Observations by Decker Velie & Friends
The Observation Deck is a space that we reserve for a snapshot in a life that has been experienced, grabbed and turned into a few words.
Disrupting Steady Habits January 1, 2019
Ever Since he was in his late 20's, David never liked driving on New Year's Eve. In fact, David really didn't like New Years Eve period. He did like the melody and the haunting lyrics of Auld Lang Syne but after that nothing else about the worldwide celebration grabbed him much. It was dark, cold, the roads could be dangerous and the chances of encountering a drunk driver increased 10 fold in David's view. A half lowball of Johnny Walker Black, a medium mushroom, onion, and cheese pizza delivered from Black Sheep, and of course Sara was David's idea of spending a perfect evening on this last night of 2018.
David's phone lit up with a text tone: "Look out your window."
David did as he was told and saw Sara's white Volvo idling at the curb in front of his sidewalk. Halfway to her car he noticed Sara's window was down. "Climb in. We need to go;" Was what David heard in the cold evening air. He slid up to her door, bent over and looked into the window. "Tom and Liza need help. They are down at Meals On Wheels and I got a text that they are short on time and people."
The drive took them to a part of the city David was barely familiar with in the daylight but in this dark and cold, he was basically lost. Sara wound her way through the only parking lot that was filled with cars, turned off the motor and had David follow her, head down, to a door in the back of what seemed to be a large warehouse. David took two steps inside and was stunned with what hit him. There was Sinatra floating through the air in what must have been 20,000 open square feet of organized mayhem. Lines of people working. Each person performing their individual assignment until a box filled with Ham, potatoes, green beans, and apple pie was closed and stacked. David smiled and said hi to Tom while following him to a station in the middle of the room. "David, your job is to take 4 of these baked potatoes, put them in the upper left compartment of the box and then slide it to your right where Mary is standing." Mary nodded, grinned and went back to work. "My god, Tom," asked David: "How many of these boxes will you deliver tonight?" Tom turned back to David on his way to another recruit and said: "Over 23,000." "What?" "Yea, let that sink in while you help. 23,000 boxes before morning."
Hours passed like minutes when Sara found David, touched his arm and said: "We can go." On the way out Tom handed David a box and asked; "Don't you drive right by this place on your way home? Would you mind dropping it off? Thanks again for all your help. You two are lifesavers."
Sara stopped at the address on the box. David opened her glove compartment, grabbed a pen and wrote: "Happy New Year from David and Sara" on the top. David ran it up to the front door then ran back and sank into the passenger seat of Sara's car. The sun was showing it's pink and red colors against the eastern sky when Sara pulled up in front of David's house. Sara turned off the car. They walked side by side sliding every 3rd step to the door. David tore a "Missed You" tag from Black Sheep off of the handle as Sara kicked off her black ankle boots and fell into the couch. David said something and music started playing. David leaned over, gave Sara a kiss and dropped down next to her, coat still on. It wasn't more than a couple of minutes when the warmth of the room caused the exhaustion to set in. Sara was already asleep on David's shoulder. David closed his eyes to an unforgettable and familiar guitar sound while the voice sang:
"It's time we all reach out for something new
And that means you too."
The corners of David's mouth turned slightly upward as he propped his head against Sara's and drifted off into the New Year.
The Light of Day December 18, 2018
The older I get the more the light affects me. Or I should say the lack of light. It is now 7:00 am CST and the horizon is just beginning to change to a blood red color as the frozen, white landscape starts to shed its nocturnal covers. It's not that a 7:00 am sunrise is so bad unto herself, it's that she is part of a twin dynasty this time of year where the darker sibling shows his face around 4:45 pm in the afternoon. Like any good recipe that has taken years to achieve, it is the combining cold temperatures with the darkness that makes this one simple but perfect. So I have learned to keep my head down, walk carefully and wait out this section of season.
Jan's mother had reached her 85th birthday by blowing out candles on a sophisticated key lime cake, baked by the top chef at the Gulf Stream Golf Club in Delray Beach. Her husband of 76 years had some trouble hearing but was content to be sitting with his Johnny Walker Black and the entire family on a warm December evening in Florida. To say there was history sitting at the table would be an understatement but I suppose that could be said of almost any large family anywhere on the globe. The understated but well-dressed matriarch smiled as she looked up from the candles. "Please pass this piece down to your cousin." She said, handing a smaller plate of cake to her granddaughter, Susan.
After 16 pieces had been passed around the table, Jan noticed that Susan was the only one without a plate. "Mother, can you please give Susan a piece? She seems to have been left without one." The birthday girl smiled at the head of the table but Jan noticed there was a tint of confusion in her mother's eyes. The mother paused and asked; "Who is Susan?" Susan touched her grandmother, laughed a bit and smiled; "Oh grandma you know that I am Susan. Your favorite granddaughter."
