A very cool math teacher Mack had in middle school assigned his students to construct an item that he could stand on without breaking. He was a big fella with a big sense of humor, and Mack thought it was just about the coolest homework she ever had. It was one of those rare school projects that she did not procrastinate, and she immediately engaged her Papa Bear and his carpentry skills to meet the challenge. I cannot now recall the particular details of the assignment, but there were rules about dimensions and weight and solid objects did not qualify. Mack and her dad dug through the scrap wood in the basement, did some measuring and sawing, and came up with a hefty little step (measuring in at 11¾” x 5.5″ x 2¾”) with a big hole in the middle of it. Not satisfied that the bare wood did the successful design justice, Mack personalized it in Irish-green spray paint and some stick-on letters.
That green, math-teacher-holding block of wood sat around in Mack’s bedroom in Springfield for years (responsible for at least a couple of stubbed toes and a few creative screams of obscenities) and got packed up and moved to her bedroom in St. Louis, too. She displayed it on her desk, a funny reminder of a cool teacher. Now it occupies a corner of the bureau in my bedroom, a funny reminder of a cool kid. Every day, this unique artifact of Mack’s life catches my attention, and memories of her cool persona make me smile. When Mack applied those letters to write “Mack is Cool!” on the block, she was just being silly, putting her witty mark on a witty school project. But now those letters preserved on that green block of reclaimed wood forever encapsulate the spirit of Mack’s cool. Mack really was always so damn cool. But not just the too-cool-for-school kind of cool. Mack was also cool in the cool-as-a-cucumber kind of cool. And it was the refreshing combination of those seemingly contradictory cools that contributed so much to Mack’s charm and magnetism. It was also that healthy combination of cools that gave her astounding inner and outer peace. Mack exuded a cool confidence and lived her life with the easy calm of a warm, ocean breeze. Mack’s be-cool-because-it’s-all-cool attitude kept her even-keeled and happy and it also rubbed off on the people in the room with her. Mack-cool had a way of diffusing tension, lowing blood pressures, and making fast friendships.
This morning as my eyes rested on that green block of wood and the “Mack is Cool!” lettering, I said out loud: “You know what, Mack? Everyone in the world could use a whole bushel basket full of your brand of cool in 2017.” I could picture a crooked smile forming on Mack’s lips as she said: “Well, then just be cool, Momma Bear. It’s super simple. Just. Be. Cool.” But while cool came naturally to my sweet girl, I do not possess that gift, and I have lived long enough to know that it does not comes so naturally to most people, either. Because it is, actually, very difficult to be cool when the disagreements between people are fundamental. It is very difficult to be cool in the face of the political, economic, and social chasms that divide us. It is very difficult to be cool with people when there is no foundation of assumed facts and shared values to build bridges across such wide divides. I believe that all of these difficulties will become increasingly harder in 2017, because the incoming president thrives on those divisions between us and seeks so readily to maintain them. Since November, I have found it extremely difficult to keep my cool. But anger stands in where cool should be, and as is so very often the case, anger has accomplished nothing. In fact, my anger has settled into my bones and it has been making me sick. I really do not wish to spend 2017 angry and sick, so I need to get me a whole bushel basket full of Mack-cool. Like me, Mack would have been disappointed in the 2016 election and the divisive words and actions of the president-elect would have startled her. But Mack would have stayed cool. She never would have let anger settle into her bones and make her sick. “Just be cool, woman,” she would have told me. “Just. Be. Cool.”
So being Mack-cool in 2017 is gonna be my goal. I will no doubt fail at various points along the way and occasionally scream an obscenity or two at the news or Twitter, but I promise to emulate Mack as best as I can. I will try to get me some cool and keep the anger out of my bones. This does not mean that I will accept the political propaganda, the divisive rhetoric, and the hateful lies that have been so successful in robbing me of my cool. It just means that I will try to manage my responses the way Mack would have managed hers. Because holding onto anger really does make you sick; and all I really want to do anyway is just be cool like my Mack. I suppose it is entirely possible that if I find a little success in this cool endeavor, I might be able to make some small difference in the world. But at the very least, though, my weary bones will thank me for giving them a lighter load to carry.
Mack Memo #5: No matter what happens, no matter what is said, always be cool. Cool looks good on you. Cool influences friends and wins restful slumbers. Just. Be. Cool.