Difficult, Meaningless, Necessary

There are some things in life that are enjoyable and some that are not. Ideally, we have a majority of things in our lives that are enjoyable and then a few that are not so enjoyable. I want to share some ideas and experience in the whole business of “doing what you don’t want to do but seems necessary.”

Really necessary?

Not all things that seem necessary are really necessary. This is the real tough question that we need to face when confronted with the seeming necessity of doing something. And this question is not easy to answer. Let me give you an example. I just made a call to an agent of a company that we do some small business with. Luckily, I got voicemail so I didn’t have to talk to “Laura,” whoever she is. She’s probably a nice person doing her job somewhere in New York or South Dakota. Maybe she works at home and just calls customers. I didn’t really want to talk to Laura, but it seemed a gesture that might take me a minute or two to do, so I made the call. The “please call Laura” note was on my desk for 4 or 5 days. Another document on my desk is a form that I have been asked to fill out for a research study I’ve been in at the University of Wisconsin for 10 or 15 years. I am still staring at this document that I have been asked to fill out. They even promise me for it; I can’t remember how much, maybe $25 or $50. I don’t want to do this but it seems that I “should.” Since I’ve avoided filling out this document for a couple of weeks, I’ll probably get around to doing it today unless something more important comes across my desk. I also made a call to a test distributer this morning that I had been postponing for a week or so, and go my desk is almost clean from stuff I don’t want to do. And I have what insurance companies call a “preauthorization” form so we can get paid for the psychological testing that we do all the time. It’s a chore, but I can usually get it accomplished in about 5 minutes and then give it to Cheri to kindly put it on the Internet to the insurance company.

These trivial tasks are not particularly important but do take some emotional energy, whether avoiding or doing, because they are things that I don’t want to do, things that don’t really give me much pleasure, aside from having them off my desk. But larger questions and seeming important things are harder to decide about. Deb and I have a supporting wall in our house that seems to need some repair, probably serious repair. I have looked at this bulging wall in the basement for years and haven’t decided what to do, or if to do anything about it. The decision about doing something about the collapsing wall is much more serious, much more costly, and much more something that I don’t want to do. (I would hire it out, not do it myself.) It is notable that there is a certain amount of emotional energy that goes into the thinking, feeling, and wondering about such projects.

Emotional energy

This is quite important, namely that “things that I don’t want to do but seem to things that I should do” take a bit of a toll on me, as they certainly do on you. The question is always first, “Should or Should not,” but then the questions “When and How?” come up pretty quickly. While waiting and wondering, it is impossible to put such things entirely out of you mind, so there is a tendency to think too much, worry too much, and probably avoid too much. Such decisions, namely the “should/should not/when/if/how” questions are not easily made. There is always a cost, not only a financial cost, like with the basement wall, but also the emotional cost, and the rational cost. So, should I fix the basement wall for maybe $10,000 or give that amount to the Salvation Army folks who are ministering to people in Indonesia? Too often people end up thinking too much while trying to push their mixed feelings away.

Dealing with the emotional element of such questions is of utmost importance, but this is no easy task because it means, without a doubt, that you will have some loss. You will lose something and gain something. You will buy something and have less money, or you will not buy something and do without the something that you want. So there is no way out of feeling sad when you face such decisions. Deb and I have written extensively about this in our book noting that sadness is an essential element in life. And it is certainly an essential element in decision-making, especially when it comes to large and important decisions.

The four questions of decision-making

We have worked with this “four question format of decision-making” for some time and have found it valuable. The four questions are:

  • Is it necessary to be done?
  • Can I do it?
  • Do I want to do it?
  • Should I do it?

