Confessions of a Sports Convert

In small town America sports are king. That was no exception where I grew up. For many kids that was torture. If you didn’t like sports or couldn’t play well it was tough. If you fit both categories it could be a nightmare. 

 To say I was uncoordinated would be a major underselling of how bad by athleticism was. I was partially blind as a kid and that subsequently caused me to shift from being right-handed to left-handed and totally threw off my hand eye coordination. Not to mention I had a natural gift for being afraid of any and all things flying toward my head. I was terrible at everything. Throwing, catching, hitting, running, jumping, ball handling–you name it, I was bad at it. 

 As a result I didn’t like sports. I therefore didn’t watch sports, so, of course, I couldn’t talk about sports with any confidence. This led to a lot of isolation as a kid and even some bullying. So like many people I know, I learned to hate sports. Junior High and High School deepened my loathing of sports. Stereotypical high school jocks and the dreaded PE class, shirts and skins.  Need I say more? It wasn’t until High School I came to know and associate with other sports haters: the yearbook staff, theater, speech and debate. I hung out with people who shared my interests–finding fellowship with my like minded nerd peeps.   

 Now almost thirty years later I have a confession to make. I love sports! No really I love them! I can honestly say I would rather watch a ball game than about anything else. So what happened? Two things really: my children and moving to Indianapolis. As my kids got older some of them liked sports and where athletic (they 100% did not get this from me). I began to take an interest in their interest. It was fun to watch them play and enjoy it. 

 Secondly, we moved to Indianapolis. We had only been in town a week or so before I noticed we were the only family on the block who every Friday during football season were not wearing Colts Jerseys (I am not kidding about this). Grocery store clerks, bank tellers, accountants, lawyers, doctors, nurses, school teachers all wore Colts Jerseys. In 2009 you could go to any public park in Indiana and yell “Hey Peyton!” and a half a dozen children (boys and girls) would turn their heads wondering who called their names. Sure, they loved they Colts, but Indianapolis (Indy) loved all sports. 

 In a  very real way sports saved Indy as this 2013 article by David Masciorta points out.  Turns out in the 1970s Indy, like many other midwest industrial cities, was in trouble. Their aggressive plan to turn Indy into a thriving sports hub paid off. Subsequently, Indy faired better economically and got a jump start on their downtown revitalization compared to Detroit, Cleveland or Pittsburgh (all of which are amazing cities that I highly recommend you visit).  Not only does Indy have 11 professional sports teams it is the host for the national headquarters of the NCCA and often hosts many collegiate and professional sports tournaments. So it was easy to fall in love with sports there. I started watching more games so I could hold a conversation with my neighbors and friends and found that now that I didn’t feel the pressure to play sports I could more easily enjoy them. Moving to Boston has only amped that up (sorry Tom Brady I don’t care how much you win–I’ll always be a Colts fan).

 Over the last ten years I’ve grown from having a tacit interest in sports to becoming a full throated fan. I love the drama of not knowing who will win and who will lose, not to mention the community feel that comes from being part of the local team. 

 I also love the virtuosity of the athletes! What they can do is amazing! I find sports to be an escape from the complicated, nuanced world we live in. I love this new part of life and the joy it brings me. I am also glad to let go of the burden sports felt like as a kid. I do, however, feel bad when I am talking sports with someone and I see another friend or family member roll their eyes like “Gross, sports.”  I want to say, “Hey, I get it!  I used to feel that way too but trust me, it’s better than you think and you may even come to love it!” So I say, play ball!             

 

Be Careful How You Edit the Past

We are the product of all we have encountered. Like most of you, I have engaged in revisionist history when it comes to the narrative of my life. Like Professor Slugworth’s muted memories of Tom Riddle we blend together, erase and dub over the parts that might reflect poorly on us or that caused us great pain. This is normal and perhaps even a bit healthy.

Recently, I was reminded of some of the dangers of our life redactments. I had the opportunity to visit with a friend from high school.  Someone who had been a great friend then but, as happens in life, we lost connection for 29 years. We connected via social media a year or two ago but nothing more than seeing each other’s family pics, etc.

As he and I reminisced I was reminded of moments that were transformational for me. Moments that helped determine my direction and ultimately led me to become the person I am now. So much of that time of life was painful for me that in my attempt to forget the pain I unintentionally redacted much of the good, even parts that were formative and essential to who I am now.

