The invisible crown

Despite the cartoon, today’s post is a bit of bait-and-switch. It isn’t about ham radio. Instead, it’s about Thanksgiving.

Below is a column I wrote a few years back during my previous life as a small-town newspaper editor. It wasn’t written as a Thanksgiving column per se, but it certainly works as one. If this essay speaks to you, feel free to share it — and Happy Thanksgiving.

This column originally appeared in The News Observer, Blue Ridge, Georgia, on Aug. 24, 2016.

 

“Health is a crown on a well person’s head than only an ill person can see.” — a really old saying

This morning I woke up with the usual aches and pains. It feels odd to say that, because until relatively recently they weren’t all that usual.

When I was in my teens and 20s, I could move non-stop, and I did. In college, if a paper was due the next day, I could stay up overnight and write it; all I needed was sufficient caffeine and a typewriter. I worked third shift for a time, and I didn’t miss a beat. And while I’ve never been much of an athlete, physical activities were a breeze: I could mow any lawn, no matter how big the yard, no matter how hot the heat. I was a regular Master of the Universe.

People older and wiser would occasionally caution me to take better care of myself. One of my first bosses told me about how he was so much into his career at first that he thought he could live off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. That strategy didn’t last for long. He eventually made himself sick before he wised up and ate better.

But did I pay attention? Not really. I though people older than me who moved slower were, well, just slower.

When you’re young, you think you’re bulletproof. You take your health for granted.

The first obvious clue that maybe I wasn’t bulletproof came in my 40s with a storyboard deadline that required I work 36 hours straight to beat it. It’s not unusual in many businesses for the last workers in the food chain to make up for time lost by those above them, but in video production the challenge is especially acute.

I did hit the deadline, but I’m sure I looked like a zombie when I turned in the boards. Ten years earlier, I could have recovered from something like that in maybe a day. That time, it took me a week to feel normal again.

Age 50 seemed to be the magic number, the line of demarcation. Heavy objects were a lot harder to hoist without feeling it later in my back or knees. Hypertension — the medical term for high blood pressure — reared its head. And mowing the lawn in hot weather without a break? Those lawns seemed to get bigger, and the breaks became more frequent.

None of this is uncommon among people my age, of course, but because every malady these days has to have a name so insurance companies will cover them, I jokingly call mine OLD Syndrome. The real “syndrome,” though, may just be my human nature. I took for granted a blessing I had — the health of youth — and noticed it only when it started to slip away. That crown on my head was invisible to me until I started to lose it.

That made me wonder about other good fortune, blessings, whatever you want to call them, I have that I take for granted, things that I didn’t earn but, honestly, just lucked into.

I grew up in a middle-class family where Dad was never unemployed and I never went wanting for anything I needed. I received a solid education every step of the way, first in Catholic schools and then at the University of Georgia. I was born with skills that I never asked for, that I did nothing to earn. I may have worked hard to sharpen what I had, but the skills themselves were luck of the genetic draw. And would I have had the time or energy to sharpen those skills without the advantages that a stable home, a good education and enough money in the bank provided? Perhaps not.

The truth is, I’ve been really blessed. The less flattering truth is that I’ve often taken my blessings for granted and assumed that I earned every success I’ve had solely through the sweat of my brow. And the ugliest truth of all? Sometimes, in my worst moments, I assume that if someone hasn’t worked as hard as I have, they deserve to be stuck in the hole where they reside because they haven’t worked as hard as I have.

That’s not always true.

Most days, I try to count my blessings. When I do, that invisible crown is a lot easier to see when I look in the mirror.

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Meet Hamlet

Hamlet ham radio comic strip for Jan. 2017Meet Hamlet. He’s a small ham.

I’ve long wanted to create a ham-radio comic strip but for years couldn’t find a hook. After all, there’s nothing intrinsically funny about electronics. Electronics do what they do.

But people? That’s another story.

Over the years I’ve found some of the funniest stuff in the culture of ham-radio clubs. Why? People run them — and people are funny.

I’ve been carrying the Hamlet character around in my back pocket for the last few decades. Originally created for a radio textbook that I ended up not being able to illustrate because of scheduling problems, Hamlet has been waiting for the right outlet. I hope this strip is it.

If you like what you see — if it makes you laugh because it looks like your club — drop me a line and let me know. There are more where this came from.

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