Answering these questions is not as easy as it might seem. Furthermore, it is of utmost importance that you ask the third question, “Do I want to do it?” because most people skip right over this question having answered “yes” to question 2, “Can I do it?” mistakenly thinking that if they are capable of doing something, they should do it. When someone is capable of doing something, sometimes s/he wants to do it, sometimes not. Finally, when you get to the fourth question, “Should I do it?” the answer could be “yes” or “no” but the answer needs to be whether you really think that you should do it or not. This is complicated because sometimes the “something” shouldn’t actually be done, at least by you, and sometimes the “something” should be done by you. Here is where you have to be very honest. Just because you don’t want to do it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do it; just because you want to do it, doesn’t mean that you should do it. But know this: when you actually decide to do it or not do it, you will feel both joy and sorrow: joy for having done it and sorrow for having done it; or joy for having not done it and sorrow for having not it. You have to accept both of these feelings. You might profit from the 80/20 rule.

The 80/20 rule

We use the “80/20” rule in such things, i.e. life should be about 80% about things that we enjoy and about 20% things that we don’t enjoy but seem necessary. But we also know that the lives of many people don’t reach the 80% enjoyable, and sometimes barely reach the level of 20% enjoyable. We meet such people every day in our work and often in our other contacts in life, whether friends, family, or brief encounters we have.

This is a whole lot harder than it seems to do. You can assess how you are doing in your life of doing and not doing by seeing how much of your life you enjoy. Hopefully, you enjoy most of your life, like 80% of it, because you are doing most of what you want. It might be helpful to consider the “spectrum of like/dislike” that we often use.

The Like/Dislike Spectrum

Consider the following spectrum of what you like and dislike from strongly like to strongly dislike with several stops in between:

Strong positive                                    Neutral                                    Strong negative

______________________________________________________________________________

Necessary //Good (for me) //Important //Like// Dislike //Unimportant //Bad (for me)// Harmful

Consider something, someone, some place, some idea, or some project in your life and see if you can place that thing, person, place, idea, or project on this line somewhere. You may have, for instance, an acquaintance who is not particularly important in your life but you like him, or you may have someone who had a place in your life that you really like and hence is “good for you.” Now consider a project that seemingly needs to be done and place it on this spectrum, say, on the “negative” side of “don’t like” very much. Once you place the project on this line, you will see that it is a bit easier to decide whether to do it or not do it. Just because you really like a project doesn’t mean you should do it, and just because you really don’t want to do it, doesn’t mean that you should not do it. Just note how you feel, which is the operative word. Once you see how you feel, you can respect your feelings and then proceed with deciding whether to do the project, like it or not, do it or not. You have been honest to your feelings first, then have taken action (yes or no).

Difficult, necessary, meaningless

Perhaps the most meaningless tasks I have to do are the insurance preauthorizations, namely filling out an inane form that describes in objective forms what I am doing with a patient in subjective terms. How can I quantify that I care for him and see my caring as important? How can I quantify the profit that may come to a child with whom I just play marbles (because neither of her parents ever plays with her), perhaps giving this girl a sense of joy and connection? You may have some meaningless things to do in your life that are necessary for you to do, just like it think it is necessary for me to see little Sarah. It’s a small price to pay.

On the other hand there are many meaningless things that are “bad for me” or “intolerable” after the system of like/dislike noted above. Then, no matter what the cost, no matter what the loss, no matter what anyone thinks of me, I shouldn’t do them. Know that there is some danger of “pushing” the “don’t like” way out to the harmful on the spectrum just because you don’t like it.

The task is to differentiate the truly necessary and valuable in a world that seems to require some much meaningless activity. So, by the way, I have successfully avoided completing the University form in favor of doing this blog.

Seeing Unicorns

There was once a small village in a mountainous region of the world. There lived in this village a wise man. He had seemingly always been both old and wise as no one could remember him being anything else. The people in village went about their normal responsibilities taking care of their property, persons, and purposes in life without complaint. It was quite idyllic and the village was not easily located although it had an interesting reputation in various parts of the region and in the world. There were stories of people who tried to find the village without success, often coming back from arduous journeys without ever finding the village, while occasionally a simple wanderer seemed to find this village without difficulty. There didn’t seem to be a logical reason why some very experienced adventurous people could not find the village while others less sophisticated in the business of exploration seemed to happen upon the village.

