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no need for a prize

I have been carrying around this quote I came across several years ago. I have kept it handy because I found it so interesting. What the quote says is so true but like any quote it can be interpreted in many different ways, as many ways as people who read the quote. And like other quotes it can be seen as positive or negative depending on our own personal perspective and interpretation. I see the positive in this quote.

Today it brought to mind some of the people I have known throughout my life, some whom have left this world and many who remain.

In particular my memories of my brother-in-law came up to the surface. It has been over a decade since he departed our world but like other people I have lost over the years he is always close by, triggered by a song, a taste, a feeling, or a picture or through a conversation. I know that finding a penny is considered lucky by most but when I find a penny or any other coin it is always a message of encouragement from Mickey. You see we had the incredible fortune of spending precious time together when he was dying and within the enviable context where he was open enough to talk about the fact that he was dying. We had profoundly significant conversations about this life journey that would be his last in this world in this form. We spoke about many things. We discussed how he felt about being at this stage of his life at this time of his so young life. He spoke about what he was expecting his death to feel like and be like. We shared his fears as well as his curiosity and acceptance of death and my sadness but also acceptance about losing him. We agreed that I would take care of my love for his brother, for his family, my family and others. We agreed that he would stay in contact in whatever way he could to remind me of him but also my commitment. I need no reminder to remember him or my commitment but I always enjoy the moment when I do find my penny from Mickey, like this morning.

I learned an awful lot from accompanying Mickey as he approached his death but my focus today is on what I and others learned from reflection on how he led his life. This is where the quote comes in, so here it is:

“The world is made up of people who never quite get into the first team and

Who just miss the prizes at the flower show”

Jacob Bronowski (1908-1974)

As his grandmother called it, Mickey was “a grasshopper”. He jumped from one passion and commitment to another with ease and great frequency. He had trouble in school starting early on in the elementary years. No doubt he would have been labelled as ADHD or some other disorder of the day if he were in school at this time. In those days however, he was just seen as having trouble settling down, not interested in book learning. There seemed to be more patience to let him be restless both on the part of the school and from his family at home. That was who he was. His restlessness and inability to fit into the conformist model used by the school system transformed into the jumping that he did for the rest of his life.

I met him when he was in his early 30’s and he had been through and done more than most people would do in an entire lifetime. As my husband and I were at the beginning of our “careers”, starting a family and concerned with all the things that were expected to be part of the package we admittedly viewed Mickey’s apparent inability to settle down and keep a job longer than a couple of years with some disdain. We had accepted that he chose a very different lifestyle than most people and different than ours but we seemed to be waiting for him to figure it out and settle down.

From our perspective at that time and from the lens of society both then and now he was anything but a success. He was not on the first team and there was no way he would win the prize at the flower show.

Over the years that changed. It was not Mickey who changed but us. We began to appreciate his passion for the things that he did. The jobs he held, albeit each only held for a relatively short period of time, he did with more vigour and attentiveness than most. It did not matter the job be it night-watchman, dancer instructor for Arthur Murray and on cruise ships, superb salesman and then manager at an adult toy shop, animated travel agent, attentive shoe salesman and fashion expert working in retail, massage therapist, visual artist, playwright, actor, writer of a book on self-hypnosis on how to quit smoking and the piece de résistance was his stint as an employment counsellor. With all the jobs he held he was good at helping other people find employment. The point was he took every job he held very seriously and did as good a job as he could until he no longer wanted to be doing that activity and he jumped to the next gig.

Mickey also had countless ideas and schemes for things he could pursue either to make a living or to be of service to others, both equally important to him. His incredible natural creativity, lost on the school system, shone through his activities and his ideas. None of his ideas really amounted to much but he had a wonderful time thinking about and playing with each one. His enthusiasm for his countless jobs and for his many ideas was infectious; you could not help but believe that every one of his jobs was important; every one of his ideas would be a success.

Everywhere Mickey landed he met new friends many who became lifelong friends. Friends who were there when Mickey made it known that his lung cancer would be the end of him.  Many others emerged from his past or from other places in the world to one way or another take part in Mickey’s final life journey. In his final days he was surrounded by visitors and well-wishers who wanted a last chance to spend time with him. To be in the presence of a true friend who until the very end was genuinely interested and enthused about the lives of his friends and family.  All of his friends thanked him for making their lives that much better having had him in their lives. I was witness to many touching moments where friends and acquaintances of Mickey shared their gratitude with him before he died and was honoured to be part of the celebration of his life along with too many people for the venue. Several staff of the hospice centre where he had spent his last months attended the gathering and spoke about how blessed they felt to have had the opportunity to meet Mickey and be his friend no matter that for some it was only a matter of days.

As I said earlier, from our societal lens which focuses on success defined as winning and being on the first team he was anything but a success. Nevertheless his life lived as he lived it was better than winning the prizes at the flower show and although not on any societal “first teams” he was first and foremost for the many people he befriended and supported in one way or another over his short life.

That is the positive in my interpretation of the quote I have included here. That so many people in our world spend their days doing their very best to take care in what they do and to think of others is what makes the world go round. We are sometimes blinded by the societal pressures and the media’s focus on celebrity: the people on the first teams and those who have won the prizes at the flower show. Through that blindness we do not see the boundless acts of kindness and compassion that occur every second of every day by the people who make up the majority of the population. Further in our blindness we no longer see the value of our contribution, seen as small and inconsequential. Yet these are the moments, the actions that make the difference for most of us. If we could only open our eyes and acknowledge the significance of all the people who never quite get into the first team and who just miss the prizes at the flower show I believe we could shift the world towards a more peaceful place.

Irene McDermott © 2012