A Year of Less Dams
I come from a long line of damn-say-ers. Depending on your perspective, that’s no big thing, or it’s a deficit in my account from the start. I don’t know what to tell you about your perspective, I’m just saying what's true. My family line, at least the ones I know of for two generations back on either side, is full of the cussing kind. And by cusses, I mean the old regular words, not the kind that make me blush to hear or to read.
My dad often said of an item or an idea, “That’s not worth a tinker’s dam.” This isn’t the bad kind of d-word. It’s a term said to be referring to a piece of material used to temporarily fill a hole in a vessel. Once the hole was permanently filled, the tinker’s dam was rendered useless, of no value. Of course, I didn’t know this when I was kid, and Dad was cussing as far as I was concerned. A mild cuss, mind you.
After learning about Tinker, I set about searching for the origin of the phrase, “I don’t give a damn.” Sometimes around my house it is hard to make folks give their damns about important things. I wanted to know what we were implying when we give or don’t give any.
As it turns out, at least according to some internet sources including Wikipedia, the phrase ends with the tinker’s version of the word, just d-a-m, and not the more modern swear word, d-a-m-n. A dam was a low-value coin from India, like the widow's mite or our penny. Supposedly, and there is speculation, English colonizers returning from India brought back this small copper piece. The phrases developed, "it's not worth a dam" or "I don't give one dam." The worth or what was given had little value, like the Indian coin.
If this is so, and it’s dam and not damn, this is not a regular damn-saying scenario. It also helps clarify what I mean when I might want someone to care or give a dam.
When we tend to our budget, we divide our money, like divvying pie. We say no to this or that, because we know what categories get the shares. Limited resources renders each increment of value, even the pennies.
As 2017 drew near to its end, this notion of giving and not giving dams kept running through my mind. I spent a lot of time thinking about the visual of a coin, what value it represented, how I wanted to use it. I took the concept with me on our Christmas cross-country drive and applied it, testing my theory.
How many dams were there to spend worrying about the drive itself, about the routine fears I have right before we take off for an 18-hour car trek?
How important was it to participate in helping Aidan in his driving while John was already in the front seat and handling that task?
When we needed to stop and eat, did I care that my two male traveling companions wanted McDonald’s? And could I order something off the menu since we were already there?
These few examples in the test run demonstrated to me that I could hold onto my dams, saving them for more significant occasions. By the time we reached the first stop in our Christmas tour, I was rubbing four or five dams together in my pocket.
I pulled out one. It seemed a good time to give it and give it with joy.
The sun peeked over city buildings. Flickering candles on the ottoman and large, rounded white lights on a short pine tree competed with the growing daylight. My two daughters nestled on the couch under blankets, one on either side of me. John had put a pillow on the floor and found his own blanket so he could be where we were. Aidan’s breathing was heavy with sleep in the next room. We sat in the quiet, thankful we were all together in the little blue house. It was worthy of at least one dam, maybe two.
My experiment solidified how I wanted to live in 2018. In this first week, I have been making a mental inventory of those things that are worth precious and limited resources. Likewise, I'm noting what items don’t make the cut.
2018 is the #yearoflessdams. I am declaring it a year in which I have limited energy and time and emotion to spend on junk I don’t need. It is a year in which I will spend my resources with mindfulness and care.
Some items that are of less and less value: arguments, non-relationships, fear of disapproval, getting it right, dividing people into this circle and that, keeping tabs, waiting any time to say I’m sorry, talking about Donald Trump, criticizing people, speaking shame, owning shame, being someone I’m not, checking all the boxes, how many subscribers and followers I gain or lose. I’m sure I’ll add more to this list as I go along.
Items that deserve my dams: my family, conversations in real life, speaking up for the marginalized, asking questions, cheering on my kids, mirroring true and lovely things to people, watching what Jesus is highlighting when he says, “Come, and you will see,” living into the fact that am adopted and that I belong, grace, mercy, laughing, books, movies, making sure to tell people that I’m thinking of them or that I think they are beautiful or strong. I may or may not add more to this.
It seems, like the heritage that goes before me, that I am a dam-say-er as well. You can look at me funny. You may even raise an eyebrow, or pray for me. That's okay, and I welcome the prayers. We can talk about it in person over coffee, and we can decide together how we want to spend our collective dams.