In an unsolicited bit of hilarious advice in “The Graduate,” Dustin Hoffman’s character is pulled aside at a party. “I want to say one word to you. Plastics. There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it.”

The best advice I’ve gotten is complicated. Both the advice, and the adviser.

When I was little I had an oversized, idolized uncle. He would climb to the pulpit to be seen each Sunday in focused light. He was barrel chested, had a pock-marked face and could project to the rafters, in an Old Testament, fire-and-brimstone style. He could make the room shake. He was so good that during his sermons, you could hear a pin drop. My Uncle Van.

I knew him to have quirks, too. He’d pick me up in his car. We’d drive to a train crossing where, with his pocket watch, he’d record in a notebook if it was on or behind schedule. He’d ask all participants in a wedding to synchronize their watches. They’d all be on his clock. MARK! And it would go off … precisely! On Sundays, the church bell would ring on his entrance. He’d step away from the pulpit to sing with the choir if he liked the harmony. He followed Chicago White Sox baseball games, and knew the batting averages for most American League players. He’d commandeer a piano in the church basement to play ragtime melodies by ear. A powerful, overwhelming, quirky character, both idiosyncratic and intimidating.

He could charm, too. Sundays, he’d bring the kids down front. He lumbered down to the edge of the stage, got out his faithful pocket watch, started it and said, “I’m going to make a promise to you. I have a gift for the the first child to come up here and touch my left hand.”

Time stopped. What was the game? We were all exceptionally quiet. I looked around, took a deep breath and decided to make a tough public climb. He was up in the pulpit now. I finally got up there and it seemed like it took 20 minutes. Silence.


He opened his huge hand. “Go ahead,” he said.

I looked at it and took the $5 folded inside. Promise kept.

His advice was both in subtext and in character: “Even though there may be a spotlight and a crowd watching you, have courage. Time is precious and doesn’t wait. Time can stand still, but it is yours. Of course, keep your promises.”

Tough stuff. Complicated advice. Only a step at a time. Trust. A metaphor.

We’ve all gotten good and bad advice over the years. In proverbs (“A stitch in time …”; “The early bird …”) and Scripture (“… where your treasure is”). We hire experts – gurus, life coaches – to help keep our lives simple. Marie Kondo has us take steps to gaining cleaner, simpler, more satisfying lives.

We’ve all been preached at by such experts, and have become guarded against unsolicited advice. I remember those who gave me advice I’ve tried to keep. Fred Rogers! A perfect example. I remember people as much as advice. My Uncle Van. He could get me to climb into the light.

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