The Sign of Fools & Sages

An Alpha & Beta Story

“How do you learn from Fools, dad?”
I turned the volume down (sorry, Steven Tyler). “Well,” I sat at the end of the table. “It’s important to pay attention to all kinds of people around you. But mostly those close to you that you might listen to or think you can learn from. You have to watch to see how they act and interact—what they say and do, especially the impression they give you. And then compare that to reality.”

The Sign of Fools and Sages - An Alpha and Beta Story from Dennis Lowery

The Sign of Fools & Sages (NONFICTION, FREE SHORT STORY)

‘Dream On’ started playing. I was at the kitchen counter making sandwiches.

“Do you like this song?” I asked my two youngest—twin—daughters. Alpha and Beta [not their real names] nodded at the same time; Beta with her spoon still in her mouth.

“Do you know the words?” Beta asked wiping milk from her chin.

“I do, it’s one of my favorite songs to sing.”

It’s a thing with me—to sing at times—especially as they eat breakfast while I make their lunches for school. It’s also good talk time (with topics ranging from silly to serious). We discuss school, what they’re studying, they ask me about stories I’m working on… and we talk about travel, places we’ve been and where we want to go. And I find ways to talk about life (often my stories are a good segue for that).

I had my Kindle Fire HDX, sitting on the kitchen table Bluetoothed to our home music system. [I really enjoy the rich sound from the speakers set in the high ceilings and bass thrum from the subwoofer on the floor in the corner.] We enjoy new music but do play a lot of oldies: 60s and 70s (era of my youth) mostly with some from the 50s to take it way, way, back. My twins are probably the only kids in their grade that know all the words to Zager & Evans ‘In The Year 2525.’ And a whole slew of songs from The Temptations (you should hear them sing ‘Ball of Confusion’), Johnny Rivers and Bad Company and other greats from back then. We were recently on a Styx kick, pre-Mr. Roboto songs).

I walked over and turned the Kindle so Alpha and Beta could see the lyrics scroll. A favorite line was coming up, and I sang along. “… live and learn from fools and from sages.” Beta stopped me with a question—I hate to stop when rolling—but it was a good one. The kind of question a parent needs to consider and answer thoughtfully.

“How do you learn from fools, dad?”

I turned the volume down (sorry, Steven Tyler). “Well,” I sat at the end of the table. “It’s important to pay attention to all kinds of people around you. But mostly those close to you that you might listen to or think you can learn from. You have to watch to see how they act and interact; what they say and do, especially the impression they give you. And then compare that to reality.”

Alpha’s bagel kicked up in the toaster. I got it for her and brought it and the not-really-butter spread she likes to the table. [I’m a butter believer so look down on such pretenders, but she loves it.] I explained what I meant. “Does what they say and do make sense.”

Alpha raised her hand and looked at Beta before speaking—it seems twins do that; I think its telepathy—and at the same time, they said, “Martin.” [Name changed to protect the not so innocent. I’ve heard tales about Martin; heaven help his parents.]

I nodded and continued. “You see, really odd and unusual people are easy to spot. You learn to avoid them and not take them seriously. But Fools can be hard to identify. They often sound like they know what they’re talking about.”

Alpha had not-really-buttered her fingers, and I handed her a napkin. She asked, “How can you tell?”

“If they tell you about things they can do… but they never do them. Or when they do, it never works out like they said and they always want to blame someone else… they never take responsibility. People like that and those full of excuses are not the ones you should listen to… chances are they are Fools or delusional.”

“Does delusional mean crazy?” Alpha asked.

“No.” Though in my mind I thought of people I’d met and known who seemed at odds with reality and could qualify as bughouse bizarre. “Not exactly. It means the world inside their head is not the same world normal, rational, people live in. No matter what reality shows them, they still believe in their own version of things. Stay far away from people like that… they’re Fools.”

Beta looked at me. “But Sages are wise; smart people. Right?”

Back at the counter gathering their lunch stuff, I sipped my coffee, nodding. “Supposed to be.” I took another drink.

