/Jews/ women/gays/religious/young/old/*insert prejudicial ‘Hello, my name is ____’ tag here?”
I’ve just shared my train story. It was traumatic for me at the time. Do you really think it helps if, after hearing it, you tell me,
“Well, you know… Jews were sent to prison camps in trains.” “That’s nice, but did you know that women make less than men?” “Oh, you poor thing… it could’ve been worse and it probably wasn’t as bad as you made it out to be…” “Blankets are the perfect size!”
Take a deep breath.
Yes, prejudice comes in many forms. Yes, there are several groups that have been severely discriminated against for a long time. And yes, you’ve likely experienced some form of prejudice in your life.
But right now, acknowledging the suffering of black lives is not meant to say that other lives don’t matter or that other groups of people don’t matter.
“But wait! Chicago! Statistics! Reverse Racism!”
I know… I know… There is a place for those conversations.
Take the time to reflect. Then act.
It is okay for us to acknowledge racism against blacks and work to teach our kids that humans are humans. We are all imperfect and doing our best. We are no better or worse than others because of our race, creed, or nationality.
I was in Russia because I hold firm religious convictions and believe that other people can benefit from turning to Jesus. Rather than stay in my house and read, I felt it was important to get out and spread the message, try and show others where faith may help, and serve people.
I think there is a lesson there.
If you believe that racism is wrong, sitting in your house behind your computer screen is a start, but there is much more you can do.
What can I do?
Most of what I’ve heard on what I can do points me to becoming more educated. Read books and watch shows that show acts of racism and courageous figures that stood up to it.
This felt weak to me for some reason. Getting educated is important, but what else can I do besides reading a book or sitting on a couch watching a movie?
Some great friends have continued to help me connect the dots with this. In addition to becoming more educated on the topic, think about spreading your convictions to others. Call out racist jokes for what they are. Call out racist behaviors for what they are. Don’t sit back and watch when you see acts of racism. Be a voice for love and kindness.
To any people of color who read this
I cannot control the fact that I was born white. I cannot apologize for something I have not done nor for something I wasn’t even alive for. I cannot speak for all whites. I can only work to make sure I don’t make the same mistakes as those who went before me. I can call out offenses and try to put a stop to them, and I commit to doing that.
To all people
We cannot control the circumstances into which we were born and raised. Racial ignorance, white privilege, poverty, wealth… we can’t control it nor can we change history. History is not there for us to change. It is there for us to see, and learn from, and build off of to enhance the good and hopefully correct the bad.
We cannot change the past. We can influence now. We can shape the future.
And turning each other into enemies is not the way to get to the world we want ourselves and our kids to live in.
We will not succeed until…
We will not succeed in growing individually or as a country until we stop playing identity politics and work to remove the hate within our hearts to those who are different than us.
We will not succeed in society until we stop hurting people and forcefully taking things from them.
We will not succeed if we think that because I didn’t hurt someone, it’s okay to sit back and watch others hurt people.
We will succeed when…
We will only succeed when we find respect for one another. We will only succeed when we show kindness to one another. We will only succeed when we learn to love each other.
But, what do I know?
I’m actually surprised you made it this far.
We should be friends.
Comment so I can learn where my blind spots are in all this. What am I missing?
Chanel Reynolds lived through the traumatic experience of her husband passing away suddenly in a traffic accident, leaving her to figure out single-parenthood, finances, insurance, and life without her spouse. As the most useful book I’ve read this year, I had to give it a recommendation with a brief synopsis of what’s in here.
The Story Itself
The book goes through Chanel’s life before, during, and after the accident. She reflects back on her mindset in the moment as she dealt with the chaos and confusion following the accident. She had to deal with things you’d never think of if you haven’t been through something like this.
What is your bank account and password if your spouse handles that? What life insurance policies do you have personally and through work? Are beneficiaries designated properly? What is the mortgage account number and password? Social security number? Driver’s license number? What to do with death certificates? Where is your marriage certificate from the state? What about a will? Or should you get a living will? What about a trust? How would your spouse (and his or her family) want the funeral handled? Buried or cremated?
These are some of the things she had to deal with and gives you practical advice on where to get started on these if you haven’t already.
The way Chanel was able to mix in the story with the practical application of things she wished she had taken care of before the accident was helpful for me. In fact, while reading I went through and checked my accounts and whether or not I had assigned beneficiaries. On 4 of the 8, I hadn’t. They are taken care of now.
I spoke to an attorney friend about a living will and trust. I made sure my life insurance policy was enough to take care of my family in the event the worst happens to us.
Caitlin and I had a conversation about what we want in the event we end up on life support, funeral preferences, and the awkward conversation of whether we’d be okay with the other remarrying. These conversations aren’t fun, but they are very important because you just never know when it is your or your spouse’s time to go.
There are what feels like a million things to worry about, but Chanel helps make it seem manageable. She also has a website in place to give additional resources and connect to professionals in specific fields (https://getyourshittogether.org/)
This was a cool experience. I finished reading the book and then watched the movie upon finishing the book. Joseph Gordon-Leavitt did a remarkable job playing Edward Snowden.
If you’ve ever wondered if your computer webcam is spying on you… according to Edward Snowden, the answer is yes. So is your phone camera and microphone. So is your app usage, your photos, and your web activity.
The book freaked me out if I can be open. Snowden talks about a person they were spying on. With their clearance, they could also spy any any acquaintances of the person of interest and any of the acquaintances’ acquaintances. Confused yet?
Anyway… Snowden pulls up the webcam of the person of interest’s son. He can see the son, see what the son is viewing, see the son’s son, and hear their conversation. All of this is done without this person’s knowledge and without their laptop webcam light showing that it was on.
He also talks about how the analysts would brag and show off nude pictures of girls they lifted from phones and compare. It’s not just the iCloud leak you need to worry about. If you’ve got naughty pictures on your phone or laptop… guess what… your boo may not be the only one who saw them.
Snowden gives a detailed autobiography about his upbringing, his jobs, his relationships, and the events leading up to his release of what he knew. He gives an update on where he is at the time of his writing and what his life looks like now.
He left me feeling like he genuinely cared about the privacy of not just Americans, but all internet users across the globe. I didn’t get the feeling that he had some, decade-long plan to infiltrate the government nor does it seem like he’s living a great life as a result.
The evidence he cites, laws he quotes, and policies he mentions seem to check out in that things were passed in the name of protection against terrorism that granted the government full access into anybody’s life.
Highly recommend this book if you are worried about Big Brother. I thoroughly enjoyed it. If you’d rather not know, then I wouldn’t recommend this.