A Weekly Column

By Joseph Walker



Around this time of year, youngsters all over America start using strange new words with frightening regularity -- words like trickertreat, whachagonnabe and, this year at least, Pokémon.

I have no idea what Pokémon means (ask your nearest 8-year-old -- but be prepared for a long and detailed explanation that will include other strange words like Pikachu, Charmander and Squirtle, and ultimately won't make any sense at all). But I think I can explain the other two. Loosely interpreted, trickertreat means "give me candy or I'll soap your windows." When we took our daughter AmyJo out to grovel for candy on her first Halloween, she put more teeth -- and perhaps more truth -- into the holiday with her own version of the word: trickerbite. I think that says it all.

Whachagonnabe, on the other hand, usually gives the youngster a chance to use another of those weird seasonal words: eyemgonnabe. The conversation usually goes something like this:

"So, whachagonnabe?"

"Eyemgonnabe Pikachu. Whachagonnabe?"

"Eyemgonnabe Charmander."

It's like a whole new language. And it's only spoken in October. By kids.

Last October, however, one of those words took on new meaning for a young friend of mine. Adam is in his twenties, and is one of my favorite people in the world. He's fun and lively, with a quick wit and a terrific personality. He has the soul of an artist and the heart of a romance novelist packaged in the body of a defensive lineman. If you see him coming toward you, you're not sure if he's going to sing to you, embrace you or sack you.

Like many of his generation, Adam has been struggling to find himself and his place in the world. He's been raised well by a wonderful mother, and deep in his heart he knows the kind of person he can and should be. But there are just so many options out there -- not all of them positive.

Late last year Adam was trying to make some adjustments in his life. He had been hanging with a rough crowd, and he could feel himself sliding into negative patterns. He looked at the direction he was heading, and he didn't like the answer to the question: "Whachagonnabe?"

So he decided to change directions -- and friends. He didn't go to the places they went. He didn't do the things they did. And he started noticing some positive changes. For the first time in a long time, he was feeling good about himself and his possibilities for the future.

One night his old friends showed up at the spook alley at which he was working. Part of him wanted to greet them -- they had been, after all, his friends. But another part of him knew that seeing them would lead to talking to them, which would lead to spending time with them, which would lead him right back to where he was before: nowhere, and sliding down fast.

So he summoned every ounce of courage he had -- and he ran. Right there, in the darkness of the spook alley, he ran away and hid from his friends. To tell the truth, he felt a little foolish about it. He'd never run from anything in his life. He just didn't know what else to do.

As it turns out, it may have been one of the best decisions Adam ever made. Just as there are times in our lives when we need to make a stand, there are also times when there is nothing to be gained by standing. We need to learn to pick our battles -- and our retreats. Because the fact is, sometimes the bravest thing you can do is run and hide.

Especially if you care about . . . you know . . . whachagonnabe.

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--- © Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through and