THANKS, NOW LEAVE – Rich Paschall

Not Welcome Anymore, by Rich Paschall

Roger was a busy guy.  In recent months he absolutely could not find time to fit one more thing into his schedule.  The local pastor, Jared, was even busier and usually kept to a tight schedule.  His time was parceled out like the hosts he distributed on Sunday.  So it was a bit of a surprise when he dropped an email on Roger asking to meet.  “Perhaps we can get together for coffee on Thursday afternoon or Saturday morning,” the message read.  Roger picked Saturday.

When Roger turned 60 he had promised himself there would be no more big projects.  He felt he was done with community organizing, large social events, and big family gatherings.  “All the work should be done by someone else,” he thought.  But then there always seemed to be another great idea and that meant “one last hurrah.”

When a long time and dedicated school worker was to be honored, many alumni were thrilled at the idea.  In fact, they wanted to put on a special tribute and all got together to discuss the matter.  Soon after Roger was handing the proposed event to the pastor, who seemed a bit skeptical at first, but eventually supported the plan.

It's really a one way street.
It’s really a one way street.

The pastor was young and ambitious, as pastors go.  He seemed to like everyone and at first, everyone liked him.  He wanted to make an impact on the parish and if you could help him with that, he was your friend.  Soon he saw Roger and Roger’s friends as a path to increased alumni involvement and successful events.  He did not help organize in any way, but he did not hinder the progress.  For the alumni, it seemed like a great thing.  The pastor was letting them do their tribute the way they believed was appropriate.

On the other hand, the pastor’s staff was not a bit enthusiastic.  The school administration was already overburdened with projects and fund-raisers.  The grade school principal was also running the high school, or neglecting it, depending on where you heard it.  Teamwork was only something written on the gymnasium wall.  It was not practiced by those who loved to point it out.  They wanted to run the upcoming honor as a small event as they had done for others in the past.  They were not happy to share the event with “outsiders,” that is, former students.

The alumni crew worked diligently.  They looked for every way to promote the big event and make it a success.  They had been warned not to count on the school administration to do their part, but they trusted them to do what they said they would do.  When the administration looked overwhelmed at a request, the alumni chairmen would advise, “Just say no if it is too much.” Unfortunately, they were already in the habit of promising what they could not deliver.

When the big event was held, the school’s part was chaotic and ran behind schedule.  The alumni tribute was forced to start late, but went well and was loved by those in attendance.  In fact, it was the most well attended alumni event held in decades.  It would certainly be the last to draw a crowd.

When the reverend contacted Roger in the week that followed the celebration, Roger knew what the topic of conversation would be.  Since they had been friends from before the time Jared came back to be pastor, Roger thought they would have a meaningful conversation.

On the day of their coffee talk, it was cold and damp, rather like the expression on the pastor’s face.  He only put on a smile when a parishioner recognized him in the small coffee shop and came over to say “hello.” Roger and Jared sat in two large chairs with a small table in between.  Jared started.

“I was rather disappointed in the event last Saturday.  It did not go as planned,” Jared said with a bit of a scowl.  “I do not like things like that in my parish.”

Roger tried to explain what happened and how it happened and why it happened the way that it did.  Jared was not interested.  His purpose seemed to be to place blame and absolve his staff of any wrong doing.  “I hold you personally responsible because you brought the plan to me.  I do not care about co-chairmen or committee members or school administrators.  I blame you.”

It would be an understatement to say that Roger was in a state of bewilderment for almost an hour as the former friend declared that Roger was not to be involved in running any more events, in fact, “You are not welcome at any school events.  I will not tolerate anything that might embarrass me in the slightest way.”  Roger was not sure how anything that did not go quite right could embarrass someone who had no hand in running the event.

Cold, grey day

When Jared was done with his coffee, he advised Roger he could still come to services on Sunday.  Roger thought, “And I am still welcome to give to the collection,” but he did not say it out loud. He watched Jared walk out into the cold, grey day which was a perfect match for his attitude.

