2016 The Year In The Rearview

Be sure to be thankful for the past year.

cohassettri-com
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.

anno_mmxvi_-_year_2016
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.

Why History Matters in Sport

In an age where “epic” has come to mean something quite clearly less than its formal definition – it now means a fantastic night out as opposed to a civilization defining moment – indicating a societal disconnect with the past, our professional sports constantly remind us of their respective histories and where the current day matches up. We look to ritual and history to compare our place in the world and to provide reassurance of lasting importance.

Lord Stanley’s Cup is the oldest trophy in North American sport, dating back to 1892, predating even the current National Hockey League (NHL) the league which awards it to its champion. The NHL markets it’s “Original Six” as the foundation of the league that today numbers 30 teams, in such far flung locations as Anaheim, California and Charlotte, North Carolina. The National Football League ensures we know just how many Super Bowls have been played by adding Roman numeral nomenclature to each game. The crests of MLB’s National League prominently displays the year “1876” as a reminder of its founding.

It becomes a means by which each game reassures us that they have a foundation and creates an expectation of its continued existence. The period of time to which the “Original Six” refers was a time of stability in the NHL, the longest period of stability in the league’s existence. No team folded, relocated, changed its name. With the expansion of the league in 1967, the landscape of the game changed ‘” the league doubled in size ‘” and by the early 1970s, some of those expansion teams began to move and financially struggle. There was a need to reassure the fan base that these transitions did not threaten the game. Note the NHL does not promote the actual age of the Stanley Cup ‘” far older than any of the “Original Six” teams – but promotes the league and the game through referencing the history of the franchises.

The Super Bowl did not begin to bear nomenclature until the third game, with the previous games retroactively numbered. The game itself was a championship between two rival leagues and it was not until a merger was planned that the number of these games would be significant – this was a game that would remain, so become invested in it. To this day, the Super Bowl represents the National Football League, a league with a history of team movement, bankruptcy, and failed franchises with little by way of stability. The “big game” is the history upon which the NFL predominantly relies although it protects its history where that history is important: When the Cleveland Browns pulled up stakes to move to Baltimore, the city kept the name “Browns” for a future incarnation of the team; Thanksgiving Day games are still played in Detroit and Dallas every year because that is where they have always been played, regardless of how good or bad either the Lions or Cowboys are. The Detroit Thanksgiving Day game reaches back to the founding of the league, demonstrating the importance of ritual and history.

Professional baseball in the United States needs little overt reference to history ‘” until the league expanded in the 1960’s, the two leagues remained stable over 60 years. There was no question the time honored game would remain. There is no overt reference to the number of World Series that have been played ‘” it’s always been a part of the American landscape. Almost to the point where the games history and ritual becomes a hindrance to modernization ‘” when the league announced a plan to include advertising for a Spider-Man movie on the bases in 2004, a controversy erupted. Nothing had ever been displayed on the bases themselves. The game itself is steeped in history.

We compare records, review historic trends, and measure our current players and teams against those which have come before. It doesn’t matter that two of the “Original Six” have won the Stanley Cup only once since 1993. What matters is that the framework and context is set such that we can refer to that history and to hold onto it. It matters that we can look back at the New England Patriots chasing a “perfect season” and compare their run to that of the 1972 Miami Dolphins. It matters that when we hunker down in mid-winter to watch the “Big Game” that there have been some 40-odd contests which have come before, because we know we’ll be right back here next year at about the same time.

My Three Best Cars

I’ve had my share of automobiles. Some very good. Some very bad. In some ways, the bad cars are the ones I remember more fondly – like the yellow Volkswagen Super Beetle that had no brakes, no muffler, and was more primer and rust than factory yellow and sheet metal. It eventually came to be outfitted with an air horn and a chrome shift handle, just to add a touch of panache.

I blew the starter on that car several times because the battery was located under the back seat, which had lost all padding between the support springs and said battery. When anyone would sit in the back on that side, the springs would be lowered onto the battery terminals and create a wonderful little short circuit. Most of the time this wasn’t an issue, because not many people would ride in a car with no apparent means of stopping, but when it was, the car was easily started with a screw-driver and a little bending under the rear bumper.

