When I was a young cadet at West Point, nearly thirty years ago, I brought my creativity and artistic nature to a vast sea of military conformity. Now don’t misunderstand me. “Sameness” is a part of essential military discipline. Soldiers are dressed the same, learn the same tactical skills, sleep in rooms that look the same, and so forth. This is part of what it means to be in the Army – to keep up the discipline and consistency that serves us well on the field of battle. But amidst that conformity in the summer of 1988, I was a yearling (2nd year student) at West Point and opted to carry in my right ammunition pouch a toothbrush and toothpaste … and a pair of scissors.
Now the vogue Army way of cutting anything is with a buck knife, preferably of a large and intimidating size that will serve a myriad of purposes and perhaps save your life in a myriad of ways. And knives are good and fine, but I just found that those scissors were … so … darned … handy.
My classmates were appalled that a cadet in battle dress uniform would pull out a pair of sewing scissors on occasion to get a job done. The interesting part, however, was that I became over the early days of that summer the “keeper of the scissors,” not by any formal name, but by the simple fact that everyone knew they were safely tucked away in my ammo pouch. And one at a time they came … little by little, in the quiet of dark hours when no one was looking, asking to borrow my scissors … time … and time … and time again. Because you know what? Scissors are simply a handy tool. I was “thinking outside the box,” perhaps before that now-tired phrase even existed.
Switching gears to current day, it goes without saying that the last year has been challenging. The pandemic has brought adversity most of us never anticipated. The fear of getting sick, heart-wrenching grief, the mental and systemic strain on our essential workers, unanticipated financial burdens, parents tasked with working at home while raising and educating children, and long stretches at home where it can just be too quiet.
How am I weathering the storm? So-so truthfully. I miss my mother and my sister … and hugging them. I fear the virus that may rob me of someone I love. I am appalled that the pandemic is now political. I love working from home but there are days where I’m climbing the walls. And in the midst of all these feelings, I’m bored … which I feel guilty about.
So where are my “scissors” — my handy tool based on out-of-the-box thinking that helps me move forward? Where are yours? And who is the person or people we go to when we are just plain out of innovative ideas or positive energy. In the metaphor, the scissors become the conversation I have with my dear friend Liz, who may have her own creative ideas to share with me. Ideas that can ward off some of the challenges of the day. And the blues. Conversation with her becomes a tool. Her words are the handy scissors.
At what point do we turn to a friend or family member and ask, “Can I borrow your ‘scissors?’ In effect, “what idea or innovative approach has kept you positive this week … this hour … the last ten minutes?”
There’s no question that the pandemic has required innovative, creative, out-of-the-box thinking to navigate the challenges it has brought. And I can say for me, that it is in the sharing of ideas and tools and tips that make me smile, laugh, and lift up my chin. So don’t be surprised, dear friends, if I ask to borrow your scissors this week.