Friday, August 27, 2010

My Favorite Benjamin Story

Two weeks ago, my grandfather Benjamin Rhodes passed away.  It was very unexpected on my end, but it sounds like he was ready and it was something he wanted. 

I'd like to share one of the funniest, and possibly favorite, stories of our time together.

After Beth and I became engaged in August of 2006, we had a Christmas-themed engagement party in December.  We invited family and friends to the event that was held at Beth's parents' house.  Many relatives came, including Benjamin.

All throughout the night, Benjamin kept asking when we would play Spin-The-Bottle.  We knew it was a joke, and laughed about it, but we had no idea what kind of foreshadowing this would be.

We played a few games during the night, all of which Benjamin refrained from playing along-- he said he wanted to wait until we played Spin-The-Bottle.  I continued to laugh at this, completely thinking he was joking.  But it was getting a little strange.

Towards the end of the night, we were all sitting in the dining room as a group.  We were talking and swapping stories, just having a good time.  I went into the kitchen where Benjamin was getting something to drink.  He stopped me to talk.

"Tim.  That Aunt Lucy..... sure is something."

Lucy, Beth's Aunt, was at the party.  And apparently Benjamin, through the course of the three hour or so night, had become fond of her.

"Do you think she would play Spin-The-Bottle with me?"

I know what I should have said.  I should have said.  "Don't even think about it.  That's crazy."

But I really wanted to see this-- whatever it was-- play out.

So I told him.  "She might.  But don't phrase it 'Will you play Spin-The-Bottle with ME.' Make it sound like more people are involved.  She might agree if she knows others are playing as well."

I went back in to the dining room and sat down, (unintentionally) beside Lucy, and resumed conversations.  A few minutes later Benjamin walked in.  Noticing Lucy beside me, and really wanting to see Benjamin talk to her, I jump up.  "How rude of me Benjamin!  Here, have my seat."

He sits down beside her, and kind of gives me a little wink.  It's like I'm his wingman.

And Benjamin does not waste any time.  And, he didn't take any of my advice:  "Lucy, would you play Spin-The-Bottle with me?"

Everything got silent.  People stopped talking out of shock.  But I have a theory that they were also interested in seeing this conversation play out too.  Like a car-wreck, or an episode of Jersey Shore, you can't help but watch the disaster through winced eyes.

Lucy, clearly in shock, stammered, not knowing what to say.  "Uh......, I don't think I want to play that game."

This didn't faze Benjamin.  "Well, we don't have to play; we can just kiss."

Lucy was still shocked, if not moreso, but tried to play it off with a joke.  "Well..... it's been so long since anyone's asked me to do that.  I wouldn't know what to do."

"I'll show you."

That's when everyone lost it.  And Benjamin, unfortunately, got no further than that.  But I did find out that he called Beth's mom many times over the course of the next month, asking for Lucy's phone number.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

It Takes a Village

During our retreat to Saint Petersburg, Beth's brother Brandon came for a week or so to visit.  While we only had a few days in St. Pete, we still tried to show him as many sights as possible before making our way back to Moscow.

One of those places was the beautiful Saint Isaac's Cathedral.  Because there was a significant admission fee and Beth and I had already visited the church a few times, I decided to stay outside with Liam.  Beth had fed him recently, and he had slept a while, so we felt like it was a perfect opportunity to leave him with me.  He was in a good mood, and we figured Beth and Brandon would only be about 30 minutes.  Everything would be fine.

We were wrong.

I walked Liam across the street to a park, and everything seemed very normal.  Liam was in a content mood, and I decided to sit on a bench and park the stroller beside me.  For some unknown reason (or a probably very easily known reason; babies are relatively simple to figure out), the instant I sat down, everything changed.  Liam began crying-- one of his exceptionally loud, yelling cries.  I proceeded to go through my Stop-Liam-From-Crying toolbox.  I picked him up.  Nothing.  I turned him around to have him face in front of me.  Nothing.  I turned on music.  Nothing.  Nothing.  Nothing.

Literally nothing I did calmed him down.  I didn't know what to do.  I was (and am) still in that self-conscious stage where I fear everyone around me is judging me for having a crying baby. 