Roger only went back to the church one more time.  He came on Christmas to read as previously scheduled.  He wished his fellow readers, and friends well but said nothing about moving on.

A former classmate told Roger that her brother had decided to go to a different parish.  “The pastor there is warm and welcoming.  It’s something they forgot here.”  Roger smiled and nodded, but said nothing.  He left the church and walked out into the pleasant Christmas weather.  He thought of the irony of the assistant who invited him to come back home to the church 15 years earlier and the pastor who invited him to leave, since they were the same person.

LEADERSHIP – Rich Paschall

What makes a good Leader?
by Rich Paschall

With the election cycle starting up AGAIN, and the seemingly endless Presidential debates we will now endure, it is fair to ask what makes a good Leader.  What traits do we expect a Leader to have?  What do we admire in our leaders?  What qualities do we want to avoid in our leaders?  What generates our respect and our willingness to follow?

Your Vote Counts

It is not enough to say that our leaders should “lead.”  What does that mean exactly?  In a certain sense they all want to lead, but where are they trying to take us?  What message is their leadership style sending?  Are they willing to lead us in a good way?

It is also not enough to say that they should “inspire.”  What does that mean as well?  If they inspire you, I guess you would, of course, want to follow.  Not all inspiration is filled with positive messages or moves in the right direction.  Will we know a good leader when one comes along?

Perhaps at the top of my list would be “trustworthy.”  Can we trust someone to do a good job?  Will they always look out for the best interests of the nation, the community, the local parish or whatever group they are asked to lead?  This trait speaks to the virtue of honesty.  If we trust someone, then we must believe deep down that they are honest.  They will not steal or take advantage of their position.  They will not use their position of authority to enrich themselves at the expense of others.  Do you trust your leaders?

A good leader must also be a “problem solver.”  Every organization will have its challenges along the way and the solutions are not necessarily apparent. This is where a good problem solver is important.

problem solving dogsIt is not that the leader needs to solve the problem himself or herself, it is that they must know the best way to get to the answers that are being sought.  In this regard, leadership might be stepping aside to let someone else handle an issue.

To lead a person must also be self-confident.  In this manner some may come across as cocky or arrogant, which could indeed be the case.  However, one who lacks confidence in what he does can never be a good leader. Indecision will creep in as the dominant trait. Then the leader will find himself following others, falling prey to advice that may not be in the best interests of all.

Which way is your Leader going?
Which way is your Leader going?

Passion is important for those at the top of an organization. I have often seen it at the local level where leaders either do not feel passionate about what they do, or have lost that passion as the years wore on.

Just because you are a good leader in one decade, doesn’t mean that you will be a good leader in the next. Our diocese has a habit of moving successful pastors from one location to another, but success in one place doesn’t mean success at another.  Sometimes a problem arises when the so-called leader does not share the same passion for the next assignment as he did for the previous one.

Leaders must be resilient. They must have the ability to “roll with the punches,” as the saying goes. Some do not take real or perceived criticism well. Their downside begins to show when their side of things indeed seems to be down.

One thing for sure — a leader will face criticism. Not all will agree with everything that is said or done. It’s inevitable. A new leader may enjoy a “honeymoon” period of no criticism, but it won’t last. If you’re President of the United States, for example, you need to know how to deal with criticism.

politicususa.com

A leader needs vision. He or she must have a clear idea of what it is they should do and how they’ll get there. Again, this doesn’t mean the leader has to do it all.  A leader with vision will inspire others to work hard to help a vision become reality. If your vision doesn’t inspire others, you may need to rethink it.

A leader must effectively manage others, especially subordinates in the work place.  This means training, coaching, guiding and building up the resources of the organization, town, state, or country through hard work and careful planning.  “My way or the Highway” is not an effective leadership style, although I have seen some try to use it on the local level.  It is not what any organization needs, and in fact tends to drive away good people.

business2community.com

Problems should be seen as fixable, not something to avoid at all costs. Some so-called leaders would choose the path of least resistance. If they avoid something where there might be even the slight chance of failure or disappointment, they are not leading at all. This is like the “prevent defense” in football.  Sometimes that prevents you from winning.

