This I Believe: Klay Eckles (2011)

I Believe in the Four Leaf Clover

I was with the kids in the backyard playing kick ball. My daughter fell down in the grass, and quickly proclaimed, “Hey a 4 leaf clover.” I was excited, having never successfully found one. As I was trying to explain the rarity and good fortune of finding one, my son spits out, “Hey here’s another one!” After 10 minutes on my knees I gave up in frustration and returned to the life lesson about how lucky they were to find these.

So months later when I rediscovered the preserved clovers in a counter junk pile, I remembered back over the past months. And I couldn’t come up with one stroke of luck that had smitten either child in all that time.

Also in the counter pile was an old copy of Smithsonian… featuring a view of the Sphinx in Egypt. Looking closely at the picture… I saw a squat block building in the background. A building I’d visited 27 years ago. There, I met another boy, about the age of my son. I was a “poor” student traveling the country. The blockhouse was a 3rd world restroom. As I stepped into it I was hit by the overpowering stench, and the shock of a failed sewer.

As I weighed my options, this boy, stepped forward and held out a hand motioning me to stop. It was easy to stand there and watch him. He found a scrap of news paper. With this he stepped to me, then dropped down and began brushing the floor with the scrap, suggesting that he was cleaning a path in filth on the floor. His efforts had no noticeable change in the condition of the floor, but he finished the task, tossed aside the scrap, wiped his hands on his galabaya, looked back at me and said the word, “Baksheesh.”

That’s a suggestion of a small gratuity for a service rendered.

I was speechless. He hadn’t really performed any service other than to degrade himself in front of me, but I managed to find a few cents to drop in the boy’s hand. Then I rushed out relieved to get into the fresh air and away from that boy who stood waiting in there for the next visitor.

So where is that boy now…at age 40, is he still working for Baksheesh? Did I see him on TV in the Egyptian revolution?

And what about the 4-leaf Clover? I’ve certainly never found one, but I’ve been pretty lucky. Luck has poured all over me, at least when measured against any historical scale of prosperity and opportunity. I believe I have received one of the greatest gifts of life– ever.

Like everyone, I’ve had failures, shortcomings, and minor catastrophes come my way…but I can imagine alter egos of Klay in other parts of the world who have seen their fair share of catastrophes AND lived without equality, education, health care, housing, food. On ANY measure that we humans have, my life and the lives of my children are mind numbingly lucky.

Here’s a simple test… Would you trade your life? What if it was a random trade?

If you could pick up the dice of life right now and re-roll, would you? Pick a random person out of all of human existence (and don’t forget about thousands of years of human slavery, wars, plagues, malnourishment) and know that you might draw a lot that gives you the challenges you face in your life today, plus what’s out there.

With the exception of a very few –I’d wager that just about any person out of the history of humanity would gladly trade places with me.

Maybe this is evident to me because in my work I see many people that miss the point of what they have, how great is the world we live in and the opportunity we have in this moment in history.

I am a Public Works Director and for 25 yrs I’ve been providing basic infrastructure—sewer, water, streets. And I regularly meet people that take for granted at least some of the cogs of our society.

There are folks I meet every day that are angry about trivialities. Just a few examples:

I had to wait at the stop light…
There’s not enough water in the pond by my house…
There’s too much water in the pond by my house… (the same pond!)
The new city sidewalk panel looks too new…
My tap water is too cold…
I have a pothole on my street…
The patch for the pothole in the street is a different shade of black…
The salt on the road killed my grass …
The new sod the city planted looks different…
The new sod died because the city didn’t water it…
And my all time favorite –the street is too rough for my son to play roller blade street hockey….

I’m sorry if you heard a little of yourself there, but we are all guilty. How can we not be?
Born into this life we have…
A 100 gallons of purified, safe water every day
A food distribution system…food from anywhere in the world ready to eat
The incredible transportation system, air-sea-land—however we might wish to travel
The telecommunications system
The Web, with all the World’s knowledge a few clicks away
The Social support systems
The Health Care system
Public safety systems and emergency response
Mail delivered at our door
Electricity and gas with a click of a switch
And of course, as I learned in Egypt…most important– the sewer system.

Our complex society is deeply interwoven and interdependent. And amazingly, it works, for you and me.. And even more amazing we can live our entire life never having an inkling of where the water comes from other than…the “tap”.

From an ipod, to a water supply system, the engineering and science is 1000’s of years of culminated knowledge. The final product is the result of the efforts of hundreds of thousands of individuals directly or indirectly.

Let’s just take a water system; there are pipe layers, installation inspectors, health inspectors, equipment suppliers and manufactures including the factory workers, the janitors, the parts stockers, the shippers, the assemblers, the resin and brass, and steel makers, the copper and iron, miners, the computer chip growers, the chip compound manufacturers, the chemists, and on and on. And these “New” inventions are built on the foundation of millions of other “new” inventions.

I believe the idea of a “self-made” success is a false construct. It ignores the indispensable work of others across the planet and through history. I have come to the uncomfortable conclusion that I can’t sharpen a stick or build a fire without the collective contributions of the human tapestry.

My contributions to make this a better world are important and possible …but only because of all the human creation that has occurred before me. I believe this is the true miracle of humanity—our interwoven society, where the work of one is a stitch—a vital stitch, that makes the fabric of humanity ever stronger, complex, and expansive. A web of interconnections, a tapestry of human existence holding up the future generations. We are each unique and complex…but the society we have built is infinitely more complex.

Remembering my contribution is sewers…I have an exercise for you… and I really want you to do this. Find a coffee mug, maybe tape a little note on it…that says’ “Baksheesh” or “Gifts”. Then put it on the back of your toilet– for a week or a month or a life time…so each time you flush and look down and see that mug, you might think of how it symbolizes the complexity and entitlement of our wondrous lives.

Maybe leave a little Baksheesh in the cup. Then on a special day, take your collections and make a gift of appreciation for someone that doesn’t have what you have.

What I believe is I’m lucky to be in this place… and time. I was born in a vast field of 4 leaf clover…that I have never even seen. And I’d be nothing without the collective contributions of all of you, and our ancestors.

A final note, from Todd Snider, a bi-polar folk musician…telling stories about life. Todd just came out with a song called “Slim Chance” that says what I’ve been saying in just a few words:

I found a 4 leaf clover,
In my yard today.
It had one leaf missin’ off it,
That was ok.

Lookin it over I could easily see,
4 is only really just one more than 3.
That’s close enough for me.
Must be,
My lucky day.

That’s what I believe.