With all the fun and laughter at the table, only Jan noticed the brief moment of bewilderment and a touch of fear in her mother's eyes. It was the first flashes of blank darkness, causing a moment of pause and reflection for Jan and possibly also for Jan's mother but that's not for certain.
The sun is showing itself on the horizon now. I will make my way through another cold, short day. One thing I know for certain is that come December 21st. the sun will be hanging around a touch longer and for me, Jan and the grandchildren.....there will be plenty of light by June.
Remembering George H. W. Bush December 4, 2018
It was rarely warm that far north on the Atlantic but that day was a nice one by Maine standards. Jimmy and his grandfather would take 60 degrees with a light breeze coming out of the south any day for fishing. The fog was still floating above the salt water but the rising sun would burn it off within the hour. Jimmy was now 14 years old but his grandfather had taken him out on the "Wanderlust", a 35ft Bertram with twin Caterpillars since he was 6 years old. The boat was quick and not too large so it could get out to the fishing spots and "back in time for cocktail hour" his grandfather would always say just before he pushed both throttles forward to head out to where they may fool a Mako or Tuna that day. Jimmy loved the transcendental sound of the engines while the Bertram floated in rhythm over the waves as they headed eastward toward a secret place that his grandfather learned of from his father 50 years earlier. The boat had GPS and a depth finder, but Jimmy's grandfather was old school and lived by his knowledge of the currents, time of year, wind and temperature. It was part of young Jimmy's life experiences that would be logged in and imprinted to make up what Jimmy would become as an adult man.
After the Wanderlust had skipped along the water for about 30 minutes Jimmy's grandfather pulled back on both throttles and the boat slowed to a floating crawl. The noise went from loud combustion to much more subtle natural sounds of waves splashing against the hull and seabirds squawking at each other as they glided overhead in search of bait. Grandfather climbed up into the tuna tower and was giving the ocean his 360 scouting observation like he always did as if he could see or hear in which direction the Tuna may be heading. Then as he climbed down to bait the rods, he would always turn to Jimmy and say: "These polarized glasses are ten times better than the old ones. You can see right through the water."
For no apparent reason, the breeze went still and the current began to slow. Even the seabirds went quiet. Jimmy and his grandfather both looked up to see what had changed. The wind stopped for a minute and then picked up as it switched out of the west. As the two looked around to try and make some sense out of the change, there came through the fog, the bow of a sailboat about 50 meters off their starboard side. The boat broke through the mist and was moving at a nice clip with the wind behind it. By Jimmy's best guess it was about 40 feet long. Not particularly large by today's standards but large enough. As it sailed by the bow of the Wanderlust, Jimmy noticed how beautiful the ship was. It was classic, perfectly maintained, with a deep navy hull and a white sail with red stripes flowing across it.
It appeared as if it had been made for the sea and the sea for it.
As the boat sailed perfectly by, at the stern was a nice looking older man dressed in what appeared to be a gray oiled wool sweater that had seen the sun and salt more than a few times before. The man smiled and with a wave asked: "Any luck?" "Not yet today" Jimmy's grandfather waved back. "Well fair winds and following seas." said the sailor. Jimmy's grandfather replied: "Thank you sir. What are you doing today.?' "Keeping watch." came the answer. "Just keeping watch." As the boat sailed by Jimmy got one glimpse at the stern. He looked up to his grandfather and said, "41 is a strange name for a sailboat." "Not today;" came the answer as his grandfather tossed the pin fish into the water and clipped the line into the outrigger.
We Can Do Better November 27, 2018
There is a scene in the 1973, Charlie Brown Thanksgiving Special where all the gang is having dinner. Sullivan, the only black character is sitting alone on one side of the long table in a beach chair while all the other characters are sitting on the other side of the table in better built wooden chairs. This year, for some reason, the scene lit up the social media platforms with endless accusations like it had just been discovered after 44 years.
Gary had heard from the neighbors that this year everyone was to donate food for the holiday block party. Gary was 35 years old and lived alone in a very nice colonial, three bedroom house at the end of the street. Every year the neighbors would alternate homes as to where to have their party. It had grown larger and more extravagant every year since the first one 11 years ago. This year it was at Gary's home and everyone young and old were coming. He was friends with some of the best local musicians and they agreed to entertain the families for half of their usual charge as long as they were allowed a free drink or two while on break.
There was no fast rule on what the donated food had to be or how much each household was required to bring. It was their first try at a gesture of being part of a caring coalition that understood we are all God's children. Helping someone else was always a good thing. So came the night of the party and so also came the neighborhood in full force.