One such wanderer came upon the village one late night and found the village residents warmly welcome him. They quickly found him a warm place to stay and a nutritious meal before he retired for the night. The wanderer was a relatively young man who had been wandering for some time and had had both warm receptions and hostile ones. He couldn’t seem to understand why he sometimes found some people so accepting and others so rejecting, but it had been on his mind for a long time. His night in the village passed without incident.

Our wandering young man rose the next morning to discover that his hosts had prepared a sumptuous and nutritious morning meal for him. There was simple chatter at the breakfast table among the host family and other guests with young and old seemingly quite interested in one another. The young man found it interesting that all in the family respected one another despite differences in age, gender, or station in life. It didn’t seem appropriate for him to ask about the demeanor of the family and the guests. He was quite taken, however, with the respect and demeanor that this group of people seemed to have for one another. There was discussion of philosophical and spiritual matters as well as matters of care of property and people. There was even debate and discussion without an argumentative spirit. There was expression of emotions, sometimes joyful, sometimes sad, but never expression of anger or fear.

About the time that our young man was about to leave this gracious host family the wise old man of the village happened to walk into the house. The old man walked in with a staff that he placed by the entry door, leaning it almost as if it belonged there. He was greeted warmly by all in attendance and was offered what appeared to be his standard choice in hot tea. He sat at table with the others and listened intently to all who spoke, only rarely speaking his thoughts and feelings. Then, to the surprise of the young man the older man asked him if he knew why he had come to the village. This question bemused the wandering young man because it hadn’t seemed to him that he had come to the village purposefully. It had seemed to him that he had quite accidentally stumbled across the village on his wanderings. The old man saw the young man’s uncertain countenance and suggested that they take a walk together. It seemed the right thing to do for the young man but he continued to wonder about this whole scene: the pleasantness of the village, the graciousness of the people, and now the mysterious nature of the old man. Yet, he felt both privileged and compelled to accept what appeared to be yet another act of graciousness that seemed to be the nature of the whole village.

The old man took the young man on a walk that fairly quickly became a bit of a brisk hike, quickly out of town and then up the closest mountain to the village. The trek up the mountain was, for reasons unknown to the young man, long but not arduous. He felt compelled to trail the old man who clearly knew the route up this mountain demonstrated by his taking carefully orchestrated steps as if he had taken this exact route many times before. When the two men reached the summit of the mountain, the young man admired the view. He could see the village quite a bit below as well as a vista of other mountains in the distance. There seemed to be so much to see that he was taken aback by the whole scene. He expected that the two men would soon descent to the village shortly, but was surprised by a question the old man asked him. It was a simple question but at the same time it was the most invigorating question he had ever heard.

The old man asked him, “What do you see on that farthest mountain?” The young man looked at that far mountain expecting simply to see a mountainscape, but then felt a strange feeling come over him, so much so that he was quite unsure as to how to respond to the question put before him. He answered the old man’s question with hesitation and with some concern because of what he thought he saw but dared to answer, “I think I see a unicorn.” The young man felt a bit awkward by saying what he had said so he quickly added, “…but know that unicorns don’t really exist, so I must be mistaken.” The young man felt a mixture of feelings at that point including a kind of exhilaration at seeming to see something so wonderful. He had learned in his personal study that unicorns are symbolic of purity. But in addition to the exhilaration he felt some embarrassment, or was it shame that he felt? He waited for the old man’s further comment. He didn’t wait long.

The old man quietly and carefully said this: “There are three things about seeing a unicorn. First, not many people ever see unicorns because it is very hard to see a unicorn. Secondly, it is very hard to believe that they are seeing a unicorn. But the hardest thing of all is to remember that you believed that you saw a unicorn. Having said that, the old man quietly and simply took a step on the path leading to the village. The young man followed equally silently. Having returned to the village, he gathered his simple pack and left. Though he never saw the village or the old man again, he remembered.

