Jan 2, 2009

Collect Your ‘Good Stuff’ Bags

(Here's the script I used for my 'Inspire your Audience' speech at CCTM. With this I finished the Competent Communicator series. I'm eagerly waiting to pursue my Advanced Communication track now.)



Picture this. It is eight in the evening. Rohit is at his office desk, busy with his conference calls. A few blocks away his wife Rita is busy at work, delivering some important presentations. Just another long day at work for the couple. At around 10 pm the two of them meet up and drive down to their home. They open the door of their apartment… the lights suddenly come on, there are balloons all over and a complete festive setup. There was a huge cake on the center table… ‘Happy Anniversary Mum n Dad’ read the icing on the cake. On the sofa… their 8 year old daughter was huddled asleep… with a frown on her face. Her parents had forgotten their own anniversary and she could not manage to stay up late enough to remind them!!!

How often have we felt just as sorry as Rohit and Rita?



The world we are in today almost literally personifies the phrase ‘Survival of the Heartless’. As mean as it is… that is how it is.

I want to spend the next few minutes trying to inspire all of you to slow down, look around and take stock of all the smaller, yet sweeter things in life.

Let me share a story with you all. It is written by Robert Fulghum and he calls it ‘The Daddy Prize’.

Molly lived with her father and brother. She was a little school girl. Molly would pack the lunch bags for all three of them every morning. Each bag would get a share of sandwiches, apples, milk… and sometimes a note or a treat.

One morning Molly gave her father two paper bags as he was about to leave. One regular lunch sack. And an extra paper sack.
"Why two bags?” Molly’s father asked in a hurry.
"The other one is something else.", she said.
"What's in it?” her father asked – more irritation in his voice.
"Just some stuff – take it with you."
Not wanting to get late for work, he stuffed both sacks into his briefcase, kissed Molly, and rushed off.

That’s how fathers are. Practical, to the point and always in a rush. But when it comes to their daughters there is an inevitable soft corner. Fathers of daughters would agree.

Coming back to the story…
At midday, while hurriedly gulping down his real lunch, Molly’s father tore open the other bag and shook out the contents. Two hair ribbons, three small stones, a plastic dinosaur, a pencil stub, a tiny seashell, a marble, a used lipstick, a small doll, two chocolate kisses, and thirteen coins.

He had a momentary smile on his face. The next moment he remembered he was getting late for a meeting. He swept the desk clean – into the dustbin – leftover lunch, Molly's junk, and all. There wasn't anything in there that he needed.

All those of you who are fathers here, just look back at the many moments you felt nice when your children did whatever little they could to make you feel special. When we were kids, my sisters and I would plan for weeks about what to present our parents’ for their birthdays or anniversary. The end result would not be so happening… a hand made paper card with doodles and wishes in our scrawly handwriting. But my parents were always sweet enough to speak so high about it. They would even put it up on display for a couple of days and boast about it to any visitors who dropped in. It felt really good.

Molly’s father sensed similar pride… unfortunately his ruthless demands at work did not let the feeling sink in. Wonder how Molly would react to her father dumping away her gift.

That evening Molly went and stood next to her father while he was reading the paper.
"Where's the bag?", she asked.
"What bag?", he asked without even looking out of the paper.
"You know, the one I gave you this morning."
"I left it at office, why?"
"I forgot to put this note in it."
She handed over a note and continued… "Besides, I want it back?"
"Why?", Molly’s father asked, surprised.
"Those are my things in the sack, Daddy, the ones I really like – I thought you might like to play with them, but now I want them back. You didn't loose the bag, did you, Daddy?" Tears puddled in her eyes.

He lied to her that he forgot the bag at office.
She pleaded with him to bring it back the next day… she was embarrassed.
He agreed.
As she hugged him with relief, her father unfolded the note that had not got into the sack: "I love you Daddy.", it said!!

He realized then that what the bag had was definitely ‘something else’. Molly had given him her treasures. Love in a paper sack. And he had missed it. Not only missed it, but had thrown it in the dustbin because "there wasn't anything in there that he needed."

Molly’s dad was filled with remorse. How often have we felt that way? How often have we hurt someone, maybe even without meaning to? I’m not sure if we can entirely blame Molly’s dad… coz probably each one of us here have done something similar to what he did… not just with our children… but with any of our near and dear ones. What I like about her dad is that he realized his mistake and set out to make amends.

