Saturday, May 2, 2015

My Secret Society: Changing the Setting

I am not supposed to tell anybody this, but I am part of a secret society. 

I took an oath under a veil of darkness to never speak a word of this; not even to my wife. I would have to go to my grave with these secrets. Our group is small (maybe 3 or 4 people, depending on the day) but we are fervent about our time together. We meet at night, just after the sun has dipped behind the large fir trees that line the front of our neighbor’s yard. The room is black, besides the single light I carry. Yes, I am the leader, and I call the meetings.

Once the meeting has been announced, the people file in. We close the door, to make sure nobody else is listening, and begin our rituals. First, we all climb onto the bed, and get under the covers. Next, we reveal a book that will be read. And finally, I pass out the secret snack. This is the controversial part, and the main reason we have to meet in secret… because the secret snack is eaten after teeth have already been brushed! (Scandalous, I know.) But to receive a secret morsel of goodness (AKA a gummy snack) you must first answer a question. Some questions are about life. Some questions are silly. Others are serious. The only rule is that you have to be honest. And an honest answer lands you one gummy.

In closing, we usually will read a story from the Bible, as well as a book of one member’s choosing. We close out the secret meeting with bed time prayers. Then, all hands in the middle, a secret chant, usually a lot of giggling, and the blankets come off and we go to bed.

I started this little night time escapade a couple of months ago with my kids. I was thinking of a way to make our before-bed ritual more memorable. Bedtime has always been my responsibility, and is also my most cherished time with my children. I love telling stories and laughing together in the dark. I love reading to them, and asking questions, and dreaming together. There is something about those moments before bed that just seem more special. That’s why I decided to throw a new idea into the mix, and change up the setting. I do this from time to time to keep things interesting. Last summer we would go outside in the dark on the front porch by candlelight. 

I read a book once that talked about how screen writers use the setting in the movie to make the scene more interesting. So instead of having a conversation between characters on a couch, they might have that same conversation while working out, or boxing, or even jumping out of an airplane. The setting, which most just think as the forgettable backdrop, actually ends up enhancing the scene, and even making the dialogue more interesting and memorable.

In one of my favorite movies, Inception, the main character, Cobb, is explaining critical information to another character. In this mind-bending scene Cobb is detailing how dreams work, and how one can create inside of those dreams. This conversation is important because it clues in the audience to imperative details on the structure and framework the narrative is working in; that is to say, it is information the viewer needs to remember. Though the setting seems normal at first –they are having coffee outside a little café- we soon start to see things change. The characters are actually in a dream themselves. Sidewalks begin to blow up and buildings crumble. The cityscape even folds over upon itself, all the while the characters continue to talk. It is one of the most memorable scenes of the movie.

This concept of setting works not only in the movies, but in real life as well. Why do you think it is so important for us to pick the right venue for a wedding or birthday party? It is because the setting matters, and the setting can make or break a memory. 

I am going to tell on myself as proof that setting matters. Last year was our ten year anniversary. I wanted to do something special for my wife, and I decided to get her a necklace. Patience is not one to ask for expensive jewelry, but she had hinted around that she wouldn’t mind something like that for a very special occasion. I went to the jewelry store to look around and ended up with a simple diamond necklace and a new credit card bill. To be honest, I wasn’t sure she was going to like it. I figured she would appreciate the gesture, but would probably ultimately end up swapping it out for something of her choice. 

Our anniversary fell at a tough time. We had been waiting for over a year to bring home our son from Korea, when an incident happened that shut down all of Korean adoptions. We were no longer moving closer to making him our son, and were uncertain we would ever be able to bring him home. We had a little extra money, so I talked Patience into booking us a cruise in the Caribbean. I knew if we were not doing something we would just end up sitting at home and sulking on the day of our ten year anniversary. We got a great deal, and were both excited to cruise for the first time together. All the while, I was planning the big moment when I would give Patience her necklace. I now had my setting. I could give her the necklace out on the bough of the ship, just before we went to our first dinner together.

The plan was solid, but the mixture of my excitement and uncertainty that she would even like the jewelry was grating away at me the closer we came to our trip. I knew Patience was onto me. Kay’s Jewelry had sent me a nice letter in the mail. She had not opened it, but the cat was already out of the bag. 

Just a few days before we were to leave on our cruise I detoured from my original plan. I decided I needed to give her the necklace before the trip so she could exchange it for something she actually liked. I was totally convinced at this point that she would hate what I bought her.

“What would you think if I gave you an early present?” I asked.

She was blow drying her hair in the bathroom at the time.

“I mean… I guess that's fine… if you’re okay with it,” she yelled over the buzz of the dryer.

I ran into the bedroom and dug out the box from my underwear drawer. Without any explanation, I walked into the bathroom and handed her the box. She opened it up and stood there for a moment in her robe without a word.

“You don’t like it do you?” I asked.

Her silence seemed to confirm my suspicions. 

“No… no I really love it,” she responded in hesitation.

It wasn’t until later that night that she explained the reason behind her silence.

“The necklace is beautiful and so special, but…” she paused as she looked me dead in the eyes, “You don’t give a special gift like that in the bathroom.”

I tried explaining my reasoning, then made the mistake of telling her my original plan.

“So you’re telling me that you had the choice of giving me the necklace on the front of a cruise ship in the middle of the Caribbean while both of us are all dressed up, or giving it to me in the bathroom of our home while I am fixing my hair in a robe… and you chose the bathroom?”

Now I was the silent one.

Patience was not being mean about it, and she kept confirming how much she loved the necklace, but the setting ruined it. 

Like I said, setting matters.

Since that enormous failure, I have been more conscious of my settings. I started asking myself how I could change things up to make the routine of life a little more memorable.

Instead of eating dinner at the table tonight, what if had a picnic at the park?

Instead of another night on the couch talking to each other during commercials, what if we built a fire in the backyard and had conversation under the stars?

What if before bed we hid under the covers and pretended like we were a secret society?

These simple questions lead to memorable moments. It’s funny how a change in scenery can make all the difference.

I do not remember most meals growing up, but I do remember the one where my parents let my cousin and me set up a card table at the edge of the woods behind our house. It was a silly and simple place to eat, but I have never forgotten it. Routine can often dull the beauty and excitement of our day to day lives, but by changing the setting of where you do things, you might find it quite easy to make a memory without even leaving your own back yard. 

Just last night my son, Sawyer, came into the living room. He cleared his throat dramatically.

“Are we going to… you know?” he whispered, as he tilted his head towards the stairs.

"Are we going to what?" I replied.

"Are we going to... have a meeting?"

"Not tonight."

Sawyer began to stomp out of the room and up the stairs. I got up from the couch, and caught up with him in the hallway.

"It's pretty late, buddy. We will have a secret meeting tomorrow night," I tried to explain.

"Dad... you know how important those meetings are," he said in a serious tone.

I kind of laughed at the comment, but then it hit me... my son valued our time together. He was the one pursuing it. Maybe it was gummy snacks. Maybe it was the secret nature of hiding under the covers. Maybe it was just the silly stories and questions. Whatever the reason, Sawyer found our secret night time assemblies a non-negotiable.

I leaned over and quietly whispered in his ear, "I guess you better inform the others."

"About what?" he asked.

"About tonight's meeting!"

Sawyer's eyes lit up as he ran to find his sister and brother.

A simple change of setting makes all the difference. Just ask all the members of my secret society. Actually, don't ask them. I might land myself in some big trouble if they find out I have shared our secret!

1 comment:

  1. This just goes to show the value of a good set of parents. I know for my wife and myself this was very relevant with us. Thanks for sharing Brandon. Setting really does matter!