Profile: Almin Muric (aka “Sabastian”)

Almin Muric, Almin “Something” Muric… I can’t recall his middle name for anything now. I know we talked about it. I think he even tried to keep it a secret. I might be wrong about that. All I know is that I can’t remember it at all now. Maybe he’d prefer that anyway.

Oh, oh… wait. I think I got it. I wrote the rest of this, and now it’s finally coming back. I think his middle name might be Edison or Addis, something like that. Don’t tell him I told you, okay?

How I met Almin Muric

I was walking or riding my bike by a friend’s driveway, and he saw me. A few weeks before, I’d talked to this friend, and she’d said, “Oh, yeah, they have an older brother.” That’s when I first found out about him. I didn’t meet him, though, until that time in front of the driveway.

We played together, probably some kickball, but I don’t exactly remember. We asked each other questions. I know we didn’t ask for each other’s names, though, until the end of the day. I told him mine, and I thought he said, “Almond,” like the nut.

The next day, I found out he wasn’t named after a nut. That next day, he also told me that when he first saw me, he thought I was a girl.

Who Almin Muric is

  • The son of a Bosnian carpenter
  • A kid who lived down the street from me
  • My best friend through middle school

What Almin Muric likes

  • Soccer
  • Basketball with me
  • Nutella (before it was popular in the United States)

One fact about Almin Muric

He was born in Bosnia, moved to Germany during the war, and then ended up making his way to Florida before moving down the street from me in Louisville, Kentucky. Since he moved around so much, when I knew him, he said he could speak five languages: Bosnian, Serbian, Croatian, German, and English.

He said English was easy but that he spoke it the worst of the languages he knew. I’m guessing that’s changed now, since he’s been away from Europe so long. But I still respect his language skills, probably more so now than I did even then.

One reason I like Almin Muric

He was a boy who lived near me and was just a little older than me. Everything else fell into place from there. He wasn’t a punk – he was really respectful. He had his own opinions but valued mine. We tried to learn the same games together, basketball and chess and kickball and others. We laughed about the same types of things. We had a lot in common, and we made even more.

One memory I have of Almin Muric

He and I attended a church camp when I was 13. The camp itself wasn’t that great, leading one of my other friends to say in front of everyone who organized it, “This camp sucks.”

I didn’t think it was that bad. At one point, after getting a ton of complaints from everyone about the food, they bought everyone tacos from Taco Bell. It couldn’t be that bad, right?

On one of the last days of the camp, I came back to the dorm room to hear that someone had been teasing Almin because he was Muslim, not Christian. Yeah, what up with that? That did suck.

Almin Muric in one word


How I bought the secret pocket

Let me tell you a story.*

A number of years ago, my parents took me to this antique store. It was one of those places where it looked like your grandma had dropped off everything she owned and got her friends to do the same thing. There were little cups with legs on them, Victorian chairs, avocado colored lamps, and so on. It was the sort of place that seemed pretty interesting to me as a kid, for the first five minutes. Then I’d get bored.

But my parents didn’t let me get bored. They brought me to one corner of the store and showed me a painting. The painting itself wasn’t remarkable, but the frame looked like it had been intricately carved by hand. On the back, they showed me a pocket. They told me that the artist who painted the picture and carved the frame had also sewn his life savings, over half a million dollars worth of diamonds, into that pocket.

I didn’t know what to think.

My parents didn’t bother trying to convince me. They simply pointed out that to buy the whole painting would cost $300. That was a fortune to me at the time. I’d have to save all my birthday and Christmas money for at least a year to buy it. But even at that young age, I knew the math. I knew spending $300 to get the half million was totally worth it, not even up for comparison.

We slid the photo behind one of the dressers. My parents didn’t have a lot of money, but they could have stretched to purchase the painting for me. Instead, they told me they’d chip in $100 if I wanted to buy it. I didn’t understand that at the time.

Still, it took me only one Christmas to come up with the money, the $200 I needed to add to my parents’ money for the painting. I scrounged up the cash extra fast by selling some stuff I already owned and contributing savings I’d already accumulated. I even cashed out the bonds my grandparents had given me on each of my birthdays since I was born.

Money in hand, I asked my parents to take me back to the antique store. I wondered if the painting would still be there. I wondered if maybe someone else had come by and bought it or even ripped the stitches in the back and stolen the diamonds. I’d thought of doing that myself. Who would know, except my parents, I guess?

As it turned out, someone had bought the dresser, but the painting still stood there, leaning against the wall where we’d left it, in plain view now. No one had bought it. No one had stolen the diamonds. The seams all looked in tact.

Handing my money to the lady behind the counter, more money than I’d ever spent at once, I knew I was making a good deal. I trusted my parents. They’d told me about the value of the jewels, and I’d decided to believe them. I already knew they knew more than me, and they weren’t the lying type. Why would they deceive their own son, especially since they were spending $100 of their own?

The lady behind the counter smiled at me. “You’re getting yourself a fine bargain here, young man. We only sell about one of these every month or so.”

“You mean there are more?” I asked.

“Sure. Whenever someone buys one, we cart out another.”

Sure enough even as we were still talking about it, a man was rolling another painting just like mine out into the display room. I didn’t know what to make of that. It somehow didn’t feel as special once I knew that. I looked up at my parents. “Do they all have, you know?”

My parents and the lady all nodded in unison.

Wow, and my eyes grew wide.

“Can I buy another one?” I still hadn’t even fully examined the one I’d purchased.

“Why would you need another?” my dad asked, Momma adding, “You can help someone else buy one, though, if you want.”

We left the antique store together that day, my parents and me and my one painting. I didn’t have money for another one. Besides, I still didn’t know if I liked the idea of everyone having one.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” -Matthew 13:44

*The story is a combo of three: the story of the person who left their life savings in their daughter’s picture frame, the story Jesus told in Matthew 13 about the treasure hidden in the field, and the story of how I became a Christian.

Nothing vs. something useless

Is it better to do something useless than nothing at all?

An experiment once asked workers to spend half the day digging a trench and the other half filling it back in. They got paid fairly well, their salaries doubling every day they continued on the job. Still, it didn’t take long for everyone to quit.

I like this experiment because I think it highlights a few concepts worth learning.

  • The value of feeling useful: Lots of jobs probably aren’t useful, but this one in particular made it painfully clear to the workers each day that the actual work they were doing was absolutely useless beyond the money they made from it and perhaps their exercise for the day.
  • The marginal value of money: Maybe the workers just worked until they had earned “enough” from the job, say two weeks worth of doubling pay, and then walked with their wages.
  • The value of doing nothing: Maybe some of the workers quit once they’d lined up other work. I imagine, though, that some of them, especially those who quit early in the experiment after only the first few days, probably didn’t have anything else lined up. They probably went from doing something useless to doing nothing.

It’s this last one that I’ve been thinking about lately.

Doing nothing opens space for doing something useful. It creates a kind of urgency, like something should be going on. Like right now for me. I don’t have a job anymore. And it’s Monday. I can feel that space, that urgency. I think it’s good for me right now.

But there’s a danger to it too. Doing nothing can quickly turn into depression or apathy, depression when no new options present themselves and apathy when we become okay with that.

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