I didn’t (don’t) want to make my daughters grow up paranoid or suspicious of things and people in the world, now and in the future. But I think it’s crucial to learn to not automatically place faith in anyone or anything because of a label, position, a title, or perception that they are an authority. And certainly not because the media covers them extensively. That does not confirm, nor is it evidence of, their value. My girls need to know to verify and validate that for themselves. I told them. “People who get things done and are right more times than wrong… who have real experience and produce actual results aligned with doing what’s right. People who when they talk, make sense and show intelligence and compassion… and you can match it to accomplishments and action. They are the ones worth listening to.”

I gave them the line again from the song. Yes, I sang it. “Live and learn from fools and from sages…” I want them to learn to acknowledge labels or reputations but—and this is a big but and I cannot lie—I want them to define people and assess situations based on their own relevant criteria. I continued. “Something to understand that’s important in life.” That’s not the first or hundredth time they’ve heard me say that. I got a bit of eye-roll from them but kept going. “You can learn from both types of people. The way to do that is judge by actions… results, and not words. Listen to what people say but… it’s more important to see what they do. If a person proves to be a Sage; an intelligent person with good, moral, ethical, judgment… then their words have weight.”

Beta raised her hand. “What does weight mean—you know—how you just said it?”

“It means to take them seriously and listen. They have value and merit attention.” I went to the pantry for napkins and came out with their allotment. [I tend to harp a bit on being wasteful… my ‘don’t use more than you really need’ thing. I know if they have five they’ll use five… if they have one… they know that’s it… and will use it wisely. On pudding or fruit cup days, they get an extra napkin. I’m not unsympathetic on this issue.] “But don’t give people’s words power over you. Only you can—rationally, logically and contextually—decide what’s right and wrong for you.”

Alpha poured more milk; adding some to Beta’s glass, too. “But what can you learn from fools?” She brought me back around to the original question.

“Simply, what not to do… and how not to be. We don’t live in a perfect world, and humans are imperfect, too. We all have flaws. The thing to do is to not just understand our own flaws but also see them in others because that can be a factor in gauging the value of what they’re telling you and more importantly any advice they give you.” I put a drink-box, chocolate milk today, snack bag of carrots, fudge brownie and their sandwiches (Alpha’s turkey with mayonnaise and Beta’s peanut butter—not spread too thick—with grape jelly) into their lunch bags.

I made my ‘wind it up’ motion, twirling my index finger and hand clockwise to speed them up; an eat-your-cereal signal. “So, Fools can talk a lot and have very little, if anything, worth listening to. Sages may not say much but when they do… you listen. And the most important thing is to think about what they say and decide what it means to you. That’s called giving it context.”

It was time to finish so they could read a while before walking to the bus stop. They brought their bowls to the sink. Murphy—our Irish Terrier, my only boy—had discovered a couple of Cheerios under Alpha’s chair and was underfoot exploring for more. While they wiped down the kitchen table and counters, another song came to mind; another favorite of mine. I switched my Kindle from Pandora to my music library; found ‘Simple Man’ by Lynyrd Skynyrd and pressed play. It got to the line I wanted before they finished cleaning up. I put my hand on their shoulders, and they looked up at me. I sang a slightly changed version of a line from that song:

“Your father’s telling you… while you’re young. Come sit beside me my lovely ones. And listen closely to what I say. If you do this… It will help you in many ways.”

They smiled at me—used to this sort of thing—and gave me a hug. As they headed to their bathroom to brush teeth and hair, I told them, “We’ll talk more about this….”

And we will….

Follow my writing here.


Dream On – Aerosmith

In The Year 2525 – Zager and Evans

Ball of Confusion – The Temptations

Simple Man – Lynyrd Skynyrad

Along with the sunshine…

I remember when this song was a hit and coming into or leaving the house, seeing mom in the kitchen. Often cooking and cleaning, but sometimes she was sitting at the table with a cup of coffee and the ever-present cigarette trickling smoke—pooling with vestiges from those that came before—that climbed and formed a cloud […]

You Sure You’re a White Boy from Arkansas? [M]

Rated Mature for Some Language

Around the first of August 1978, at Recruit Training Command, Great Lakes Naval Training Center, I got into a bit of trouble. Not quite two weeks in the Navy and the shock of it—bootcamp—had begun to turn into routine. Which meant you finally looked up and around —stopped thinking maybe you made a mistake—to interact […]

