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Art & Culture

various essays on, well, art and culture

Bookbinding & Conservation

lessons learned from this profession


ok, I'm not the guy from SNL,
but I still have a sense of humor

'Jim Downey' Stories

mostly true stories from my

Personal Essays

No matter where you go . . .
So I wander into this nuclear
        reactor . . .

Thoughts on This Day
The Power to Forget
Announcing:  Alwyn!
Martyr Complex
The Call
The Reality of the Situation
Comforting Presence
Guilt & Redemption


Iím at -7.13/-7.33 on The Political Compass.  Where
are you?


observations on the human condition


take a trip with me

circa 2002


One birthday, when I was nine or ten, I woke with anticipation of the presents I would receive.  Still in my pajamas I rushed into the kitchen where my parents were having coffee, expecting to get the loot which was rightfully mine.  My father happily handed over a small, wrapped box.  I opened it eagerly, to find a little American flag on a wooden stick.  My father said that since my birthday was July 4th, he thought I would appreciate the gift.  Horrorstruck first at not getting anything better, then at my own greed, I guiltily told my parents that I thought it was a fine gift.

After a moment, of course, my folks brought out my real presents.  I can no longer tell you what those presents were, but the lesson in expectations my dad taught me that day always remained with me.  My dad had been a Marine, fought in Korea, and was a deeply patriotic cop who was killed while on duty a couple of years after that birthday.  I've never looked at the American flag without remembering what a fine gift it really is, and have never forgotten not to take some things for granted.

When I was in High School some years later, I learned another lesson in expectations.  I had always been a good student (straight A's, involved in Student Government, various clubs, et cetera), but I was never announced as a member of the National Honor Society.  With that earlier lesson about expectations firmly in mind, I watched as my friends were inducted during my Sophomore and Junior years, figuring that there was a reason that I had been passed over, that there was some flaw in my academic record that disqualified me.  But I couldn't figure out what it might be.  When, during my Senior year, the NHS list came out and it didn't have my name on it again, I decided to ask someone about it.

I went to my advisor and asked if he could explain it to me.  He had only been my advisor my Senior year, but knew me fairly well, knew my GPA and my involvement level.  He looked at me with some surprise and said he thought I was already a member.  When I said no, he said he'd look into it.  A couple of hours later I was summoned to the Principal's office.  It turned out that my file had been mis-filed years earlier.  A purely clerical error.  I should have been a member of the Society all along.  Everyone was most apologetic, and they retroactively inducted me into the NHS.

My High School days are far behind me, and it has long since ceased to matter to me whether I received any particular recognition or award back then.  As I've matured, gained life experience, I've learned many other lessons about tempering expectations, living with occasional disappointment, accepting that things don't always work out the way you plan no matter how hard you work or how deserving you are.  But those two early lessons in expectations still are the boundaries that I live by:  don't take things for granted, but don't be afraid to ask why things aren't the way they're supposed to be.  This gives me an appreciation for life, and the strength to really live it, which I think would make both my parents proud.

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all work © James T. Downey, 1993-2006
photos © Martha K. John, 1994-2006
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