Puzzles and Time Travel: 3 Minutes with the Class of 2021.

I’ve not only been honored to be elected to my community’s school committee, I’ve been honored to have been elected by that committee to be it’s vice-chair.  By the time they were my age, both John F Kennedy and Bill Clinton were President of the United States, and I’m pretty sure Barack Obama was running for said office when he was my age if not already President.  In other words, I’m not putting on airs that School Committee is the be all end off of public life or of  honors.

I can’t imagine running for nor serving in another capacity than this.

As part of my role as Vice Chair, it’s my responsibility to act as counter balance to the chair.  Where he delivers the School Committee address to our graduating seniors, the Vice Chair addresses the 8th Graders moving up to High School.

As such, I’ve struggled with what I’m to say for several (read here, approximately 48) weeks, but I’ve finally put together the message I’m delivering our 8th graders…the purpose of this post is to share it with you.

It begins thus:

A few weeks ago, the class of 2017 graduated high school.  The class president’s speech drew an allusion to the class members as puzzle pieces, having spent their school career coming together as one, all held tightly together by each other, ultimately now to come apart to discover how they could now join other puzzles

Graduation is a time of reflection back on the previous four years with gratitude, with fondness   perhaps and with accomplishment:  “You’ve done it!” “A job well done.”  “Onward and upward to better things.”

Today, you’re taking the first step toward that day. Four years from now, you’ll be looking back at this day and all the days between.

You have before you the opportunity to build great things, achieve great things, learn great things, and most importantly become the full expression of your potential.

THIS  is the day you start that narrative, THIS is the day you start the work you will be celebrating on a June evening four years from now.

As Vice Chair of our School Committee, my job here today is to welcome you to  High School, and that I do.   There will be opportunity here that you have only thought about.

  • If you see the opportunity to fill need, be a leader and fill it.
  • If you see the opportunity to participate, be a community member and join it.
  • If you see the opportunity to learn and experience new things, be the student you can be and learn it.

In the next four years, you will become adults.  You will emerge from this place different people than who you are now.  High School is an amazing, transformative experience where you will learn just how you fit together with others.

A puzzle is a great metaphor for the next four years – it’s not an easy or clear cut path finding out how the pieces come together, but eventually through trial and error, they do.  There will be fits and starts, missteps and times where the pieces just do not fit.  It can be messy.

But keep working at it.

It takes work to complete, and when it’s done   it’s truly a job well done.

Congratulations on the completion of your elementary and Middle school experiences.  Onward and upward to better things.  Take the opportunity in front of you – This is the day the puzzle begins to come together for the class of 2021.

Lessons Along the Path

Intellectually, we all know our lives have a path along which we must travel.  The length of that path is undetermined, and often we’re not sure where it leads.  There are many inflection points, opportunities to course correct, and fellow travelers to influence and to be influenced by.  Perhaps most profoundly, though, is the thought that we travel these paths without knowing how the journey will end.

Perhaps it comes via our choice of direction, perhaps just by circumstance, or it’s set in motion the day we’re born.  Perhaps it’s that lack of knowledge that allows most of us to continue along our way, blissfully unaware where and when our travel ends, when we become one with time.

The longer I’m on my journey, the more comfortable I am with the idea that it’s short and by necessity the closer I am to its end.  By saying I’m more comfortable I am decidedly not saying that I am comfortable, just moreso.  I get it intellectually and I resolve to do better to reach the end without regrets…but yet I continue to do things and fail to do things that would help me come to a place without regret.

I don’t tell the people I love how I feel nearly enough.  I don’t make the time to connect with the people in my life often enough.  I allow grievances and irritations to get in the way and let myself more fully express negative emotions rather than more fully expressing positive ones.  It becomes so easy to let the time pass instead of doing the work of maintaining those relationships.

Today, I mourn the loss of a colleague and friend.  Some weeks ago she had a cold or the flu that she just couldn’t shake, only to find she had Leukemia. Where only a few months ago, she was watching her young daughter grow up, mourning the loss of a beloved dog, basically living her life, today we’re mourning her passing on.  Never in her wildest imagination did she even for a second consider that  anything other than a particularly virulent strain of the flu was causing it to linger.

