Mandan News

Brian L. Gray: Do what you do, and do it good

I hit a milestone this month. I’ve been an editor for three years now.

Out of curiosity, I counted how many files I have from meetings I’ve attended during my time here. The total number? 155. In three years, I’ve gone to that many public meetings. And what have I learned, you may ask? I learned that I despise meetings. I learned that 154 meetings ago. But I can’t shy from it, it’s a necessary part of this job.

To honor my three-year milestone this week, I’m celebrating this special moment by not being an editor. There’s no better way to celebrate an achievement than by not having to do the very thing you’re celebrating.

I’m on my way to Colorado for a vacation. I’m going there with a lifelong buddy of mine, and new roommate, James. I call him Jim, but he goes by James to everyone else. I have a hard time dealing with that, because I have trouble trusting people who change their names. It makes me feel they’re trying to hide something.

When we get to Colorado we will join up with his sister and mother, who has taken me in as her honorary son. I accept this title openly because I love getting the extra Christmas gifts. She lives in Omaha, Nebraska, while the sister lives in Des Moines, Iowa.

We’re taking my car, which I haven’t taken on a lengthy road trip yet. I named my car Amanda. I name material possessions I own after women. But I don’t like Amanda. I bought her about a year ago, but she has an issue once she gets going. It’s like she slips into neutral for a few seconds before the gas finally kicks in. I’ve taken her to several shops, but no one has been able to figure it out, so I deal with it and risk getting slammed into by other cars when my car temporarily stalls on the road. But I like to live on the edge.

So I’ll see how she does. We’ve got a few days of camping and off-roading planned while we’re in The Rockies, and other days of meandering as well – if we’re not too busy already loitering or vegging out somewhere.

But one major reason for the trip is to scatter the ashes of James’ father, who passed away a few years ago. He loved The Rockies, and one of his wishes was to have them spread there.

I feel blessed that I was asked to be a part of this. I’ve looked up to James’ dad since I first met him when I was a young child. He was very reserved but studious, a true Renaissance man. In his early and later years of life he was a journalist. He also worked as a teacher. He was a great guitarist, and loved his Scottish roots. And was also my church minister when I was growing up. While going to college, he was one semester shy of becoming a lawyer before he received his calling. He would watch Jeopardy and know more answers than the contestants. It was like watching Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day.”

I knew common sense still existed as long as he was around. He followed his passions with all he had. You can’t help but admire that.

He was intimidating to talk to, because whenever I spoke to him he listened with an intent and focus that made you know you had his attention. You had to deal with long periods of silence around him, because he took the time to think before finally answering. And when he did, it was always worth the wait.

James’ father was a man who had a true independent spirit, someone I always used to think was admirable because he built himself up on his own. But I know now that individuals are only as great as the people they choose to have in their lives.

In that respect, I’m glad that I have two families in my life. I look forward to paying my final respects to a man who touched many lives, inspired them, and was incredibly generous in helping people.

Flipping through some of my meeting notes, I ran across some I made during a school board meeting. I remembered it well. Mandan School Superintendent Wilfred Volesky was talking about a seminar he attended. I’d had a long day, and could tell my eyes were getting heavy. He began speaking about the topic of the seminar, which was about watering bamboo. My eyes got heavier. He described how bamboo grow – you water them daily, and nothing happens. But you keep watering them. Then at any random moment, maybe even years down the road, a bamboo stem will finally sprout, and it will then begin to grow at an astoundingly fast rate.

It was an analogy, of course. But that impacted me. It touched me so much that I actually stayed awake the entire meeting. Since then, that’s been an attitude I carry with me. I keep busy with work, and do what I can in the time I’m given, and hopefully I’ll impact or move others in a positive way.

It’s an easy task to undertake – you do what you think is right, and do it with all your heart, and one day  you’ll see the fruits of your labor.

There’s no point in doing something just for the accolades or praise. The true reward is knowing you’re improving the world in a small way. That’s why I plan to keep following my heart. Someone special taught me that.

So I plan to keep watering the bamboo.