Note: Mark originally wrote this story six years ago.
Last night, I stood on the stage at Indiana University beside I.U. President Michael McRobbie and proudly/humbly accepted what I consider to be a lifetime achievement award for teaching at IUSB.
Of all the things I could have or should have been thinking, this odd thought crossed my mind: “I wonder if President McRobbie is wearing tattered underwear.”
I’m not kidding. I wondered that, because I was wearing tattered underwear. I am a tattered underwear kind of guy.
My life has been full of “just-good-enoughs.” When I clean snow off my car, I clean it off just good enough that I can see most of the road. While some people spend the extra five minutes to totally clean all the snow off their car, I figure that if I can get started down the road, the wind will take care of the rest. Just good enough.
When I was a student, I never worried about getting an A. I thought the people who got A’s were always more nervous than I was and so I always figured that a B was just good enough.
So, my life is always measured by being “just good enough.” Hence, to one of the biggest events in my life, I was wearing tattered underwear.
Not that it was unclean in any way, but it was definitely tattered. When I dressed that morning I had a choice of new, uncomfortable underwear, or my old totally comfortable underwear.
On the day of my daughter’s wedding a couple years back I was faced with the same decision and I chose the “new” underwear. I spent the rest of the day with that slightly queasy feeling that new underwear gives a fellow.
Yesterday, I decided it was my day to be comfortable. So I grabbed a pair of my old faithful tattered underwear.
No one knew, of course. My suit we neatly arranged, my shirt and tie were pressed and clean and my shoes were shined. On the way there, I thought what I was wearing reflected how life for most people is. We all have our suits and ties on when we are in public. We try to create our image for the world as being ready and prepared.
Yet under our “suits and ties,” we are all wearing underwear.
And, in my case my underwear is imperfect, full of tatters, mends, thin spots, and stains. Just like my life. Wildly imperfect is how I tend to describe it.
As I grow older, I know that the images that everyone wears in public are simply that. Images. Just behind the smile is a life full of self-doubt, mistakes, and personal hurt and pain. The best of us in public may be the worst of us in private.
So in my moment of high achievement, I could not help but think about underwear. President McRobbie seemed like a nice enough guy. He probably would make a good golfing partner. Might even be a good fantasy baseball league commissioner.
Yep, I am thinking that, on that stage, in front of all those people, Mike McRobbie was just like me and wearing tattered underwear.
And, if he was, I kind of liked him for it.