Shvoooom–The Secret to Life

“Shvoooom!” is the energy, the passion, the fire it takes to respond well to whatever life presents.

Steve Roberts black ink drawing: elaborate vehicle with caterpillar treads, spiked tires, fancy horns and musical instruments

My truck’s license plate is YESS.  But if the Vermont DMV let me use more letters, it might be SHVOOOOM.  Not just leaders find it essential to their well-being.  I was reminded of this while preparing the following toast I was privileged to give yesterday at the wedding of one of my sons.

So this past Christmas/Hanukah holiday when Craig and Tara joined the gathering at our Vermont farm for a few days, their wedding, no surprise, was part of the conversation.  On one occasion Tara happened to mention that there were some special things related to her late mother, Clara, that she wanted to make part of this celebration, but that she hadn’t yet thought of how best to include her late dad, Steven.

In one small way, it is my honor today to help include the spirit of Tara’s dad in these proceeding––even though he and I never met and my knowledge of him comes only from the stories Tara has shared about her folks.  But from that alone, I know something pretty special about Steven Blau: he, and I’m sure Clara, knew one of the essentials of a healthy marriage.  In fact, I’d say they knew one of the essentials of life itself.

For Tara to be the child of such wisdom is I’m sure one reason she brings so much light to the world.

But before I tell you the story of Tara’s dad, let me tell you another as a way of recognizing a big reason why Craig brings to this marriage such a generous heart.  I’m speaking of his mom and dad, Max and Wilma Smollen.  They’re easy to spot.  They’re the smiling couple with the big sign that says, “Craig.  It’s about time!”

For those of you who are not really sure who I am, I’m also Craig’s dad.  Not his real dad.  That’s Max.  But I’m Craig’s original dad.  His DNA dad, if you will.  The guy he calls his “progenitor.”  And although Craig and I have been linked by blood since before his birth in 1966, we met only six years ago…2007.

It’s a story worth telling briefly because it says so much about why, thanks to Max and Wilma and the extended Smollen clan, Craig is the big-hearted person he is.

Craig was never an adopted child with a big hole in him needing to be filled by finding his birth parents.  He once told me that his earliest memory is from a time when he was still in a crib, just having been tucked in for the night.  He saw his parents silhouetted in the doorway of his bedroom just watching him…with the kind of unconditional love that creates the healthiest kids on earth.

As far as his biological parents were concerned, Craig always figured someday the time would be right to try and find them, but even then his primary reason would be to thank them, particularly his biological mother Suzanne, who sadly cannot be here today, for giving him the chance to have such a loving family.

For my part, my desire wasn’t ever to find Craig and say how do you do I’m your biological father, but rather to leave whatever breadcrumbs I could so that, should he ever wish to learn about me, he could…even if I were no longer alive.  Any contact beyond that while I was still on the planet would be his to make.

If it weren’t for the internet, it is highly likely that Craig and I might never have met.  Because of the internet, however, I signed up for one of those services that helps people find one another if both parties are interested.  The only information I had about Craig was his name at birth, his birth date, and the name and location of the hospital in which he was born.

And there, on the internet, is where Craig found me on the 19th of this month, six year ago.  The story as I recall it is that he had met some sort of anthropologist who said to him:  Boy, you don’t look quite like a guy named Smollen.  Smollens are Finns, and they have these sorts of characteristics, blah-blah-blah.

To which Craig replied, Well, I was actually adopted, and my biological mother’s name was Kring.  (He had no idea who I was, since my name wasn’t on his original birth certificate.)

Well, the anthropologist said, that makes a lot of sense.  Krings are from such and such and their characteristics are this and that.  You look like a guy whose name could be Kring.

So, more out of curiosity than anything else, Craig Googles his original name, John Kring.  And instantly, up pops me.

You know in the circus when they have that little teeny car and out of it comes an endless stream of clowns?  That’s the image that comes to my mind when I think of Craig meeting me on-line that first time.

My work in the world includes having a website that offers my two cents on almost anything you can imagine that helps anyone, but leaders primarily, answer life’s two most important questions: what’s going on and what’s the healthiest action I can take in this moment?  And what Craig stumbled into was an ocean of stuff––writing, photographs, drawings, whathaveyou––all reflecting who I am and my attempt to serve the human family.  And among the things he found was an essay I had written about him on the occasion of his 40th birthday, a birthday that occurred a year and a half before we met.  The essay, titled “The Power of Invisible People,” commemorated Craig’s presence in my life, and all that that presence had taught me, despite the fact that there was a pretty good chance he and I would never meet.

Two weeks after Craig discovered me online, I received in the mail a hand-written letter that began: Dear Steve, I am your son, John Kring.

That I’m standing here today gives you a sense of how our relationship has evolved since that day.  In fact, the primary reason I’m telling you this story is to highlight a most memorable event, which happened about a year after Craig and I discovered each other.  My wife and I met Max and Wilma in person for the first time.  They and Craig came to dinner at our home in Vermont.  They arrived at 5:30.  They left at 9:30.  And for four hours we all sat around our kitchen table and told stories…and laughed a lot––and felt our appreciation and our gratitude for one another grow.  Such is the open heartedness of Max and Wilma––a quality their boy offers everyone he meets.

So when Craig and Tara drove away from our home last December, on their way back to Max and Wilma’s home on Cape Cod, they were driving Max and Wilma’s car…a car very well-suited for winter on the Cape, but not so much for winter in Vermont, where the rule of thumb is four snow tires or misery.

The unpaved country road from our house to the state highway two miles away includes a hill, and instead of making it completely up and over the hill that morning, Craig and Tara slid off the road into a snowbank.

Craig calls me and says can you come pull us out.  I fire up my pickup, throw a chain in the back and in short order he and I have their car back on the road.  While we’re at it, though, Craig mentions that Tara remarked to him that her father would have said that the reason they got stuck was that they didn’t approach the hill with enough “Shvoooom!”

And I thought, Holy Cow!  That’s Tara’s father making his presence felt––offering them a wedding present.

By the way, I think “Shvoooom” is spelled, S-H-V-OOOO-M with an exclamation point…or two.

And I bet that every one of us here, even if we’ve never heard the word “Shvoooom!”  before, has a pretty good idea what it means.  To me, “Shvoooom!” is the energy, the passion, the fire it takes to respond well to whatever life presents.

And when it comes to a healthy marriage, “Shvoooom!” is the secret ingredient, one that is impossible to live without.

After all, marriage is a commitment of the heart, and our heart never asks us to be small, to play it safe.  Our heart leads us only in the direction of more love, more kindness, more compassion, more understanding, more forgiveness.  And to move in that direction––especially in the face of those situations that are messy and painful––can sometimes take all the fire, all the passion, all the “Shvoooom!” we can muster.

That morning, Craig and Tara drove back down the road a bit so they could get a good running start, then zoomed up and over the hill…and as they passed me standing by my pickup, we all yelled, “Shvoooom!”

So in honor of Tara’s dad, and in honor really of the very best in all of us, I’m going to count to three.  And on three, let us raise our hearts and our voices and offer to Craig and Tara that most powerful of words we hope they will carry in their hearts all the days of their life.

One, two, three: “Shvoooom!”

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