There was food and drink and laughter and music. It was everything anyone could hope for when it came to block parties at Christmas. To the left of the front door stood a tall barrel where neighbors dropped their food donations as they entered Gary's beautifully decorated home. As time passed Gary couldn't help but notice, Mary, a smart and talented 13-year-old girl who lived two doors down, staring at the barrel with a somewhat disappointed expression. Gary wandered over, bent down and asked Mary if there was something wrong. "I Noticed in the donation barrel that there are cans of corn, beans, and cranberries." Mary looking back and forth from Gary to the barrel continued: "I dug around and also found some candy canes and cookies." Gary at eye level shrugged with a smile; "That's a good thing right." Mary looked back at the barrel and said; "I guess it's ok but there is no turkey or ham or anything that could make up a complete holiday dinner."
Gary gave the observation a moment to sink in. He stood up straight, looked around the room and then back down at Mary;"So what do you think about that."
Mary glanced up at Gary and said; "It's a nice try but we can do better."
The next time those in the social media world, doubt the genius of who and what Charles M Schulz was as a writer and by extension, a person: I would ask that they pause and rethink their interpretation. We can do better.
"There are only 12 notes", as the saying goes, that separate the greatest compositions ever composed from nothing more than irritating noise. That has to give anyone that has any curiosity about life reason to pause. Elton John sits in front of virtually the same 12 notes as any average adult and yet when the two press down on the keys, two very different outcomes emerge.
Jonathan had the fall morning to be with Fraley, his 13-year-old son. The plan was to kick the soccer ball around the park on the south end of Turtle Lake for an hour before stopping into Excelsiors Ice Cream Fountain Shoppe for a grilled cheese and chocolate malt. Fraley was a very good soccer player. The scouts were already taking notes by his 8th-grade year. He was not only good at soccer but also tennis and debate. I might as well mention that humor and good looks also made the list when Fraley was born.
12 Steps Can Change the World November 19, 2018
Yes, much of it came easier to Fraley than other boys but no one could say that Fraley didn't work hard at being better. He did. He even liked the grueling practices somewhat like a marathon runner gets a high around the 6th or 7th mile.
One of Jonathan's kicks sailed over Fraley's head which sent him on a journey past the volleyball nets and beyond the birch line in order to retrieve the ball. It was back in that smaller open space that Fraley noticed a young boy about 6 or 7 years old a short distance away sitting on the ground crying while people seemed to just walk past as if he was invisible. Fraley walked over and asked what was wrong. The boy wiping his eyes said: " I can't hit the ball. I put the bat on my shoulder like my dad says to", pointing to his father 50 yards away getting the grill ready for lunch, "and then I toss the ball in the air but every time I swing, I miss it." Fraley picked up the plastic bat and the ball and motioned for the boy to stand up. " There's a bit of a trick I learned from trying and missing a hundred times just like you. Here, rest the bat on your shoulder with one hand. Straighten out your left arm and toss the ball straight in the air. The trick is to try and hit the bottom of the ball. That way, by the time your bat actually swings through the air it will hit the middle of the ball. So aim at the bottom of the ball. Ok?"
The boy took the direction, tossed the ball, swung and missed. He said, starting to tear up: "See, I keep trying but it doesn't work." "Actually that was great and you were very, very close;" came a calming voice from Fraley. " This time just toss the ball a little more in front of you because the end of the bat is about here." Fraley standing three feet in front of the boy. With that, the young boy gave it one more try and this time, "crack" came the sound off the bat. The ball sailed 10 yards or so in the air, hit the ground and rolled a bit more. Two smiles broke the faces on both boys. " Now just keep practicing that and the ball will end up going farther and farther each time."
Fraley paused for another group of people to move past both of them. He then walked 12 steps back to his soccer ball and with one motion kicked it soaring over the birch trees and yards of park lawn where it rolled to a stop almost at his father's feet.
The Last Cold Winter November 12, 2018
"Close the damn door. It's freezing out there." shivered William. Winter arrived early this year and Barb was just trying to take a few more moments to put the finishing touches on her holiday flower pot displayed on the corner of their balcony. Steam was rising off of the 100-acre lake. Out of the east came a rare flock of 20 or more swans cutting through the hovering fog like it was time for their stage left entrance. Soon the snow would fall like it had every year for the past 60 since their wedding in the impressive Episcopal Church downtown. This would also be their last white and frozen winter. The combined difficulties that come with navigating a life in cold, snow and ice had finally won and the couple was set to move to a comfortable living community just outside of Tuscon come April.
