Kent Sterling – Recovering Program Director

In the four months since, I’ve read, written, listened, and accepted.  It’s not in my nature to accept or seek anything of value from others, but when people offered advice I grabbed it.  When people offered suggestions about books I should read, I’ve read them.  The only advice I refused was from those who said that I should ride out the grief that comes with being fired and then move forward.  My thought was to get as busy as I could immediately.  That might have been a mistake, I don’t know.  My fear was that if I laid down, I might never get up, and frankly allowing the people who fired me to put me into some self-indulgent morose emotional state was not acceptable to me.  They can keep me from working for the company I love, but they couldn’t keep me from working.

The most interesting development has been to spend so much time listening to others.  My impulse has always been to try to solve puzzles alone because the challenge was biggest then.  Since then, so many co-workers and former co-workers have morphed from tools that helped me build special things at work into friends who help me live a better and more well-rounded life.

I’m not a big regretter, so thinking about the years I spent around these people without realizing how personally special they are is a piece of my past that I’ll try to bury or expel.  The energy to credit myself for figuring that out is better spent than any regret.  That might be a little vain, but I’m starting to embrace a measure of vanity.  To admit, even to myself, that I’m a good person worthy of friendship has always been horrifying to me.  Much better to prove myself worthy of company by making crass and sarcastic remarks for the amusement of others than to actually perform acts worthy of admiration.  Those acts to this point are simple kindnesses to strangers, but baby steps are still steps.

Not that I’ve reached a platform that even approaches decency yet.  Last week, while riding my bike, I got into a brief fracas with a veteran outside the American Legion in Fishers, Indiana.  I was riding my bike east on a bike path just south of 126th Street.  As I approached the entrance to the American Legion Post, a pick-up truck sped into my path and stopped.  I slammed on my brakes and stopped as the truck was blocking the bike path.  The driver looked at me and waved me across.  I shook my head, and waved him onto 126th.  The veteran (I’m guessed he’s a vet because of the close-shorn white hair and his having been a guest at the legion hall) dramatically rolled down his window and yelled, “Why don’t you ride on a bike path?”

I yelled back more dramatically, “This is a God-dammed bike path, you f**king idiot!”  The vet looked at the bike path, rolled up his window with a look of resignation that I still savor, and drove away.  That I take pride in that anti-social interaction gives me reason to believe I haven’t quite reached my zenith for positive and affirming behavior.

It’s been weeks since I yelled from my car at another driver for not paying attention, and that’s a plus.  My wife is happy.  That’s a big plus.  She’s even taking some chances saying yes to things that she would otherwise refuse.  Wednesday, a friend of hers asked whether Julie and I would like to go to Pearl Jam.  A couple had backed out, and there were two extra tickets available.  She said yes before giving it any thought, which is quite a step in the right direction for her.  Screw it.  She yes.  Experience live outside the living room.

A friend, who used to be a bit professional rival, gave me the book, “The Last Lecture”, and rather than promise myself I would read it and than report back with a half-assed and vague review when I returned the book, as I’ve done so many times before, I read the book from start to finish.  The wisdom in the book is undeniable.  It’s the kind of higher thinking available only to those without the loudly ticking clock of a terminal diagnosis.  If only we could live like that while healthy.  That’s where I’m trying to go.  Before, dying alone seemed to be the most humane path toward death.  Who wants to make people sad in death?  That seems absurd, but it was my guiding axiom until recently.  Assholes make for great stories from acquaintances who never mourn them because no one gives a shit when they’re gone.  That seemed like as good a life philosophy as any as I matured.  Now, that seems incredibly bleak and unpleasant.  By the way, this understanding has nothing to do with being fired except that I now have enough time to listen to really smart people talk about life and adjust my behavior toward who I am, rather than who I thought others wanted me to be.

I’m learning how to play the guitar – slowly and with great difficulty.  That’s okay.  Learning anything is good whether or not a proficiency is ever developed.  It’s not terribly enjoyable because I like to learn quickly, but where the hell has that gotten me?  So maybe the 30-minutes a day I spend trying to seamlessly moving from G to D to E to A.  Julie, who has played guitar forever, tells me I’m six months aways from making any form of recognizable music.  That’s okay.  Even if I’m a remedial guitarist, that’s more interesting than not being able to play at all.

Learning is a good thing – whether it’s learning how to be a friend, husband, guitarist, writer, or listener.  That’s what I’m trying to do.  Being a good person beats the hell out of being a great program director.

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