I’m of course sad for her family, especially “her little” who will now grow up with only memories of her mom – a truly sad proposition on its face, made even moreso knowing what a wonderful person her mom was  – but I’m sad for my loss of opportunity to check in with her just to say “hi” and “you’re on my mind today.”

I just started to write that it’s almost as if we (I) have become emotionally lazy, making friends and just assuming they’re always there.  There’s no work at all in curating a Facebook feed.  Everyone you meet is now your “friend,” all with the same relative ranking of “friend.”  But it’s not “almost as if.” Lazy is exactly what it is.  I know I have become increasingly lazy about putting in the work of maintaining my friendships and other relationships.  It occurs to me that I’m rarely the one who reaches out at some random point and time to make a call.

So while I’ve become much better at setting goals, it’s now completely clear to me that I’ve neglected to make developing, enhancing, maintaining friendships/relationships a goal.  I’ve not demonstrated to the people in my life that they’re important to me, and thus making it increasingly likely that someone will come to the end of their path with regrets.  If I were to reach my journey’s end today, there wold be plenty of regret to be had.  I’m not willing to let that go unchecked; I have to do better.

Today, Shannon’s family replete with grief sets forth to plan the details of saying goodbye, something just a few short weeks ago would have been unthinkable.  I’m sorry I didn’t make more time to give her a call.  We just don’t know how long or short that path is, yet we pretend it goes as far as the eye can see and allow ourselves to be lazy about the things that matter most.

She made the world a better place, I want to be sure to honor that memory by letting other people know that my world is a better place because they’re a part of it.  This should be a simple goal, but I suspect it’s going to take a lot more work than anything else I’ve set forth to do yet.  Simple is not always easy.  That’s why it’s important to keep working toward it.

2016 The Year In The Rearview

Be sure to be thankful for the past year.

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Lemmy From Billboard.com

One of my all time music idols passed away last December 28 – Lemmy Kilmister passed away from an aggressive form of cancer days after having been diagnosed.  2016 was not  to be an auspicious year on that front: David Bowie, Maurice White, Prince, Keith Emerson, Greg Lake.  Just a tough year for the classics…and some of the names of my childhood.

The most bizarre Presidential election cycle of my lifetime came to a close in November…in the most unlikely ways.  I’m still letting the phrase “President-elect Trump” sink in.  He may well be President before I can swallow that phrase.

The mother of one of my oldest and dearest friends succumbed to the cancer that she had willed at bay.

As we close the year, I’m anticipating the flood of “So long 2016…” and “may 2017 suck less than 2016” posts all over social media.  With all of this, by and large, 2016 has been an amazing year for me. I learned some things about the power of goals and endurance.  I learned some things about humility and being willing to step out of my comfort zone and try something different.

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2016, a year of goals

On January 2, I set out amongst the snow and slush, making my way on an 18-mile round trip walk to a nearby dam. It took me a little more than 4-hours to make the trip.  Tired and exhausted, it was awesome. It also helped set the stage for more than a few workouts this year – up and down the stairs, along the trails came to be known as the “Pain Cave” in my strange little circle of compatriots.

I began with a goal of 50 Obstacle Course races by age 50 – something I may still strive toward, as that’s my real passion and interest – but my short list of a handful of races, eventually became a goal of 46 races for my 46 years.  I honestly had no idea how low I had set my target and why would I?

On February 13, I ran the first race of the year; a 5k in 17-degree weather.  A couple of weeks later, I jumped into a pool of ice water to raise money for a kids’ camp.

It wasn’t until May that I dared try anything longer than a 5k – although the day before I ran 2 5k races – and it was kind of important that I do that because somewhere along the line I had joined a Ragnar Relay team and I had never run more than a 5k at one time.  I guessed at a 10k pace time for Ragnar, and tried to match it a couple of weeks before hand.  I did well enough – not great, but well enough – that I agreed to take on a longer set of legs for the relay, and I’m glad I did.

328 racing miles on the year.  I did so much more than I ever could have imagined.  Ragnar.  Ragnar Trail. Killington Spartan Beast.  A half-marathon.  11-races in July.  An overnight marathon relay so far into the New Hampshire darkness I saw the International Space Station traverse the sky.  I met some really cool folks.  I made stronger connections with old friends.  I ran 4 races with my daughter.  I either lost 20 pounds and gained 5 or lost 15 – I prefer to think of it as having lost 15.

