Exercise #1: The Question

Exercise 1 instructions

Believe it or not, I was out walking my dog when this old man walked up to me out of nowhere and said, “Everyone’s heard no two snowflakes are the same. No two people are the same, either. What is it that makes you different from the people around you?”  He was dressed like one of those street people that I usually sort of ignore unless they walk right up to me

I confess, I had a look around to see if there were any cameras or people watching.  I didn’t see a thing.  When I turned back around, though, the man was gone, as if he’d never been there.  His words echoed in my mind all the rest of that afternoon, like one of those hard rubber balls bouncing around in a glass bowl.  I couldn’t even do my usual exercise routine without having it interrupt.

After a while, I gave up and let Boomer off his leash for a while so that I could sit on a park bench and think about it.  Just like his namesake, a boomerang, he always comes back, but I had a frisbee with me for added insurance.  So, any time Boomer came back, I would chuck the frisbee for him.  Then he’d take off, wrestle with it for a while, then bring it back all covered in grass and slobber ready for me to throw it again.

If no two people are alike, what makes me different from everyone else? I thought.  What makes me different? I thought about it for what seemed to be a long time.  Time crawls when you’re trying to solve something, I guess.  I didn’t think that there was much that was different about me.  After all, lots of people have brown hair and brown eyes.  Lots of people wear the same glasses frames that I do.  There are even loads of people with Irish Setters.  I should know, because I’m in an Irish Setter dog appreciation club online.  There are even a fair number of people who walk their dogs in the park for exercise.  Then there was my job.  I was one of, like, two hundred tech support operators, and, like most of my co-workers, I have problems with family and friends trying to get me to solve their computer problems.  I keep telling them that, at work, I’m reading from a script, but that doesn’t seem to make much difference.

The more I thought about it, the more trouble I had.  I seemed to be just the same in one way or another as about two million other people living in Seattle.  Just thinking about it made me feel more and more depressed.  Eventually, I gave up again, put Boomer back on his leash and headed for home.   I tried to shake  off my depression in the usual way, by singing something upbeat, like “Don’t Stop Believin‘” or “The Longest Time.” But that stupid old man and his equally stupid question kept coming back to me.

Everyone’s heard no two snowflakes are the same. No two people are the same, either. What is it that makes you different from the people around you?  What makes you different?  What?

When I finally got home, I let Boomer off his leash and herded him to the back yard to do his business, which he usually needs to do after a long walk in the park.  Boomer’s a weird dog in that respect.  He doesn’t like to go in public.  Just thinking about that made me even more depressed.  I could think of lots of ways that Boomer was different from other dogs.  Why couldn’t I think of just one way that I was different from other people?  Why?

Not in much of a mood to cook at this point, I dialed up the local Dominoes and ordered a pizza (just like two million other people in Seattle tonight.  Jeez!)  Once I had it all ordered and gave them my credit card information, I hung up and called my best friend, Sarah.

“Hello?” she said, sounding more than a little distracted.  She has plants and takes meticulous care of them.  That’s usually what she’s doing when I call her.  I kill plants just by bringing them home.

“Hey, there, Sar-bear,” I sigh, flopping onto the nearby sofa.

“Is anything wrong?” she asked, and I could just see those slender eyebrows of hers drawing down as she spoke.

“It’s nothing, really,” I said, not sounding convincing even to my own ears.  “I shouldn’t even be bothered by it.”

“You know, I have a ficus that needs my attention,” she said, sounding slightly irritated.  “Maybe you should call me back later.”  That was her polite way of telling me to get to the point.  She hates having to drag things out of me.

“Okay.  Okay,” I sighed again, lying down.  “I ran into some old beggar in the park today while I was out walking Boomer.  He asked me a question and I can’t get it out of my head.”

“What was the question?” she asked, her voice all interest.

“Well, he told me that old saw about how no two snowflakes are alike,” I replied, sitting up so I could kick off my sneakers, “Then he says the same is true for people and asks me what’s different about me.  I thought I was on TV at first, but he disappeared the second I turned to look for cameras.”

“Well, I know what makes snowflakes different,” she said thoughtfully.

“Yeah,” I said, all sarcasm, “but that doesn’t answer the question, which was, what makes me different?”

“Oh,” she replied, sounding much like a guru, now, “lots of things.”

“Enlighten me, oh great Carnac,” I laughed.

“Well, first of all,” she began, ignoring my attempt at humor, “your voice is different from everybody else.”

“I’ve been accused of sounding just like my mother,” I countered easily.

“You’re not helping,” she said.  “Anyway, you don’t sound exactly like her.  Your voice is a little different.”

“Well, okay,” I conceded, “but what else?”

“You don’t look the same as everyone else,” she told me.

“Sarah,” I protested, “I wear the same thing that about half a dozen Seattlites wear to work every day.  I look like I stepped out of a freakin’ department store catalog.”

“If you’re going to be like this,” she said, frustrated, “I’m going to hang up.”

“I’m sorry,” I said contritely.

“Anyway, you’re the one who decided to listen to this old man in the park,” she added, sounding distracted again, “and I have roses that need watering.  Take something and call me back in an hour. Okay?”  There was a click on the other end of the phone followed by silence.

I put the phone back into the charger and went out to watch Boomer play.  When he saw me, he went into his usual happy doggy dance and brought me his favorite ball.  I resisted him at first, but those eyes are hard to resist, so in the end I took the ball and threw it at the back fence for him.

What is it that makes you different from the people around you?

I got up and went into the house to look in a mirror.  Maybe Sarah was right and I was being obsessive about this old man and his question.  That’s when it hit me like a stack of books on a poorly balanced shelf.  I care about what makes me different.  There aren’t many people that I know who are like that.  What’s more, though I might be similar to most folks I meet; the same clothes, the same job, even the same problems, sometimes; I’m different because I do what other people do in my own way.

I considered calling Sarah with this revelation.  Then I thought better of it.  After all, I know how she gets when she’s watering her roses.  Instead, I slipped back into my sneakers and went back out to play with Boomer.

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