“The Art of Distraction,” Feb. 2, 2021

Just when I think I’ve told every story I know, another one will pop up in my memory. This one is about the art of distraction. It might cause you to think less of me, unless it’s not possible to think less of me than you already do. We’ll see.

First, I want to thank all of you who wrote to offer kind wishes and prayers for my sister and brother. I wrote about them last week after they ended up in the same hospital for different reasons. (My sister had a stroke, my brother had a bad fall.)

I’m happy to report they’re both on the mend and hope to go home soon. We are all truly grateful for your kind concern.

OK, here’s the story. I’ve told parts of it before but new stories often need pieces of old ones.

My brother Joe was born when I was 4 years old. One look at him and I knew he’d be a whole lot more fun than chasing cows around the pasture.
Our sister Bobbie was 10, and wanted little to do with us. So Joe and I became best friends. I could tell him stories, sing him songs, or drag him by his toes from room to room, and he would laugh as if I were the best storyteller, the best singer, the best drag queen in the world.

He was six months old when I learned that he was blind.

“He can’t be blind,” I said, “he always laughs at my face.”

Mama said, “He laughs at your voice. He’ll never see your face.”

Joe’s blindness didn’t change how I felt about him. But it changed how I saw the world. As we grew older, he taught me some handy skills. How to find my shoes in the dark. How to sniff the air and know it was time for supper. How to pretend not to listen, and hear what we weren’t meant to hear. But most of all, he taught me how to see.

“Sister,” he’d say, “tell me what this looks like.”

It might be a snail he found in the yard, or a litter of pups he heard under the porch, or the sun he felt shining on his face.

I tried to describe it all for him. Sometimes he’d nod “Yes.” But often he’d say, “No, that’s not it, try again.” And I’d have to keep trying.

Joe was stubborn. He never gave up. So one day I decided to try distraction.

“Joe,” I said, “I think I smell smoke. Is your hair on fire?”

This gave him pause. Slowly he patted his head. Finally, he grinned and said, “Sister, you’re teasing. You can’t fool me!”

But the distraction worked! He quit nagging and went back to pushing his tricycle. Until he rolled into a ditch and yelled for me to get him out.

After I grew up and moved to California of All Places, and our mother and other loved ones left this world for the next, Joe and Bobbie became best friends. They love each other dearly, call each other daily and sometimes they fight like badgers. With words, of course, not teeth.

Recently Bobbie and I were discussing one such dispute.

“Why won’t he let me tell him anything?” she said. “He gets so mad if I offer any bit of advice!”

She knows how determined Joe is to do everything on his own. She just wants to help.

“Sissy,” I said, “the next time he gets hoppin’ mad, try asking him, ‘Joe, is your hair on fire?’”

She laughed so hard she had a coughing fit.

“I’m serious,” I said. “He’ll either laugh or check his head. Either way, it’ll cool him off.”

“I’ll think about it,” she said.

I don’t know if she’s tried it yet. She’s a saint in how she cares for our brother. And he cares just as much for her.

The point of this story is simple: Disagreements should never drive us apart. Words matter. It’s easy to use the wrong ones or to say them the wrong way. Sometimes they can be hard to forgive. But love matters more than words.

The next time you’re in an overheated argument, try this: Roll your eyes, pat your head and shout, “My hair is on fire!”

Distraction works both ways.


  1. Cindy says:

    I’m in the middle of my “Sharon Randall” catchup. It’s been awhile since I’ve made the time to read your columns. They are ALL excellent and I swear (well, I don’t really swear), but it’s like when you hear a sermon and leave saying “wow, God had the minister preach that message JUST for me!!. Similar when I read a column like this one. I feel like you wrote this just for me.
    These words are very meaningful and spot on and made me rethink my recent thoughts. “The point of this story is simple: Disagreements should never drive us apart. Words matter. It’s easy to use the wrong ones or to say them the wrong way. Sometimes they can be hard to forgive. But love matters more than words.”
    Thank you Sharon Randall! My mom (who has been gone since 2013) loved your column. She and my sister actually went to Salina KS to hear you speak years ago.
    God’s plan for your life was spot on. We all need a Sharon Randall in our lives! Thank you! God bless you!

  2. shashi says:

    Glad both are doing good. Praying!

  3. Maria says:

    God bless you and your family, and God bless me.💝

  4. Marie Hartranft says:

    Wonderful news that Bobbie and Joe are improving! I can almost hear your sigh of relief! I won’t stop praying!
    I love your columns for many reasons. They make me laugh, make me think, let me know we are all the same and yet different. But despite our differences there is always room for love.
    There are so many similarities to hour younger lives. Won’t take up space but the short of it was my Dad left, my Mom worked 7 days a week not to lose our home and I was mostly raised by my wonderful grandmother and single Aunt who lived with her. We were poor but yet I was spoiled.
    Sounds like an awful life and I guess in some ways it was but yet to me it was wonderful. So much love!! I was lucky❤️
    The selfish part of me hopes you never stop writing, never stop entertaining us!
    Hope you have a great week and we are going to start digging out from 24 inches of snowfall here in Reading, PA.😫

  5. Kate Sciacca says:

    Well now, it seems we all have Joe to thank for your fine writing… for your ability to paint a picture with your words.

    “I tried to describe it all for him. Sometimes he’d nod “Yes.” But often he’d say, “No, that’s not it, try again.” And I’d have to keep trying.“

    And so you learned to see and to write from your baby brother. Tell Joe we all say THANKS!

    And thanks for the update on their health… good news indeed.

  6. CHope Hall says:

    I am definitely going to remember this. Sometimes I speak when I am angry and regret it later. Eating crow does not taste good, so if I bite back the words and ask myself your question, I can have something nicer to eat. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

  7. Cathy Followell says:

    Oh Lord..you are the wisest woman I know. Words do matter and disagreements should never, ever…ever get in the way of those we love and those who love us. Thank you dear one for these words of wisdom. I am so thankful your siblings are getting better and that they have each other and you to write so lovingly about them. You are a bright ray of sunshine in a pretty dark world.

  8. Dick Daniel says:

    Love it.

  9. Debbie says:

    Glad to hear that they are both improving, Sharon!!!! Praying they get to go home soon!!!! 🙏🙏🙏

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