My walk down memory lane with this friend had a real impact on me. It made me wonder how much I may have missed by trying to move on from who I was. I reflected on others I owe a thank you to, people who saw me for what I could be, not just who I was. In my rush to move on I have overlooked key events, experiences and most importantly people that helped me grow into the person I am now. A person I like very much.

Memory is a funny thing. I wonder how years of filtering the past have warped our perception of the reality of what was. I guess none of us every really experience life as it is but more as we think it is. In an age were we put a premium on authenticity I wonder what role our filtered memories play on who we are or who we think we are.

So I think I’ll be brave and try to review the past. Looking for my own story through a less clouded lens. Looking for those moments that helped me set a course to the destination I am now at. More than just forgiving my past me, I want to understand him, thank him and those along the way who helped me find the version of myself I was always meant to be

I Finally Got the Chimes to Work That’s Kind of a Big Deal. 

img_3539So in Boston the subway is called the “T,” short for the MBTA (which is short for Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority). Many of the stations have public art. The Kendall station has a set of chimes. In order to ring the chimes, you have to move a handle back-and-forth (trust me, it’s not as easy as it sounds). There’s a rhythmic way the handle must be moved–you can’t just force it by going faster, you have to be patient.

Recently I had some friends from across the country come and spend the day with us. I took them back to their hotel in the evening from Kendall Square. As I got back to the Kendall station there was a seven-minute wait for the next train. It was a Sunday (I try to refrain from social media on Sundays) so I was bored for the next seven minutes. I decided I would try to make the chimes ring. I had seen them before but I’ve never heard them ring even though I’ve been in the station hundreds of times (often twice or more a day) but the station is usually filled with people and you look a little silly pumping that handle trying to get the rhythm just right.

So, trying to use my seven minutes and with only one or two people in the station I was enticed to see if I could make it work. Guess what? I couldn’t! I tried going fast, I tried going slow, nothing was quite right. By this point there were half a dozen people in the station all pretending like they were not watching me: looking at their phones, looking at me, looking at their phones, looking at me–I could read their minds, “There’s no way this big dope is going to get this” and “How hard can this be? He’s been trying for like three minutes.”

I decided I didn’t care what anyone thought. I was gonna make those chimes ring no matter what it took. I could feel the tension in the handle at a certain point–if I timed my moving the handle with that tension, I could see the mallet swing in between the chimes. I knew if I got the rhythm right long enough the mallet would have enough momentum to strike the chimes. Finally, one mallet hit one chime. Everybody looked at the chimes then back at me. Two minutes until the train came. I read their minds again, “Dude he’s close. Super dork might get these chimes to ring.”

Then the mallets started to move in unison, multiple mallets striking multiple chimes. One minute until the train. Here’s the important thing: you can’t get anxious and over pump the handle. You have to keep the rhythm and you have to be patient. The announcer came over PA. The train was approaching. Now the dozen people in the train station we’re completely looking at the chimes, no one was looking at their phone. And then it happened: all mallets, all chimes, striking in rhythmic beauty. Such a contrast to the loud boisterous trains that roll through. In my mind the dozen or so people in the train station all applauded (of course, they didn’t.) But I could tell they were thinking it, “He did it! I’ve waited in this train station a billion times and never heard those ring. Thanks random dude for making the chimes ring!”

Honestly, it felt kind of magical. I felt like a victor. As I rode the train home, I couldn’t help but think how many experiences I’ve missed in life because I was too embarrassed to try in front of spectators. How many experiences I’ve missed because I default to looking at my phone. I really think we are all cheering for each other. I also think we all feel like fools and imposters just waiting to be exposed. Waiting for the village child to laugh at us and say that we are naked, our worst fears confirmed. That which we valued as regal cloth was sold to us by a humbug.

I want to suppress the voices in my head that tell me not to try. I want to take more chances, sing more songs, read more poetry, live more life. The chimes were magical. Their brief song moved me to try more, to be more, to live more. Thanks subway public art! You did good.

I Never Want To Go Back, But I Would Like To Visit Again

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For years when our kids were little people would see us at church or around town loading, unloading, looking for shoes, picking up dropped keys, dropped bottles, dropped toys, whatever, and they would say: “I remember those days. They were the happiest times of my life! They grow up too fast! You’ll miss it, trust me”.

And I would think: The happiest times of your life?  Wow.  You must have a horrible life! Surely you have forgotten what it’s like. What about jam?

