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Uncommon Purpose

It started with the Swedish television show, Expedition Robinson, was perfected in Survivor, and applied to the corporate world in The Apprentice. It is the world of magnified and amplified competition, known somewhat disingenuously as “Reality TV.” While many aspects of these shows stray significantly from reality, what is real about them is their representation of the well-honed American competitive instinct.

The interesting thing about these shows is the deception of apparently shared purpose. In Survivor, sixteen wilderness castaways initially work together to make it in the rigors of a desert or remote jungle, each with his or her face set toward the same one prize. But that façade of commonality quickly falls away to reveal true purpose: individual gratification. Even the tightest of “alliances” eventually dissolves under the pressure of the “grand prize.” In Survivor, apparently common purpose is ultimately a set of conflicted purposes. In actuality, the show illustrates individual purpose that is ultimately at cross-purposes with common (shared) purpose.

Much of the contemporary talk about “my purpose” resonates with historic “rugged American individualism.” Indeed, this individualism has reached near perfection at the advent of the 21st Century. Even the U.S. Army bought into the notion for a while with its recruitment campaign for the “Army of One.” Frankly, the “Army of One” belies the reality of military purpose. Though the individual soldier is the key building block for effective application of military force, and individual acts of bravery often mark a successful military campaign–armies, by definition and necessity are never “of one”–they are “of many” who have married themselves to common, higher purpose–purpose that often demands the ultimate sacrifice of self-interest in the service of the larger cause.

There is, of course, a place for healthy expression of individual purpose. Indeed, a requisite for a fulfilled life is the focus and direction inherent to a well-rounded sense of personal purpose. Lack of focus is simply wasted time and, if we believe that each day is a gift from God, lack of purposeful living is just old-fashioned bad stewardship. So, each person ought to find what it is that makes his or her heart go “pitter patter” and pursue it with gusto.

However, as healthy as the purposeful life is, it can be deficient. Much of individual purpose can lead to a Maslowian self-actualization that is (most benignly) merely ignorant of others, or (more often) achieved at the expense of others and their purposes in a grand elimination contest where the fit survive and the others watch.   Survivor has only one million-dollar winner. And, at its worse, this individualistic purpose results in the canine cannibalism of the “dog eat dog” world; a world where “looking out for number one” has become so culturally ingrained that it provides the stage lighting for contemporary life.

But, even given the imperative of a focused life–a life grounded in a sense of forward movement and ultimate end–personal purpose cannot find ultimate expression in the kind of rugged individualism captured by Survivor and its ilk. We can get caught up in “my purpose” and miss out on the fullness of immersion in “our purpose.” I believe that personal purpose must be wrapped into higher, broader, common (in the sense of “shared”) purpose for humanity. I believe we need to reclaim a wider view of purpose–a view that is more broadly stated, understood, encouraged, and pursued. For durable success, my individual purpose must eventually mesh with others’ purposes in common endeavors, working toward common purpose.

This way to view purpose is, I believe, the Bible way, the Christian way. That way leans not so heavily in the direction of individual purpose, asking the question, “Am I fulfilled?” but leans in the direction of more complementary purpose, asking the question, “Are we fulfilling?” The former has as its end that definitive personal fulfillment ala Maslow–irrespective of the condition of humanity around us. The latter has as its end the fulfillment that comes with partnership for wider purpose. This may require temporary, sometimes even permanent sublimation of individual fulfillment for the greater cause.

Thus, healthy personal purpose ought to be secondary. It ought to fall behind a more grand sense of purpose–shared purpose–higher purpose, in Christian parlance, God’s purpose. My purpose should not have to conflict with your purpose, they should be able to operate in tandem (at least), or in complementary fashion (at best). I would contend that the most satisfying individual fulfillment comes in the context of complementary, not competitive, purpose. People can complement each other in the world to create an animated human mosaic, colored with individual outlook, but linked together to form a picture of God’s purpose for humanity. This then enables us to complement God’s own purpose as we partner with Him to advance His agenda for humanity.

