On “Turbulence,” “Accents” and “Ifs”!

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I’m amused by life in today’s “whining America,” the land of the “woe is me.” I mean after hearing account after account of the devastation of lives in war-torn Ukraine, poverty-stricken Haiti and the pain and suffering by families who lost loved ones to COVID-19, and mass shootings in gun crazy America, one would think that we’d not sweat the everyday annoyances and small stuff. Obviously not. 

Which brings me to a flight, a big city mayor and a novelist. First the flight.

During our recent five-hour flight from Georgia to California, the first three hours were as smooth as ever. It was about then that we encountered 45 seconds of bumpy turbulence. So, does 45 seconds of turbulence during a five-hour 18,000 second flight across country make that a bad flight? Deliberate on that thought for now. 

Which brings me to that big city mayor.

“If you place the accent on the wrong letter, you’re going to mispronounce the word,” advised New York City mayor Eric Adams in an interview with columnist Maureen Dowd. “If you place the accent on the wrong moment in your life, you’re going to mispronounce your life. Place it on how many times you got on the train, and nothing happened to you. Nothing eventful. That’s where the accent should go, not ‘Hey, this is my 900th ride and you know what, I saw a homeless person today. Oh my God, things are out of control. They’re not!” 

Just curious gentle reader; if I apply Adam’s logic and place the accent on that 45 second of turbulence, do I “mispronounce” the 18,000 seconds of smoothness during the entire flight? Hold that thought as I pose than answer my own questions.

If I sometimes err with an improper use of a past participle or irregular verb (or a comma splice in this piece you’re now reading) does that make me bad writer? I sure hope not.

If I unleash an occasional “OMIF” (Open Mouth, Insert Foot) comment and offend someone, as I’m sometimes prone to do, does that make me a bone-headed troglodyte? Please, please don’t say yes.

If I showed up as a brick throwing fool during last year’s insurrection at the nation’s Capitol, does that make me an idiot? (Oops, strike that. Next question please). 

If I had a one-time bad experience in a restaurant I’ve eaten in for years, say my French Fries were cold or the service was slow because of a staff shortage, does that warrant my avoiding that restaurant in the future and nailing it with a bad rating in social media? It shouldn’t.

Which brings us to the turbulent times of today; violence and turbulence in our communities, our nation, our world and in our political and economic systems, a world with too many short fuses, too much flying off the handle at the slightest inconvenience, where cutting someone some slack is the exception and not the norm. 

Which brings us to the journalist.

Rudyard Kipling was an English journalist, poet, and novelist. He wrote the following poem, “If,” in 1895 as advice to his son encouraging him to move through life with composure, self-control, integrity, and humility. Please think about the turbulent times we live in today and your life as you read each lyric: 

IF, by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
   Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
   But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
   Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,
   And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
   If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
   And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
   Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
   And stoop and build ’em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
   And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
   And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
   To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
   Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
   Or walk with kings—nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
   If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run—
   Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son

In closing, I remember my late dad telling me one lazy summer afternoon while we sat on our back porch, “son, the biggest word in the English language is the word “if.” 

Humm, let that sink in for a moment!

© TerryHoward is an award-winning writer and storyteller. He is also a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The American Diversity Report, The Douglas County Sentinel, Blackmarket.com, co-founder of the “26 Tiny Paint Brushes” writers’ guild, recipient of the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Award and 3rd place winner of the 2022 Georgia Press Award. He can be reached at wwhoward3@gmail.com