A good leader also is a good listener. I’m sure you’ve heard “no one learns anything new when he’s talking.”  A leader knows when and how to listen.  A leader knows which questions to ask to get the information to understand the issues and seek the right course of action.

One time I sat down with a local pastor to discuss an event that he felt did not go well in every aspect.  At least I thought it was going to be a discussion. Instead it was an unpleasant hour listening to his negative point of view of certain aspects of the event. I’m not sure he listened to anything I said. He could just as well have had the conversation over coffee with himself.  I’m not sure why I bothered to talk at all.

Are your leaders listening?  Do they care what you think?  Will they serve your interests? When local and national elections come, what traits should your elected officials have?  As you join community organizations, what traits do you want to see in their leadership?

HARK! THE HAROLD CHRISTMAS RINGS – RICH PASCHALL

A SUNNY FLORIDA HOLIDAY, By RICH PASCHALL

It was the Sunday before Christmas and all through the house the only creature stirring was Harold, the well-organized man from the Midwest.

Harold had retired and moved to the beautiful, peaceful community on the gulf coast side of Florida. There he carried out his days according to the perfect retirement schedule. Every day had a purpose, and Harold executed the day as if he was the sole architect of the universe. Sometimes the universe cooperated.

72-St Pete_4

On this beautiful Sunday morning the Oracle of Organization marched to the front door to collect his newspaper as always. As he stepped out onto the small cement landing he called a porch, Harold discovered that the weather was already warm and delightful. The 7 am temperature already hit the mid 70s. Harold just knew the day would be everything he planned when he reached retirement and moved from a snowbound city to a place where he would never shovel snow again.

He took in the pleasant atmosphere for a moment before seeking the paper. “He missed the porch again,” Harold said to himself referring to the “paper boy,” who was actually a hard-working college student. He then went to the walkway to retrieve the local news and sports.  He did not mind this time as the weather was better than can be expected in late December, even for Florida.

When Harold finished his breakfast, his coffee and his local news, he was preparing himself for a thorough cleaning of the apartment that was already cleaner than anything you have ever seen. It was the Sultan of Sanitation’s normal Sunday routine and even a sunny day with a deep blue sky would not deter Harold from his appointed rounds about the apartment.

As he gathered up his cleaning supplies and retrieved the vacuum from its storage room, the phone began to ring. Harold was quite surprised as few people had his phone number and the device rarely rang. He could not imagine that marketers would disrupt a Sunday with their meaningless calls. “Perhaps it is Bill,” he thought. Bill only called on Mondays to make a joint venture to the supermarket, so the ringing was totally out of character for a Sunday. Reluctantly, Harold went to the phone.

“Hello?” Harold said as if asking a question.

“Hello, Harold, it’s George.”

“George?” Harold said, unsure of the voice at the other end.

“Yes, George. You know, your former colleague.”

With that clarification Harold could place the voice. When he was the chief mechanical engineer at a Midwest manufacturing plant, Harold worked with George. He had even run into him in St. Petersburg when he went to a baseball game. He could not imagine ever hearing from George again.

“Well, George, what can I do for you?” Harold replied in a rather business like way.

“Do for me?  Why, nothing Harold. Martha and I just thought we should call and wish you a Merry Christmas.”

“Really?” Harold said rather incredulously.

“Of course,” George said with a laugh. “We just wanted you to know we were thinking about you and want to wish you a Merry Christmas.”

“Well, uh, that’s so nice, George. Merry Christmas to you too.”

“Perhaps we will run into you again on our next trip to Florida. Take care, you lucky retired guy.”

“Thanks, I will” and at that George hung up. There had been no phone calls on Harold’s Sunday itinerary, but he was glad for this one.

As the week wore on, Harold wished a very Merry Christmas to the few people he encountered. On Monday, he wished his neighbor, Bill, and all the folks working at the supermarket a Merry Christmas.  The same happened Tuesday when he went into town.