THE SONG ON THE WIND Short Fiction by Dennis Lowery


A few of the reader comments about this story:

“So sweet and warm, regardless of all the snow.” -Nina Anthonijsz

“Dennis, it doesn’t matter what you are writing about, your descriptions of the scene or the feelings inside of a character, the reader feels like they are there watching it all unfold before them. Everything is so vivid. Thank you for this sweet story.” -Janet Mix

“What a beautiful story and music to share with us. Great way to start the day with a smile.” -Kathy Rosson

“I enjoyed the story very much, have always loved the song. Great job.” -Karen Gross

“Made my day. Thank you. 💛 -Dawn Jackson

“Cute story. You do have a way with words. Merry Christmas!!” -Dave Hendrickson

The Story

“Most of all, I remember looking out the window as I shifted around on the seat clutching my purse and glancing up to make sure my bag was still on the rack above me. The station and buildings nearby were decorated and dressed in lights of silver, blue, gold, red and green. As the train pulled out, they reflected off and in the glass flickering past in a kaleidoscope of holiday colors. When I felt the wheels begin to turn, I took a couple of deep breaths. Then a feeling of certainty that I was making the right decision came over me.

“Soon the train was outside the city and had picked up speed. The view dimmed to gray with a lighter blur as we passed snow piled high in some places along the track. Occasionally, color flashed from trees with their brown limbs thick with green pine needles powdered and sprinkled white. I saw country houses, too, that sped by. My view of them grew slowly when the tracks curved toward them in the distance. As I got closer, they would suddenly fly past; a smear of more color on the frosty pane clouded by my breath on the cold glass. I liked it most when the train slowed at a crossing, and the flakes drifted—a slower dance—down and then that sensation of getting closer to where I was going when the train started going faster again.

“It was my first Christmas away from home, and I hadn’t traveled much. Actually, not at all until I surprised everyone by taking a job in the city. My parents never went anywhere, not even on vacations, and had never been big on celebrating the season, but Tom’s were. He and I had met the year before. Both of us had been stuck working through the holidays. I was young, new to the city and happened to take my lunch break the same time he did. Idle comments—nervous ones on my part—about the holidays led to conversations. I learned he was only a couple years older than me and could tell how much he missed being with his family by the wistfulness in how he spoke of them.

“As winter passed into spring, summer and then fall… we fell more in love. As the next holiday season approached, we decided I would meet him at his parent’s and spend the day before Christmas Eve through New Years with them.

“I had grown up shy but being with Tom made me discover a confidence I didn’t realize was there. Still, I wasn’t always comfortable around people I didn’t know, so that Christmas would be very different for me. Full of anxious anticipation, I looked forward to being with Tom even if it meant among a bunch of people I didn’t know.

“Since then—and maybe it started with that trip—I’ve learned how much you can change the way things are—the way things once were, into what they become—if you have a catalyst that triggers it. Even if it’s only a small something that makes you realize your happiness is determined by what’s in you and not from others. But back then, I was still learning about myself and life.

“I remember changing trains at Holy Oak. That small town’s station sat at a crossroads for the east-west and north-southbound railroads. I had come south and now would be headed west into the mountains on the 7:50 PM train. Two hours later, making better time than expected, I got off that westbound train in Tom’s hometown and stepped onto the open platform full of thoughts of him.

“I heard bells ringing, sharp and crisp in the cold night air. They were lovely, so pure and clear, not smothered by the sounds of a city that never slept. A girl of the suburbs and city life who had never known the quiet of small towns and the country, as the train I’d been on pulled away and its sound receded, I paused to listen to them in the stillness.

“Night had fallen, but there was enough light from the streetlight on the corner to see the flakes of snow, making their slow way to the ground adding to the drift in the lee of the concrete base of the bench I sat upon. The wind couldn’t catch it there and cast it away. The small pile was a landscape of its own; I saw a mountain slope topped with bare, gray, stone. Then a bed of white snowflake-crafted linen that flowed from shadow into the light with only a glint showing it was not fabric. It ended at the heels of my scuffed boots.