 Comment

I heard this story from the person who has been my most important therapist, Dick Olney, perhaps 40 years ago. I have no idea where he heard it or if he actually created it. I have found myself compelled to tell this story to a very few people whom I deemed ready to hear the story. One of these men having spent an intensive week of therapy with me wrote to me when he returned to the UK: “there have been several sightings of unicorns here in England.” I was glad to hear of such a thing because not many people see a unicorn because they are hard to see, it is hard to believe that you are seeing a unicorn, and it is really hard to remember that you believed that you saw a unicorn. I remain grateful that I have helped a few people see the unicorns in their lives, believe it, and remember it.  I’m certainly old, but not always wise, but occasionally I help people see unicorns. What a wonderful moment it is

One taxi, two taxi, three taxi then four. Taxi (Life) Lessons in Portugal

Taxis: the good, the bad, and the ugly

When Ron and I travel in a foreign country, we rarely use taxis, so the whole experience of using them is a bit “foreign” to me. We’re usually driving, riding the train, or just walking. But when I recently went to Portugal by myself, I had planned to use taxis a bit more because I didn’t want to waste too much time finding buses and walking miles in hours to get to my destination hike. Furthermore, I had heard that taxis in Portugal were rather inexpensive, efficient, and friendly, so I looked forward to the convenience while getting from A to Z in Portugal.

Taxi #1: the vile ride

The first ride, what I have come to call “the vile ride,” was such a misrepresentation of the good of humanity that I can only do what we learned while living in St. John’s Newfoundland and affectionately call “the Newfie Nod” a specific side cock of the head which can denote a number of things from a simple greeting to an emotional “oh well, what are you doing to do about it?”

I had just arrived in Lisbon, still at the airport and went outside to find a taxi ride to my night’s lodging. I just assumed you go to curb side and wave your hand, but I quickly learned that it was required of me to go through the “cow corral” like the other hundreds of people and wait your turn. I took a few steps, stopped, took a few steps, stopped, turned one corner, took a few steps and waited, and on and on all the while wondering just how many taxis there could possibly be because the wait wasn’t a wait for a taxi to arrive, but for the seemingly equally long line of taxis to simply take their turn to pick up those of us waiting our turn. My turn came and before I could even take a breath the taxi driver was out of the car and had opened the boot. I waved him on by motioning to my back pack still strapped on, saying I will keep my pack on and began to get into the back seat. The driver remained outside and then with quite a huff, he slammed the boot and got in the car.  Then, having been instructed to do so by the hostess of the guess house to which I was going, I asked the driver that It would be “around 15 euros, right?” Then like a bolt from the sky he turned to me and with a face as fierce as his word he sharply spoke “You have no respect for me!”

Being taken back, I didn’t immediately say anything, which would have been impossible anyway for he went right on, repeating that I have no respect for him and that whenever he travels, he is respectful. His chastisement in tone and gesture indicated I was possibly the most of low life he had yet encountered.  Within a few moments of his barrage I attempted to down scale the tone by indicating that I was easier for me to keep the pack on given it was strapped to my body and I was already seated and that I didn’t want an extra expense by putting it the boot. Then regarding the amount, in my honest attempt at redemption told him that I had been informed of the approximate cost and simply wanted to confirm the expected amount. This explanation along with my subsequent apology was to no avail for he informed me again in no uncertain terms that I have “no respect,” that he did not know the amount, that the meter would tell him, and he would charge me for the luggage anyway.

