Written for Stuart McLean’s Vinyl Café CBC Radio program.
Dear Stewart. Our kids are going their own ways these days, but wherever we are, we all know that when we tune in to the Vinyl Café we’ll be listening together – like we have nearly every Sunday for the past decade.
I know you appreciate a good pun now and again. We hear you throw out a polished groaner and even a knee-slapper now and again. So I know I won’t offend you (at least) with this story. Like all punners (I assume) I don’t articulate every one that presents itself. Most pass through never to be heard aloud (thank God for little mercies). Other puns burst out, hang for a self conscious moment, spin quickly as if to try a hasty retreat from whence it came and then fall flat into the middle of the room (followed by a quick, sharp self inflicted kick to the buttocks). Mercifully the occasional pun actually jumps out with perfect timing in an appreciative gathering. Now and again, (I don’t know how common this is because I don’t get out much) a beauty comes to call and I actually have the time to absorb and enjoy it without blurting it out to all the otherwise happy, unsuspecting folks within ear shot – hopefully to return in a time of need.
Well to get to the story, three of our four children (one of whom – a blond bouncy girl – you dragged on stage in Killarney Manitoba a few years ago) were born in Southern Africa while we were working there with MCC – Mennonite Central Committee – working with the Southern African Council of Churches on a variety of anti-apartheid programs. We were part of the MCC leadership team and as such needed to travel to Gabarone, Botswana for a weekend of meetings. The kids all came with us of course. The youngest was a babe in arms at the time and the oldest was six years. The hot dusty trip from Lesotho’s capital (where we lived at the time) to Botswana’s capital was about 10 hours if all went well, and our visa to cross South Africa proper only offered us a measly 12 hours – a longer story in itself. And so the trip was a bit stressful. There were a few precious moments during this trip across the barren Orange Free State when the kids were all asleep and Maggie was busy with something of her own, when the burden of travel and lingering work pressures seemed to lift – giving way to an ear to ear private smile. You see, we were to meet with the other MCC leadership folks that night, and we were expected to bring a story or two to share, and in that blessed moment of peace, mine had come to me on the wings of an albatross, skidding and tumbling in that awkward and undeniable way fine moments so often impose themselves.
A few months earlier Magdalene and I had been asked to convene a marriage encounter weekend. Part of the preparations for the weekend was the expectation that we each take the Meyers Briggs personality test. We were reluctant but gave in to the expectation. We were surprised and blessed to learn how helpful it was – in at least giving us a language to describe how we perceived the world differently and how we presented ourselves to that world differently as well. These differences, we learned, were on a continuum and were not meant to suggest any one personality was better than another – only that we should understand each other by recognizing the differences. Maggie, for example is a fairly strong Introvert and I am a strong Extrovert. I guess the fruit from that bit of learning are obvious enough. We also learned that we also had our similarities. We are both Intuitive rather than Sensing in the way we gather information, and we’re both more Feeling than Thinking in our general approach to life. As similar as we are in those two ways, we found that we’re quite different in the way we make decisions about what needs to be done to solve any particular problem. Maggie is a fairly strong J (Judging) personality meaning she likes things in their place and decisions made expeditiously while I, as a fairly strong P (Perceiving) personality, am quite comfortable leaving things in limbo as long as possible.
And so sitting beside Maggie at the leadership gathering that night I told our story – of how Maggie had told me the other day that she was about done having children, that 6 years of either being pregnant or breast feeding was enough and she thought something needed to change. It had occurred to me, driving along that long road, that I could even change my personality type to solve the baby boom problem we were having. I realized the I had better begin to emphasize my ‘J’ness more – I paused for effect – and my ‘P’ness less. The others in the circle had all come to their own peace with the Meyers Briggs language, and so the laughter at our little, heart felt pun was explosive and convivial.