On Wednesday, it was Christmas Eve. Harold saw no reason to vary his schedule and at the appointed hour, he headed out to the Wild West Restaurant and Sports Bar. He greeted everyone with a “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.” As usual, the crowd shouted out to Harold, but they were surprised when the normally reserved retiree from the North answered with robust greetings.

To add to the Christmas joy, Harold’s favorite waitress, Tiffany, was on hand to serve up the soup and sandwich special. “Harold, you are in a festive mood,” she told him when she came to take his order. Harold beamed as he had never done before.

When Harold was ready to leave, Tiffany rushed over and gave Harold a big hug. “Merry Christmas, Harold, it is so good to see you in such a joyous spirit.”

Harold did not know how to respond. He was unaccustomed to such a show of affection. He stood there with a rather embarrassed look as he tried to collect himself.

“Thanks,” Harold said sheepishly. “I am glad to be here on Christmas Eve.” At that he waved to the staff and they all shouted holiday greetings in return. Harold marched out of the restaurant and into the warm Christmas Eve afternoon with the biggest smile Harold had in many years.

For Harold, a short phone call from a former colleague just days before Christmas brightened his mood for the entire week and was the best gift he had received in many years.

HAROLD AND THE TINY WIZARD

A Library Lesson, Part 2, Richard Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

Imagine Harold, Master of Time Manipulation, Lord of the Library and Sultan of the Schedule, being knocked off course by a tiny Harry Potter wannabe, but there he was.  The assistant librarian left him standing in the middle of the Children’s Library with a pint-sized wizard-in-training, hoping to hear the exploits of a “real” boy wizard, Harry Potter.  Harold did not know how to handle the situation.

When Harold retired from his job as a mechanical engineer at a large Midwestern manufacturing facility, he foresaw days of peaceful plans with little interference from other humans.  People would be worked into the schedule as time allowed.  But his retirement proved difficult to control and plans were more like wishes than regular schedules.  Harold, however, was not easily dissuaded from keeping his schedule in tact.

“Can you read that story?” the little boy named after Harry Potter asked.

“Well, of course I can read it,” Harold answered.  “I am sure you can read it too.”  The little boy shook his head.  “A few of the words might be difficult, but the librarian or your parents can help you with those words.”  The boy shook his head again.

“I can’t read,” the boy said.  He looked at Harold with sad eyes that would have melted anyone without the strong constitution of the Midwest planner.

“I am sure a boy your size can read just fine,” Harold declared.  The little one shook his head some more.  “What is this word?” Harold said pointing to the word “Harry” on the cover of the book.

“Harry,” declared little Harry.

“And this word,” Harold said as he pointed toward “Potter.”

“Potter,” the tiny wizard said.

“See,” Harold said, “you can read. What about this big word?”  Harold pointed to “Sorcerer’s” and at that the little one started to cry.

“I don’t know,” Harry whimpered, leaving Harold with the most awkward feeling.

“Well it is nothing to cry about,” Harold tried to explain.  “The bigger words will come to you.” Harry shook his head.

“I know ‘Harry’ because it is my name and ‘Potter’ too, but the others make no sense.  They are all mixed up.”

“Mixed up?” Harold asked.

“Yes, it is because I am stupid,” Harry said.  “I have that thing and my mother says I am stupid.”

“What thing?” Harold wanted to know.

“I don’t know,” little Harry cried.  “Dish something!”

Harold had to think about this.  He was convinced a boy that age should be able to read, and he could not imagine what his problem might be.  My analytical mind went to work until he finally said to the boy, “Dyslexia?”

“I don’t know,” the boy shouted.  After a moment he added more quietly, “maybe.”

“I see,” Harold said, but he didn’t really see at all.  Harold had no experience with children and especially one with a special need.  So the two boys stared at one another waiting for the next comment.

