It was 9:15 a.m. and I sensed I was in trouble.
It wasn’t the San Francisco ballroom with several hundred health professionals that unnerved me, nor was it the fact that I was about to deliver the keynote address for one of the leading medical organizations in the nation that made me uneasy. The preceding 10-minute presidential introduction left my audience numbed (paralyzed, in fact) by the reality of impending severe healthcare cutbacks that would drastically impact every person in that group during the upcoming year. It was as if they were waiting for a flood to wipe them out.
“This is bound to be a disaster!” I thought to myself, knowing within minutes I would be lecturing about (of all things) humor in healthcare. How ironic! After awakening to the stark reality of government-imposed red tape and constriction of services, the group would have been better off sleeping in. I also knew they were in no mood for my message.
Realizing it was too late to catch the next flight and I was already seated onstage, I reluctantly stepped up to the podium and took a deep breath. I began with a story (similar to one published by an anonymous author on the Internet a few years ago) that would hopefully enable this group to assume a lighter frame of reference conducive to gaining something (if anything) valuable from my message. This is what I told them.
A few years ago, a middle-aged farmer by the name of Noah sat on his front porch reading a local news story about reduced federal agriculture subsidies. A bolt of lightning suddenly shattered the silence and his reading glasses. It struck not more than 10 yards from his feet. Thrown to the ground, he looked up and heard the voice of God which sent shivers down his spine.
“Noah, my son, I have some good news and bad news for you,” declared God. “The bad news is that I’m dissatisfied with the world’s progress, and I’ve decided to destroy all living creatures with the greatest flood of all time. The good news is I’ve chosen to save you … for you are a good man. Set forth to build a massive ark for your family and take along a pair of every living species that exists on earth. When the flood waters rise and cover the earth in two years, you shall be safe. When they eventually recede, you and your passengers will begin anew. I will protect you.”
Noah clearly understood and believed God’s directive. He immediately assumed the task of designing and building God’s ark in his front yard. Yet soon after clearing the area, building inspectors from the Community Planning Authority showed up on his doorstep and demanded he apply for a building permit.
Despite great difficulty explaining his God-directed plans that didn’t meet local standards, Noah complied. Yet it wasn’t until 2 months later that the permit was finally approved – a setback that hopefully wouldn’t prevent him from meeting his most important deadline ever.
Back on track, Noah set forth to hire a ragtag crew – after all, who would buy into the idea anyway? His classified ad triggered a less-than-positive meeting with the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Noah was charged with unfair labor practices as he failed to hire representative workers the Feds considered appropriate. After months of conciliatory talks and failure to attract other employees, he was finally given the go ahead to continue.
With renewed determination, Noah’s team began leveling massive cedar trees in the local forest. That’s when the Environmental Protection Agency arrived with an injunction. Noah’s explanation for the widespread flood and devastation that was about to occur wasn’t classifiable within their well-established guidelines. After a lengthy and costly battle funded by a few dedicated supporters, the agency finally conceded it didn’t have planetary jurisdiction anyway. Well behind schedule and without time to celebrate, Noah’s team began working on the ark again.
All seemed to be going well for a while until one day officers from the National Park Foundation handed Noah a subpoena to appear in Federal Court. Their charges were simple – destroying cedar trees was further compromising the already-endangered habitat of the spotted owl. Noah assured them he would take a pair, yet the trial continued for months. Eventually the high court dropped the case when the prosecutor couldn’t present a single spotted owl in a cedar tree as evidence.
That’s when the Occupational Safety Commission and the Consumer Product Safety Commission joined forces. They contended the ark was risky and dangerous to its passengers. Despite arguments that the ark and its inhabitants were protected by God, a legal entanglement ensued for months. By then what was left of the ragtag team of ark-builders progressively lost interest. Eventually the Feds gave in, and Noah was back on track with less help of course.
Not surprisingly, the publicity Noah received wasn’t all positive. For as soon as he began building again, the National Flood Commission paid him a visit and demanded a detailed flood plan. When Noah held up a globe, that overt insult resulted in a stiff fine. Yet Noah believed in God and with all of his resources, he persevered.
At long last, the ark was taking shape. New recruits were again working with great enthusiasm, animals from around the world were being gathered and Noah was convinced he could just about finish on time. There was also a renewed sense of hope and purpose. Unfortunately it was short-lived.
For the Internal Revenue Service arrived a few weeks later, boarded up the ark and confiscated the animals for failure to make estimated payments on potential revenues. There was simply no energy left to argue the point that no one would be paying taxes next year.
Despair finally set in – Noah was beaten. Sitting on his porch, he gazed upon the nearly completed ark realizing he could not meet God’s deadline. He looked toward the heavens and he wept incessantly.
As he cried, a strange sensation overtook him. It was the voice of God again. “Noah, my son, tell me why you are crying.” With tears flowing like flood waters, Noah recounted his many frustrating attempts to comply with the Almighty’s directive. “I’ve failed you, my Lord,” he said.
“You have not failed me, my son, but you have changed my mind. I do not have to flood the earth. What you call ‘government’ has destroyed it already!”
That Saturday morning a group of people, some of whom were about to lose their jobs in the year to come, laughed, applauded and realized that everything is relative. “Modern Day Noah” set the stage for a light-hearted, open-minded and positive perspective. It also clearly demonstrated that laughter in the face of adversity may very well be the best medicine–Mind Over Matter!
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