November 09, 2006

My Cousin Edithe

My cousin Edithe died a few weeks ago. (Yes, Edithe with two E's. Old skool. That's how we do it in my family - that's the way we roll.)

You don't have to send your's OK. The truth is, I didn't really know her. And when I say that I didn't really know her, I don't mean that she was overly introverted or insensitive to her relatives. I mean that I honestly didn't know who the hell she was. In fact, I didn't even know she was my cousin until her obituary appeared in the New York Times this past week. My father saw it and sent me an e-mail telling me she was my cousin.

I harumphed. I thought that was the best response I could elicit.

A feeling of excitement in discovering she was my cousin seemed a bit too insensitive considering the situation, what with her demise and all. On the other hand, indifference didn't seem quite appropriate either. After all, she is family and she did die. A good solid harumph seemed like an equitable middle ground: acknowledging while not being disrespectful, interested while not being contemptuous.

Edithe apparently had a big impact on the world. If one were to believe the New York Times, she had a great influence on the bedside manner and professional attitude of today's physicians and she changed the way doctors are licensed.

I'm going to guess that the last two doctors I went to for my annual physicals weren't big fans of my good cousin Edithe. They were misanthropic misdiagnosing twits with the bedside manners of an ADD sloth. I stopped going to each of them after one visit. My current doctor, on the other hand, is clearly respectful of my good ole cuz Edithe. He is very friendly, insightful, courteous and caring. He's been my doctor for about 8 years now.

Which leads me to the Shell gas station. (This is going to make a lot of sense in a few seconds. Stick with it, wouldya.)

This past Saturday, after Catherine and I finished our swim clinic we headed out to have a nice weekend dinner. With the gas tank a wee bit parched, we had to make a quick pitstop at the Shell station on the way to dinner. I pulled into the very crowded station to see that only one pump was currently available. I drove in front of the pump only to remember that my tank was on the other side of the car. Needless to say, I pulled the car out and turned it around. As I was backing the car into the pump area, a big white SUV pulled up behind me out of nowhere and jammed it's front end into the pump zone, not letting me back up. What the FUCK?!

I waited for him to move back because - clearly - I was already here and just turning the car around. Instead of moving back, he jammed his car forward like he was going to ram me out of the way. I couldn't believe this. I was ready to have a nice quiet evening with my woman, and here's a guy that's clearly got a jalapeno stuck up his ass and it's boiling his brain. I sat there in shock wondering if this guy was real while Catherine stuck her head out the window and looked quizzically at the seemingly insane gentleman.

I realized that I had two options. Option One was to get out of the car and start yelling and screaming at this guy, thereby raising my blood-pressure, boiling my anger and potentially ruining my evening, just so that I can use the pump before him. Option Two was to stay calm and drive the 50 feet across the street and get gas at the empty Chevron station (gas prices were the same at both locations). Life is too short for Option One, I told myself, and moved the car over to the Chevron.

I had a lovely night and didn't think about the self-consumed idiot in the SUV again until right now, reflecting on the sad and sudden demise of my dearly beloved cousin Edithe.

Edithe made rules for doctor's to obey so that only the best, most honest and most qualified were licensed to practice. Seems like a good thing for society. In fact, call me crazy, but shouldn't we all strive to be the best, most honest person we can be?

The sad reality is that we are all human, some with much kinder temperments than others. Rules help keep the bad people in line. But in a so-called free society such as ours, we don't make rules to ensure that we are nice to each other in everyday life, aside from the basic stuff like, you know, no shooting each other in the face. Being nice in regular life is not goverened, it has to happen organically. Unfortunately, too many times people go out of their way to be mean, just like my rambunctions, ingrate of a friend at the Shell station.

This thought process leads us directly to triathlon and one of the great things I have found in the sport. As we all know, triathlon is more than just a race, it is oftentimes a caring and supportive community. I've spent a bit of time this week reading all of the race reports from Ironman Florida and the numerous comments attached to each persons blog. The reports and comments are the same, jam-packed with camaraderie, fraternization, encouragement and enthusiasm. Even those that didn't make it to the finish line are still hopeful, contemplative and accepting of the gracious support being rained down on them.

We are a competitive group, us crazy triathletes. Yet somehow most of us manage to look beyond our competitive selfishness and provide support for our fellow athletes, especially the ones in need. I'd like to say that we're a model for other athletes, but we're not. If you're not involved in triathlon, you don't really get to see the community. Unless you participate in a race or spectate an Ironman, you don't know what it's like on the course. You would just think that we are masochistic fools.

So maybe we consider this whole kindness, camaraderie schtick as our little secret. We are secretly friendly, supportive and encouraging of other people. And maybe if we took that positive attitude and transposed it into our regular lives, perhaps that would make our little world a wee bit better and less stressful place. And maybe we wouldn't cut in front of each other at the Shell gas station.

It's not necessarily about changing the entire world, it's about changing our own individual attitudes when all the chemicals in our body drive us to strangle somebody. When everything in our power wants to ram the car in reverse and smash into the white SUV, we need to select Option Two.

I suppose if there's an important life lesson in triathlon, that might be it.
I only wish Edithe were here to see it all.


Jill said...

Well said. I wish I could elect option 2 all of the time, but sadly I know I choose option 1 way to often!

jbmmommy said...

Especially since I have young boys I try to set a good example and pick option #2. I wish I could say I'm always successful, but I'm not. Although when driving I always pick option #2 since not everyone follows that rule about not shooting other people, either.

Nicely stated, your cousin would be proud.

MJ said...

I guess we will all have to deal with the "white SUVs" in life. I, too, wish I could elect option 2 more often, but you know there's also a feeling of sticking up for myself that sometimes stops me from being calm. Why do people think they are more important than anyone else? You know these people, they're the ones on the expressway that fly by you on the left only to cut sharply into your lane as you get on an exit ramp. Apparently, they are too important to wait in the same line of traffic.

As both a participant in and volunteer at various triathlons, the camradarie is there and very strong if you only look for it.

Nice post.

triteacher said...

So true. I'm glad I stumbled upon your blog. I've been nursing my own Shell gas station type grudge (I too chose option 2) and it makes me feel glad to not be the only sucker out there.