Sometimes I write a blog post and don’t post it. It just stays tucked away safely in my WordPress draft folder. It may feel unfinished, lacking in some element, or more often I’m just not ready to share it. Today, I discovered this post which had been hibernating in draft land for nearly ten months. Time to share.
“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” If I had a nickel for every time I heard my dad, Juel Johnson, say that, well, I’d have a lot of nickels. I think for most of my life I thought my dad was giving us some “secret to success” formula with those words—some kind of short cut to special access or an inside advantage. My dad went to the “school of hard knocks” as he would jokingly proclaim– in contrast to my graduate school-educated mother. He likely did have some hard knocks as a young farmer and was mostly self-taught or learned his trade by watching my grandpa, T.T. Johnson. I learned many things from my dad and the one I probably value the most is how he would talk to anyone. My friends used to give me updates on seeing him sitting on a bench at the local mall visiting with anyone within a six feet radius. If I was sitting on a bench at the mall today I’d be looking at my phone lingering in cyberspace oblivious to others–missed opportunities to “be a Juel” and make a real connection with another child of God.
February 28, 2018 is the ten year anniversary of my dad’s death. Yesterday I returned from nearly three weeks in New Zealand. I don’t intend to blog about the stark contrast of February 2008 to February of 2018 but I will say that the memories of my Dad shined brighter during my travels knowing this anniversary was nearing. To honor my dad this month I decided to lean in to his “DO talk to strangers” attitude and get to know some folks on my travels.
Here is a sample of my “Be a Juel today” encounters:
1. My Uber driver to the San Francisco Airport: I learned he was from the Philippines and had moved here with his mom to make money to send back to his wife and child who are still in the Philippines. His wife is an amazing cook, trained chef, and they would love to open a restaurant someday. His faith is important to him and he gave me a rosary before I left his car. (It sits near my bathroom sink and I look at it everyday.)
2. The gentleman from Australia at the Vietnamese restaurant in the San Francisco airport: “Excuse me, did you just say you were from South Dakota?” he inquired while leaning over his noodle soup. He said his Dad was from Sioux Falls but none of his family had ever visited there. His Dad had gone to the University of South Dakota for law school and met a woman from Australia in the military. He had a look of wonderment when he shared that he had never met anyone from South Dakota except his father. I saw a few tears in his eyes. (Side note: some day I am going to do a study on the relationship between publicly talking about one’s deceased mom or dad and spontaneous crying. It’s a thing.)
3. Two New Zealand sisters who attended the clinic open house that I was at in downtown Auckland: The fourteen year old described her long list of sports and art activities and then she mentioned orienteering. Orienteering (map skills and running combined) is a competitive high school sport in New Zealand and she is hoping to go to the world championships. The twenty year old sister is at University studying neuroscience and excitedly shared that she wants to find a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease.
4. The husband and wife dairy farmers at the Christchurch Bed & Breakfast: Gathered around the farm table were guests from the Netherlands, China, New Zealand, and England. The couple from rural England were learning about the technology being used by New Zealand dairy famers to increase milk production. They also shared the difficulty in getting any of their children to want to settle in their rural area and take over the family business. London called them away.
5. Eleanor on her birthday bike ride (pictured above): As we stood atop the Southern Alps admiring the view miles down into Queenstown we saw one lone cyclist slowly climbing the hill. Her flame orange vest was a bright contrast against the high desert mountain. As the rider approached us at the peak we applauded her efforts. She took off her helmet and visor and revealed a woman of seasoned age with sun worn skin. Eleanor introduced herself and said she was commemorating her seven decades of life with this bike trip across New Zealand. Her wise words to us, “Make the most of every day because you don’t get them back again.”
6. The innkeepers at our bayside lodge in Dundien: We arrived late (no surprise) and the area restaurants were closed. Sue, the owner, brought us a plate of cheese and fruit and a jar of shortbread cookies. It was perfect. We had a favorite bottle of Pinot Noir from Queenstown to pair it with. Sue was apologetic that she might not be able to make us breakfast in the morning since her daughter was in labor at the local hospital. Over the course of the next two days we got to know Sue, her husband, Dean, and their amazing dog, Polly, a New Zealand Huntaway. Dan is all about Huntaways now! We also had several discussions about health care, politics in the US, and the similarities and contrasts of New Zealand and Australia—their homeland.
7. The Spanish tapas restaurant owner and his wife: I had a couple of nights on my own in Auckland and one evening I walked down a quiet alley near my hotel to discover a tiny Spanish tapas restaurant. I sat at one of the only three seats at the counter and proceeded to learn so much from the young restaurant owner and his wife, including their adventurous move to New Zealand to start a new life together and their method of making a perfect lamb stew.
These are only seven examples of “being a Juel” with the numerous souls that crossed my path in our New Zealand travels. It was a powerful exercise to simply write down the remembrances of these people. It inspires me to write down all those brief friendships I make through all my days. What a priceless ledger that would be, certainly rivaling any resume or bank account. Thanks, Dad, for the life lesson.
If you are missing someone special in your life today, ask yourself what stands out as their most obvious activity or quality? For me, it was my Dad’s ability to spark a conversation with anyone he encountered. For you, it might be doing a woodworking project or playing the piano or planning a party. What can you do today to honor someone you’re missing and Be a Juel or Myrle or Lorraine or Jim . . .(fill in your person’s name) today?
PS: I don’t always quote Taylor Swift but when I do, it’s because she’s “got a lot of pep” and my Dad liked peppy people:
“No matter what happens in life, be good to people. Being good to people is a wonderful legacy to leave behind.” Taylor Swift