For Christians, God’s purposes unfold in the Bible and biblical purpose is complementary. How can we know that biblical purpose is complementary? I think there are several ways, I will mention just a few.

First, much of the biblical language is corporate language–addressed to groups of people. Many of the “yous” sprinkled throughout the Bible are plural and speak to “the crowd” not the individual. When God worked in the life of Abraham, it was to establish a nation. When God speaks through the authors of the New Testament epistles, he most often speaks in the language of plurality. To be sure, there are many personal promises and examples of God working in and through individuals, but even a cursory scan of the Bible reveals a propensity toward community and larger purpose. God-followers, particularly Western ones, often read the Bible in terms of its individuality, missing that its flavor is plural, not singular.

Second, in addition to the corporate nature of much biblical language, the Bible has a thoroughgoing emphasis on wider circles of connection–a focus on other people, particularly the weak and defenseless. This emphasis speaks not just to the need for care of the downtrodden, but also to their inclusion in the corporate expression of the community of faith. In the Hebrew Bible, the Christian Old Testament, widows and orphans are held up as types of the most helpless in society. The followers of God, leaders in particular, are repeatedly admonished to make the wellbeing of these defenseless ones a prime concern of the gathered faithful–in a movement toward what the Pilgrims called a “commonwealth.”

Deuteronomy 10:17,18 says, “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing.” The biblical Book of Isaiah opens with Isaiah’s vision “concerning Judah and Jerusalem” and includes this definition of learning “to do right: “Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow” (Isaiah 1:17). Clearly this is not individual purpose Survivor-style. It is full-orbed community purpose at work.

In the New Testament, the phrase “one another” dots the literary landscape. This phenomenon begins with Jesus’ admonition to “love one another” so that the validity of His message and the Christian faith will be self-evident (John 13:35). The “one anothers” continue throughout the New Testament in a way that makes it impossible to miss the wider purpose of the Christian community–a purpose that transcends individual ends and makes possible the common cause. “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10). “Serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13). “Encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24). “Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another” (1 Peter 5:5). This is a microcosm of the list. You cannot hear the “one anothers” and remain focused on purely personal purpose.

Finally, within the Bible, there are strong threads of a willingness to defer personal advancement and position in the service of a larger cause, God’s cause. Those threads are woven together in the work of Jesus Christ who models service to others in the face of the greatest personal cost possible. I remember being introduced to Abraham Maslow and his hierarchy of needs in an undergraduate psychology class. A fellow student asked the professor if she thought Jesus Christ was an example of a self-actualized person. She said, “Yes, of course.” That exchange stuck with me through the years. It was only after I studied the life of Christ that I realized that Jesus was the only truly “other” actualized person to ever walk the planet.

Jesus is the one who said, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). He is the one who said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). You cannot simultaneously lay down your life for your friends and be in pursuit of purely personal purpose.

This possibility of shared purpose is not confined to those who share a Christian worldview. Anyone can recognize the power of shared purpose packed into the Golden Rule: “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12). That is a prescription for disaster in Survivor where all depends on individual actualization at the expense of others. It is, however, a prescription for success in pursuit of common purpose. In fact, I would contend that the Golden Rule is an excellent launching point for realization of shared purpose. All of the major world religions have their own expression of Golden Rule sentiment. Every person on the globe could engage every other person at the “do to others” level and begin to know the depth of fulfillment wrapped into shared purpose. Sadly, in my view, there is little emphasis on common purpose–little motivation for people to look beyond their own fulfillment and see the beauty of shared endeavor.

I have a picture on the wall of my study. It’s one of those souvenir pictures that capture “touristas” in the middle of a white-water rafting expedition. The picture is of my boat and the people with me on the Arkansas River in Colorado when several friends helped shepherd a church youth group on a rafting expedition. The only trouble with the picture is that, though it is of my boat, I am not among the thrill seekers captured by the camera that day.