Completed the #22Kill Challenge, did “The Murph,” a round of T25 and of “Insanity.” Lots of stuff going on for a pudgy, middle aged guy.

Interestingly enough, that icewater fundraiser I mentioned earlier, set the stage for another key aspect of the year for me: we gave more to charity this year than we ever have, and over a wide breadth of causes.  We had international guests for 2-months this summer; what an amazing experience. We welcomed yet another dog into our home – but this time we swear, no more.

So, 2016 didn’t see us get suddenly wealthy or even progressively so.  BUT it sees us through together, healthy.  Our bills are paid.  My daughter has completed her college studies a semester early and will be going to Europe for a couple of months in celebration.

Before complaining about how crummy 2016 was to you, maybe take some time and think about all the ways 2016 was pretty good to you.  365.25 days can’t all be bad.  I can’t wait to see what 2017 has waiting; I’m ready to go.  Happy New Year my friends.

Some Stats:

9 Pairs of sneakers

  1. Reebok (3)
  2. New Balance (3)
  3. North Face (1)
  4. Asics (1)
  5. Saucony (1)

66 Races (9 Obstacle Courses)
64:33:24 Hours:Minutes:Seconds Racing
Raced in 5 States (MA, NH, CT, RI, VT); Ran in  9 (NY, NJ, NC, FL)

 

28 Days of Inspiration – Day 23

75th Anniversary Reunion of the Battle of Gettysburg

Last night the Chicago Cubs erased a 108-year championship drought in the 10th inning of game 7 of the World Series in Cleveland.  This effectively passed the torch of longest active championship droughts from the 1908 Chicago Cubs to the 1948 Cleveland Indians.

Just 5 years after the Cubs last World title, there was a gathering of Civil War veterans at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for the 50th Anniversary of the battle.  There was consternation as to what may transpire when the some 53,000 veterans of the war – now aged men – from 46 states came together to mark the occasion.  However, according to the event’s Wikipedia page: “the peaceful reunion was repeatedly marked by events of Union–Confederate camaraderie.President Woodrow Wilson’s July 4 reunion address summarized the spirit: “We have found one another again as brothers and comrades in arms, enemies no longer, generous friends rather, our battles long past, the quarrel forgotten—except that we shall not forget the splendid valor.”

Twenty-five years later, there was one final reunion in 1938 for the 75th Anniversary of the battle.  My dad was a 7-year old boy.  I let that sink in from time to time; that my father was a little boy at a time civil war veterans – however few – still carried with them a time when the fate of this country was less than secure.

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 On July 6,  John W. Cooper (91), a Confederate veteran of Largo FL., and Union veteran Daniel T. Price (91), of Marion, IN., and David T. Weaver (95), a Confederate veteran of Muldrow, OK passed away at a local hospital. photo from newspapers.com. Veterans’ stories from civilwartalk.com

The ensuing 25-years reduced the number of gathered civil war veterans from 53,000 to  about 2000. In 1913 there were about 8000 Confederate soldiers in attendance now there was an estimated 8000 total living veterans of the war – only about 70 gathered had actually fought at the battle of Gettysburg.

The veterans average age was 94 and they began arriving June 29 in 12 special Pullman trains.  Not on veteran died en route to the gathering, but two or three died before the celebration closed and five more passed away making their way home. It was apparently important for them to be there, at that place, one last time.

And this gets me to my point: it’s important to us as human beings to share experiences with others, it’s important to us to have goals and to have a meaning beyond ourselves.  It was somehow spiritually important to these men 50-years after fighting each other to come together and recognize the nation that remained.  It was important to share this common bond with others, even those who were on the opposite side of the conflict, and it was more important to share it than it was to have been on the victorious side.  It was more important to come together than to be “right.” 2000 veterans of 8000 still living – that’s a commitment beyond oneself.  90-year old men coming together for closure and for the historic record.  Above all, the healing for the good of the county – just one more time. For me, this event stands for the proposition that despite differences, despite having faced each other in anger, several times over the course of that 75 year period, these men gathered together to reflect on their service to their respective armies, and to bond together as brothers once again.  Time sometimes does heal old wounds, but the desire has to be there – as it was here.