Silly me, I then tried to assure him that this being my first day in Portugal I was just going by the recommendations rendered only to be met again with his spewing. Now, given he had already started driving, his suggestion that perhaps I would like another taxi, was a bit late. Finally determining that this man simply wanted an argument I declared that I would no longer discuss this in anger. He sped on and I held on for dear life as he acted out his temperament though his driving jerking across lanes, around vehicles of all sizes and barely keeping all four tires grounded through the round-a-bouts in what surely exceeded even the tourism warning of fast taxi drivers.

In a continued heated silence, we neared my destination. He slowed down, checked the address, stopped the taxi. In preparation for my departure, I had set my mind to be as kind as I could and display a genuine regard for him despite himself. After I paid the due 18 Euro and began to exit the car I said “I wish you well”. However, as soon as the door was closed and he began to sped off I could hear him say with his head out his window “fuck you”.

Taxi # 2: an honest mistake.

Having enjoyed my evening in Lisbon (on foot), I awoke to a beautiful morning enjoying what seemingly only European cities can provide, the most delightful sidewalk cafes filled with leisured patrons and nearby pastry shops to die for.  I did my best to also “take it easy” for a short time although I was anxious to get on my way to the Metro which would take me to the major bus stop where I intended to get a ticket to Porto Covo to begin my hiking excursion down the Fisherman’s Trail along Portugal’s beautiful coast. Once I arrived at the bus station, I was disappointed to learn that I had missed the first bus and there was not another bus available until 4 PM. Shoot. It was only about 9:30 which meant another 6.5 hours till the bus left and then another four hours on the bus. Ten hours. Darn. I had already lost one day due to a lengthy delay out of Chicago which in turn caused a missed connection out of Madrid to Lisbon. I didn’t want to delay my hiking intention and end up just being a “tourist” for a full day so I sought out a taxi. I found an attendant outside the bus station and asked about taxis going as far as Porto Covo. He waved his hand in an easy manner as he said that of course taxis would take me anywhere I wanted to go. He directed me to the taxi stand where again, standing in a line (short one, thank goodness) I asked the locals about taxis. They widened their eyes when I said Porto Covo and kept them wide in facial warning that it would be expensive! Humph. I waited my turn and began my internal debate of choosing between the utiles of time or money.

When “my taxi” pulled up I leaned in the window and asked if he could drive me to Porto Covo. “Porto Covo?”, he asked, as if he had just hit a gold mine.  “Yes, Porto Covo, can you do a longer ride this morning?” I asked how long it would take and how much it would cost, off the meter (I thought that I might need a bargaining chip). He had to check. I leaned back out of the window while he did his research. He came back to me with a hesitant smile and reported that it would be 100 klicks and about as many euros. I asked for a firm price. He then stated firmly that he would drive me to Porto Covo for 100 euros plus whatever the highway tolls might be, maybe as much as 30 euros. I confirmed that it would be off the meter and a flat fee for the mileage plus tolls. He re-confirmed. I bit my lip as I studied his face. He looked good, “clean” as I like to describe relatively healthy people. “Okay, let’s do it but I need you to give me a few minutes to go to the bathroom and get the cash (he wouldn’t take a credit card, his bargaining chip, I suppose).” He said sure, and showed me where he would be waiting. I jogged back to the bus station, did my duty and grabbed a quick espresso, having an absolutely lovely encounter with the young man serving me, and then giddily jogged back down to the waiting taxi. I was excited as I got in his cab because I was going I was going H-I-K-I-N-G!  He was excited too as he gestured to the meter to prove it was a cash agreement. He was going to get P-A-I-D! And so the two of us, each happy in our own way took off. I had no interest in conversation, looking forward to viewing the country side but I did venture to declare to him that I was an honest person and he returned the favor of noting that he too was a good and honest person. What could possibly go wrong with an easy morning 100-euro excursion? Within a few klicks I loosened up and offered that I had just turned 64 the week before and had come to his beautiful land to hike the Fisherman’s Trail. He had recently turned 62 and had not been to Porto Covo for many, many years and thought it would be nice to see the little seaside village again. That was the extent of our conversation. Traffic was easy, we were out of the city within a short time and on the main expressway passing various sites common to such drives. The silent ride was pleasant and going smoothly. After a bit we hit the wine country to which I gleefully exclaimed “Portugal Vino!” He turned to look out the window and chuckled, “yes, vineyards…good wine, Portugal. Good wine.” We rode on. Two good honest introverts doing their own thing made for a pleasant ride as I followed along my scant map noting the sign posts for a few of the cities and regions along the way.