My boat had eight people in it. Before our journey down the river, our guide gave us the mandatory safety briefing. During the briefing he said, “I’m certain no one will fall out of any of our boats. However, if you fall out, you need to remember several things. One of the most important things is to keep your feet pointed downstream. If your head is pointed downstream, your feet can get stuck between rocks and the force of the water will keep your head under water–you can easily drown–so keep your feet pointed downstream. But, I’m certain no one will fall out of any of our boats.” He then gave instructions about paddling in unison and making turns. Finally, he taught us how to retrieve someone who has fallen out of the boat, even though he was “certain no one will fall out of their boat.”

We were off on a wild ride after the briefing. The river was running fast and the white water splashed everywhere. We were already drenched when our boat entered a particularly rugged section of the river. The boat began to bounce. Up and down we went–dipping into deep-water pockets and cresting large waves. We hit the boat with a thud each time we came down. Our feet were carefully stuffed into the foot anchors in the boat, so the ups and downs were slightly unnerving but exhilarating. Just as the joy was sinking in, we went up with the boat again and we came down. But this time my descent did not end with the familiar slap of buttocks against rubber. Instead I felt the engulfing chill of the white water. I had, of course, fallen out of the boat. Three things began to work their way through my thoughts. The first was, “Hey, I could drown here!” The second was, “Why is the boat on top of my head?” The third was, “How in the world am I supposed to point my feet downstream with a boat on my head?”

Somehow, I tumbled from under the boat and my head bobbed above the water. My friend David, who had paid attention to the safety briefing, grabbed the straps on my life jacket, pushed me down into the water for buoyancy, and pulled me into the raft when I bounced back out of the river. I didn’t know until later (when they tried to sell us the photos from our ride) that I wasn’t in the boat when they took the picture, I was under the boat.

Life should be a little like that white-water ride. I should travel with a group of folks on an adventurous journey. I should have my own paddle, pull my own weight as best I can, and feel the struggle with the water personally. I should know the fulfillment packed into personal effort. But I should not paddle alone. I should paddle in tandem with others. We should be under the careful observation of a seasoned guide. We should have an agreed upon common direction and be aiming to get there together. We should work together to negotiate the ups and the downs. We should make our turns together. We should travel at a pace that enables everyone who climbed into the boat to reach the destination at the same time. And, when I fall overboard (we all fall in from time to time), I should be able to rest in the knowledge that someone from my group will work to pull me back in.

Personal purpose is second place purpose–even at its most noble. First place purpose is the wider, complementary purpose that actualizes when people link their lives, gifts, abilities, and passions and look outward and upward to more comprehensive ends. Unfortunately, shared purpose is all too uncommon. To be sure, there are pockets, perhaps whole communities of faith that have discovered the notion of shared purpose. Even there, however, Survivor’s shadow frequently darkens the view.

If, however, we can find the means to fit personal purpose into something more grand–if we can hear the voice of God calling us beyond ourselves–if that happens, we are no longer survivors with various levels of individual achievement; we are thrivers–together. And God smiles.

(c) 2017, All Rights Reserved

 


Under the Dome and Other Closed Systems

oxpecker on zebra

I only saw two episodes of the TV series.  But I had read the book:  Stephen King’s Under the Dome.

It’s a crazy story about an impenetrable and transparent semi-sphere that appears in the sky and surrounds a New England town–the bubble (funny typing moment: spell check turned my initial attempt at “bubble” to “Buble” as in singer of songs–my spell check is likely on some controlled substance) is quickly labeled, “The Dome.”

As the Dome materializes, it carves cattle in half (giving new meaning to the phrase, “thinly sliced roast beef”); planes abruptly disintegrate in the sky and the air is filled with a blood-and-body-parts kind of rain.  Birds splat and slide to the ground.  Trucks experience full-powered disintegration as they encounter the Dome at highway speed.