After putting Molly to sleep, he rushed to office. He reached just in time before the cleaning staff began their work. He picked up the dustbin and poured the contents on the floor. He sorted out the trash looking for each piece of Molly’s treasure.

He washed the items and spraying the whole thing with breath-freshener to kill the smell of onions. Next he carefully smoothed out the ball of brown paper into a semi functional bag, put the treasures inside and carried the whole thing home. The next evening he returned it to Molly, no questions asked. The bag didn't look so good but the stuff was all there and that's how Molly looked at it.

After dinner he asked her to tell him about the stuff in the sack, and so she took it all out a piece at a time and placed the objects in a row on the dining table. It took a long time to tell. Everything had a story, a memory, or was attached to dreams and imaginary friends.

To his surprise, Molly gave the bag to her father once again several days later. Same bag. Same stuff inside. He felt forgiven. And trusted. And loved. And a little more comfortable wearing the title of Father.

Over several months the bag went with him from time to time. And came back each time too.

In time Molly turned her attention to other things...found other treasures… she lost interest in this game. Her father was left holding the bag. Molly gave it to him one morning and never asked for its return. And he still had it. He called it the ‘Good Stuff’ bag and kept it forever.

Spend some time thinking over the possible number of ‘Good Stuff’ bags that you may have turned down. Simple day to day incidents are potential moments to treasure.

I remember an incident from my family. My cousin sister was elated one Friday morning to see her jeans tearing away at the bottom. She badly wanted to have the torn jeans effect that her cousins from Bombay had. That evening when she came back from college she was shocked to see that our grandmother had neatly folded and stitched up the shabby looking trousers. My cousin was mad at her and yelled and howled. Poor grandma didn’t get the point at all. She was only trying to help. Fashion fads had taken priority over a loving grandma’s gesture. Today my cousin repents her impulsive reaction… all’s well between the two of them now. :)

People who truly care about you go that extra mile to give you their affection, love and respect. Good stuff may not always be tangible. It could be something as simple as a smile or maybe someone going all out to help you with something you are working on. At times you may not need that help, but that does not take away the warmth from the help someone offers.

Things today have become so materialistic, that we fail to appreciate their genuinenesss. ‘Whats in it for me?’ is what we ask ourselves before doing or accepting something.

As we grow older, our life revolves around work and money. Our families, parents in particular, slowly seem secondary. Money and work are important, but what is even more important is to strike a perfect work-life balance. We must not forget that we work only to lead a better life… not to stop living at all.

There are so many opportunities where we can collect our ‘Good Stuff’ bags. But we’re just too preoccupied to even spot them. Leave alone the pain we cause when we overlook the feelings behind the bags.

Take a couple of moments more… slow down your pace… contribute to the ‘Good Stuff’ bags of people around you… collect your ‘Good Stuff’ bags… if nothing else it will keep you smiling even when you’re sporting a toothless smile!

6 comments:

Vikram January 3, 2009 at 4:06 AM  

Yes I never understood that but now all the hustle and bustle makes me realise how I miss the days in undergrad when we used to cool off in the lazy afternoon over tea and cigarettes. Best things in life are always free but recognising these moments is the challenge!

nsiyer January 5, 2009 at 10:20 PM  

Well written! It brought memories of my chilhood as also my own moments with my loved ones.

However busy we may be, our credoshould be to savour every moment. Be with the ice cream, when you are eating the ice cream.

priya January 6, 2009 at 4:43 PM  

@Vikram

Thanks for the comment.

Rightly put, about how recognizing life's best things is the challenge.

I think all of us would love to get back to the bindaas times at college... when life's complications were soo much less complicated :)

priya January 6, 2009 at 4:45 PM  

@Iyer Sir

Thanks for the comment.

'Be with the ice cream, when you are eating the ice cream' was a nice way to sum up my post.

I'm glad it took you down memory lane :)

Harish Krishnan January 6, 2009 at 5:55 PM  

Very Well Written ! I can relate to it very well as my dad is an NRI and there are moments when i really miss him... ! Thanks for making me realize how much i love him.

priya January 9, 2009 at 9:41 AM  

@Harish

Thanks for the comment. I'm so glad you liked the post and am happier it made you realize the love for your dad.

Your comment made my day!

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