Michael Torrey- A Birthday Wish
I turned 52 this week. This birthday was different. 50 was depressing. This birthday had a nonchalant feeling. I knew it was my birthday but there really wasn’t any emotion attached, good or bad. I now understand when “older” folks talk about birthdays running together. But as you get older you are once again celebrated perhaps as a victory of being blessed with one more year.
For me, even for a boring birthday like 52, I did what I do each birthday, I reflect on life and the previous year, my place in the world, and ask myself am I on the right track? Am I good father, husband, employer? I think about my health and my family and my future and the year ahead. This year as I was spending some time reflecting, one word kept springing forth, one word, kindergarten.
Remember kindergarten? Do you recall your kindergarten teacher’s name? If I had to guess, we all do.
At 52, I am the father of a 6-year-old in kindergarten. Every 50+ year-old should have to attend a kindergarten class for a day just to remind us all of the age of innocence. The age when children don’t walk, they skip and run and look at the world as exciting, interesting and fun. They are learning how to read and count and draw and play tic-tac-toe. They are reminded to do things like say please, thank you, to share, and be nice. Remember?
This innocence was driven home over the Thanksgiving break when our daughter went to see the new Peanuts movie. When I asked her if she liked the movie, she told me no because Lucy was mean to Charlie Brown.
As I was reflecting on kindergarten, my mind drifted back to my very first day on the job in Washington, DC. It was April of 1990 and I had just started working for former Senator Nancy Landon Kassebaum. The office manager was showing me around the Russell Senate Office Building and as we were walking down the corridor, she told me “You need to read the book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, follow what it says and you will do very well in this town.”
I re-read the book this past weekend. It includes a list of 16 basic rules to live by and these rules are all encompassing no matter your age or job.
1. Share everything.
2. Play fair.
3. Don’t hit people.
4. Put things back where you found them.
5. Clean up your own mess.
6. Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
7. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
8. Wash your hands before you eat.
10. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
11. Live a balanced life – learn some and drink some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
12. Take a nap every afternoon.
13. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
14. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Stryrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
15. Goldfish and hamster and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.
16. And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – Look.
Now I’ve been in DC for 25 years, 22 more years than I intended to be here. When I speak to audiences or visit with friends I’m always asked, when did things get so bad in DC? So uncivil? There are lots of opinions and I of course have mine. I will save those for another day.
But on this week for my birthday, may I ask all of you to do one thing today to celebrate my boring day? For a moment….act like you are still in kindergarten.