The road stretched on and then I heard him sigh. I paid no mind knowing it was a “long ride”.  A short time passed then I heard him sign again.  And then, again but louder. I realized, that yes, this really was feeling like a long ride and that we should be there soon. And then yet again I heard him sigh as he began to dishevel his hair with his hand. I wondered what was going on. I noted that awhile back I had heard an alarm ping on his phone but I had paid it no mind and didn’t make the connection until he said that there was a mistake. A mistake?  He confirmed as he pulled off the highway (we had already gotten off the toll way and were on a lesser trafficked dual highway) onto a bit of gravel patch on which an abandoned car was sitting…just what was this mistake???

He held up his phone and said it was wrong, it was not 100 km, but 175! OUCH. No wonder it was feeling “long”.  My first thought was this is going to take longer than the expected hour while I simultaneously knew he was concerned that this was an unmetered ride. He reiterated that this was a mistake and did the hand in the hair thing again. I tried to keep the calm by saying “let’s think this though” but I knew it wasn’t going to work when he said “this is an omen!”. “No, no omen”, I said, “just a mistake.” “Are we on the right road?” I asked, wanting to get control of the situation “Yes, I know the road” he said in frustration, “but the kilometers are wrong!” He had me look at the speedometer he had set on trip. Yes, I could see it was already well over 100 km, and Google was now telling him there were 35 more to go.

I knew right then that there were a few decisions that were going to have to be made and that I wasn’t going to foot the full bill on this but thought it best that I keep my musings to myself. Sitting there on the side of the road I simply noted that he agreed to get me to Porto Covo. Bless his honest soul, he sighed again, this time with his hand to his forehead, and turned back onto the road. I silently began to calculate how much cash I had immediately available and how I could assist without taking advantage of him or allowing him take advantage of me. I had no doubt this was simply one of those “honest mistakes” that had to be swallowed, I just wasn’t yet sure by which of us. Besides we both stated we were honest people and I believed it to be true.

A bit more down the road we hit a roundabout and I saw a sign for Porto Covo that my driver had missed. Granted we were now on “country roads” and the signs were not posted as they would have been on the expressway. “Now what is happening?”, I began to think: did he miss the sign, was there a shorter route that he knew about, or was he just so distressed he wasn’t paying attention. We got past the roundabout and I looked back and again I saw the sign for Porto Covo pointing the other way. I spoke up and he looked back. Again he pulled off the road, turned around and looked at the sign and cursed Google and smacked the phone with the back of his knuckles.  He turned the car around and followed the signs to Porto Covo.  Thank the Portuguese gods, we only had a few more klicks to go. Once we were in the small town I told him to just stop anywhere.  He stopped. I took ahold of my back pack, opened the door and then handed him the 100 euros reminding him that this is what we had agreed on. Then I handed him 30 more euros letting him know that I watched the toll fees as they registered and that they weren’t even close to 30 but wanted to ease some of his distress for the honest mistake. Then, in the last moment I gave him ten more euros and he just shook his head and said “Oh, lady!” which sadly wasn’t in appreciation but in disappointment that I did not pay a euro each for the full 175 kilometers plus tolls.  I said I was sorry and got out of his car. I shut the door and felt very sad. I knew in many ways he lost more than I did. I began walking into town, and within a few minutes I saw him circle around. I didn’t heed him and he didn’t stop. Bless his heart.

Taxi # 4: Do you know where you’re going? (Yes, I am skipping to number 4 intentionally.)