Finally, Harry said, “My mother drops me here all the time and tells me to read until I get it, but I don’t get it.”  A tear rolled down Harry’s round little face.  If anything could be said of this moment in Harold’s life, it might be that Harold never felt so uncomfortable.  So Harold sat in the big chair, and Harry sat in the little chair of the underused Children’s library in the Florida town, both waiting to move on to the story of a real boy wizard.

“Well, little one, haven’t you seen the movie?”  Harold asked.  Harry nodded.

“Then you don’t need the book,” Harold said.

“But I want to know what the book says,” Harry insisted.

Children's Library LogoHarold stared at the boy a long time.  The little one had an angelic face and big eyes and a curious nature.  He could not read but  he wanted to know what was in books, and particularly “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”  Actually, they both wanted to know what was in the book, but Harold could not imagine starting over.  He had already completed the opening chapters and reading out loud was so…SLOW!  After considerable thought Harold finally said, “OK, I will read to you until it is time to leave, but that’s all I can do.  I don’t think we will get very far.”

“OK,” the boy agreed and waited for the story to begin.

“Chapter One,” Harold started, “The Boy Who Lived.”  From there Harold read on until his watch sounded an alarm at 5 minutes to five.  At that he closed the book and announced “It is time for me to go.”

“Ok,” the boy said.  “Can we finish tomorrow?”

“No,” Harold said.  “I have plans tomorrow and the book is too long to finish anyway.”

“The next day?” Harry asked.

“No,” Harold insisted.  “I will not be back before Tuesday.”

“Ok,” Harry agreed.

This set Harold into a bit of a panic, “I mean, I am not sure about that. Maybe someone else can read to you.  I am not a good reader.  I am sure that the woman who reads books will be back soon and she can read it.”  The boy just stared, so Harry went on.  “I am not sure of my schedule and I don’t know about reading, besides I am not good at reading out loud.”

With nothing but a staring face looking up at him, Harold finally said, “We’ll see.”  At that, he got up, patted the boy on the top of the head and left the room.  When he got to the front desk, he put the book down as if to turn it in.

“Are you done with this book?” the librarian asked.

“Maybe,” a befuddled Harold replied.  “I don’t know.”  He left the book, walked down the few stairs to the entrance and out into the Florida sun.

Related:  The “Harold stories” in order: “Soup and Sandwich,” “The Case With The Missing Egg,” “Come Monday, It Will Be Alright,” “A Tuesday Mystery,” “A Tuesday Fantasy With Harold,” “A Wild West Wednesday,” “A Library Lesson

A LIBRARY LESSON – RICH PASCHALL

A Reading from the Book of Harry Potter by Harold, an organized man

All morning it sat on the table calling to him in a fantastical sort of way and Harold did his best to ignore it. It wasn’t really “calling” of course, but Harold could not get “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” out of his mind. It was the library copy that kept stealing his attention and he was tempted to head out to the library a bit early to resume the tale. He knew leaving early was unacceptable to his schedule, so the story of the boy wizard would just have to wait until early afternoon.

He picked up the copy on Tuesday and after reading a little of the book, brought it home so he would have it for the next library day. Now that Thursday had come around, he could not help but feel a little anxious to resume what he had always considered a children’s book. Most of Harold’s library time had been dedicated to technical manuals and other works of non-fiction, but some impulse pushed Harold off course and now he was reading a fantasy. He hoped his library visit would only be filled with adventures of wizards found on the pages of the J.K. Rowling novel and nothing more.

When the appointed hour came and Harold was satisfied that everything was organized and properly put away, he grabbed the library book and headed for his car. Before he got in, he shot a quick glance down the street in search of his neighbor, Bill, another assassin of his time schedule. The street was absent of people as the Florida heat and humidity were on the rise.

Harold was fortunate to find a spot very close to the front entrance of the town library. He was pleased with his good fortune as he hurried through the heat and into the comfort of cool temperatures and rooms full of books. There were some empty tables and chairs as well as a few oversized comfortable chairs alongside small tables. Convinced he would be relaxed at one of the tables, Harold went and picked out a seat. Relaxed was not actually a term that fit Harold, nevertheless that is how he would see most of his choices.

