Tossing the hot potato…. June 27, 2012

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It got tossed my way yesterday morning. The hot potato, that is.

In actuality, I think I’ve only played the game “hot potato” once in my life. I was eleven years old and a family in our neighborhood befriended me, inviting me to go on a camping trip, because, I think, they thought I was a fat lonely kid and a trip to the woods might do me some good–and who knows? Maybe Mother Nature would choose to adopt me.

I remember hating every minute of it. It was hot, sticky and demanded a lot of physical activity. The day culminated in a campfire, where songs were sung and potatoes were wrapped in aluminum foil and thrown into the fire, to later be extracted and tossed around an encircled gathering of human beings in some sort of alleged exercise of fun, to escape burning your hands before you passed the potato on to another person for their potential searing.

Once again, I hated it. First, I had never played before, so I wasn’t very good. So when someone tossed me my first potato, it shocked me and scorched my hands, so I quickly flicked it off in another direction and it ended up striking the family’s four-year-old son in the head, causing him to weep profusely, greatly diminishing the levity of the moment.

I didn’t get it. Why would I want to toss around a hot potato instead of just letting it cool down, opening it up and reaching for the butter and sour cream?

But as I’ve aged, I have realized that life is just a gigantic game of “hot potato.”So back to my story from yesterday–I was pulling out of the parking lot of my motel into a busy thoroughfare, feeling that I had adequately procured a space for entrance. I accelerated, attempting to join beehive of morning activity. Suddenly I was greeted with the sound of a blaring horn, and upon looking in the rear view mirror, I saw a man in his late forties shaking his fist at me, gunning his engine and going around me as quickly as he possibly could, continuing to honk. Apparently I had displeased him. It was obvious that I had interrupted his proposed plan–to refuse to slow up until he got to his destination.

As often happens, we ended up side-by-side at the next traffic light. He rolled down his window and cursed at me, explaining that he was angry because I nearly got killed. (Actually, he was driving a Mazda and I was in a large black conversion van. My demise was unlikely.)

But as I looked at him, I realized that he had tossed me the hot potato. He had reached into the fiery coals of his anger and had thrown a sweltering spud my way. I didn’t respond. The light changed and we were off on our separate paths.

But it got me thinking. Since life IS like a game of “hot potato,” where you are thrown things without much explanation and can often find yourself in the middle of heated exchanges, it seems to be very intelligent to learn how to handle the burning questions. So there are only three things I could do after this encounter with my belligerent brother: (1) I could lower my expectations of him, assuming that his intelligence rested somewhere in his buttocks; (2) I could relive the situation in my mind, playing up my innocence until I could conclude that I was simply accosted by an escaping mental patient who crossed my path; or (3) I could realize that our human journey is a game of “hot potato” and this one was tossed my way–and I could take a moment to review how well I coped with cooling down the situation and passing it on without bopping a four-year-old in the noggin.

Yes, I do believe that one of the secrets to life is reflection. Those who perform this action actually prepare themselves for the next game of “hot potato,” becoming a bit more aware of how heated each situation can be, and therefore prepare themselves for the encounter. Those who think it’s “over-thinking”–to reflect on such trivial matters–normally end up being constantly surprised by the pace of daily activity and bewildered by the negative reaction of the world around them. They risk becoming jaded.

Here’s the truth: we cannot afford to be cynical about human beings in any way, shape or form. Allowing one droplet of sarcasm into our existence takes away our ability to both participate with our fellow-travelers and also to dominate. Because in the long run, the person who knows how to handle the hot potato the best always wins the game.

So even though you may feel it’s silly, I pulled over into a parking lot and sat for five minutes and relived my situation with Mr. Horatio Hornblower. I asked myself three questions:

1. Is it possible that I misjudged the distance and did cut this fellow off a little bit?

2. Did I communicate anger to him simply because he was angry with me?

3. Is there anything I would do differently in the future, since this hot potato will certainly be thrown my way again?

It was an amazing five minutes of reflection. First of all, upon revisiting the situation in my mind, I realized that I might not have been as careful pulling out of that parking lot as I thought I was. I could have missed something. Secondly, I had to admit that even though I didn’t bad-mouth my attacker, I did internally question his sanity and call him a name or two in my brain. And third, I realized that the first thing we do in the day is always suspect and therefore demands more of our attention instead of taking anything for granted.

My dear sweet friends, I know that the hot potato is coming my way very soon. I don’t want to pretend that it’s cold. I certainly don’t want to become offended because I’m ill-prepared to toss it in the right direction. And I don’t want to criticize the game simply because I don’t play it well.

In a few moments I will rejoin human traffic. My fussy fellow from yesterday will be on my mind. I no longer remember him as my enemy, but rather, like one would a really bad teacher from high school who still managed to get you through chemistry class. In other words, he could have done better, but because he was there, I did learn something.

The hot potato WILL be tossed your way. You can walk out of the experience with burned fingers, cursing the game, toss it off in a bizarre direction, inflictiung pain on others, or you can realize it’s coming and be prepared to bounce it in your hands, taking a moment to find where you want to place it.

It’s up to you. It’s up to me.

And even though I now understand the nature of the game much better,  hot potatoes are still favored by me when loaded with blue cheese dressing and bacon bits.

   

The producers of jonathots would humbly request a yearly subscription donation of $10 for this wonderful, inspirational opportunity

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