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  • Writer's pictureSpencer Bennington

Homecoming Part 2: Lessons Learned

Welcome back to the Rhetorical Roundhouse blog, your home for martial arts studies, rhetoric, and Tae Kwon Do. Last week I discussed my hometown of Danville, Virginia and some of the important aspects of returning home. Today I want to share some of the lessons I hope to bring back with me to Tampa to finish out the summer strong. Hopefully these resonate with you in some meaningful ways. If nothing else, I hope my goofy family photos/videos give you a chuckle and explain some things about who I am as a person :)

Lesson 1: You are Loved and You are Missed

Sometimes its easy to forget that there are important people in your life who you don't necessarily get to interact with on a daily basis. Maybe you're Facebook friends or you talk on the phone once in a blue moon, but it's rare for you to actually get to spend a few days around them. For me, my family lives thirteen hours away and, even though we stay in touch regularly, we often miss the little details of change, growth, and time. Because of this, an excitement tends to build up when we get to spend some real time together. I felt this from the moment my aunt picked me up from the airport to the moment of writing these words--my parents are happy that I'm physically here. Not because I can help them do long-awaited chores on their list or because I bring a party with me wherever I go, but because they get to remember what it's like to have a meal with me, to not ride in a car alone, or to just simply sit on the front porch at night with more company than the July fireflies. For me, I remember what it's like to have someone love you in that way, to have someone care about you so much that it makes them content to just be in your presence. Living alone can make it difficult to feel that. Focusing too much on career goals can make it difficult to feel that. Escaping stress and anxiety with your vice of choice (drugs, alcohol, or butter pecan ice cream and Netflix) can keep you from feeling that longing and love that others have for you. But when you do feel it, when I feel it, I remember that there's hope out there. Hope that one day that feeling won't have time to fade away, hope that the feeling of family is with me wherever I go.

Hope that wherever I go, there's always a Lucy dog close by <3

Lesson 2: Feed Yourself Well

My Mom and I often joke about my Dad's habit of sitting down to eat breakfast and asking about halfway through the meal "so, what do y'all want to do for dinner?" In some ways, it's simply absurd. There's definitely a lesson in there about savoring the moment and not looking too far ahead into the future and blah blah blah...but I realized on this trip that my Dad's incessant meal planning serves a clear purpose: he wants to make sure that he and his wife continually reward their bodies and remind themselves that they deserve nice things. I should add, for as long as I can remember, these meals have been shared at the family table. When I was growing up, a lot of my friends described a house where they could sort of come and go as they please in the kitchen and meals were some kind of free-for-all. No. Not here. Meals are sacred because they offer a routine of community and self-appreciation. Living alone and being pretty health-conscious has conditioned me to become mechanical when it comes to eating. I think about food in terms of calories, time, and efficiency. I usually make one big crock pot of a lean protein and eat that same meat throughout the week with frozen vegetables and/or fresh greens like spinach. My breakfast is always a protein bar and my lunch and dinner is usually the same food. Since I've been here, I've had such a delicious variety of food prepared in any number of inventive ways--all of it reminding me that I love to eat and cook, especially with people I care about. Let me put it this way: while here, a close friend texted me about a perpetual anxiety, that she felt "useless" like a "broken machine." But we aren't robots, are we? So why do we engage in repetitive tasks, constantly measure our success in terms of productivity, or regulate our eating as if we're calculating fuel intake? Feeding yourself well is more than cooking a steak at home every once in a while, it's remembering why we take the time to appreciate ourselves in the first place.

Having said that, a good steak is always a good idea

Or how about a honey sriracha glazed salmon filet with corn and black bean salsa?

Maybe you choose to go to the farmer's market or Bee Sweet Orchards for some fresh produce every once in a while

Ain't life a peach?

Sometimes food helps us remember we have important things to celebrate--like being together :)

Or like turning 61 and still moving like a woman half your age! Happy Birthday Mom!!!

Or sometimes...treats!

Lesson 3: Collaboration Breeds Creativity

Some of the coolest projects I've ever made...including the original concept for, are the result of collaborating with people who think, act, and live differently than me. While home, I desperately wanted to finally hop on the bandwagon and film my own version of the #bottlecapchallenge. Before arriving, I was just hoping that Dad would hold the bottle and Mom would film, both graciously offering their time and energy. Instead, what actually happened was I listened. They both had really cool ideas that ended up making my video unique. Not only did I get the footage I wanted, but I got to make something with people I care about that belongs to all of us, a product of our combined creativity. That is what's special and meaningful to me. Going it alone and pursuing an idea is great, but developing something that combines the multiple, diverse strengths of a talented team, that's truly amazing. So, without further ado, allow me to present the Bennington Boy Bottle Cap Challenge!

Lesson 4: You Have Talents and Knowledge to Offer Others

Sometimes we fall in the trap of feeling like we don't have much to offer the world. I think sometimes about the highly specialized information I've been amassing for the past ten years in higher education and, quite often, I find myself doubting its importance, relevance, or usefulness for anyone that doesn't belong to an extremely esoteric subset of people. But, it's important to remember that you are not a one-dimensional being--there are many things you know, can do, and have experienced that may seem mundane to you, but make a huge impact on others. While visiting my parents, I usually try to do some household chores that would be difficult (or impossible) for them to accomplish. Last Christmas this involved moving all the furniture around and ripping up old carpet to refinish the hardwood underneath. This time around I got to play with a pressure washer all day in hundred degree temperatures. My body is young and strong and can still do these things, so I do them for the people I love. But this is just one example--you have simple things to offer that can put a smile on someone's face. In the past few days, I taught my Dad what a Bitmoji was and helped him make one. The fact that he could make a digital avatar with an Orioles hat and a beer reinvigorated his love for new technology...even if it is just "the biggest waste of time." The point is, don't take your abilities for granted just because you've grown used to them. Instead, share them with people who find those talents exotic, enticing, and desirable. Know that you are worth more than you think, especially to those who have a need you can fulfill.