His library card was acting as his bookmark and Harold found the next chapter, “The Journey From Platform Nine and Three-Quarters.” Everything he read up to this point must have been background material. Now he thought the real adventure was about to begin. He had barely read one page when he felt the presence of someone at the table, sitting directly across from him. He looked up to see who it might be, only to discover a small boy.

The boy smiled at Harold before our well-organized man and lord of the library realized it was the same boy who sat down by him just two days earlier. “I am trying to read, young man,” Harold said to the little one. The boy just nodded with a quizzical look attached to his face. “Well, do you mind?” Harold added and the boy just shook his head.

“Shhhhhhh!” The librarian rebuked Harold for talking. He was now left with nothing to say as the little boy stared at the picture of Harry Potter flying on a broom as shown on the front cover of the book. Harold stared back at the boy. “What now?” he thought. The little one wasn’t actually doing anything, and he certainly was quiet. So Harold thought he would just continue despite the intrusive stares.

Harry_Potter_british_booksThe small drama was not unnoticed by the librarian’s assistant who sought to be helpful. She came over to the Harold and whispered, “You and your little one can go into the children’s reading room, if you like. I can get the key and open the door for you.” Off to one side was a room of children’s books and toys.  The wall that faced the librarian’s desk was glass on the top half so everyone could see in. It had been used for a variety of activities until there were budget cutbacks and no one left on staff to monitor the room. Now it was usually locked along with Grumpy Bird, Mrs. Frisby, Puss in Boots and Winnie the Pooh, not to mention an illustrated copy of Harry Potter himself.

The assistant was off to the front desk before Harold could object and returned in a flash. She took Harold under the arm in order to help the old-timer up and said in a hushed tone, “Follow me,” just as if they were going to sneak down to a secret chamber. A stunned Harold was led to the children’s room with the little one skipping along behind. Once inside the assistant declared, “Now you boys can talk all you want. The room is very sound proof.  Mrs. Craig designed it and used to come each week to read to the children. She had a stroke, you know.”

Harold just shook his head like he knew Mrs. Craig. In truth, he knew no one at the library. “There are plenty of books here you can read to the little guy if you don’t want to read him that one,” the assistant said. “If you like reading out loud, maybe you could fill in for Mrs. Craig for a few months.”

“NO!” Harold declared in a tone that startled the young woman.  “I mean, I just don’t have any time for that sort of thing.”

“Oh, I see,” she replied and left the two guys standing in the center of the reading room.

“Hi,” the boy finally spoke, “my name is Harry,” and stuck out his small hand so that Harold would shake it.  “Harold,” the time master replied, which the little one found amusing.

“Can you read that book to me?” little Harry asked.  Harold looked back at him in a panic as if he had just seen a three-headed dog.

To be continued…

Related:  The “Harold stories” in order: “Soup and Sandwich,” “The Case With The Missing Egg,” “Come Monday, It Will Be Alright,” “A Tuesday Mystery,” “A Tuesday Fantasy With Harold,” “A Wild West Wednesday

THE CASE WITH THE MISSING EGG – RICH PASCHALL

The story of Harold (Soup and Sandwich) continues with a new week.

Sunday started like any other Sunday.  Harold arose punctually with the sound of the alarm clock.  There was never any pressing the snooze button for Harold.  Time was too valuable to be wasted pressing a snooze button.  The world never snoozes, so why should Harold?  He quickly went through his morning routine, then went on to the kitchen for coffee.

Han Dynasty 206 BC - 220 AD
Han Dynasty 206 BC – 220 AD

As expected, Harold found the coffee already brewing.  He set it up the night before so that there would be no fumbling through the coffee-making process in the morning.  When Harold was ready, so was the coffee.  You would not expect anything less from the time managing genius that he was.  He had a light breakfast, did some light reading and followed that by cleaning the dishes and neatly putting them away.