I am convinced for a period of at least ten years my children didn’t actually consume sticky foods—they just spread them on other surfaces.  I can’t count times I touched something sticky: counter tops, doorknobs, drawer handles; JAM EVERYWHERE. And besides jam, how about trying to leave the house! We carried around a diaper bag for thirteen years. Thirteen YEARS. Every time went anywhere it was like packing for a weekend getaway. Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids, but hearing: “This is the best time of you life” was a little discouraging . . . So no money, no time, no nice things (see jam rant) is as good as it gets. Again, I say: Wow. After the diaper, earache, consta-snot, sticky years, it’s all down hill. Well, at least we have something to look forward to, like death.

Now years later, three of my five are married and out of the nest and the remaining two can find their own shoes (for the most part). I can see why those well intended soon to be or already emptynesters would say what they did.  I miss ‘em. Look, I’ll be the first to admit being able to shop with my wife for an hour without finding, picking up, and trusting a pre-teen baby sitter is awesome! Still I miss them. Now I can talk to my kids about art, music, sports, politics and whatever. I love that! Added bonus: NO JAM.  But I miss the cute things they would say. I miss the jammies and even Dragon Tales (not often).  This morning as I was waking up, I longed for a bed head, bad breath kiddo to crawl in my bed and put her cold feet on my back. That ship has sailed. And the sad thing is, it never comes back. Memories are filtered to remember the good times. I don’t want to go back to stepping on Barbie shoes and pink medicine constantly in the fridge. Not permanently at least, but I would like to go back for a visit.

We’re No Kennedys But That’s Ok

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The Kennedys famously discussed world politics at the dinner table in preparation and hope of their children’s political future. Our family dinner conversations usually revolve around school, family business, scheduling and a conversation about best and worst parts of the day. However, our family has found an opportunity to have deep discussions about world events, politics, science, and culture. Instead of the dinner table, our conversations happened before dinner, sitting in the minivan on road trips.

 

On our long-haul trips we would drive anywhere from 8 to 12 hours a day. We read books, sing, play games and listen to music, but at 4 o’clockI would always like to listen to the news–NPR’s “All Things Considered” (we also listen at home while we make dinner).

 

As we listened to certain stories, the kids would ask questions like: “Why are we going to war in Iraq?” “What is the difference between a Republican and a Democrat?” “What is climate change and how do we fix it?” and dozens of other

questions about the world and it people. Instead of telling them they would understand when they were older, we would always try to explain and answer their questions—causing deep discussions on complicated issues.

 

Jennifer’s first rule of parenting is “kids aren’t dumb”. She thinks kids have the ability to understand complex issues. During drives and dinner prep we had more time to talk—more space to really engage. Over the years we our many conversations about politics, history, art, literature, science, and world events led to greater discussions and in depth knowledge of places and people we encountered at national parks, museums, and in books.

 

As our kids grew older they began to form their own opinions about the world—in the formation of these opinions we thought it was important to challenge their ideas and cause them to try to see the other person’s point of view/ perspective. The last thing we want is for our children to just parrot our opinions. One of the most important things we want is for them to be able to understand both sides of complicated issues. Now our adult children listen to NPR for themselves. They have become nerds just like their parents—but not Kennedys . . . yet.

A letter from Mother Earth to Republicans

Dear Republicans,

I just wanted to take a minute and thank you for all the help over the years. For starters, Mr. Lincoln (your first President) clearly understood the need for the study of science. As you well know he understood that  the public financing of science education was crucial to a prosperous healthy union:

He knew learning about how the earth works was the best way to preserve it for us and our future generations.

Another republican hero of mine was Theodore Roosevelt. Teddy was the best! His commitment to conservation was pioneering! If you really want people to be environmentally responsible (and, of course, I do) there is no better way than to allow people to have responsible access to my greatest creations.

Now, my next shout out may surprise some of you but it’s legit: Richard Nixon. You say, what! I say, you know that’s right! He was flawed (to be sure) yet through him we got the EPA!

Let’s admit it, nobody wants to have polluted air and rivers. Am I right?

You see friends, your party has a philosophical belief in conservation. Conservative, conservation (see what I did there?) Any way, thanks!

Now, not to seem ungrateful, I would like to mention a few recent short comings and offer a political approach for you my long-time friends. To be blunt, I’m dying and you’re killing me. For real! Here’s the problem: climate change. I know what you’re thinking, “Blah blah blah I can’t hear you.” But listen I think I can help you out with this.

