Frustrated at the numerous requests from my wife to stop procrastinating and write my second book, I made an astounding revelation.
“No Small Miracles” was my second book!”
“Really?” asked the woman who’s known me for 35 years. “Why haven’t I heard of this book?”
“Well,” I stammered, “You . . . you . . . weren’t around then.”
Expecting an explanation something like Paul Harvey’s “The Rest of the Story,” she listened.
“Yeah, I was 13 when I wrote a book called ‘101 Insults — Insults that Burn.’ ”
She gave me a teacher look. It’s the look that says, “You’re going to the principal’s office for lying.”
No matter, I’ve been there before, Walters Junior High, 1971. The book was the reason for my visit.
I had written it as a resource book of comebacks to the daily insults I heard from classmates about the lack of a button on the back of my collar, my short inseam and even shorter hair.
Unfamiliar with the pitfalls of plagiarism, I wrote such zingers as, “When they were handing out brains, you thought they said ‘trains’ and took the caboose.”
The book provided an effective counter attack for the insults I received, especially from one particular girl who constantly commented about my lack of good deodorant. One day, when she whispered something particularly annoying, I responded by calling her “crater face.”
She burst into tears and bolted from the classroom. Apparently distraught from the cumulative effect of insults hurled by classmates, she found her way to the principal’s office to rat out her taunters, starting with Norris Burkes.
This past week, after writing a column about the media pundits who make a living hurling zingers, I heard from readers who reminded me of this girl.
Their e-mails were heart wrenching. They described the insulting loss of retirement savings, medical coverage, a home, job or simply a piece of Americana. Their insult came from a world that is changing at an exponential rate compared to that of their parents’.
Still, other readers took a page from my junior high insult book and called me a communist, a socialist and a pacifist. One reader wrote an Internet posting comparing my military service with that of the Fort Hood shooter.
Wow. They hurt. I wanted to run to the principal.
But fortunately, for every insulting e-mail I received, at least three other readers heard my column as a plea for balanced and unscripted dialogue from all sides.
I was particularly encouraged by reader Bill Bennett from Alpine, Utah, who calls himself “very conservative.”
Bennett said he’d read my column as “an invitation to have an insightful conversation with another thinking adult to explore what other approaches might allow us to preserve our system of government.
“But finding that conversation is almost impossible,” he added. “Insightful has become ‘incite-ful.’ We are making and winning arguments, not finding answers. I long for the tone of Isaiah 1:18: ‘Come now and let us reason together.’ ”
At the end of the day, Bennett argued, “My duty is to God as his child, to my family as the patriarch in our home, to my beloved country as a citizen of America, and to all my fellow men and women of the world.”
As for my original book of insults, I can only pray that it is not published posthumously. God does have a sense of humor, however. Four years after I wrote it, I became the one with a “crater face.”
Burkes is a former civilian hospital chaplain and an Air National Guard chaplain. Write firstname.lastname@example.org or visit thechaplain.net. You can also follow him on Twitter, username is “chaplain,” or on Facebook at facebook.com/norrisburkes.