Thoughts by Richard Bleil
The storm brought down our oak tree. It stood proud and tall for probably a hundred years, but just couldn’t stand up to the straight-line tornado winds. The willow, on the other hand, survived just fine. The seemingly flimsy tree had the flexibility to survive.
Flexibility is often seen as a weakness. In fact, it’s often the flexible that is surprisingly strong. I think about a movie I saw where a fort under siege was about to fall. The attacking army was focusing on the brittle stone wall, which stood a barrage of blows long enough for the defenders to build a flexible wall of wood and sand behind it. The stones eventually gave way, but the wood and sand stood.
We take hits every day. People insult us, let us down, besmirch our character, steal our energy from us. Those who stand proud like walls of stone eventually wear down, but those with the flexibility to take it will be the ones who win the day.
In my youth, I came home one day very upset. I was in elementary school when I entered the house crying. My mother, in her usual calm manner, didn’t offer me solace. She simply asked me what was wrong. “Some kid called me…” (I forget the exact insult). “Well, are you one?” mom asked cooly. “NO!” I retorted. “So why do you care what they say about you?” No hug, no comfort, and yet, at the same time, a nugget of wisdom I carry to this day.
I reflect this in my style. I’ve been trying to dress with a bit more flare than I have in the past, and do not shy away from bright colors that some might associate with lifestyles that are absolutely valid and respectful, but that I don’t share. I realize that there are those who may question the kind of person that I am as I wear these clothes, but the reality is that this is their problem, not mine. I may not live in that alternate lifestyle, but I’m not so rigid in needing everyone to know of my orientation that I’m offended by somebody who thinks otherwise, and I certainly do enjoy the periodic opportunity to mess with the mind of others who are offended by their belief in who I am.
Things happen. My work history is very diverse and unusual, all because of my flexibility. I had a guaranteed job for life as a professor, but a dean that had set her sites to get rid of me with the backing of the vice president. With tenure, there wasn’t much they could do. Just for reference, the few times tenured professors have been dismissed, more often than not the professor would sue the institution and win enormous settlements, but the administration had found my inflexible spot. They turned against my wife, a student at the institution, refusing to let her take classes because of our marriage (which I’m not sure was legal). It would have forced her to commute an hour to the next nearby state university, something that she really couldn’t do because of her children. I was inflexible. I wouldn’t let them interfere with her education, so I voluntarily resigned. I was inflexible and lost the job.
On the flip side, my flexibility lead me around the Midwest, to jobs as an industrial water chemist, the director of a forensic science lab, and a dean, each hundreds of miles away from the previous. Today, I work at the ticket booth at a drive-in theater. And, yes, the thing I feared did happen.
Not long ago (well, I haven’t been there very long, so it had to be recently) two of our customers drove in and stopped, as of course they had to, at the ticket booth. Inside were two giddy young college women, who asked “do you recognize us?” They were from my most recent, and last, college where I will ever teach, who knew me as “Dr. Bleil”, chemistry (adjunct) professor, now taking money for tickets. I wasn’t sure how I would respond when somebody from the college recognized me.
I just smiled. “They didn’t like me there,” was the only thing I said. They were polite, didn’t try to give me a hard time or laugh at me, but drove into the theater to claim their spot in the field. I guess, waiting for the movie to begin, they could have texted all of their friends, and there’s a good chance that they had their laugh at my expense. But damn do I enjoy that job. So who really has the last laugh?
hat job. So who really has the last laugh?