The first time I said the phrase, I was playing pool in the basement of Wesley UMC in Grand Forks, with the senior pastor. We would have our “staff meetings” around the pool table in the youth room, where we would talk out thorny issues, and decide on the direction of church programs and such.
I ended up with a very difficult shot to make. There was a greater chance that I would sink the 8-ball and lose, rather than drop the ball I wanted to hit into the pocket. Now, for those of you who have played pool in your lives, please imagine two very novice pool players, who spent more time hitting the cue ball into the pocket than actually making a good shot. Anyway, as I lined things up, the best and only phrase I could say was, “Well, if you don’t live, you can’t die.” With that, I hit a masterful shot, and ended up sinking the 8 ball.
The shot was not at all memorable, but the discussion that followed was. The senior pastor looked at me with a great puzzlement on his face, and said, “What are you talking about? That doesn’t make any sense at all!” But in that moment, somehow it did. It figuratively meant that if you if try something and utterly fail – at least you tried… at least you lived. To never approach something that is likely impossible might be the conservative way, but then, in accordance with the saying – you never lived in the first place. If you don’t live, you can’t die. 36 years later, I still proclaim that when I’m about to do something that has almost no chance of succeeding… almost no chance, but now and then, I “live” instead of never living.
We all have our favorite saying that we keep in our back pocket until we need it. Sayings like, “Better safe than sorry,” or “better late than never,” or “what have you got to lose?” or even, “Let’s just play the cards, and see what turns up.”
One phrase I learned while taking Latin in college is really just the first part of a longer statement that I have long forgotten, although I remember the joke. The Latin is “Ut quisque suum,” which is roughly translated as “To each his own,” which we hear often in our world, especially when someone is about to do something or enjoys something that we’d never want to be even close to. However, the punchline, in Latin is, “dixit domina eius praedixisse matri oculanti fertur bovis.” I can imagine you laughing and falling out of your chair, even as you read it, aren’t you? Talk about a funny saying!
Well, if your Latin is a little rusty, after the first noble point of saying, “To each his own,” we find the next translation to be, “said the woman as she kissed her cow.” Talk about Latin humor! That’s a real kneeslapper, don’t you agree? Ok – maybe not the world’s greatest joke, like “Ole and Sven were walking out in the wilderness when they came upon some tracks. Ole said, “Wow – those are moose tracks!” Sven answered, “No, ya dope – those are elk tracks!” And so they argued what kind of tracks they were – until the train came by and hit them..”
So – what special phrases do you own, that you pull out and use when you aren’t sure even what else to say? The phrase helps to define you. Dad used to say, (in his non-profane times), “Lord love a duck!” or “For cryin’ out Martha…” to this day, I don’t know what they mean, but they are 100% Dad’s special sayings. I am sure you have yours, and it’s helpful, and self-exploring, I think, to discover those and claim them as part of the way you express yourself to the world. I would of course hope that the ones you realize are not ones that couldn’t or shouldn’t be shared with people around you, but whatever they are – they are you.
When someone around us dies, we lose a bit of that richness, but hopefully there are those who come after who will bring their own special way of expressing themselves in our world, that we will always have an abundance of unique and even quirky ways of talking, like the German Russians here in North Dakota would say as they turned their English around: Throw the cow over the fence some hay…”
Enjoy those around you, who enliven and create interest in the ways they approach life and describe it. It’s not always intentional, but it is truly who they are. For if they don’t live, they can’t die.
Word for the day: furphy. Pronounced FUR-fee. It’s actually from Australia, but in a strange way. Furphy and Sons was a company that manufactured water and sanitation carts during World War One, for millions of soldiers. As has always been the case, those on a little break would stand around, and tell stories – some of them rumors, others, just a bunch of baloney, and others, outright lies. After one would be shared, often the soldiers would say, “Oh, tell us another furphy!” And so the water unit came to be the center of gossip or rumor. It’s interesting that it is also close to another word we have looked at: scuttlebutt, when on ship, the cask that held the drinking water would have a large hole cut in the top – the scuttle – with the word, “butt” being the barrel that held the water. Sailors would stand around, getting a drink of water and sharing the “scuttlebutt” of the ship. Of course in offices, we have “water cooler gossip,” when the same thing happens. Today, however, we are given “furphy” for our education…
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.