It’s important to take those steps while you can.  By the end of August 1956, 7-champions after the Cleveland Indians had last won the World Series, the last of the civil war veterans had passed on: the last verifiable Confederate, Pleasant Crump, passed away on the last day of 1951, and the last surviving Union soldier Albert Woolson passed away August 2, 1956.

28 Days of Inspiration – Day 2

Maurice Sendak

One of my favorite tales is of Max, a boy who is sent to his room as punishment and who subsequently explores his “wild side.”  With monsters he meets along the way and who crown him, he allows himself a “wild rumpus.” He is literally the king of every thing he can see, adored by all around him, yet he chooses to leave; to return home.  To safety and to those who love him.

In my world view, I see this as a story standing for the proposition that what matters in life is doing right by the people who love you, because they are the people most likely to stand by you.  After his temper tantrum, after his banishment to his room, his mother – despite her obvious irritation, if not anger with him – has a hot dinner waiting.

Carelessness. Anger. Love. Redemption.  The reality of life. In a little more than 300 words.

Sendak had a certain reality as well.  He was gay at a time when being so wasn’t accepted. To this point, while he affected my life in helping me accept some of the realities of my life, he had to hide his sexuality from his parents, “they never knew,” and really only became publicly identified as gay when his partner passed away in 2007.

In one of his last interviews in September 2011, he reflects on his career and at the end he repeats, almost on a loop: “Live your life, live your life, live your life.”  I take that to mean that you really need to accept who you are – an angry young man in Max, or the thoughtful elder artist Sendak himself had become – and be present.  Life in the present.  Be mindful.  Don’t take anything for granted.

A wildly inspiring notion once you can stop worrying about the external and concern yourself with those things that make you a more fulfilled and perhaps more interesting person. This is your life, no one else’s.  Go live it to your potential.  Achieve and thrive.

Here is the last 5 minutes of that interview

Why is the World Series “Best of 7”

Today’s World Series – the World Championship of Baseball – is a given. Except for the truncated 1994 season, a championship series has been played between the National League and the American League since 1905, with the first series between the two leagues having been held in 1903. Over the 109 World Series; 105 have been a best-of-7 affair. What of those other 4-series and why are there 7-games in the series?

The first World Series in 1903 was a best of 9-game arrangement between the American League Champion Boston Americans (later the Boston Red Sox) and the “Pittsburg” (sic) Pirates. When the American League (and reigning “World Champion”) Boston Americans could not make an arrangement with the National League Champion New York Giants, the series was not played, as the series was only arranged between clubs. While popular culture points to the interpersonal squabbles between the Boston and New York franchises, there was also a real disagreement over what the rules should be for a World Series – and the reluctance of the Giants to give credence to their in-town rival the Highlanders, who had lead the American League through much of the season before Boston pulled out the best record on the last day of the season.

In the aftermath of the failure to play a series in 1904, both leagues adopted rules for a World Series to begin in 1905, thus removing the possibility a mutually beneficial and lucrative Championship Series would not be played because of animus between people or teams or because of an argument against poorly thought out rules. The rules for the 1905 season included a “best-of-7” World’s Championship Series.

Baseball had played a significant role in the American war effort and at the end of 1918 – a season truncated by the first World War – the good will Major League Baseball had was at a high point. As the largest professional sports league, a war wearied country looked to baseball for enjoyment. According to Richard C. Crepeau in Baseball: America’s Diamond Mind, baseball had experienced a renaissance of sorts during the war as people who had not yet been exposed to the game had been for the first time. These soldiers coming back to the states provided an increased demand for the game.

In the 15-or-so years between the National League representative New York Giants refusing to meet the Boston Americans in what would have been the second World Series, the National League was now not only firmly behind a series, but firmly behind a longer series. Before the winter meetings in 1918, the National League proposed a “best-of-9” series with the idea being to increase revenue and exposure of the game; that motion that was passed at the December, 1918 meetings for the 1919 season.

Under this expansion, the 1919-1921 World Series’ were “best-of-9” series. In that very next World Series,the “Black Sox scandal” erupted and charges of gambling and investigations embroiled baseball for several years thereafter. At the 1921 Major League meetings, while the National League voted to retain the best-of-9, the American League voted to return to a best-of-7 series. When placed in the context of the “black sox” scandal – with it’s squandering of public good will after the first world war and amidst charges the expansion was more about greed than the game – one can easily see how the new Commissioner of Baseball, Kennesaw Mountain Landis, saw fit to cast the deciding vote as one to return to 7 games.

