20-20 Fore-And-Hindsight



While I was assigned to the American Embassy in Pakistan, one of our older local employees named Abdul taught me the meaning of wisdom -- three separate times. Abdul was a gem; 5 feet, 6 inches of smiles, ropy muscle and willingness. The problem was that he was getting old and simply could not keep up with the rest of the men. Colonel Guelich, my boss, kept putting pressure on me to let him go, but I was determined that wasn't going to happen. I liked Abdul, and his blind wife. They were good people.

To earn Abdul some job security I hit upon the idea of teaching him to operate our forklift. Like most of our men, mainly Pathans from up near the Khyber Pass, he had never driven any kind of vehicle. If I could teach him to run the forklift, I reasoned, he was set for life because he had a skill that was not at all common in those days.

It was not an easy job. Abdul's English was sketchy and I was about as fluent in Urdu as I am in Martian. Nevertheless Abdul and I both persisted and he became our official forklift operator.

One day we had off-loaded a piece of highly classified cargo for the U-2 spy aircraft. It had to be locked up inside a cargo container until I could get it down to the embassy.

We had it on a six-by-six oak pallet. I rode the pallet as Abdul drove the forklift toward the container, which was just off the blacktop on a slight downslope. One door of the container stood open. Abdul drove up and stopped. I jumped off the pallet as he raised it to waist height so that we could slide the cargo inside. I found that we could not get the load through the single open door, so I stepped around in front of the pallet and called out to Abdul -- in Urdu of course -- to back up so I could open the other door.

He tried, God bless him, he tried. But backing up that slope was too much for him. He stalled the forklift. It rolled forward and pinned me between the pallet and the container. It was one of the most interesting moments of my life. My pelvis creaked, and I heard it through the bones of my body.

I had a problem. Forget the pain; pain is pain and that's that. My real problem was the fact that Abdul was so shook up he could not restart the machine and get it off me. In my absolutely atrocious Urdu, while I was slowly being crushed by a machine, I had to give him a little hasty on-the-job training. When he finally managed to get the forklift off me, I dropped straight to the ground, unable to feel anything from the hips down. I thought my life was over, but God smiled on me, allowing me to recover with nothing but a bad right hip, which I have as a reminder.

What about wisdom? Well, I always say that wisdom consists of making enough mistakes so that you recognize them before you make them again. I've never again taught anyone how to drive and then stepped out in front of the vehicle.

What's your definition?

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