Then, as the Dome is completely formed, the people inside realize they are trapped.  They hammer and they pound and they scream and they pound some more, but they cannot get out.

Outside the Dome, emergency crews bring explosive and military might to bear as they attempt to bust in.  They can’t and they don’t–not for lack of trying, but for lack of ability to break into this completely closed system.

Interested in the story’s end?  Read the book…binge watch the series…ask someone…Google away…I am not a spoiler…you have no need of an alert about me (at least not for this)…

Meanwhile…

I was at someone else’s family celebration in the not-too-distant past.  The celebration was both well-deserved and well-attended.  And…most of the people attending were Christians (in the they’ve-told-me-so-and-I’m-taking-their-word-for-it kind of way).  I attended for two reasons: (1) I genuinely appreciated those being celebrated (they are loveable and huggable and kind and laden with been-around-a-long-time wisdom) and (2) their life achievement was a rarity in our day.  I also sort of “had to” attend by virtue of my connection with those being celebrated.

In the military we used to call that kind of attendance requirement, “mandatory fun.”  In this case, the sweet nature of those being celebrated genuinely made seeing them fun–even if it was semi-mandatory.

But, since I wasn’t part of the main family group that comprised this celebration, I was able to (read, again: had to) stand to the side.  From my vantage point, I got to see an extended family system at work.  It was the sort of observational opportunity that makes family systems theorists salivate.

Now, these family members seemed to enjoy each other very much; they seemed to extend genuine welcome and affection toward each other.  There were lots of smiles and hugs and pats on the back and bantering remarks tossed about.  Many “How have you beens?” peppered the conversation.

But one thing was very, very, very (yes, three “verys”) clear from the outset: this was a tightly closed system.  The Dome had nothing on this group.  I don’t think the folks inside were concerned about getting out.  But those on the outside could not get in…at all…in any way…for any reason… (again) at all.

Because, not only was this system tightly closed, those inside seemed oblivious to the presence of those outside…maybe it wasn’t actual obliviousness…maybe it was obliviousness’s more informed cousin: indifference.

Like yellow-billed oxpeckers riding the backs of indifferent zebras, the outsiders were barely noticed by the insiders.  The outsiders’ presence was tolerated but they were not taken in.

Another non-family system member, also consigned to outlier land, leaned toward me and said, “Now I know what a church visitor feels like.”  I sighed internally (in my position you must master the internal sigh) and thought, “He’s absolutely, heartbreakingly, incontrovertibly, right.”

We need to do something about the reality of “insider” versus “outsider”–we need to realize that, except for God’s grace through Christ, we are all “outsiders” and we’d best cast our loving embrace toward all the outsiders who come our way.

“I was a stranger and you did not invite me in” (Matthew 25:43).

© 2015, All rights reserved.  Scripture from the NIV.


Cooper’s Mouse and the Train Ride

(Sorry, folks, a little departure from the usual themes…but this one has been cooking for a long time.)

There was a little boy named Cooper.  He didn’t pick his name, but he thought it was very special indeed.  Cooper’s mom and dad liked to take him places and show him things.  But sometimes, because he was a busy boy (that’s the word his mom and dad used; Cooper thought that they wanted to use another word, but they used “busy”).  Because Cooper was busy, he would like to have a toy or something else to play with on the trip.

One day, Cooper’s mom and dad got ready to take him on a trip on a very big airplane.  They were going to fly very far to see some people who loved them very much.  But Cooper thought that it would be very fun to fly with a mouse.  Now, there was no mouse in Cooper’s house (at least they thought so), so mom and dad had to find one.

Where to find a mouse?  And not just any mouse, but a mouse that would like to fly.  So, they looked.  First they looked at grandma’s house, but grandma had no mouse in her house.  If she’d had a mouse in her house, she would have made grandpa take it away.  There might have been some very, very loud talking about that.

