Quick! What Color is a Yield Sign?

When it comes to looking for signs in the universe, I have a long and sordid history.

I started out as a highly religious child in a highly religious household in a fundamentalist corner of the world where God regularly dispatched tornadoes, droughts, dust storms and stinging insects just to keep us toeing the line. I also had an astigmatism and crooked teeth and a bit of a weight problem.

So, no wonder I prayed a lot and read the Bible and watched Oral Roberts on TV, when necessary. God and Oral didn’t give me much in the way of signs — an occasional sunset or rainbow or scraped knee, that’s all. But I did, eventually, get braces.

By the time I was a teenager, I’d turned semi-heathen. So, I looked for signs in other, more secular places. Horoscopes, for example. Fortune cookies. Ouija boards. I was both superstitious and desperate, which is a pretty sad combination. The universe is a dark and menacing place and I was looking for security and meaning; fat chance you’ll find either of those when you’re a painfully shy West Texas teenager and you’ve stopped bargaining with God.

But time passes and you grow up and age mercifully blunts some of your raw nerve endings. For reasons that still elude me, I went to law school. If you want a place that’s loaded with signs from the universe, law school is the perfect destination. You get bombarded with Supreme Court rulings and your own grades, to name a few. These are easily confused with pronouncements from deities.

I’d probably still be in law school, stumbling around, looking for enlightenment if they hadn’t made me graduate. Once I got out, though, I didn’t need signs to tell me what to do. Practice law? Me? You’ve got to be kidding. (Hint: People who are extremely averse to conflict should not practice law; even thinking about practicing law upsets their stomachs, which is unpleasant for everyone.)

Decades later, I’m finally realizing that a religious childhood and a pitiless universe combine to make a pretty neurotic human specimen. It’s not a comfortable or secure existence when you feel you have to eke out your own meanings in life, but, at some point, you are what you are, you do what you need to do. You keep looking and figure out there are pockets of wisdom everywhere. Sure, some of them have the shelf life of a ripe banana, but that keeps you from getting complacent.

Take my current little obsession with Words With Friends, which satisfies the same jittery itch I used to get when I smoked. You can, if you work at it, extract a few philosophical principles out of the game (this is especially desirable when you’re losing). Such as:

1) You know that clever little stratagem you used to thwart the other person? It will end up biting you in the butt when it’s your turn;

2) If you try out enough oddball words you’ve never heard of, you often stumble across a real one;

3) Misplaced pride in an elegant, arcane word doesn’t necessarily win you big points;

4) It helps to be lucky — but try not to confuse your luck with skill;

5) And, finally, you’re never as good as you like to think you are. Or, fortunately, as bad.

P.S. A yield sign is red. It hasn’t been yellow in years. Sometimes, the universe changes colors on you.

(Copyright 2013 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Read about learning not to expect the worst, kind of




13 comments… add one
  • Sometimes it’s a miracle we survive to adulthood. Only then we find out that the things that stained the armpits of our clothes don’t matter anyway!

  • This is HILARIOUS! Thank you for helping me to start my day with a belly laugh.

  • Christine Link

    Funny where we find our pockets of wisdom…..Words with Friends; that sounds like a game I would like to play.

  • If only Words With Friends would give us the words we need to get through each day. You know, answers to the bottomless pit of life’s questions. I guess just being able to play the game with a friend — many times a friend you’ve never met in real life — is a pretty good start.

    I do love it when I stumble across a new word just by throwing letters together, and then WWF magically accepts it. I always give a little whoop of excitement to the universe when that happens.

  • Grateful to your background because it led you to hash it all out on this blog I enjoy so much.

  • Yield signs are red? Great. Now, I’m doubting everything in what is indeed a pitiless universe.

  • How many years? I haven’t been back to the States in quite a few…

  • Cindy Link

    How did you go from contemplating God — to Words with Friends? Amazing!
    I play “random opponents” and imagine I am beating Alec Baldwin.

  • I haven’t played Words with Friends yet–sounds addicting, especially if I get to beat Alec Baldwin. I’m with you on #5

  • This post was loaded with “signs” of your great sense of humor!

  • In Sunday School I was told that any place that was dark inside, like a tavern, housed people who were sinning. That’s my sign.

  • Ruth, an amazing way you switch topics so seamlessly, never skipping a beat. No wonder your yield signs are red. You have your own unique take on things and I love the way you get your points across.

  • Cindy D. Link

    I would have bet $5. that the yield signs in my neighborhood were white. I purposely looked at them and yes, they they are red with a white triangle inside them where the word yield is printed. The pedestrian crossing signs are yellow. Who knew?

    @ Amy – be careful about that Sunday School teacher. I think vaginas are pretty dark inside. Do they entertain sinners? Wonder if he/she thought that idea completely through?

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