catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 11, Num 14 :: 2012.07.06 — 2012.07.19


What is “a better checklist?”

In high school I made a checklist of things I wanted to do sometime during my life: run a marathon, summit a mountain, etc.  I’ve always had a knack for remembering odd facts and trivia, and “Go on Jeopardy!” made it onto the life checklist.  It wasn’t until after college that I took the annual online test that is the first step towards going on the show.  I made it to the next round: another test, a brief interview, and a mock round of Jeopardy! with other contestant-hopefuls in Chicago.  I didn’t hear back after that. 

I took the test again two years later and was again invited to the interview in Chicago.  At that time, I was working at my family’s farm and greenhouse in northwest Indiana. It was early June — the height of greenhouse season. I planned to quit work at lunchtime and ride the South Shore Line into downtown Chicago.  That morning, both the retail and wholesale departments of the greenhouse were hopping. As the time neared to leave, I considered what was ahead of me by thinking back to two years earlier. (I had picked asparagus in the field with my mom before heading into the city that time.) I would have another story to interest and even impress friends.  I would have another chance to have fun playing a trivia game. And I would have a chance to go on the show and maybe even win — another item off my checklist.  The only thing I was putting “in jeopardy” was a few hours of pay. I considered the Jeopardy! team’s spiel about how much they liked giving away money because that translated into higher ratings and, along with that, more money from advertisers.  I recalled the awkward chit-chat with the other contestants — mostly middle-aged, white-collar men trying out for the third or fourth time.

I considered all the work I’d be leaving at the greenhouse and decided not to go.  At that moment, trying out for Jeopardy! seemed trivial, even silly. I spent the rest of the day processing orders and retrieving plants for them, helping customers find the right flowers or vegetables, doing odd jobs for my dad, and sweating profusely in the hot greenhouse — just as I would do the next day and the day after that.

In retrospect, I wish I could say that my actual decision had more to do with my deep convictions about media, social justice and the importance of good work.  In a sense, the decision did reflect my maturing in these areas.   That spring I was reading Basic Trek: Venture into a World of Enough, a Mennonite Central Committee devotional, with my church small group and also meditating on Psalm 15.  Did I really want to support, even tacitly, the TV-Advertising Industrial Complex?  Might accepting money from a game show (or, for that matter, buying its advertised products in a big box store or investing money in the stock market) constitute taking a “reward against the innocent” or lending money with interest (Psalm 15:5)?  How might I work for justice for the innocent and love my “neighbour” (15:3)?  Would Jeopardy! or my family’s farm be more likely to form me into one who “walketh uprightly,” “worketh righteousness,” and “speaketh the truth in [my] heart” (15:2), who “honoureth them that fear the LORD,” who keeps an oath even “to [my] own hurt,” and who “changeth not” (15:4)?

The years since that time I didn’t try out have involved starting a graduate school program, marrying and its concomitant firsts, teaching undergrad students in my own classroom, even summiting a few mountains.  These milestones have been so much more significant than appearing on a game show that I almost cringe.  As a high school student, I no doubt put too much stock in being known as one of the “smart kids.” Yes, knowledge can be a spiritual gift. But now I wish that instead of remembering answers that I gave at the Jeopardy! interview years ago I could remember particular conversations I’ve had with my parents and friends. I wish that instead of being able to name all the world capital cities or all the species of dinosaurs that appear in Jurassic Park, I could remember jokes and compliments that my wife has given to me over the years (as she can do for me).

I admit that I’ve lost my original life checklist, and were I to remake such a list, it would be very different.  It certainly wouldn’t mention Jeopardy!  Now Psalm 15? There’s a list that’s worth striving to check off, or at least work on, every day, for life.  May “LORD, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill?” be the only answers I give in the form of a question.

your comments

comments powered by Disqus