Then they looked under the chair at the doctor’s office.  Cooper knew that there were often things under the chair at the doctor’s office.  One day, he had found some toenails under the chair in the doctor’s office.  Cooper showed his mom the toenails, but she did not seem as excited about them as Cooper was (Cooper sometimes does not understand why mom and dad don’t get excited about the things he finds or he likes as much as he does.  Like the day Cooper told his dad how much fun it would be to mow the lawn after dad got home from work.  Dad thought it was Cooper’s mom’s idea.  There might have been some very, very loud talking after that.)

Then they looked for a mouse at the grocery store.  Cooper wanted to ask the grocery lady if there was a mouse in the store, but mom thought that asking the grocery lady if there was a mouse in the store might not be the best idea.  Cooper’s mom thought Cooper should just look for a mouse while she shopped for snacks for the trip in the big airplane.  So Cooper looked and looked for a mouse in the grocery store.  He was sad when they didn’t find one.  So Cooper said to his mom (while she was paying for the snacks at the checkout line that beeped), “No mouse this time, Momma?”  Cooper’s mom said, “No mouse this time, Cooper.”  The lady behind them at the beeping checkout counter turned a very, very funny color–it was a color Cooper had never seen before.  Later on, Cooper’s mom told him it was “pea soup green.”  Cooper thought that he would probably not want to try pea soup after that.  While Cooper and his mom were leaving the store, the grocery lady and the lady behind them at the beeping checkout counter were talking.  It might have been some very, very loud talking.

Then they looked for a mouse at the gas station.  Cooper’s mom had driven to the gas station to get some gas for the car before they had to drive to the airport to get on the big plane.  While they were at the gas station, Cooper asked his mom if they could go into the gas station store and look for a mouse.  Cooper’s mom said, “Yes.”  So they went inside the store to see if there were any mice.  When they got into the store, Cooper’s mom went up to the cash register man to pay for the gas.  While they were in line, Cooper said, “Mouse, Momma?”  There were lots of people also in the line and they began to look very, very nervous.  The gas station store cash register man looked the most nervous of all.  And he was very quick to say (and kind of loud) that there were, “NO MICE IN THIS STORE!”  He said it so loud that Cooper thought that maybe he had done something wrong, but Cooper’s mom told Cooper that everything was alright and that they would look somewhere else for a mouse.  As they were leaving, Cooper noticed a couple of the people in the line seemed to get that funny pea soup color too.  Cooper was most definitely, positively sure that he did not want to try pea soup.

Then Cooper’s mom said that she had to go to see someone named Michael.  They were driving and, when they got there, Cooper saw that Michael had a really big place with his name on the front in giant letters.  Cooper couldn’t read them yet, but he saw them and his mom told him what they meant.  Cooper thought that it would be great fun to put his name on his house in very big letters.  Cooper’s mom seemed to know what he was thinking and said, “No, Cooper.”  Cooper hears that a lot.

When they got out of the car, Cooper saw that Michael’s place was just another store.  Cooper was a little tired of stores by now.  His mom said that it was just one more store and that they would go home after.  Cooper thought he would be good for his mom in the store and that maybe this might be the place where they would find a mouse.  Cooper began to get very excited about finding a mouse for the big airplane trip!

In the store Cooper sat in one of those big baskets with wheels.  There is a little basket place to put things from the store–sometimes Cooper’s mom tries to have him sit there but she’s mostly given up on that.  Cooper usually sits/stands/bounces/tumbles in the bigger basket part that is more his size.  That’s where Cooper was, in the middle of a really BIG tumble, when he spotted it.  “MOMMA!  A MOUSE!”

Cooper saw the mouse and was very excited; his mom was excited too; but there were other people in the store who did not seem very excited.  One lady (she had that pea soup green look too) dropped her basket and ran away.  Cooper didn’t know that some ladies could run so fast.  He also didn’t know why some ladies wear their pajamas to the store.  The basket the lady dropped fell over and many little jars of beads fell out and there were beads everywhere.  Cooper thought the orange beads were the prettiest.