“It was a moment of self-reflection I’d never experienced. I felt it… the cold that came around edges of the framework of who I really was inside. Though 20 years old, I still felt a scared child’s fear of the unknown. I loved Tom but had never traveled so far alone and soon would be surrounded by people I had never met. I shivered as the wind picked up and wished I’d worn a scarf as the icy gust feathered my hair and peeked down the collar of my jacket. I tried to smooth my long hair as I rose to go inside to wait for Tom to pick me up. I checked my watch; he should be along shortly.

“Then the wind carried more than the sound of bells. Voices. I turned toward the singing and followed it around the corner of the station that faced a park and off to the right, the beginning of the town’s main street. As my train had pulled in, I hadn’t noticed the glow of the small group of people holding candles near what appeared to be caves that peppered the snow-covered hills surrounding this small town, and that hugged the station and park on two sides. The plumes of their breath accompanied each verse. The music touched me, pushing aside the coldness of the current of air that brought their music to me.

“I listened and felt warmed by their voices and the song’s message. It made me feel that the things ahead in my life—ones I could never know would come to pass—though maybe challenging, could become blessings. It made me think of how the story of a baby boy, born to follow the path meant for him, had changed billions of lives over two thousand years. I’d not been raised particularly religious, but in the words and beauty of the song, I found peace and hope for a purposeful life, too.

“I had bent to pick up my bag and turned to go inside, and there was Tom. A dusting of snowflakes sprinkled his dark, wavy hair and his smile caught the light from the Christmas-ribboned lamppost above us. He lifted me, twirled and gave me a quick kiss as he set me on my feet again–”

“I was stronger back then…” The man behind the steering wheel laughed.

I turned from facing the back seat to glance at Tom sitting next to me. Much stouter and gray-haired—just like me—the lights of cars passing in the opposite direction shining through the windshield showed the lines on his face. I smiled at him and then felt a touch on my shoulder. I looked back at Cassidy, my youngest granddaughter, who had leaned forward. Twelve years old and still full of questions, she had asked me to tell her about when her grandfather and I were young.

“I love how you tell stories, Grandma! So, that was your first Christmas with Grandpa?” She had just made her first trip to visit us in the country for Christmas since we had retired and looked so much like her mother, sitting next to her, had at her age.

“It was my second,” I brushed a wavy lock of dark hair from her face, “but the first real one. It was the one that taught me that the holidays mean so much more than big city decorations, parades, and shopping.” I reached for her hand. “And that we don’t always know how life will turn out, so it’s important to have faith and a purpose.” I squeezed it and let go so she could sit back.

At the stoplight, Tom turned to look at Cassidy. “But, there’s a part of it that’s about gifts, too.” He reached over, took my hand then brought it up to kiss and hold to his cheek. “Your grandmother’s the best Christmas present I ever got!”

“Do you remember that song, Grandma?” Cassidy asked as the light turned green and we began to move.

Only five miles to home. I looked at Tom and still saw the young man who had lifted and swung me on that train station platform decades ago. “What’s that, honey?” I shifted on the seat to face her.

“The song… the one the people holding the candles were singing. Do you remember it?”

My mind went back to that moment when my young girl’s mind was full of love, all awhirl about the future and how hearing that song settled my heart and soul. “Yes, sweetie… it went like this…”

Note from Dennis:

It was my daughter Cassidy who came to me one December weekend morning—I think with Alpha and Beta in tow—and asked, “Dad, have you heard this song?” I put down my writing pad and took her phone, turning it sideways to play the video.  When the song video ended, I handed it back to her, “That’s beautiful!”

THE SONG ON THE WIND Short Fiction by Dennis LoweryNow, my girl Cassidy has possibly the hugest, most loving, heart of anyone I know (which she gets from her mother). I think her greatest reward is when she does something for others that touches them—makes them smile, or happy—in some way. The song she had just introduced me to, did. I went to Amazon Music and bought it, adding it to our library. Then with the song playing softly on the little Jambox Bluetooth speaker beside me, I set aside what I had been working on and wrote the story you just read, for Cassidy… and you, too. Following is the music video ‘Mary, Did You Know?’ by Pentatonix—that prompted me to write it. If you’ve not heard it, you might like—or even love—it too.

Enjoy my writing? Follow me here.

If you liked this story, check out WHITE BIRD another–much longer–holiday season story.