I had the most wonderful five days hiking along the coast. It was everything I had been told, or had read that it was and now, back in Lisbon having savored a real touristy day and evening was back on the metro to return to my hotel which was about 3 klicks from the airport, as the crow flies, anyway. I made sure I noted where I had gotten on the metro and even took a picture of it on my phone for easy reference so I could get off at the same place. Once I got in the train, given the time of day, it was exceedingly busy and we were really crammed in. I mean crammed in. I thought about making a joke that I was glad I wasn’t going to be having sardines for dinner, but declined knowing that a lot of people don’t “get my jokes”. We jostled about and waited for the train to move. It didn’t. We shuffled and waited some more. Then the doors opened again and closed again. I knew this wasn’t the way the metro doors usually behaved. I asked some young men who had already interpreted for me and they said that there was some trouble. Obviously. Anyway, tight to the ribs we were. So tight in fact, that very jovial lady’s breast was solidly braced against my hand which held the floor pole. It struck me as interesting really. She didn’t seem to notice, or didn’t seem to care, or perhaps, who knows, maybe she was liking it. I am in Europe, after all. I couldn’t tell. She seemed happy enough, chatting and laughing with her friends. I figured she just wasn’t aware of it. But being a comparatively prudish American in a tram full of Europeans, I figured it was just me that was uncomfortable with this situation: a woman’s breast solidly pressed against my hand. Then of course, I began to wonder, as my eyes widened, what part of my anatomy was pressed up against someone? I tried not to laugh for fear it if were true I might jiggle that body part. I mused as to whether my fellow sardine travelers might wonder if I were aware of my body parts pressed up against them in some way. I laughed at myself again thinking, “Deb, this is Europe, not Wisconsin” and just did in Lisbon what Lisboetas evidently do in the sardined subway: I just smiled and hung on as if full body contact with a stranger was the most natural thing in the world.

As you can guess the tram did eventually move but the announcement was made that it would only go to a given juncture and not continue on its scheduled route. Okay, that meant that I would not be getting off where I got on which in turn meant I would not know where I was and how to retrace my passage back to the hotel (No, I didn’t think to use google any more than my previous taxi driver did). So, when the sardined tram finally came to a stop and the breasted lady got off in front me of, I left too privately noting if I could feel any release of human flesh from any given portion of my anatomy (I didn’t). I found a taxi just outside the metro station and leaned in to ask how far to my destination. He wasn’t immediately sure of the location until I told him it was about 3 Km from the airport as a matter of general reference and then he vigorously nodded his head and said with an unbending confidence “7 euros”. Great! I got in his taxi. Being in early evening traffic there were a lot of stops at lights during which times I noticed he kept fiddling with his phone. Then I realized he had circled around (I am not making these stories up!) He said he was sorry, he would find it. He would find it???? He is one of hundreds if not a thousand plus taxi drivers in Lisbon and he doesn’t know where the f… he is and where the f… he is going? He would find it? No less than three times, he said “Sorry, I will find it.” He then asked if I smoked? No. He asked if it was okay if he smoked and I responded with some kind of “please don’t.” He did his own rendition of sighs and hair gesturing.  Again, he was sorry and quickly stopped at a light, rolled down his window, and asked another taxi going the other way along the boulevard if he knew the Rue I was going to. That taxi driver shrugged and left when the light turned.  “Sorry” again he said to me. Then it was I who suggested he try Google maps. With this he finally pulled the cab over and stopped and punched my address into his phone. All I could do was roll my eyes. “Okay” he said, “I know where!” Great.  We got there eventually, but in a lot more than 7 kilometers. Even so, by golly, I was going to stick to his word. I paid him his 7 euros and walked away.

Taxi # 3: unexpected generosity 

Bear with me please, this is the best of them all.  Really.