Cooper pointed and said again, “MOMMA!  A MOUSE!”  And sure enough, there, hanging on one of those little hook things that hold store stuff, was a mouse.  It was in a plastic package and best of all, the mouse had some cheese!  Cooper said, “Mouse, Momma?” and Cooper’s mom, ever so glad to have finally found a mouse for Cooper, said, “Yes, Cooper.”

So Cooper’s mom picked up the mouse and the cheese in their little plastic package and they went to the front of Michael’s store to pay for it.  Cooper held the mouse and the cheese in the package and couldn’t wait to open it up.  In fact, he tried many times to open it up until his mom took the package from him and said, “Not now, Cooper.”  Cooper hears that a lot.

They paid for the mouse and the cheese and got in the car and went home.  When they got home, Cooper’s dad helped him open the package to get the mouse and the cheese.  The cheese was really big with big holes and the mouse could go in and out of the cheese and Cooper was very excited.  Cooper heard his dad talk to his mom and use a word he hadn’t heard before, “slimy,” but that was OK, Cooper was always hearing words he had never heard before.

Sometimes when Cooper heard a new word, his dad would be quick to say, “Don’t say that word, Cooper” (his dad would use the pretend dad mad voice, but he wasn’t really at all, ever).  It made him want to say the word even more, but he usually waited until he was alone or at his mom’s and dad’s friends.  When they were at his mom’s and dad’s friends, he would say the new word really loud.  Cooper’s mom would get a funny look on her face.  Not quite like the pea soup green, but funny.  It made Cooper laugh sometimes.

Anyway, the next day they all got in the car to go to the airplane.  Cooper saw that nearly everything would stick to the mouse and the cheese.  Cooper’s hair stuck to them.  Cooper’s flannel shirt bits stuck to them.  Other things of Cooper’s stuck to them too.  But Cooper’s mom didn’t think those things were very nice and she thought Cooper should leave them out of the story.  But after Cooper’s dad used his pretend dad mad voice, Cooper was sure he saw his mom and dad look at each other in the mirror in the car and laugh.  Cooper’s mom and dad don’t think Cooper sees what they do or say in the mirror, but he does.

They got to the airport, which was big.  And they went inside.  Cooper’s mom told him to put the mouse away in his bag so it wouldn’t get lost in the airport.  Cooper thought the mouse would get lonely.  But then he thought the mouse would just play with the cheese and be OK.  Cooper was so excited about the airplane ride that he almost (but not quite) forgot about the mouse during the whole trip to the faraway place to see the people who loved him very much.

They got to the faraway place after a very long time on the airplane and in a car.  Cooper didn’t know how long but he could tell it was a long time because his mom and dad didn’t seem to be as happy as they were when they got on the plane.  They met someone named Gramps and Granny Laura and they went to their house to stay.  When they got there, Cooper opened some presents and found a favorite one–he called it his keytarcar because it looked like a guitar and a little piano and it made very, very, loud electric noises.  Cooper liked to play and sing and dance with his keytarcar.  Cooper’s dad said to Gramps, “Thanks a lot.”  But he didn’t sound like he meant it; at least not to Cooper.

One day, Cooper was going with everyone on a train to a place called Boston.  Cooper didn’t know what a Boston was, but he thought the train ride sounded fun.  Cooper had never been on a big train before.  He had been on one of those little trains at the mall, but never a big train.  So they went.  Cooper asked if he could take the keytarcar with them.  Gramps said, “Yes,” but Cooper’s dad said, “No,” so they didn’t take it.  Cooper was sad; he was very sad–and a little mad.  Cooper’s mom saw that Cooper was sad and so she said they could bring the mouse!  Cooper said, “Cheese too, Momma?”  And Cooper’s mom said, “Yes, Cooper, cheese too.”  So they brought the mouse and the cheese on the train.  Cooper’s Gramps touched the mouse and the cheese and he used the same new word, “slimy.”

