In Uncle Joe’s eulogy late last month, J.L., one of several of Uncle Joe’s namesakes and our cousin, mentioned that Uncle Joe lived out the "Triple-A" philosophy that he had relentlessly advocated. To the scores of those gathered to pay their respects and celebrate his home going, a lengthy explanation was not necessary and people exchanged knowing looks and warm smiles. Anyone who knew Uncle Joe had heard him say countless times, "You’ve just got to learn to adjust, adapt and appreciate."
Adjust, adapt and appreciate — these were the ubiquitous words of advice Uncle Joe gave for various situations. Sometimes this cryptic commentary would simply be part of his greeting or farewell. Anyone who crossed his path would hear him repeat the words: adjust, adapt and appreciate. While he had a never-ending stream of jokes, the cornier the better, and other pithy sayings, none had the staying power of "adjust, adapt and appreciate."
My response to the Triple-A’s, too often, was a wan smile as I heard the message for the umpteenth time. Uncle Joe was a warm, effusive, likeable person, and we certainly wouldn’t have hurt his feelings by being dismissive. But inwardly the younger generations considered his oft-repeated motto a tad irrelevant and meaningless.
As time passed, however, we began to grasp some things about life from the inevitable "learning" experiences we all encounter. In the midst of some struggle — to my chagrin — I would hear Uncle Joe’s message echoing in my mind: "You’ve just got to learn to adjust, adapt and appreciate."
Little by little, bit by bit, I began to get the picture and learn the profound lesson.
More and more, I’ve discovered that the process is an ongoing one.
Uncle Joe was the sixth of nine children. When he was about 15 or 16, Uncle Joe’s father died of cancer in his mid 50s. The Great Depression had reduced his once highly successful construction business to bankruptcy. Worse still, he had mortgaged the family home in an attempt to complete a project during his illness. When the loan could not be repaid, the bank foreclosed and the family lost its home. Uncle Joe’s life went from ease to near desperation almost overnight. As a teenager, he had to put his saying to practice.
Reflecting recently on the Triple-A philosophy of life, I was struck by what it does not entail –– "understanding" for instance.
When I came of age in the 1960s, we heard so much about the importance of understanding each other in building relationships. It was assumed that most problems in relationships were the result of a lack of communication, that with proper understanding differences could be resolved and everything would turn out rosy. With all of the conceit of youth, my husband and I were convinced that all problems have solutions –– smart people can find and implement those solutions.
That was then, this is now.
I’ve become aware that it is not always possible to "understand"; sometimes we can only "adjust, adapt and appreciate" because understanding is just impossible.
Why should we expect someone else to be able to understand us? Some things about myself don’t make sense even to me. This is true of all humanity, males as well as females. We shall all be forever conflicted and confounded by the gap between the "feelings" side of our nature and our "rational" side. No where is "making sense" more irrelevant than in the sexual arena. This difficulty holds no matter how logical the person. This may account, in part, for Lord Chesterfield’s humorous complaint about the expense of sex which he considered unjustified, given that its pleasures are momentary and the positions ridiculous.
Just as understanding is sometimes impossible, other times before understanding can take place, we have to adjust, adapt and appreciate the "other" –– as they are, without the necessity or even the possibility of change.
I don’t remember Uncle Joe ever mentioning how to put the Triple-A "principles" into practice; perhaps endless repetition made up for the lack of explication. Certainly, these attitudinal responses are a way of giving hands and feet to faith, hope and love.
Not long ago Gil and I were trying to remember how we resolved our differences during a particularly rough patch in our marriage. Neither of us has a clear recollection or explanation of either the issues or the resolution.
One thing is certain: The resolution of our dispute had a lot more to do with our commitment to our marriage than to having reached some magical "understanding" that bridged the gap between us. We agreed that, at times, we’ve just had to adjust, adapt and appreciate each other.
Uncle Joe would have smiled.