Now Harold, master of organization, commander of the schedule, and ruler of all the cleaning supplies, was ready to begin.  He would start cleaning in the living room at the front of the house and follow through all the rooms, closets included, until he got to the back of the house.  This would generally take all day with a little time off for a second cup of coffee and then again later for a light lunch.

So Harold dusted and vacuumed and swept.  Every item was cleaned.  As there were very few item on tables or cabinets, the job could be done quickly.  Each drawer had to be opened and inspected.  Everything had to be in place.  A quick visual inventory was taken by Harold’s computer like mind, and nothing was out-of-place when he was finished.  Actually, nothing was out-of-place when Harold started, but he just had to check to make sure.

Tang Servant

When he got to the bedroom closet he spied a box on the top shelf above the space where his clothes were neatly hung.  Harold removed a two-step ladder from behind the bedroom door and put it in from of the closet door.  He used it to reach the case on the shelf and then carefully lifted it as if it held a king’s treasure.  He brought it carefully down the steps and carried it to the living room.  There he set it on the coffee table, which never saw any coffee, and he sat down on the sofa.

Years earlier Harold had the case made to his exact specifications.  While its outward appearance was of an ordinary cardboard box, it was reinforced on the inside to hold the heavy and precious items Harold had so carefully collected in his lifetime.  The sections were of various sizes because the contents were all different in shape.

While no one who saw Harold’s neat, clean and modest apartment would ever suspect, Harold was a collector of rare Japanese and Chinese porcelain.  They were the only collectables in his possession and they were as much an investment as they were a collection.  The pieces were carefully procured over many years.  He had to be careful in his choices, as there were many fakes on the market.

The items also had to be something that Harold enjoyed.  If they were not aesthetically pleasing to his eye, he did not purchase them.  He could not imagine spending a lot of money on something, if they were not good to look at.  Of course, he was the only one who ever saw them.

Once Harold went to China for vacation, partly because he thought he had a lead on a piece of Imperial porcelain of the Yuan dynasty.  It turned out not to be so, but he settled on a piece from a later period.  It was his only trip outside the country.  Everything else was purchased from collectors and auctions.  Now he had a box full, a little bigger than the standard shirt box.

As always, Harold carefully removed the cover.  On this day, as in every Sunday, he would pick up one piece and examine and admire it closely, but wait!  There was a piece missing.  A porcelain egg was not in its place.  Harold’s mind was racing.

Where could it be?  Did someone break in and steal it?  No, that makes no sense.  Why steal the egg and leave the rest?  Did he lose it?  Impossible!  He never took them out of the house.  It must simply be misplaced.  How could the well-organized Harold have misplaced anything?

Harold was frantic.  He wanted to get up and start searching the house but his body went numb.  He started to shiver.  Never was an item of Harold’s life out-of-place and now a precious piece was missing.  His stomach was all twisted in knots.  He struggled just to get to his feet.

Sui Dynasty musicians
Sui Dynasty musicians

When he got his wits about himself, he started a careful and well-organized search of the house.  Since it seem unlikely to be in any of the places he just cleaned, he searched everywhere else, some places multiple times.  When the egg was not found, Harold sunk to his knees and prayed to St. Anthony, patron of lost items.  The egg remained lost.

Harold returned to the sofa, sat down and stared at the case with the empty space.  Through the careful collection of these porcelain items over the years, Harold felt that his very life had gained in value.  Now the missing porcelain egg, soft and beautiful in his mind, caused a tear to come to Harold’s eye.  He could not shake the feeling that he himself, through stupidity or carelessness or whatever, was now worth a little less.

To be continued…

Related:
First Harold story: Soup and Sandwich

THANKS, NOW LEAVE

Not Welcome Anymore, by Rich Paschall

Roger was a busy guy.  In recent months he absolutely could not find time to fit one more thing into his schedule.  The local pastor, Jared, was even busier and usually kept to a tight schedule.  His time was parceled out like the hosts he distributed on Sunday.  So it was a bit of a surprise when he dropped an email on Roger asking to meet.  “Perhaps we can get together for coffee on Thursday afternoon or Saturday morning,” the message read.  Roger picked Saturday.

