Clumsiness, absent-mindedness, and getting lost are attributes that have characterized me for as long as I can remember. On a television sit-com, these might be endearing qualities. Perhaps my wife found them endearing while we were dating. But those things that might have seemed cute during the early stage of our relationship, are no longer so cute after twenty-nine years of marriage. They have doubtless become merely annoying. For instance, I rarely hear anyone laugh when I fall down. Perhaps, since I’m now middle-aged, they’re more worried about whether I’ve been injured. The inherent humor of watching me tumble over a chair, nearly drop my iPad, and somehow manage to keep most of the coffee in my coffee cup even as I splatter myself on the carpet is overwhelmed by the terror that I might break something.

As to why I would fall over a chair, that’s impossible for me to say. That my wife and all the other people in my Sunday School class found it amusing in retrospect is impossible to deny.

What always surprises people, after they’ve gotten to know me for half an hour, is to learn that I’ve yet to break a bone or even become seriously injured. Remarkably, too, I haven’t really damaged any property, yet. I did lose a notebook computer once several years ago to a spilled cup of coffee, but in that case it wasn’t me who spilled the coffee but rather one of my students. Notebook computers make interesting noises after they’ve had coffee spilled on them. They also are no longer useful for anything but holding down piles of paper on windy days. Thankfully I’d been thinking about replacing that machine anyhow.

I have yet to have found any way to compensate for my clumsiness. My oldest daughter, although adopted, will tell people that she inherited my clumsiness, since sadly, she is nearly as graceful as I am—this despite the fact that she had ballet lessons and is really a fine dancer.

As a college professor, being absent minded is not particularly unusual. It’s almost considered a job perk. As bad as I am about forgetting things, I have yet to attain the absent-minded status of my undergraduate Hebrew professor. His wife once told my wife a story about it, shortly after we got married. Perhaps as a warning. One morning she called him at his college office. They chatted for awhile about various things and then she finally asked him, “So, when do you think you’ll be coming home?”

“I’ve only got a couple hours worth of work to do, so maybe about noon.”

“Oh good,” she said, “The children are really looking forward to opening their presents.”

It was Christmas day.

One of the ways I compensate for my absent-mindedness is in how I arrange appointments with students. I always arrange it for when I’m going to be in my office anyhow. I am a creature of habit, with very set routines, which works to my advantage. More times than I can count I’ve been sitting in my office when I hear a knock. Only then do I remember, “Oh yes, I had a meeting scheduled with so-and-so.” Thus, I appear less absent-minded than I actually am.

I also have a very poor sense of direction. When I first went to UCLA to begin my graduate studies, the parking garage I parked in was located just off of Sunset Boulevard. If I turned left upon exiting the garage, I would soon reach the freeway which would take me to my after-class job. If I turned right, I would find myself in Beverly Hills. For the first two weeks after I began attending classes I would consistently find myself in Beverly Hills instead of at work.

One of the first steps in my recovery—learning to live with my direction-challenged status—was simply admitting that I can get lost in my own house. Now that I have embraced my inner Wrong-way Flannigan, I no longer worry about getting lost. I simply try to enjoy the strange sights and smells.

Generally speaking my wife does the driving when we are riding together. She has a good sense of direction and so letting her drive insures that we will actually get where we want to go. Secondly, when I have to drive myself, if it is a destination that is familiar to me, then I always take the same route. Otherwise, I go online and use MapQuest to print out a map to my destination (for instance, when I have to drive to one of my friends’ homes). I also always park in the same aisle of store parking lots. When they built a new Super Wal-Mart to replace our old regular Wal-Mart, the first thing I did on my first visit was think to myself, “Okay, which aisle am I going to park in every time I visit this store for the rest of my life?”

The advantage of parking in the same aisle each time is that I no longer have to wait for the store to close and everyone to leave in order to find my car.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm the interim pastor at Quartz Hill Community Church. I have written several books. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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