First, I’m actually on your side. Liberals scream about the environment and have some good ideas (like saving my life) but they go about it all the wrong way. They have good intentions but have created a narrative of scarcity that shames progress. Look at how they talk about fossil fuels. “Oil is going to kill us, oil is ruining the planet, stop using fossil fuels or we’ll all die!” Sure, that’s true, but it makes us feel like innovation was the problem when, of course, it wasn’t. It’s the solution. And what brought about that innovation? Market forces, duh.

So, here’s where I need help from you my conservative friends. I need you to change the narrative and save my ice caps at the same time. Try this on for size. What if you said, “Look how amazing we are, we figured out how to use fossil fuels, we’re geniuses! We created more wealth and comfort for the planet than anyone could’ve ever imagined! Everybody give a big warm hug to fossil fuels and capitalism! We are so innovative and smart, good job us!”

Then you go on to say something like this, “Ok team our innovations with fossil fuels was amazing but it’s time for a new idea (that one has run its course). What we need now is new market ideas like green energy, and smart technology that can’t be outsourced to other nations. We need cap and trade so we can make money on being more environmentally responsible. Let’s create tens of millions of new jobs with a new energy economy. Let’s invest in technology and infrastructure like Lincoln and protect the environment like Roosevelt all while growing the economy one solar panel and high-efficiency electrical vehicle at a time!”  See how good that sounds!

I actually think you and my liberal friends could come together on helping to save my life. Of course, you would not agree on everything, that’s cool. But you could agree that innovation, conservation and economic growth are core bipartisan values–that working together we can move responsibly to a new stronger green economy. Plus, we could save Miami and Manhattan form rising tides at the same time. Not too shabby right? This will require bold moves. But I have faith you’re up for it. Thanks for taking the time to read this letter. And thanks in advance for saving my life.

Sincerely,

Mother Earth

My Apologies to the Graduating Class of 2018

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Graduation season is upon us and I love it! I live in an area where I am surrounded by college campuses. I love to walk around them during graduation and see the excited students, friends and families. I can’t help but think of all the hard work, tears, joys and experiences that come with commencement. I am pretty sure I will never be asked to give a commencement address, but I love listening to them. I YouTube many of them this time of year. I find them hopeful, optimistic and inspiring (they are also short which helps, I think).

So here is the address I would have given had I been invited:

Faculty, staff, administration, alumni, family, friends and most importantly, graduates, I’m humbled and honored for the opportunity to speak to you today. It seems like every generation likes to roll their eyes at the generation after them with the tired trope “kids these days.” There’s no short supply of stories denigrating your generation. I think for the most part, they are not only unfounded, untrue and unflattering, they are misguided and harmful. The truth is, I think you’re doing a great job! I think your generation sees the world in new and exciting ways. Crowd-sourcing, the shared economy, the power and limitations of social networks and so many others. My address today will not, however, try to draw a distinction between your generation and mine. Instead, I would like to apologize for what my generation has left you and I’d like to ask your help in fixing it.

First, I’m sorry for the current state of politics. We are in an era of tribalism and hyper partisanship that for good reason has eroded confidence in the government. I’m sympathetic to those view who government institutions as incapable of instituting real change. However, I believe our core democratic principles are solid and worth defending. What we need from your generation is an increase in government participation. I know you’re cynical about bureaucracies and politics. I don’t blame you. We need fresh faces and fresh ideas. Young graduates like you are willing to challenge and change the status quo. Walking away for something never fixes it. This country has done amazing things in the past. We are capable of doing it again. It will require our best efforts. It will require your generation to step up and take its place in this our great American story.

Second, I apologize for global climate change. I realize I am not personally responsible for the melting of the polar ice caps, but my generation and the baby boomers before us have left you quite a mess to clean up. I am confident there are great solutions to even this epic threat. We need you to be less selfish, less lazy, and less underwhelmed than we have been. We need you to be vigilant in helping us stop the effects of climate change before it’s too late. The world is counting on you!

Finally, I’m sorry about religion. I am a person of deep faith and deep religious conviction. Speaking in a broad interfaith way, I can see how sometimes religion has let you down. It has felt closed, unwelcoming, restrictive and maybe even self-interested. I am sympathetic to the idea of being spiritual but not religious. Let me offer a different perspective. One of the challenges of being spiritual but not religious is spirituality can often be practiced as mainly self-help–which is good but we need your spirituality to be outward as well. Organized religion offers institutional structures to do tremendous good. It provides human interaction, solid moral frameworks and interdependent communities. Your own deep spirituality is increased by sharing that experience with others of similar faith. There is a synergism that comes from faith communities. There is also the potential to do greater good than individual meditation can produce. If you want church to be more inclusive, more understanding, more empathetic, come and help us make it that way.

