Through early morning fog I see

I consider myself to be a fortunately sheltered person.  In the greater scheme of things, relatively few truly horrible things have come into my life, or those I love.  I have known but one person, many years after our acquaintance in college, who was found murdered.  I’ve known a few young people who had passed far too soon and too young, but through natural causes.  I’ve never had to identify the remains of someone I knew or cared for or loved nor have I ever had to process the death of someone I’ve known who had died from accident or manslaughter or suicide.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, among adolescents suicide is the third leading cause of death for people between the ages of 15 and 24  in the United States, a rate of 6.9 suicides per 100,000 people in that demographic and it is by far more common among young men than young women.  A sadly not-uncommon occurrence, but a devastating one for those left in its wake.

And so it was that this past weekend an apparently popular and athletically gifted young man made that choice.

I had never met him and knew him only by extension and yet I am greatly saddened by this – I’ve met his brother, an apparently fine young man himself, and am told his parents are some of the most wonderful people you would want to meet.  I am told that by my teenage daughter, a fine young woman in her own right and one whose impressions hold great credibility with me – any family warranting her approval is one to be approved.  Yet, somehow this young man decided that there was but one way out of his pain.

It breaks my heart to believe someone so young with so much greatness in his future made this decision.  It breaks my heart that he would leave his family and community at such a loss, and that he could be so tormented inside as to do the unspeakable.  To the outside, he left no apparent signs that he was troubled – always seen with a smile on his face.  My mind races to so many places considering him: the despair, anguish and helplessness his parents must be feeling; how his brothers are feeling; how his loss will affect those closest and those near to him.

Consider, in his family’s faith, suicide is an unpardonable sin: “He who commits suicide by throttling shall keep on throttling himself in the Hell Fire (forever) and he who commits suicide by stabbing himself shall keep on stabbing himself in the Hell-Fire.”  Imagine then to a family of faith countenancing a beloved son facing an eternity in hell, never to be joined with them in the heaven of their faith.

There is so much to fear when children begin their adolescent journey, and as a parent, so many opportunities to look back and wish for that “do over” – how many times have I replayed situations in my head and wished I had made better parenting decisions.  I want so desperately to be a good father and I worry so much whether I have been and whether I’ve made the right choices along the way.  I can’t imagine the journey these apparently “nicest people you’d ever want to meet” must be making right now.  At the start of the weekend, they were parents to several star athletes and gifted students with so much promise in their future – at the end of the weekend, they had lost a child to his own hand.  The anguish must be immeasurable and is unfathomable to those of us who have never made that journey.

On Sunday afternoon, the High School had been opened for students to meet with grief counselors – and many took the opportunity.  It saddens me to know that they had to do that.  With those of us who are older, we can be angry for the selfishness involved in a suicide – it’s hard to be angry with an adolescent for that; adolescents don’t often have fully developed critical reasoning capacities – often its in their nature to be selfish.  My heart breaks for his family, and my heart breaks for his community.  So many unanswered questions and so many young lives left to process the unfathomable.

I hope I’ve built a relationship with my daughter that includes an ability to talk to me about anything – I don’t know that I have, and that scares me.  I feel such sadness thinking about the guilt and anguish his parents must be feeling, and how the lives of his brothers – and those around him – have changed.

I do know this – I will never miss the opportunity to tell my children that I love them.  Life can do great damage to you if you don’t believe you are loved or lovable.  Suicide is not painless.


Public Speaking

I’m a competent public speaker – meaning I don’t think I say “um” a lot (I might) and I don’t get so nervous as to lose my train of thought.  Give me a small group and I’m quite comfortable – it’s well within my comfort zone to be able to present to a group of say 10 people.  I make eye contact, and carry on a conversation on a topic I’m familiar with.  I can be funny and engaging.

Give me a larger group – say 35 – and I’ve lost my comfort zone.  This isn’t to say I stumble over my words, or lose my grip, but it is to say that it’s no longer an intimate conversation.  And I still see maybe a handful of people.  To the point that while giving a presentation this week to a group of people who really didn’t want to be there about a topic that can make people a little uncomfortable, I had someone fall asleep.  And I didn’t even notice.  Because she wasn’t one of the people I could “see.”

