Ten things I want to learn

Like most people, when I was young, I learned how to read. A few years later, I learned how to throw a curveball, one decent enough to occasionally fool my friends, but not good enough to get anyone out in a real game. (The one time my coach put me in, I got lit up beyond belief, so I think I’m still working on that one.)

We spend a lifetime learning things. As soon as we come out of the womb, we work to learn everything about our new world. We go from listening and watching to rolling over, crawling, and graduate to talking and one day walking.

We never stop learning. The process is never-ending. For much of my life, I’ve been taking classes to get a grade or learn a subject or a train for a career. With two of my children now in college, I’ve been thinking about the things I still want to learn simply for fun.

 

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Ten years from now, will this matter?

I came out of the classroom and wanted to scream. I had spent hours studying for the Econ 101 test, but I felt like I had been lied to by the professor. His test included a number of questions on topics that had been barely covered in class or our textbook and other content that had been discussed ad nauseam was barely even mentioned. Of course, I struggled on the exam and feared the worse.

I started walking back to my dorm, but I wasn’t sure if I should laugh, cry, scream or throw a punch. Instead, I stopped and sat down on a bench under a small row of elm trees. The sun had set and it felt much later than the time. The black, starless night matched my mood.

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Trashing a good story

The old man’s eyesight was fading and he couldn’t get around well without his walker, but you could usually find him each day on the front porch of the local grille. He’d be dressed in a pair of denim bib overalls and soiled work boots gently rocking back and forth in an old rocking chair. He’d show up late afternoon and within a half hour or so, you’d find a small group of locals circled around him on stools listening intently to his every word.

The man served as a B-17 bombardier during World War II and spent most of his life farming in the small Virginia community and had a lifetime of stories. As a young reporter, new to the area, I came to count on his stories and perspective.

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I spent hours listening to him. You’d tell him a story that you thought was of particular interest and he’d come back with three or four better ones. He had a story for every day of the week and two for Sunday. The topic didn’t matter, he’d start talking and I’d be drawn-in immediately to whatever story he was telling.

He told stories about growing up dirt poor and taking care of his six brothers and sisters; how he managed to scrape together enough money for an education; and how “a young hick” like he used to call himself, came to travel to Paris and Rome and still found his way home to his wife and a life as a country farmer.

You’d ask him about his day and he had a way of making something as simple as taking his garbage to the local dump sound like poetry. Fast forward to this week. I was going through some old papers and couldn’t help, but think about the old man. I love a good story, so much so that I hoard them. I have stacks and stacks of stories, some related to my job, others dealing with topics that I want to write about in the future, and still others touching on self-help topics.

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Getting good at saying college goodbyes

The inevitable happened.

Several weeks ago, we dropped our middle child, our oldest son, off at college. He’s starting his freshman year and he couldn’t wait to start. As soon as the car was unloaded, he was ready for us to say “goodbye.” And then this past weekend, we loaded up the SUV and drove our oldest child, our daughter, to Washington, D.C. where she’s taking two evening classes and working as an intern.

In the end, it was worse and in some other ways, easier than we thought it would be. I’ve written in the past about the challenge of saying goodbye to our kids. You get used to having your kids in your life and hearing everything about their day and then one day you drop them off and you watch them get smaller and smaller in the rear view mirror. Oh, that’s life, that’s the way it’s supposed to be, we’re adults, we know that, but it can be still be a challenge.

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Two types of people: Which are you?

The woman looked like she had just come from a weekend at the spa. If not straight from the lap of luxury, then she looked like she certainly came from the dressing room of Georgio Armani, Saks Fifth Avenue, or Nieman Marcus. Everything about her gleamed and sparkled, from the bangles around her wrist to the gold on her fingers.

I could have easily imagined her stepping onto a runway, modeling the latest designer fashion, or even into a chauffeured limousine, not an office supply store in the middle of Southeastern Pennsylvania. I watched her enter the store ― it was hard not to notice her ― but my interest soon waned and I went back to searching for ink for my printer. I didn’t give her another glance until I watched her jump in line, in front of a young couple with two toddlers. I started to say something but stopped myself when the store manager waved to open up two additional check-out lines.

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I soon was on my way, but I couldn’t get the woman and her thoughtlessness out of my head. I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt. I thought to myself: “Maybe she didn’t see the line of people snaking around the corner and, yes, the couple she jumped in front of were distracted by their two toddlers.” Of course, the devilish side of me said, “damn straight, she saw the line, how could she not see the line of people waiting to be served, she just thought she was more important.”

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Get on the bus!

The bus went around the curve traveling faster than it probably should have and nearly sent me sprawling to the floor. I hung on tightly to the armrest to make sure the next curve or large pothole didn’t send me flying again. To top it off, the bus engine roared louder than a sell-out heavy metal concert, making it hard to concentrate.

My daughter has my car more than 350 miles away in another state so she can participate in a summer internship and my wife needed her car for the day, so I took the shuttle bus that my company offers to get to work. The ride lacked a certain smoothness ― or even pizzazz for that matter ― but I took away a number of positives from the trip. In particular, within a few minutes of sitting down in my seat, the shuttle bus took me back in my mind to my days as an elementary and middle school student.

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Leaving something for my son

We dropped my son off at college this past weekend. He graduated high school earlier this month and he’s taking two college classes over the summer to get a head start on his degree.