Some parting advice (no commencement address would be complete without it). Here is my meme worthy counsel: Make good friends, work hard, be nice, listen more, speak less, be humble, be brave, treat others like you’d like to be treated, be kind, empathetic and thoughtful, say sorry, eat ice cream, take walks, cry, laugh, love and enjoy the journey.

Thank you and congratulations to the class of 2018!

Thanks Bob the Naturalist For the Yearn To Learn

Several years ago, I was traveling for work and stayed the night at a state park in West Virginia. As I was checking into the hotel room I noticed a sign indicating the next day’s park activities: 7:30 AM nature walk with naturalist Bob. That caught my attention.

I asked the desk clerk, “What is the nature walk, with naturalist Bob?”

“He’s one of our naturalists, I imagine it’ll be mostly be a bird walk,” the clerk replied.

I’ll be honest, at this point in my life I did not even know that a nat·u·ral·ist is “an expert in or student of natural history.” I thought to myself, sure, why wouldn’t I want to go on a walk with a guy named Bob who is a naturalist? Bright and early the next morning I was ready to meet Bob. It was raining a bit so Bob and I were the only two souls brave enough to go on the walk. A few hundred yards into our walk the rain stopped and the awesome began.

As soon as the rain stopped Bob the naturalist walked out into the trees with an earnest look on his face. Then he started pointing as he spoke. “Robin, Robin, 50 yards to the south. Cowbird. Straight ahead, Scarlet Tanager.” He started moving forward deeper into the woods. I wasn’t sure if Bob was crazy, but I was definitely enticed. After only a few yards he stopped and listened again, “Scarlet Tanager for sure.” Then he lifted up his binoculars for a few seconds, “That tree straight ahead 12 o’clock, three quarters of the way up the tree on a little branch. Do you see it?” I, of course, did not see it. I needed quite a bit a help from Bob the naturalist to see the Scarlet Tanager. He was of course happy to help.

An hour later we had seen or heard a Tufted Titmouse, Cardinals, Robins and a half dozen other birds. I was amazed that he could do that. How he could identify different bird calls from so far away? How he trained his eyes and ears to listen and see birds? He was equally adept at identifying trees flowers and other plants and animals. He had mad skills I didn’t even know existed.

Since that time, I have not become an excellent birder. I have been on a few other walks and joined the Audubon Society. One of my new favorite films is “The Big Year” (which I highly recommend). I don’t have the time I would like or expertise to identify birds. But now when I walk in the woods I can hear the different calls even though I cannot identify them. I now take my spy glass and occasionally find a bird or two. More importantly, I’m learning, again, the value of learning, the joy of curiosity.

How is it that I lived for 40 years and didn’t consider how cool the birds were? How could I walk through parks and wooded areas and never care about the trees and plants? I guess I’ve been too busy, too distracted, too underwhelmed by the complexity of everything. I want to know more about the things I don’t know. I want to never stop learning and seeing new things.

Ten years ago, I went skiing with my oldest daughter. As we were riding on the lift she had her head leaned back looking into the clouds. She pointed at a cloud and said “cumulonimbus.” She pointed at another and said “cumulus.” I asked (teasing) if she wanted to be a meteorologist as a profession. She said no. I asked her why she cared about the clouds. She shrugged “I don’t know. We learned about them at school.” There on the chair lift I learned a life lesson and shared it with her. “You don’t have to want to be a meteorologist to like clouds,” I said. “Learning stuff is cool. It enhances your life. Here we are skiing and enjoying the day. Knowing about the clouds makes it more enjoyable. Thinking about the physics of the lift, knowing about the trees and mountains all adds to the experience of the day.” There is value and joy from learning things that goes beyond occupational or financial rewards. The older I get, the more I want to learn.

The more I know the more I know how much I don’t know. I was recently with the same daughter and her husband in Paris. Spending time in some of the world’s great museums. I found myself frustrated by my lack of art understanding. Knowing I liked this more than that but not knowing why. So here I am wanting to know more about birds, art, clouds, architecture and everything else. For no other reason than to enhance my life–to give more meaning to my experiences, to live more abundantly and deliberately.

I live close to Walden Pond. I go often, especially when people come to visit. When there I always read this quote by Thoreau:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise  resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms…” (Walden, 1854).

So, thanks Bob the naturalist and everybody else for helping me see, learn and understand how much there is to see learn and understand.