It took Major League Baseball’s expansion and subsequent alignment into divisions in 1969 before there was another expansion of the post season – 50 years with the only post season play being the best-of-7 World Series and when it did expand the post-season, it was the playoffs that expanded, not the World Series; baseball had traded the guarantee of at least one more game in the World Series (to win a best of 9, you must win 5 games) for the guarantee of what was at the time 6-more playoff games – 3 in the American League, 3 in the National League in a best-of-5 League Championship series. The “LCS” is now a best-of-7 series, with an additional layer of playoffs before even that additional round.

Nota bene, while the scandal over performance enhancing drugs and the Mitchell report was beginning to wind down, the then current commissioner of Baseball Allan “Bud” Selig was considering an expansion of the World Series – a proposal presented by player agent Scott Boras – to a best-of-9 format, ostensibly to increase exposure (by playing two games at neutral sites) and, undoubtedly to increase revenue. History does have a tendency to repeat itself.

REFERENCE

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1904_World_Series

http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/alltime/worldseries

http://www.baseballlibrary.com/ballplayers/player.php?name=World_Series&page=chronology

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_kmtpi/is_200707/ai_n19334686

http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=YrbYVcb7_xIC&oi=fnd&pg=
PR9&dq=%22Kennesaw+Mountain+Landis%22+world+series+1921&ots=
MFSV6hjUVH&sig=wM_JkVtfxZen_yZpd2xlTHnRpuE#PPA8,M1

Little Things Make a Big Difference

Today was the 25th anniversary of a high school friend losing his mother.  He recalls learning of his mothers’ passing in 1987, sitting in front of a classroom door…recalling it “as if it happened yesterday.”  I was reminded of this somewhat by accident.  I don’t remember the day – for me it sits in the back of my mind as just another day in late junior year of high school.  For him, his whole world changed.

What strikes me about this is that he tells me, “You were there that day.   I really appreciated your genuineness. Little things make a big difference, and you did make a difference for me that day. You may not even remember. But I do.”  I don’t remember.  I can’t imagine my 17-year-old self having any degree of genuiness in sharing grief with another young man whose world had just changed.

I didn’t dare ask him for details – he was reliving a grief on the anniversary of his mother’s passing, and it was not about me – but I have to admit wanting to know what I could possibly have said or demonstrated to him to have caused him to recall a genuine response and to have made a difference for this young man.  This was at a point in my life when nothing truly bad had ever happened to me.  I had both grandfathers pass away within months of each other when I was but 8-years old, but other than that my life was relatively untouched by trauma.  I had no point of reference, and no word in my vocabulary for “empathy,” never mind a true ability to demonstrate it.  I apparently had said or done something right at the right time.

I have no idea what it could have been, but he remembers it…and says that I made a difference.  I’m not sure I know how that makes me feel.  I don’t know if I should take pride in knowing that at some point in my life I have made a difference for one person at one point in time, or I should be ashamed not to know what it was.  I had to triangulate a bit to realize that I would have been there, and I felt badly not to have remembered what surely would have been significant news in our small high school – I can’t remember an announcement, nothing.  But there I apparently was.  Wednesday, March 27, 1987.

I’m still not sure I know how I feel about failing to remember, but it does speak to this truth: you never know what small gesture will live on behind you, whether or not you remember.  Kindness and, indeed, slights, can be remembered a long time and it is a choice we continuously make in choosing our path.  I can’t believe he would have remembered something that surely was but a small gesture, especially given the magnitude of the experience for him, but he does which only makes it that much more important to remember to demonstrate kindness – no matter how small – to someone at any chance you can.  When else can a small gesture, a small emotional investment, and brief time commitment live on for 25 years or longer?  When thought about in these terms, however that genuiness took shape all those years ago it could have only lasted a few moments – a few moments which were fleeting moments of time regardless of how they were spent – but those moments live on.  An exponential return of time for a few wisely spent moments by a then young man, and recalled not at all by the now middle-aged man.

Little things mean a lot – a point driven home once again.