With his bags dropped off in his new dorm room, his clothes hung up and put away in his closet, his desk supplies prepared, and his laptop set up for the first day of class, I wanted to leave him something that would help him through any challenging times he might run into and to remember us over the next four years. I had been thinking about the question for weeks. We had dropped our oldest daughter off at college two years ago. I wrote about that day previously in “The Challenges of Move-in Day,” so I knew what to expect. 

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Love, laughter & tears each day?

The speaker droned on. His presentation lacked any real substance, I was already tired from staying up late the night before to take care of a work-related fire, and I was eyeing up the “X” button on screen to click out of the training.

And then he said something that caught my attention.

“You should always be willing to tell people what you stand for. They should know instantly what you believe in and what you’re made of and where you draw a line in the sand.”

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The point being that the stronger our believes, the stronger the presence and commitment that we give off.  He soon went back to into sales mode, trying to get you to sign up for his next talk, instead of offering any key takeaways and I once again lost patience and went onto more productive tasks, but I pondered the question for the rest of the day: Do people know what I stand for? Do I spell it out?

My answer: Sometimes I’m good about spelling it out, sometimes I’m not. So here it is, here’s what I stand for, for better or worse. Some full of clichés, some not:

  • My top four priorities are God (God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit), my family, being a “good person,” and my country.
  • I try to live my live ― not so successfully mind you ― with Christ’s commandment of “faith, hope, and love.”
  • I believe in the power of my wife’s hug to turn a crappy day into a memorable one. I believe too in the power of my daughter’s smile, my middle son’s laugh, and the twinkle in my youngest son’s eyes.
  • Each day I try to love, laugh, cry, and smile. I try each day too to learn something, to improve myself, and to take another step toward my life goals.

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  • I believe in working hard and making the most of your talents and opportunities; being authentic and who you say you are; living your life with virtue, including integrity and trustworthiness; honor; patience; fairness and justice; humility; charity and kindness to others; treating people the way I want to be treated; courage; perseverance, and humor. (Yes, humor. I’ve written it before, but I’m convinced that God has a sense of humor. At least that’s my hope.)
  • I believe in the written word and how it can move us to emotion ― be it laughter or tears, happiness or anger ― and then to action.
  • Finally, I believe in miracles. I’m convinced of them, because God gave me my beautiful wife and kids. They are infinitely more important to me, than I will ever be to them. They inspire and make me a better person. They challenge me and love me for who I am.

I stand for other things too, but these are what stand out today. I’ll leave the rest for another day.

Remembering a graduation embarrassment

The countdown for my son is down to a few hours. He’s down to his final hours of high school. He took his last final exam on Tuesday and he’s got just a few hours of graduation practice left with the rest of his class before “walking” to pick up his diploma on Friday.

From the sounds of it, graduation practice hasn’t changed much in the decades since I had my own. I get the sense that herding cats would probably be more enjoyable, but it’s still a necessary evil.

In any event, he’s excited for graduation to get here. I advised him  to try to soak it all in, to enjoy the pomp and circumstance and to enjoy the moment. In particular, I told him that his graduation ceremony had to be better than my college graduation.

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The guest speaker that day went on-and-one. Now he was a titan in the business world, an early pioneer in the public relations field and he had a ton of great stories, some of which I would’ve loved to have heard in class, but by this point I was done. I was ready to say sayonara to college. I feared that his speech might be my college’s last, albeit lame, attempt to ransom a few extra dollars from us students.

During the speaker’s extended commentary, my graduation gown got stuck on a sharp piece of the auditorium seat. When the school president told us to stand up to switch our graduation tassel from right to left to signify that we were now graduates, the guy behind me stepped on my gown and I heard a rip in the flimsy material, loud enough for people five and six rows back to hear. I feared that the rip went up the entire backside of my gown and that it would fall off my shoulders in shreds.

Of course, everything was fine, but it still made for an eventful walk to the stage to pick up my diploma, as I tried to crane and rotate my neck in a 360 degree owl-like swivel, to see how big of a bite had been taken out of the gown. 

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Fortunately, I soon gave up and threw away any cares. I would’ve walked up on stage naked if necessary. Hell or high way, I was going to come away with my diploma in my hands. I had worked too hard to not come away with the piece of paper testifying that I had successfully completed the required courses for my bachelor of arts. I wasn’t going to walk away empty-handed.  

I’m not sure my son feels the same way, but give him some time. He just might feel that way by the time graduation practice is over.

Proving the experts wrong: Celebrating graduation

I like to go back and read the 25-page report.

It’s written in a medical, matter of fact tone. Large sections of the report are highlighted and my wife has written comments in pencil on several of the report pages. I read it over-and-over again and I remember the intense fear and worry we shared.

The report gives a full medical history, lists the tests the doctors gave and how my son fared, who was present, and finally a summary and recommendations. I’m barely a page or two into the report and my head starts pounding.

“(My son’s name) is still fairly young and so, needs intensive work in reading. He needs to be taught the basics, phonetics, and decoding skills.”

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When I get to this next part, my reading slows. I pause after every couple of words to take them in and ponder their meaning in my mind. They pack a powerful punch.

“However, we are not very optimistic about his ever acquiring these skills. The time will quickly come when we need to focus on circumventing the lack of decoding skills. He most likely will do better at sight word recognition and working to expand this skill. Also, he will need to begin using technology to essentially read and write for him.”

My breathing is deeper now. If I close my eyes, I can remember the doctor’s face when she handed us her preliminary report at the end of our visit.

“He will have trouble reading stop signs. He seems to be a strong listener, but he’ll never be able to enjoy a book, other than maybe a picture book, or function as a normal adult.”

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