Now, I suppose it speaks volumes that I was so engaging that someone decided it was better to fall asleep than to listen – in my own mind I can rationalize that in all kinds of different ways, and besides, that’s not within the scope of this post – but in the end the fact of the matter is that I just didn’t even notice.  

It was no longer a “conversation,” but a presentation.  I’ve never spoken to a BIG group – Bill Clinton or Laurie Ruettimann – but I’ve done a little large group speaking; the one talk of this kind which I’m most proud was the eulogy at my father’s funeral.  But even then, I saw a few faces and was so concerned that what I was saying wasn’t registering with them that I failed to notice the church’s AV system had crapped out.  Of the group of people who came to honor my dad and to support my family, I was so nervous I had only seen a handful.  The larger the group the tighter and smaller my line of vision – almost like looking through a paper tube, where I can see only the few people I focus on.  

I wonder if this is a typical thing, or if its a part of that introvert-pretending-to-be-an-extrovert thing.  I don’t worry about stomping up to be the focus of attention, I worry about goofing up.  When I put myself in position to be a public speaker, I know what I’m capable of presenting and capable of discussing – but inside I think I go through this inner turmoil worrying that I’m going to get a “stumper” question that I can’t answer or just go about the topic at hand all wrong.  Imagining the audience in their underwear doesn’t help – I don’t “see” them.  I’m worrying more about giving the presentation and realizing I’m in my underwear…or worse, wearing the emperor’s clothes.


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.

Dying as a Life Lesson

I think about  my dad a lot.  I can’t believe it’s been almost 4-years since he passed away – 4 years – and there’s not really a day that goes by that I don’t think about him in some manner, shape, or form.

He wasn’t “taken” from me, although I do think he left us before his time.   I know people who have had their loved ones taken from them, and I cannot imagine the pain of all that unfinished business.

He slowly grew older, and weaker, and time and his body just caught up.  Most likely his most important lesson to me was his last.  While we’re growing up, a parents’ role is to give you the tools you need to be an adult.  Some of us do better imparting that knowledge, and those skills better than others, but by and large that’s a parent’s job.  The very last thing he did was show me how to grow older and how to die.

Seems a morbid thing, but truly, that too is an important job of a parent.  He faced his illness, made the decisions he felt he had to make regarding his treatment and he knew when enough was enough.  When blood transfusions could not replace the blood cells his body was losing , and it was clear that treatment was really just prolonging the inevitable, he decided it was time to stop fighting.  He had spent a lifetime arranging his affairs, and it was time.

He was a remarkable man and I hope that I have the strength and the force of character to face my own mortality as he did.  He was a role model to me in so many ways and looking back, it really didn’t surprise me that he handled his situation as he did.  He accepted his fate long before I did, and he showed me the way.  It takes a very special person to do that, and I thank him for giving me that example.

I don’t get to his grave nearly enough, but I do speak to him every day even if it is just in passing.  How many times could I have used his advice and guidance over the last 3+ years?  Almost every day, but I have also applied lessons he gave me almost every day too.  He gave me the tools, sometimes I have to reach back an apply them, but he gave them to me. Oftentimes, I would be much better off if I more actively practiced his lessons, but because of him there has never been a situation I have been unable to handle.

I love you, Dad, and yeah, I still miss you like crazy.  I wish there was some way I could let you know somehow how truly special and important a person you were.  I hope I can do so in giving your grandchildren the example you gave me.


In 2006, the verb “To Google” entered the Oxford English Dictionary.  I know this because I googled the definition.  One wonders if “Google” has entered the realm of “Xerox,” “Kleenex,” “Kool-Aid” and “Scotch Tape.”  Its funny how language develops.

“Google” is a thoroughly made up word, a malaprop of “googol” – 10,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000 –  chosen ultimately because the .com domain was available.   It gained its meaning because of the power of the Google algorithms in finding information on the web – their approach was so different from other search engines, it allowed for differentiating names from other entries.  The difficulty of differentiating a product or service to such a degree the best way to describe it is to use its own name in a self-referential cycle.

One might think this would be an exceptional thing for a company – to have its name become so familiar that it becomes part of our everyday lexicon – but to the corporate types it represents a threat to the control of the name.  Quite the conundrum that.

