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Mud

Joe Tate | HR Consulting
Jun 29 2017

The neighborhood street raced with the foot traffic of pedestrians.  The energy of the city was alive in the morning rush of the young and the old.  Business people trying to get ahead.  Mothers rushing young ones to school.  Retirees enjoying the unfolding disorder and order.  Most were keeping a rapid pace in the face of a breezy wind and sullen gray skies overhead.  The rain from the past two hours was hinting at letting up to soon erase the memory of the downpour.  Large rain drops transitioned to soft English rain.  Amid the rush was a young professional, a father:  dutiful, direct and pressed.  The focus is sharp in the city.

In a newly-pressed navy suit and striking plaid tie, he navigated purposefully through the masses.  In one hand a briefcase. In the other he held on tightly; it was not a grip of fear. It was more like holding a little bird; tightly but soft and gentle.  He held the hand of his three and a half year old boy.  The man peered up and then down the avenue.  He waited longer than usual on the curb and knew he was in a teaching moment.  He beckoned his son, “Look right”, toward uptown — the young eyes followed the gaze of his father; “Look left”, toward downtown.  “Are you ready?”  The son responded, “YES!”

The father and his son left the safety of the curb and entered into the open street.  The father’s grip tightened ever so slightly on the boy’s hand– a grip of protection; a grip of assistance and security.  “Stay close son!”  The gait of the boy was short, but quick.  He raced to keep up with the long, purposeful strides of his dad.  He was not a toddler anymore, but he certainly struggled to match the momentum and length.  The forgotten rains had left the streets painted in a darker shade.  They were heavy through the night and morning; small puddles of Pullman brown masked pot holes and uneven curbs.  Water dotted the edges of the street.  The distant but regular honking of horns welcomed the day in the city.

The father and son followed the path of safety stepping quickly around an idling cab on the far side of the street.  The man was on time, but just barely.   His button-down shirt and tie revealed a similar mindset. Appointments must be met and men must be on time.

The hope of clearing skies.   He looked forward to a good day.  Today could be great.  His favorite tie and new black shoes rounded out his business attire.  The father and son completed the safe navigation of the busy street with only two steps left to reach the opposite curb— when it happened.  Directly in their path was the mud puddle; liquid light brown chocolate. The father keenly saw the obstacle dead ahead.  Navigation kicked in and he smartly directed the boy: “Jump!” …. silence …. s l o w motion.

Neurons triggered; muscles sprung to life. The boy responded with pure focus.  The edges of his mouth lifted in response as did both feet.  A gift.  His father had given him an unequivocal green light.  The rubber band synapses in the legs of the three year old fired naturally and suddenly.  Both tiny feet launched off the ground, lifted, and landed … on the mark, a direct hit, dead center.  A fluid crown-like wave lifted from the puddle pushed to new heights from two children’s size 8.5 shoes.  The father’s face revealed simultaneous alarm and realization.  His quick comment triggered delight in the young boy and also a splattering of mud and water covering his slacks and new shoes.  Clearly ‘Jump’ does not mean ‘Jump over’ to the young.   The joyful boy looked up into the eyes of his father; his father looked up from his slacks to meet the boy’s grinning stare.  Thoughts of anger rattled and ricocheted through his mind, but the joyful gaze calmed a sudden harsh reaction.  Anger would not prevail this day.  The smile of the boy derailed any chance of that.

The father stepped up on the curb and found safety under an awning near the red-bricked wall.  Still holding the hand of his son, he crouched to match eyesight.  He spoke through a chuckling laugh, “I guess I asked for that one, what a puddle huh son?”  ‘Best day ever.’

The day was not ruined and the shoes would be just fine, after a cleaning.  The man smiled and recognized he had learned a lesson and more importantly he had earned a story.

In this instance, I gained a story as well.  I was the beneficial witness of first-hand observation, standing quietly under the same awning by the red-bricked wall.  The smile on that young boy’s face quickly found a place in my head and in my heart.  I received the joy of seeing a father’s wisdom; the quick decision to avoid anger and embrace life with rapid acceptance.

To witness this story unfold before my eyes was a gift.  How often do we prepare, we rise early, we dress for success, we direct, we coach, and with clarity and timing we communicate our message— “JUMP”.  In spite of our preparation and decisiveness, we still get splattered with MUD.  We spend time each day avoiding the mud, the inevitable mud.  Know that the mud is coming and we still have a choice. We can make the best of it and we can all be better for it.

Life is a conundrum.  Remember that many of the great gifts in life come wrapped in mud.  The pain of life precedes the pleasure. The haze of time fades the story, the details lost, the resolution diminished.  Hold on.

Take some time this week from documenting your processes and your policies to documenting your stories.  After all, in 10 years you will not remember the minor challenges of the day; you will remember the triumphs of the human experience.  Document them, share them, and make a difference in the lives of those who stand at your shoulder.  If it isn’t documented it didn’t happen.  Any good employment attorney will tell you that.

Make it a great week and watch out for those mud puddles!

Joe Tate

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