The best cars have been those that just went. Not flashy, not anything much more than utilitarian (although any additional extras have always been welcome), but would not require a lot of attention and would always do what was asked of them reliably. “Best” as used here is a subjective term, but is broadly defined as having logged the miles, required little more than routine maintenance, and generally provided me value for that which I had invested.

1989 Ford Escort LX. By the time I had sold this car, it had 138,000 miles on it. I bought it the summer before I started graduate school and it took me on more than a few 1100-mile weekend round trips, brought me to my first professional job, and my second, and my third. It saw me become a father, and made it through several apartments and a house, even came close to outlasting a marriage. It was an uber-dorkmobile, but it was reliable and I had a strong loyalty to it.

It also has the distinction of having survived quite possibly the oddest car accident in which I’ve ever been a participant. While on a secondary road on a rainy day where I was travelling toward a split where my side of the road expanded, I watched as an oncoming driver ‘” traveling toward the corresponding narrowing of the road on that side ‘” jockeyed for position with another to get in front, lost control of the rear of her car. As she overcorrected for the fish tail and as her side of the road narrowed, the swerving of the car became ever more erratic eventually turning into a complete 180 and hitting the front of my car with the rear of hers. The fellow entirely too close behind me, made the executive decision to avoid hitting me by swerving to the left, but in so doing hit her, thus allowing my beloved Escort the opportunity to serve me another couple of years.

1999 Volvo V70. By the time I traded this car in, and yes, someone actually took it, it had exactly 198,700 miles on it ‘” by far the most longevity of any automobile I’ve owned and by that metric really should be number one on my list of “best cars.” It served me well, but had long since outlived its usefulness; I guess I make the mistake of holding that longevity and my unwillingness to invest any further money into the car against it. By the end, the heat was not working and I was carting around jugs of anti-freeze to make sure I wouldn’t get caught short.

It was a sad demise, if for no other reason than I just couldn’t get the additional 1300 miles out of it for a nice round 200,000 miles. It was a sharp car ‘” white, with mag wheels and let’s face it, if you’re going to drive a station wagon, it should at least be sharp. I could deal with accoutrements that began to fail ‘” the little headlight wipers never really did work right. Other than that, this car required nothing of me, only an opportunity to go places. It was as utilitarian as they come with the added benefit of not being an uber-dork mobile ‘” unless you consider a station wagon (even with mag wheels) a dork-mobile by definition and in which case I’m not going to be able to convince you it wasn’t.

2000 Mazda 626. When I say this car was one of the best cars I’ve ever owned, it’s not to say I liked it. I actually actively hated this car. It was stupid looking, it did nothing particularly well and it was nothing if not stodgy. The marketing people called the color “Chestnut.” I called it “Diarrhea Brown.”

We took possession of it while it had a total of 18 miles on it and drove it relentlessly for 146,000 miles. I eventually traded it in, not because stuff was falling off of it or because stuff wasn’t working on it, but because I just hated it that much. It probably went to trade looking as good inside and out, as it was the day I took delivery. I include it on the list of best cars because while I genuinely had affection for my little blue Escort and I actually liked the Volvo which could influence their rankings, I hated this car and yet without much attention, without much maintenance at all it just did its job. It could turn on a dime ‘” it had probably the tightest turning radius of any car I’ve ever owned ‘” but other than that, it did one thing and one thing only. That one thing was log miles.

Products are designed to meet consumer needs. Some of those needs are economy, or prestige, or utilitarian travel. My Escort was about as economical as they come – between what I actually paid for the car, how much it cost to maintain, and to run, it owed me nothing. My Volvo met any prestige needs for an acceptable period of time, and while not inexpensive, it provided value ‘” any automobile that can accept 198,700 miles is worth whatever paid. This Mazda though, it met only the need for reliable transportation. It didn’t gratify any emotional needs, it just did its job and did so economically. Truly, at the end of the day, as much as I hated that car because there was nothing distinctive about it, sometimes just doing your job is enough. If given the chance, that car would probably still be carting my carcass around.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL:
GF Platform Mazda 626: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mazda_626#1998
First Generation Volvo V70:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volvo_V70#First_generation_.281997.E2.80.932000.29

First Generation Ford Escort:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ford_Escort_(North_America)#First_generation_.281981.E2.80.931990.29