Looking for the wrong things in all the right places

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, December 7, 2005

One of my Cochrane coffee companions came very close to not getting back something of value he loaned me a year ago, all because I couldn't find it – or so I thought.

Brian Norman is a retired military physiotherapist. Originally from England, he settled down in our community about five years ago and has become a regular at Coffee Traders.

We'd been chatting over our morning mug about the positive difference so many of our environmentally-concerned young people are making in the world today. Brian happened to have some writings on initiatives British youth had undertaken in support of The National Forest, a site covering 200 square miles in the English Midlands. He thought I might want to borrow the articles for a possible column.

I took them home and set them on my desk among other books and papers being considered for future columns.

Time passed, and as my terribly inefficient filing system would have it, I had to clean off my desktop in a hurry one day to make room for another more pressing project. At such times I've had the bad habit of finding the nearest empty box and sweeping the growing pile into it – always "just for a few days."

Well, you guessed it. Those few days can stretch into months. Oh, I always think I know in which box to look for this or that, if needed.

But sometimes my memory fails. So it was with the book I distinctly remembered Brian lending me.

Some time ago Brian asked if I was finished with it, and if so, could he have it back.

I started looking for it. I looked on my desk and bookcases. I pawed through the stack of boxes on my office floor. For over two months I looked and I pawed, retracing my search over and over.

But no book for Brian.

Finally a few days ago, Brian indicated he really would like it back sooner than later.

I returned to my office, determined to find it this time. Once more I opened two boxes I had an especially strong feeling about. Wastebasket by my side, I went through them, this time taking every book and paper out of the box individually, throwing out what I should have discarded ages ago, and stacking carefully the books and papers I wanted to keep.

Toward the bottom of the second box, amidst miscellaneous conference brochures and newspaper clippings no longer of value, I came across a large manila envelope containing a dozen or so pamphlets. I had shuffled past this envelope so many times in the past weeks that I was about ready to throw it out, too.

Just before giving it the old heave-ho, I noticed the title of one of the pieces: "Conkers – The Hands-on Experience at the Heart of The National Forest." When I turned the envelope over, there was Brian's name.

There it was all the time, right where it should have been. But I had been looking for a book, when in reality I should have been looking for an envelope of papers.

This whole embarrassing episode reminded me of words from that hit song, "I been looking for love in all the wrong places."

In my case, however, it was not a matter of looking for the right thing in the wrong places, but looking for the wrong thing in all the right places. I had in my mind a wrong image of what I was looking for, and though I had in fact put my hands on it many times during my search, I hadn't recognized it for what it was.

There might be a lesson about life here.

I wonder how many relationships end because people are looking for love in all the right places, but fail to recognize it because they have the wrong image of what love really looks like.

Their marriage collapses because they confuse true love with hormonal responses, and commitment with convenience. The parent-child relationship goes sour because they confuse buddy-buddy no-rules-apply friendship with nurturing, mentoring and the disciplined modeling of values fit for a lifetime.

Or maybe they're looking for God, but the image of God they have in their minds is so radically different from the reality, that they fail to recognize Him when He's right in front of them, staring them in the face – on a bus, in a traffic jam, at a café table, or in the guise of someone our pleasure-and-prosperity-oriented society dismisses as of little consequence.

Indeed, would we even recognize Him if He came as a baby born in a shed to a visiting family unable to get a proper room at the peak of tourist season?


© 2005 Warren Harbeck

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