There is a certain kind of zen to be found in pressure washing. It's loud enough to block out unwanted noise, it's a repetitive task to find a rhythm in, and it's exhausting work.

Fun for the whole family! Even though mom did nearly have a heat stroke :(

Just in case anyone had their doubts about who cleaned the house...

Actual footage of Dad when we beat the Red Sox 5-0

Lesson 5: Everyone has Something they can Teach You

It's easy for me to believe that I'm smart, that I've experienced a lot in this world, that I have a pretty good handle on things. But, when I stop to really listen to those around me, I realize that there is always something new to learn. Sometimes it's hard when you're listening to someone you've known for a long time. For example, my Dad and I have always been close. So, I can usually figure out what story or joke he's about to tell at any given moment. On my more frustrated days, this can be annoying. On my more nostalgic days, it's endearing. But the thing that I have to stop myself from doing is tuning him out based on a belief that I've heard everything he has to say. He's still growing and learning new things too, just like me. While visiting, Dad showed me all his new toys--pistols, a recurve bow, various other sharpshooter accoutrements. Since his heart attack and partial foot amputation, Dad has devoted a lot of time to learning a lot more about firearms, especially handguns. Growing up in the rural south, I used to trap shoot with shotguns in the backyard pretty regularly...the same is true for bow and arrow. But we never were a handgun family. Not for targets or self-defense. Now, with his mobility being much less than it used to be, Dad wants to make sure that he can still protect his house if he needs to. Not a bad idea given the fact that the murder rate in Danville has steadily risen in the past few years. Anyway, regardless of how you might feel about guns in general, anyone can admit that they are complex devices that require special attention, particular care, and a lot of discipline. Having little experience shooting pistols, caring for them, or doing much of anything at all with them, I was about a little intimidated. But when I saw just how much time and effort Dad had put into learning about them, I put my mind at ease. I watched. I listened. And the man I thought I knew inside and out, well, he surprised me. And I learned a lot! I had a similar experience when I got the chance to visit and train with my first Tae Kwon Do instructor, Master Kelvin Miller. He's someone who loves to tell stories and after years of working with him to earn my black belt, I thought I'd heard them all. But, even now, fourteen years later, I STILL can't kick as hard or as fast as he can! I'm close though...

It all started when I pulled out the old compound bow Dad got me as a teenager

I still got it!

That's when Dad decided to give me some preliminary pistol training with my grandfather's old .22 revolver...

That is, before he pulled out the big(er) guns..

And, of course, he had to show me his own...interesting... recurve bow technique

He's right, it does make a better photo

Back where it all started! Thanks Master Miller for letting me visit

For Master Miller, if you can't crumple your opponent with a single roundhouse kick, why even bother?

It took me a while to adjust back to what he calls a "whip kick" but I finally dialed it it.

Lesson 6: Dogs

Do you understand how happy seeing my Lucy dog makes me? Like, do you REALLY understand? I mean, just look at her!! Every time I see her I remember how important it is to have a good relationship with animals and how much they can teach us about loyalty, empathy, and unconditional love. JUST LOOK AT HER AND GO RESCUE A DOGGO RIGHT MEOW!

Lesson 7: Being Patient Allows you to Pay Attention

Here's the thing: visiting Danville requires a bit of a shift in your state of mind. Everything, and I do mean EVERYTHING, moves slower here. But if you can find a way to slow down too, there's a lot of beauty and insight to be found. Every day while I was here I made myself wake up at 6:00 am, I had my coffee while reading in the sun room AKA reptile room AKA lizard lounge, and then went outside for some exercise. Every time I jogged I took note of the blue sky, the tall trees that I don't get to see in Florida, and the smells of childhood flowers. It reminded me how easy it is to take things for granted until they're taken away. There have been many times, during this trip and during many others, where I've lost my patience with my parents. The fact is, they're getting's hard to make myself move at their pace. But when I do, I find that I learn a thing or two about how to appreciate the world around me, how to stop and smell the roses, and how to just sit down and watch the world turn...with a cool drink in hand, obviously. If I weren't practicing patience every day here, I could have missed out on all the cute Lucy moments, I could have seen the pressure washing as a chore instead of a new experience, I could have dismissed my Dad's renewed interest in guns as a symptom of paranoia and boredom...I could have missed the whole trip. And, unfortunately, I think that happens a lot. We often get so caught up in finishing, in accomplishing goals, that we forget to pay attention to what we're actually doing to get there, we forget to slow down and enjoy the steps we're taking every day. I appreciate the reminder, so thank you Mom and Dad (and LUCY!) for helping me remember.

This week was filled with butterflies and hummingbirds

It took a while to catch up with him, but I finally got to hang out with my nephew. It's been two years since I've seen this boy and now he's huge! Told him I would dunk on him though and I'm a man of my word...

He may have shown me a thing or two on the court though. The boy's got some skills...obviously I taught him everything he knows.

Even though our styles may be a bit...different.

Final family breakfast before flying back. They were...a bit confused as to why I was taking a picture. Gotta love 'em.

Well, that's enough of the touchy-feely for this week. I hope some of my own realizations make some sense to you, maybe even help you through a rough spot. If not, I hope you at least got some laughs from the videos. Thank you again to Mom and Dad and Aunt Debbie and Mama and Tyler and LUCYYYYY everyone else who made this trip such a rewarding retreat.

Tune in next week for another exciting blast from the past as I describe my first years in Tae Kwon Do. Also, coming soon, some stretching videos to help out with those side kicks.

As always, thank you very much for reading.


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