Advertisers spend so much time and money to differentiate their product.  Google spent almost no money and wound up with the same result.

I know, this is old news, but it got me thinking.

Introverts and Writing

I spend a lot of time in my own head.  Its a trait of the introverted.  It gives me time to regroup, think things over, gain a little understanding.  Sometimes, though, the net effect is that people around me think I’m checked out, or that I’m distant or don’t care.  I really do like parties, but I prefer to spend time with people one-on-one.  I’m not anti-social – far from it – however the energy it takes to handle interacting with large groups of people takes me a lot of time to rejuvenate.

I also struggle a lot with self-confidence.  I had a hard time speaking up for fear of looking foolish – even when I have specific, well founded ideas.  I worry about finding the right word to get my point across, and because I’m spending time searching for those words it frustrates people while they wait for me to get that word.  Most people are satisfied with the word that’s “close enough,” but that’s not me…I’ve learned that if I’m not specific, I spend more time explaining nuance.  Nuance which is then lost on most people.

Writing is always a good means to get thoughts out of my head – I can take the time to be reasonably specific, take the time to sort through my thoughts, and reach out to the outside world.  The problem is, sometimes, no matter how much I’ve thought about something, I just can’t come up with something to write.  Imagine that – spending so much time in my own head, and I don’t have anything to say.

I can be a text book case study of an introvert.  I’m told I have a unique point of view, that I process information differently than others.  I make connections that others don’t.

With Introverted Intuition dominating their personality, INTJs focus their energy on observing the world, and generating ideas and possibilities. Their mind constantly gathers information and makes associations about it. They are tremendously insightful and usually are very quick to understand new ideas. (

That’s pretty much me.

So, with all of that as introduction, I’ve got nothing.  No interesting connections, no funny observations, and no ideas.  Just a lot of nothing…I guess I’ll just have to think about that.

The Intuition of Batting Average

One of the most intuitive aspects of the game of baseball is the concept of ‘Batting Average.’ It’s as simple and intuitive as the game itself: Number of Hits divided by the number of At-Bats. It’s a serviceable construct of measuring a batters’ hitting prowess.

One of the curious things about “batting average” is that while it’s quite possibly the most intuitive measurement in the game of baseball, and hence it was one of the first measurements of the game, it wasn’t created until baseball had been organized for almost two decades.

Harry Chadwick, a Britton who found himself enamored by early baseball in the 1850’s while he was covering cricket as a journalist.# Chadwick came to develop the first baseball box score and edited theThe Beadle Baseball Player the first baseball guide for public consumption.# He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1938 by the veteran’s committee.

Growing up in the late 20th Century, batting average has always been that hits/at-bats ratio and has always been reported to the thousandths decimal place. It feels so completely intuitive and so perfect for the game. However, as intuitive as it may be, it relies on two other statistics which had to be developed first – “hits” and “at-bats.” The elemental nature of these statistics reveal how far the game has come, and how non-intuitive the measurements of the game are.

When the Batting Average was formally adopted in 1876, it took the form of the statistic we know today, however prior to being formally adopted, it was actually a measurement of the number of hits per game. Of course the definition of these elemental statistics have changed and have therefore influenced the measurement of a batting average: for instance, for a year in the late 1800’s, bases-on-balls were counted as hits and plate appearances, which had the effect of driving up batting averages for that year – many up near .500 – and it was discontinued for the following season.# Increase the number of hits to plate appearances using a 1:1 ratio and you’re going to increase batting average, even though it does not reflect the batter’s skill at hitting. The idea, however, was to measure what was going on at plate appearances. Of course, at the time, it took 5-balls to receive a base-on-balls and 4-strikes to strike out.#

Consider the work involved in building the game we know today, a game that is ever more statistically oriented – particularly with the advent of ever faster computers – and it just doesn’t seem as intuitive. The builders of baseball didn’t know what they should be measuring, but they knew the game could be quantified. That’s the intuitive part of the game – it can be quantified, but figuring out how or what to measure is the difficult part.

References retrieved on 10/10/2010 retrieved on 10/10/2010 retrieved 10/10/2010 retrieved 10/10/2010 retrieved 10/10/2010