While they were on the train Cooper played and played and played with the mouse and the cheese.  He would look out the window and go from person to person to person to person to person.  And then he would look out the window.  And then he would play with the mouse and the cheese.  One time, the mouse fell on the floor.  Something stuck to the mouse.  Cooper was excited to see what had stuck to the mouse, but his mom wanted to wash the mouse first, so she did.  Then Cooper got the mouse back and he played with the mouse and the mouse fell on the floor.  Cooper’s dad picked up the mouse and gave it back to Cooper and said to be more careful.  Cooper was very good at very, very many things, but careful was not usually one of those things.  He heard that a lot, “Cooper, be more careful.”

Cooper played with the mouse some more and then it fell on the floor.  Cooper’s dad picked up the mouse and gave it to Cooper and said to be more careful.  Cooper heard that a lot.  But Cooper kind of liked this new game and so he played with the mouse some more and then it fell on the floor.  But this time his dad didn’t pick it up!  His dad said he couldn’t see where the mouse went!

Cooper was very upset.  Cooper was crying his very upset cry.  So they all looked and they looked and they looked and they looked but nobody could find the mouse.  Cooper was very upset.  Then, Cooper’s dad thought (he got that funny look on his face when he was thinking).  Sometimes Cooper thought that his dad’s thinking look looked a lot like his dad’s going to the bathroom look but he never told his dad that.

Anyway, Cooper’s dad said to Cooper, “I think the mouse is going for a trip on the train by himself.”  Cooper thought about this for a minute and wondered why the mouse would want to go on a train trip by himself.  Then Cooper thought that his mouse was very special.  Sometimes he heard his mom and dad say that his mouse was special but they said it in a funny way that didn’t seem to be quite what Cooper was thinking.

Cooper thought that a special mouse might want to take a train trip by himself.  But Cooper wondered where the mouse would go.  Cooper’s dad thought about that and said, “Well, maybe the mouse is going to see your cousins in Oklahoma!”  Cooper didn’t know where Oklahoma was but he knew he had cousins there.  He didn’t exactly know what a cousin was, but he knew that he had some.  They were all older than he was.  There was Shelby and Seth and Sophie and Staysha.  Cooper knew that all their names began with the same letter but he didn’t really know his letters as much back then.  And he wondered why, with so many letters (at least he thought there were a lot of letters), his cousins had all used the same letter to start their names.

His cousins had adventures too.  But they were usually with a six-foot tall chipmunk with a one-string ukulele and an 88 key piano playing platypus.  But that is for another story.

Cooper thought that it would be fun for his mouse to go to see his cousins.  Cooper wasn’t as sad anymore.  He was still a little sad because he missed his mouse, but he thought that, if his mouse was anything like him (and the mouse must have been like him because they played so much together), then the mouse would want to go on the train and see other things and people and his cousins and his dad’s stinky sister.  Cooper didn’t know if his dad’s sister was really stinky (and if she was stinky, if she stunk like Cooper did when he was stinky).  Cooper thought that maybe his dad was just being funny.  Cooper couldn’t always tell when his dad was being funny.  Nobody could.

Then Cooper thought maybe he’d have a stinky sister someday.  But he didn’t tell his mom and dad because they sometimes said in the mirror in the car that they didn’t know if they could handle two of him.  Cooper’s mom’s eyes got all big!  But he knew they would.  They loved Cooper so very much and besides, with the mouse gone, Cooper would need someone else to play with.

Cooper hopes to hear more about the mouse someday.  Cooper would like to play with the mouse again.  Maybe he’ll find the mouse in Oklahoma.  If you see the mouse, please tell him to call Cooper and let him know that he’s alright.

© All rights reserved.


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