I could never get hired at Hallmark. My assumption is that all Hallmark employees must know how to write the “catchy front cover stuff” as well as the “thoughtful, compassionate and poignant stuff” that shows up on the inside of a greeting card.
I have to be honest, I am a “front cover only” kind of guy, and this limitation probably wouldn’t cut it at Hallmark. I can write or say “catchy” things all day long. “But when it comes to the “inside cover stuff”, I’m like a two-bit knock-knock joke comedian that freezes up and goes mute when asked “who’s there?” – or just says “knock-knock” again, which is awkward and weird.
The inside of a card is where things get sticky – sweet and gooey. Gooey makes us “front cover only” guys sort of squirmy, and it unravels quickly from there. Front cover only guys should try to avoid “inside cover” situations at all costs. Front cover only guys need to be on the lookout for any tell-tale signs that an inside cover situation is about to happen and learn to walk away.
I have not mastered the “walk away” discipline. Take, for instance, what happened to me the other day. I was sitting in a diner enjoying a visit with a bunch of friends. There was a lull in the conversation, so I thought I would spout off something “catchy.” So, I said, “Bill’s wife, Terri, told me he stepped on a rake and gave himself a concussion.” My announcement hung out there until Joyce, an extremely “inside cover” prima donna, sprung the “who’s there?” question. “Oh, my goodness,” Joyce replied. “Bless poor Terri’s heart. What did you say to her?”
Immediately, I felt myself squirm. As if on cue, beads of sweat formed on my brow, and my eyes darted towards the exit. The waiter must have thought something went down the wrong way because he darted behind me and initiated the Heimlich maneuver. Three thrusts into it, I tried to explain that I was only struggling to come up with a thoughtful, compassionate and poignant response. Unfortunately, all I was able to cough up was “knock-knock.”
For years, I tried to be thoughtful, compassionate and poignant. In spite of my efforts, I failed miserably, and mastery of all three of these skills remained elusive. Determined, I decided to attempt to master each skill on its own. I planned to blend them together (at a later date) and emerge from my cocoon transformed into a full-fledged “inside cover guy”.
Becoming “thoughtful” was my first quest. To master the art of being “thoughtful”, I grew a little extra facial hair and spent a good amount of time sitting on a rock, elbow to knee, scratching my chin and trying to look thoughtful. While this phase was relaxing, I realize now that sitting on a rock in the middle of an outlet mall damaged my credibility and frustrated the mall manager.
During my “compassion” phase, I chose a chapter from a book co-authored by my junior high football coach and my Uncle Joe, who was a drill sergeant during the Korean conflict. These two taught me a wide variety of “phrases” that could be used when someone mentioned in passing that their pet had just passed away or they just found out they were picked for jury duty. I never got the feeling that these “phrases” were especially effective, but I did appreciate that some of them rhymed.
Attempting to master “poignancy” found me spending a great deal of time at the department of motor vehicles. I would get my number, find the most uncomfortable chair and just sit. If my number was about to be called, I would exchange it with a recent entrant and ask if I could sit in their chair, especially if it appeared to be more uncomfortable than mine. Somewhere around number 527, I did feel a slight bit miserable, piteous, pathetic, sorrowful, mournful, and wretched (as described in Webster’s), but it went away as long as I ate a nut roll from the candy machine located in the foyer.
As I said before, I may never be hired by Hallmark. I have accepted that I may never master the inside of a greeting card. I will leave the fancy, well-thought-out, poignant messages to those better-suited. Nevertheless, I have to believe that a kind word, no matter how simple or eloquent, goes a long way as long as it’s heartfelt and sincere. I will seek out those moments to practice compassion and fumble my way through them. Uncle Joe would be proud.