When Roger turned 60 he had promised himself there would be no more big projects.  He felt he was done with community organizing, large social events, and big family gatherings.  “All the work should be done by someone else,” he thought.  But then there always seemed to be another great idea and that meant “one last hurrah.”

When a long time and dedicated school worker was to be honored, many alumni were thrilled at the idea.  In fact, they wanted to put on a special tribute and all got together to discuss the matter.  Soon after Roger was handing the proposed event to the pastor, who seemed a bit skeptical at first, but eventually supported the plan.

It's really a one way street.
It’s really a one way street.

The pastor was young and ambitious, as pastors go.  He seemed to like everyone and at first, everyone liked him.  He wanted to make an impact on the parish and if you could help him with that, he was your friend.  Soon he saw Roger and Roger’s friends as a path to increased alumni involvement and successful events.  He did not help organize in any way, but he did not hinder the progress.  For the alumni, it seemed like a great thing.  The pastor was letting them do their tribute the way they believed was appropriate.

On the other hand, the pastor’s staff was not a bit enthusiastic.  The school administration was already overburdened with projects and fund-raisers.  The grade school principal was also running the high school, or neglecting it, depending on where you heard it.  Teamwork was only something written on the gymnasium wall.  It was not practiced by those who loved to point it out.  They wanted to run the upcoming honor as a small event as they had done for others in the past.  They were not happy to share the event with “outsiders,” that is, former students.

The alumni crew worked diligently.  They looked for every way to promote the big event and make it a success.  They had been warned not to count on the school administration to do their part, but they trusted them to do what they said they would do.  When the administration looked overwhelmed at a request, the alumni chairmen would advise, “Just say no if it is too much.” Unfortunately, they were already in the habit of promising what they could not deliver.

When the big event was held, the school’s part was chaotic and ran behind schedule.  The alumni tribute was forced to start late, but went well and was loved by those in attendance.  In fact, it was the most well attended alumni event held in decades.  It would certainly be the last to draw a crowd.

When the reverend contacted Roger in the week that followed the celebration, Roger knew what the topic of conversation would be.  Since they had been friends from before the time Jared came back to be pastor, Roger thought they would have a meaningful conversation.

On the day of their coffee talk, it was cold and damp, rather like the expression on the pastor’s face.  He only put on a smile when a parishioner recognized him in the small coffee shop and came over to say “hello.” Roger and Jared sat in two large chairs with a small table in between.  Jared started.

“I was rather disappointed in the event last Saturday.  It did not go as planned,” Jared said with a bit of a scowl.  “I do not like things like that in my parish.”

Roger tried to explain what happened and how it happened and why it happened the way that it did.  Jared was not interested.  His purpose seemed to be to place blame and absolve his staff of any wrong doing.  “I hold you personally responsible because you brought the plan to me.  I do not care about co-chairmen or committee members or school administrators.  I blame you.”

It would be an understatement to say that Roger was in a state of bewilderment for almost an hour as the former friend declared that Roger was not to be involved in running any more events, in fact, “You are not welcome at any school events.  I will not tolerate anything that might embarrass me in the slightest way.”  Roger was not sure how anything that did not go quite right could embarrass someone who had no hand in running the event.

When Jared was done with his coffee, he advised Roger he could still come to services on Sunday.  Roger thought, “And I am still welcome to give to the collection,” but he did not say it out loud. He watched Jared walk out into the cold, grey day which was a perfect match for his attitude.

Roger only went back to the church one more time.  He came on Christmas to read as previously scheduled.  He wished his fellow readers, and friends well but said nothing about moving on.

A former classmate told Roger that her brother had decided to go to a different parish.  “The pastor there is warm and welcoming.  It’s something they forgot here.”  Roger smiled and nodded, but said nothing.  He left the church and walked out into the pleasant Christmas weather.  He thought of the irony of the assistant who invited him to come back home to the church 15 years earlier and pastor who invited him to leave, since they were the same person.