WHITE BIRD - Short Fiction by Dennis Lowery

From Me and Mine… to You and Yours

Happy Thanksgiving!

I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual.” –Henry David Thoreau I often reflect on how much I have to be grateful for… and being able to share stories with my readers is one of those things. I hope those here in the United States have a wonderful Thanksgiving and enjoy […]

ASK FOR THE DANCE - A Short Story from Dennis Lowery

Ask for the Dance (Short Fiction: Escrire)

The eBook is Available

I’ve been an entrepreneur and business investor/owner since 1993. I’m also a father of four and uncle to several young people ranging from pre-teen to young adult (late 20s). I know how important just a handful of guidelines have been (still are) in my life, career and business. All are relatively simple but often not easy to follow or execute when you’re young. So, I wrote a story for my children, nieces and nephews that they might relate to that would teach them a couple of oh, so important principles for success. I think the story has a message everyone can take away as an important lesson.

A Coming of Age Story (with excellent advice for adults, too).

Josh has a crush on a pretty, popular–and taller–upper class girl at his high school. He wants to ask her out but is afraid and his father and mother give him the best advice any kid could receive. The type of advice that has a lifelong impact.

Here’s what some of my early readers had to say about this 3,024-word short story:

ASK FOR THE DANCE - A Short Story from Dennis Lowery“A story about good parents who give the right advice, and how a smart kid can learn the right lessons from that advice. This is a Must Read.” -Jyoti Q Dahiya

“This has touched my heart.” -Vickie Farnsley

“Great story!” -Dirk Hooper

“That was such a beautiful story, brings back sweet memories.” -Paul Wing,

“Love it!” -BF

“Wow, that was amazing!!” -Queen Rae

“You have such mad talent! ♥ this!” -Cindy Corhn

“Great writing, Dennis. You are enormously talented. From a man who hates to admit any romantic inclinations, I want a do-over for high school.” -Gerald Shackelford

“Truly enjoyed it, Dennis.” -Denis Labelle

“Great read Dennis! ‘And chances are you will fail—at many things—if you’re trying to live a life of purpose and meaning to yourself.’ That’s some very sage advice.” -GP

“I love this story!” -Jenn R

“A beautiful story.” -Rebecca Fowler

“This left me grinning from ear to ear.” -Dawn Hart Jackson

“Young love… a great story! Loved it!” –Susan Gabriel

From Dennis:

I have four daughters and one of my wishes for them is that they find a partner in life that is as thoughtful, considerate and brave as Josh in this story. And as I wrote it, I wanted to make a point (for them since they’re usually some of the earliest readers of all I write), that you do not get anywhere in life if you don’t take an active role in making it—life—become what you want. Now, I’m 58—as of this writing. I know all about questions and regrets as you age and reflect on life. When there’s something you want(ed), or an opportunity before you… and you don’t (didn’t) do what you need(ed) to do to get it or don’t (didn’t) give it a shot. I want my daughters (and other readers) to be aware of something that is easy to lose sight of… that lives are formed, more times than not, by choices. By what’s done … or not done.

Josh’s last bit of advice to his friend Ben holds true. And sometimes that dance partner is yourself. Swing out even if no one else is on the floor… and here I’ll quote a song from Lee Ann Womack. Sing it with me:

“I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance. Never settle for the path of least resistance. Livin’ might mean takin’ chances, but they’re worth takin’… I hope you dance…”

Like the Song, She Haunted Our Dreams [An Alpha & Beta Story]

When your eyes met hers, it felt like she was looking deeper into you than you could ever see into her.

Nothing like this had ever happened. The girl still came to school. No one talked to her. No one wanted to be around her. I know that seems mean but something about her bothered me and others. She looked at people too long, too much; rarely talking and always with that slight grin on her face. Like there was a joke being played out or a secret that only she knew.

Finding the Light in Her Smile [an Alpha & Beta Story]

“It starts slow. The darkness hardly changes at first. Then you see the sky beyond the trees and just over the fence. It’s getting lighter. Sometimes it’s a greyish light… sometimes it’s a warmer sliver of light yellow-red. It comes up and you feel it. The day is being born. It’s no longer dark.”