After about a minute, I was bombarded.  An Orthodox woman sitting on a nearby bench ran over and kept crossing herself and saying a little prayer for Liam. Then the nearby porta-potty attendant (only those who live in Russia will understand this amazing profession)  ran over to try to help.  At the same time, another woman selling souvenirs quickly put out her cigarette and ran over as well.   Another woman just remained on the bench nearby, but did manage to shout a command here and there.

All these women tried their hardest to help quiet Liam.  To my surprise and relief, not one woman approached me in harsh or judgmental way, and all wanted to help and support me in my mission to get Liam to stop crying.  The questions came at me:

Do you have a pacifier?
Is he hungry?
Is he cold?
Does he need to eat?
Does he have a stomachache?
Does he have a hat?
Where is his mother?
Do you need to call her?

As the women passed Liam amongst themselves, I managed to quickly text Beth: "Hurry."

As I waited for Beth, and as Liam wailed at the top of his lungs, I tried to explain myself.  I would say things like:

"He was happy just a few minutes ago."


"This is my first child."

Anything to make it seem like I'm not actually a horrible parent and Liam is either crying because of something that is out of my control or something I don't know about.

Finally Beth came.  And the women rejoiced.

After Beth finished feeding Liam, we left the park.  But not before going by every woman that helped us to show off a happy child.  Our way of saying, "Look, he doesn't cry like that all the time.  He really can be quite pleasant."

Saturday, August 14, 2010

[Stephen Colbert is the Real Deal]

I love Stephen Colbert.  I've always been a fan and impressed with his show on Comedy Central (and even before when he worked on The Daily Show), but for I started paying much more attention to him last year in June.

In June of 2009, Colbert took his show to Iraq for the troops.  It was obvious in everything he did that he was performing for those troops in front of him.  It didn't matter that his performance was being televised and aired all over America-- you could tell he was willing to do anything for the audience.

And then he shaved his head.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Stephen Gets His Hair Cut
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This was one of those moments, as silly as it sounds, where I realized that Colbert really truly cared about those watching him.

And that's not the only reason why I am a fan.  I love this guy-- not just because he's hilarious, not just because he's a Sunday school teacher, not just because he got his hair shaved on T.V. Not just because although he plays an arch-conservative character for satire, he's really more complicated than that.

Part of it has to do with this interview clip:

Did you ever go through a period where you lost your faith?
Yeah.  It was a college angst thing.  But once I graduated from college, some Gideon literally gave me a box of The New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs on the street in Chicago.  I took one and opened it right away to Matthew chapter 5, which is the opening of the Sermon on the Mount.  The whole chapter is essentially about not worrying.  I didn't read it--it spoke to me, and it was an effortless absorption of the idea.  Nothing came to me in a thunderbolt, but I thought to myself, "I'd be dumb not to re-examine this."
What caused you to go through that dark period?
Well, I had very sad events in my childhood.  The death of my father and my brothers [his father and two brothers died in a plane accident] was an understandably a shattering experience that I hadn't really dealt with in any way.  And there comes a time when you're psychologically able to do so.  I still don't like talking about it.  It still is too fresh.
Do you think experiencing that has helped what you do in any way?  Or made it more of a challenge?
Not to get too deep here, but the most valuable thing I can think of is to be grateful for suffering.  That is a sublime feeling, and completely and inexplicable and illogical, but no one doesn't suffer.  So the degree to which you can be aware of your own humanity is the degree to which you can accept, with open eyes, your suffering.  To be grateful for your suffering is to be grateful for your humanity, because what else are you going to do -- say, "No, thanks?"  It's there.  "Smile and accept," said Mother Teresa.  And she was talking to people who had it rough.  That's not how you make jokes, though.

Not only is Colbert an incredible comedian, but he genuinely cares about the issues and problems facing the United States and the rest of the world.  In his position I feel like he gets a free pass to say almost anything he wants.  And he does.  But all while still being optimistic and light-hearted.  I feel like his authoritarian character makes it easier for him to topple authority and level the playing field.

And who else can say "I TEACH Sunday School, motherf***er!"?


The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Philip Zimbardo
Colbert Report Full Episodes2010 ElectionFox News

**Disclaimer** -- There a lot of people that I look up to or inspire me, and I'm not quite sure why I chose Colbert. I think he's just been on my mind a lot lately. He and Stewart are really how I get my news while living in Moscow. And he's one of the few people where I consistently laugh out loud all the time.  I guess I'm really saying this because I'm afraid people will read this and think "really??  You couldn't think of anyone better??"