So, I had just finished the last segment of my five days hiking along Fisherman’s Trail. It was wonderful. I knew that morning when I set out that I was only going to go part way since I was going to return to my previous night’s lodging in preparation for my BUS ride the next day to Lisbon. As I was hiking along the sea cliffs, savoring the last bit of the pounding surf I came to the trails end before I would go overland to the town of Rogil where I knew I would be able…to get a…taxi…back to Odeceixe. I assumed anyway, that I could and would.  Besides, if I couldn’t, I knew I would just back trek on the trail even if it would be a very long day doing so.

After what became a longer than I expected hike through farm land and off beat paths I reached Rogil. Staying on the inland road I reached a lovely coffee shop at the junction of the main highway. As I ordered a double espresso, I asked the owner if there would be any trouble getting a taxi back to Odeceixe. He shook his head and said “No trouble, easy.” Music to my ears, of course. I asked him that if after I finished my espresso would he call a cab for me. He smiled. Feeling confident and a bit hungry I ordered one of those nice little chicken pastries with my espresso.  I dropped my pack, took out my camera for a few last shots of the lovely gardens around the patio, and sipped my espresso and ate my little pie. I went back in and placed my cup and saucer on the counter and indicated I was ready for the taxi and he nodded affirmingly as if it was the surest thing in the world.

Within a minute he came out to the table and said that there was trouble with the taxi. I shuffled my feet as if to personally signal preparedness to keep on trekking… “Okay, trouble, of course, taxis!” I barely had time to think as he proceeded to tell me that both taxis were busy and were not available. But, without missing a beat he went on to say that he was going to drive me in his car.

He would drive me in his car? Oh, he is a taxi guy too. Okay, great. Really great. I grabbed my back pack and followed him down the back side of his espresso shop expecting a taxi cab to be sitting there. No, this was his personal car and as I stood there while this dear man began to clear out the passenger seat and floorboard of loose papers and empty coffee cups and all such things that tend to accumulate, I realized he wasn’t a taxi driver in addition to running an espresso café, but rather, this man was a good man who “promised me” a taxi would be available and was literally going to personally drive me to Odeceixe. And he did.  It was a delightful ride of about ten klicks in which in his limited English told me about his two children. One, his “woman child”, who was 21 (he wrote the number in the dust on his dash board given he wasn’t sure how to say the number), is away at college studying math. And his “man child” was 19, again, he wrote the number further down the dash dust board. The man child I learned is very good with computers and is at a tech school doing auto computer engineering. I indicated that he must be proud. He got the jest and nodded his head with a bit of embarrassed joy.

He took me into Odeceixe. As I got out he did too and retrieved my back pack from the boot of his car. We shook hands and then I gave him ten euros. Again, he embarrassingly smiled and took the ten-note. He turned his car around in the village square and as he banked the corner out of town he waved. Such a great taxi man, I thought. How wonderful humanity is.

Moral of the stories: win some loose some. But in the end, we win.  I believe this.

Granted there are rough and ugly people in life, like the first taxi driver who seemingly was determined to have a bad day for whatever his reason. Sometimes, we just have to call a spade a spade and let them go, hopefully without harm. God forbid he had been the driver down to Porto Covo!

Sometimes, there is simple ignorance and just plain honest mistakes.  They are going to happen. It doesn’t matter if it is me or the other guy who makes them. We have to let them come, think them through, do what we think is best and then, let them go.

Most importantly though, there are so many wonderfully good and kind people, all around the world. Certainly, I encountered numerous of them in Portugal both in the towns and on the trails: Germans, Scandinavians, South Africans, Australians, Swiss, Italians, Dutch, Canadians, and of course the Portuguese. Oh, and would you believe, only one other American did I encounter on the trails, all who were quick to smile, assumed for you a good day, happy to share a stranger’s meal, lend a hand up a ragged cliff or give you a promised ride when the other drivers were busy.

Everywhere, always, I believe there will be glorious moments of respite and the best of humanity will shine forth. I choose to focus on this.