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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Superficiality, Although Long, Is Not A Dirty Word

One day, roughly thirty years ago, my wife and I were grocery-shopping. While we unloaded the cart at the check-out stand, some liquid from a package of chicken got on my hands. I set it on the belt and without much thought about the implications, looked up at the checker and said, “Your breasts are leaking.”

Her name was Carol, and for a moment, she stopped working, we stopped shopping and enjoyed a really good laugh.

The lifeguard in the picture isn’t Molly. I was going to ask Molly if I could take her picture for this post but it just seemed too creepy. She’s a senior in college; in fact, she’ll graduate on Saturday, and she’s been our early morning lifeguard at the college pool for two years.

We have not learned much about Molly during the time we’ve known her. Once, right before spring break, we learned she is from Texas because that’s where she said she’d be for the break. We know she has a boyfriend, because we’ve seen him drop her off some mornings, and that she rides a bike; her transportation on the other days. We know some of the courses she’s taken because her head is often over a book or her Macbook when we get out of the pool.

We have grown to like Molly and we’ll miss her now that she’s graduating and moving back to Texas for graduate school. She has been kind, genuine, and pleasant in our very brief exchanges between pool and locker room. She’s represented stability, you know, “Situation normal: Molly’s here.” And she’s represented safety; if we’d have tried to drown, she’d have tried to save us.

I developed this post on the morning of Molly’s last day as our lifeguard, while I swam the width of the pool over and over. I searched for a word that describes our relationship with Molly. All I could come up with was superficial and shallow, but those are usually ugly terms for people and I guess relationships too. I guess I could say that we are acquaintances, but I don’t feel like that’s all we are.

So, I settled on superficial and as you can tell by the title, decided there was nothing wrong with it. The truth is most of our relationships are superficial. There are a few folks in my family and some others I work with. And as a teacher, I’ve got students that I get to know pretty well. But by and large, the vast majority of people I see on a regular basis-the servers at our favorite restaurants-the checkers at Walmart-my dental hygienist-my doctor’s nurse, all of these are superficial relationships.

And the thing I thought about between the sides of the pool that morning is how meaningful and enjoyable those relationships are, even though they are superficial. There’s much pleasure to be mined from just getting to know someone, and knowing Molly, even as little as it happened, has been a joy.

By the way, we got to know Carol pretty well too. We talked routinely when we shopped in her grocery store. Eventually, her daughter became my student in the junior high where I taught choir. Her daughter matriculated, and then we left the country. When we moved home, the store had been closed and a different business was in the building.

But I remember Carol, after thirty years. And our relationship was a merely superficial.


Janine said...

Great Post! Do you think blogger buddies are superficial friends or do we tend to tell each other more than we tell the "real" people in our lives?

Mike Rush said...


Thanks so much for reading my stuff. I don't know about your question. I'm pretty much an open book, but I do wonder if there are anonymous bloggers out there who reveal all under a pseudonym. And just who are the "real" people in our lives? I'm so busy with my imaginary friends, I just don't have time for them!


Janine said...

I too, love my imaginary friends, some of them even talk back to me! They even make me feel better about so many things that could go so wrong, lol. Thanks for sharing and I will continue reading as long as you continue writing. Have a great week!

Faithful in First

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Mike's book montage

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
Girl with a Pearl Earring
The Book of Ruth
The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream
Teaching the New Writing: Technology, Change, and Assessment in the 21st-Century Classroom
Teacher Man: A Memoir
Ghost: Confessions of a Counterterrorism Agent
Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling
Schools That Work: America's Most Innovative Public Education Programs
Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong
A Death in Belmont
The Tipping Point
The Bible: A Biography
Magical Thinking: True Stories
Warriors Don't Cry: The Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock's Central High
Reading Judas: The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Christianity
The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World
I Feel Bad About My Neck
The Shack

Mike's favorite books »