1321) Reality Check, Right Between the Eyes

Image result for wieners and sauerkraut images


By Robert Fulghum (1937- ), from his 1991 book “UH-OH!”  Fulghum was also the author of the best-selling All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten (1989).


     It was the summer of 1959.  At a resort inn in the Sierra Nevada of Northern California, I had a job that combined being the night desk clerk in the lodge and helping with the horse-wrangling at the stables.  The owner-manager was Swiss, with European notions about conditions of employment.  He and I did not get along.  I thought he was a fascist who wanted peasant employees to know their place.  I was 22, just out of college, and pretty free with my opinions.

     One week the employees were served the same thing for lunch every single day.  Two wieners, and mound of sauerkraut and stale rolls.  To compound insult injury, the cost of the meals was deducted from our paychecks.  I was outraged.

     On Friday night of that awful week, I was at my desk job around 11:00 p.m., and the night auditor had just come on duty.  I went into the kitchen and saw a note to the chef to the effect that wieners and sauerkraut were on the employees menu for two more days.

     That did it.  For lack of any better audience, I unloaded on the night auditor, Sigmund Wollman.

     I declared that I had had it up to here, that I was going to get a plate of wieners and sauerkraut and wake up the owner and throw it at him.  Nobody was going to make me eat wieners and sauerkraut for a whole week and make me pay for it, and this was un-American, and I didn’t like wieners and sauerkraut enough to eat them even one day for Pete’s sake, and the whole hotel stunk, and I was packing my bags and heading for Montana where they never even heard of wieners and sauerkraut and wouldn’t feed that stuff to pigs.  Something like that.

     I raved on this way for 20 minutes.  My monologue was delivered at the top of my lungs, punctuated by blows on the front desk with a fly swatter, the kicking of chairs, and much profanity.

     As I pitched my fit, Sigmund Wollman sat quietly on his stool, watching me with sorrowful eyes.  Put a bloodhound in a suit and tie and you have Sigmund Wollman.

     He had good reason to look sorrowful.  He was a German Jew, a survivor of three years in Auschwitz.  He was thin and coughed a lot.  He liked being alone at the night job.  It gave him intellectual space, peace and quiet, and, even more, he could go into the kitchen and have a snack whenever he wanted—all the wieners and sauerkraut he wished.  To him, it was a feast.  More than that, there was nobody around to tell him what to do.  In Auschwitz he had dreamed of such a time.

     The only person he saw at work was me, the nightly disturber of his dreams.  Our shifts overlapped an hour.  And here I was, a one-man war party at full cry.

     “Lissen, Fulchum.  Lissen me, lissen me.  You know what’s wrong with you?  It’s not the wieners and kraut and it’s not the boss and it’s not the chef and it’s not this job.”

     “So what’s wrong with me?” I asked.

     “Fulchum, you think you know everything, but you don’t know the difference between an inconvenience and a problem.  If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire—then you got a problem.  Everything else is inconvenience.  Life is inconvenient.  Life is lumpy.  Learn to separate the inconveniences from the real problems.  You will live longer.  And you will not annoy people like me so much.  Good night.”

     In a gesture combining dismissal and blessing, he waved me off to bed.

     Seldom in my life have I been hit between the eyes so hard with truth.  There in that late night darkness of a Sierra Nevada inn, Sigmund Wollman simultaneously kicked my butt and opened a window in my mind.

     For 30 years now, in times of stress and strain, when something has me backed against the wall and I’m ready to do something stupid with my anger, a sorrowful face appears in my mind and asks, “Fulchum, problem or inconvenience?”

     I think of this as the ‘Wollman Test of Reality.’  Life is lumpy.  And a lump in the oatmeal, a lump in the throat, and a lump in the breast are not the same lump.  One should learn the difference.

     Good night, Sig.


“We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.”


Philippians 4:11b-12  —  I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

I Timothy 6:6-8  —  Godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.

Hebrews 13:5b  —  Be content with what you have.

Romans 8:18  —   I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

Colossians 3:15  —   Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.  And be thankful.


Help me, Lord, to see what I need to see.

Help me to learn what I need to learn.

Grant me the grace to apply these lessons in my life.

Enable me, Lord, to manage my thoughts and emotions so that I may have the proper perspective and response to my challenges.

Though my burdens seem heavy, I pray that you direct all my steps toward you.  

In Jesus’ name I pray.  Amen.  


12) Getting Used to Ingratitude

     In these quotes taken from an anthology of quotes by Martin Luther (What Luther Says, volume 3,  Concordia), Luther teaches us to learn to live with ingratitude.


     To learn to be thankful is not enough; we must also get used to exercising the virtue of bearing up under ingratitude.  This virtue belongs to God alone and to real Christians…  Learn this lesson, then.  Let him who would be a Christian be prepared to earn ingratitude with all his benefactions, faithfulness, and service; and let him beware lest he be moved thereby no longer to serve and help others.  For one of the Christian virtues and a real fruit of faith consists in your saying, when people give you a dirty deal after you have done your best:  “No, you will not get me angry and disgruntled by your conduct.  I will put up with it and nevertheless help wherever I can.  Will you be unthankful?  I know One in heaven above us who will thank me in your stead.  His thanks will be more pleasing to me than yours.”  This is maintaining a Christian attitude.  But you will not be able to learn this art from the world.  It does the very opposite.  (#4555)


     We must live among ungrateful people, but we should not take offense and cease to do good on that account.  On the contrary, we should continually do good and pay no attention to the poor thanks we reap.  Just so God lets His sun rise daily on both the grateful and the ungrateful  (Matthew 5:45).


     For if you do good in order to earn the gratitude and applause of the world, you will find the very opposite.  Now if you grow very angry, want to wreck everything, and are determined to do no more good, you are no longer a Christian.  You harm yourself and accomplish nothing.  Can you not see where your home lies, that you are living in a world which is bound to be full of vice and ingratitude?…  It requires no skill to live with the pious only and to do good to them, but it does require ability to associate with the wicked without becoming wicked yourself.    (#4556)


Psalm 35:12 — They repay me evil for good and leave my soul forlorn.

Ecclesiastes 9:14-15 — There was once a small city with only a few people in it.  And a powerful king came against it, surrounded it and built huge siege works against it.  Now there lived in that city a man poor, but wise, and he saved the city by his wisdom.  But nobody remembered that poor man.

Jeremiah 18:19-20 — Listen to me, O Lord; hear what my accusers are saying!  Should good be repaid with evil?  Yet they have dug a pit for me.  Remember that I stood before you and spoke in their behalf to turn your wrath away from them.

Luke 17:11-19 — Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee.  As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him.  They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”  When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.”  And as they went, they were cleansed.  One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice.  He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.  Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed?  Where are the other nine?  Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”  Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

Matthew 5:45 — He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (NIV)


     O Father and God of all comfort, grant us by your Word, a firm, happy, and grateful faith, by which we may readily overcome this and every trial, and at length realize that it is the truth when your Son, Jesus Christ says: “Be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.”  Amen.   –Martin Luther