Mandan News

Brian L. Gray: They call me Mr. Integrity

Okay. Nobody calls me that. No one’s ever used that word to describe me. I’m pretty sure no one’s taken that much time to analyze and break me down to the level where that word ever comes up. And I’m cool with that.

There’s an old story about a guy who’s telling his psychiatrist that he constantly worries about the way people judge him for being who he is, and the psychiatrist replies, “You’d be surprised to know how little people actually do think of you.”

Good advice to live by, which is something I try to do. I don’t worry too much about criticism, because people at the end of the day aren’t really that concerned about how or what you’re doing. That’s not to say there’s no compassion in this world, but at the end of the day it’s always up to you to make those life choices. No one but yourself can really get in the way of those decisions. Living comes down to self-will. Self-reliance. Self empowerment. It all comes down to you.

There’s also an old Irish proverb that I carry with me in my every day meanderings – “Sing as if no one were listening. Dance as if no one were watching. Live each day as if it were your last.” Over the years this has become my mantra of sorts. I aim to keep perspective these days. I try to avoid arrogance. When people in crowds I kind of know wave in my direction, I assume there’s someone behind me they’re waving at. I’ve had too many of those awkward moments – high school – where I’ve waved back only to see the person peer my way with surprise and confusion. Then I always get that sad sympathy wave.

When I hear someone in a crowd say “Brian,” I’ve stopped paying attention. I figure there’s another Brian around somewhere. I’m not that important. The world doesn’t revolve around me. It revolves around the sun.

I’m old now. I’ve seen stuff. I’ve been through things. I know that selfishness doesn’t get you anywhere. That’s a lesson I learned years ago, and I’m glad I learned it. I’ve had three decades of trial and error, many years of ruminating. I love the wisdom I carry with me now. And in that regard I can’t wait to be an old man. I want to grow my hair and beard really long and look like a wizard, and carry all my life knowledge on my shoulders, and pass it along to other eager and willing listeners.

Maybe I’ll live in a temple too, on the top of a rolling butte on the outskirts of Mandan, and people will have to take long journeys to seek the answers I will provide them.

No. That’s ridiculous. Answers can never be fully contained in one person. And that’d be my first lesson to people who make the arduous trek to my temple, because I also want them to learn that disappointment is a part of life.

Because I’m all about integrity. I make goals and work to crystallize the steps needed to achieve them. I have genuine respect and concern for nature, life, and others around me. I avoid judgment. I respect that we’re all doing our own little song and dance, and we must respect that because no one knows how long it will last. I’m holding closer to what’s important, and throwing out the insignificant things in my life, which includes material possessions. I didn’t need the lava lamp I’ve had since high school anymore, or that glass head I used to place my headphones on. Keeping these possessions no longer mattered to me, they had to go. Time’s passing carries with it a certain weight, and we can carry only so much as we roll on.

Life’s all about its simple pleasures. That’s what I’ve learned. I have money now. I know how to save it, I know how to make it. If my world crashed, I’d be able to land on my feet.

It was only six years ago I returned from college with literally $20 to my name. I got a part-time job in radio. At the station there was a soda and candy machine. The soda machine took dollar bills but the candy didn’t. And I hate carrying change in my pockets. So I never got candy, because to buy any I’d need to buy two sodas. And that’s just way too unhealthy to down that much junk food. When I got my first big check after a few weeks of major overtime, just over $700, I didn’t go nuts with it. I treated myself right, and let loose. I bought two sodas and a candy bar. And let me tell you, that was the best junk food I ever had.

I’ll always remember that. And I’ve continued to think that way. I constantly work to keep myself – financially and emotionally – in check. Nothing will change that attitude I have. I don’t care how much money, fame, or status I receive in life. I won’t be changed from my enjoyment of knowing that I’m putting myself into a position where I’m taking small steps that help others. Sure, go right ahead – tempt me with your money, your women, your yachts, your big houses, your country clubs, your fancy wines and weird cheeses. None of these things will change me.

Seriously, give me your money. I dare you. It wouldn’t change my attitude. I can’t be compromised. Not me. And that’s why I call myself Mr. Integrity.

I know what matters in my world, and it’s not material possessions. I don’t care about that. I’m aiming for a long, fulfilling life, one where I soak in every moment I’m a part of. And as long as I get my occasional two Sprites and a Snickers bar, I can keep on singing and dancing.