For the most part, people that grow up in the south will never understand why anyone would choose to live in Saginaw, or for that matter anyplace else where hell freezes over coupled with the fact that jobs and economic growth had been deteriorating for 30 years. But for southerners, it was really about the cold. If only they knew the half of it. Aside from the temperatures that were unnatural and downright dangerous for humans to exist, there was the extra stuff. Snow tires, coats, snow pants, shovels, mittens, hats, boots. There was the bag of salt that had to be kept in the trunk along with jumper cables and flares. It could even be unwise to be outside on certain nights in January. William and Barb had heard it all from the warm weather dwellers, and for the most part, they weren't wrong. It really didn't make sense to choose to live in a place like Saginaw.
Barb closed the sliding door only after the old pot looked beautiful with the spruce green and gold and silver add ons. She sat back with a hot cider and watched the silent magic of the swans disappear into the rising fog from the 100 acre lake. It was silent in a calm and stunningly eerie way. Barb and William knew that beauty came in subtle forms and eventually sank so deep into their fabric that it became part of them. It was part of both of them and no explaining would ever convince those who didn't already know.
Tomorrow Night November 5, 2018
Maybe some of the rest of you have noticed that there is an election in America. I am reminded by the "I Voted" sticker I received that I did something good. Like getting a smiley face in grade school for raising my hand before I spoke. I find it interesting that the people on social media that keep posting for the rest of us to vote, nowadays, really only want us to vote if we are voting for their preferred candidate. The post should really read, " I am asking everyone to vote because that is what I am supposed to do." What I really mean is; "Vote if you are voting for the same candidates I am voting for."
Much of the critical thinking and intellectual arguments that I so loved to engage in during my college days are now gone. My guess is that you have found that even bringing up politics is counterproductive unless you think seeing people get angry to the point of shaking is entertaining. Don't get me wrong. I am in no way a saint on this subject. I too find myself getting angry. Especially when I can't even establish the grounds for the discussion. I feel it's like starting with; "I like grape jelly." And the comeback is; 'Tractors are killing the whole world."
It was October 26, 1991. I was at game 6 of the Minnesota Twins vs Atlanta Braves World Series. Some call it the best World Series ever. Both teams had gone from last to first place in their divisions. Atlanta was ahead 3 games to 2, so it was a now or never game for the Twins. The game was like few others. Back and forth scoring, all tied up after 9 innings. It went into the 10th inning with Kirby Puckett leading off. On a 2-1 pitch Kirby connected and the now famous words; "We Will See You Tomorrow Night" as the ball cleared the fence for a walk-off home run will forever be part of sports history. The Minnesota fans erupted into an explosion of thundering joy. The Atlanta fans fell back to their chairs in silence. As happy as I was and believe me I was delighted, I looked over at a close by dejected Atlanta fan. As we made eye contact, there was an unspoken understanding as we both nodded. There was still another game to play.
So, however, it all turns out this time around;
" We Will See You Tomorrow Night."
Looking Forward October 30, 2018
The porch light showed a cropped frame through the picture window of brown and yellow leaves falling like snow. It was after 6:30 and this time of year that meant darkness covered the Midwestern landscape. Charlie glanced to the far right of the window to see if it the driveway was wet. Rain would explain the free fall of the last autumn leaves dropping like time had finally run out for the stubborn ones left holding on. Dark, cold and wet was the hat trick that Charlie rejected internally for as long as he could remember. The magic of colors, fires, crisp air, flannel, and corduroy were nice but could never stop the looking back on the summers that had been. To Charlie, Autumn was a contemplative marker of the time that had passed.
The moment was interrupted or maybe better described as lost by the vibrating sound of his cell phone sitting on the table in front of him. It lit up an eight-year-old photo of his eldest son, John, who was now twenty-six and working for a private equity firm in Dallas. "What's up eldest son?"
"I would usually tell you not much but I have some news" came the voice over speakerphone. "Tricia and I are getting married this June!"
Charlie smiled and leaned back in his chair. His mind at first went to the obvious somewhat surprise not unlike a party that he knew was going to happen even though he was supposed to act shocked when the door opened. The two had been together for three years and so the page was now turned. Then as the conversation turned to place, time and logistics, Charlie's mind wandered somewhere else.
He was trying to reel in images of youth and family and time gone by in order to make some sense of it. He and Charlie's mother now had a new purpose thrown at them. Their son was getting married and beginning like Charlie began decades before. There were plans to make. Cards to send. Texts to start and rolling conversations to be had.
The leaves in falling blackness became background. The winter ahead was now the runway that he had for all to be ready by June. Two new lives were beginning together and though Charlie would never be able to put it in words, there was a part of his life intertwined in what was going to happen and all that surrounded it. Starting tomorrow, he and Tricia would bring their A game. Charlie knew that there were no two better anywhere when they kicked in. The time to find the shadows of the winter room would need to wait. This winter there was life to do.
Nobody Lives There Anymore October 23, 2018
"It's earlier each morning." John squinted out his driver's window into the east as the June sky began a red, yellow and orange morning. It was early for the 26-year-old but 35W was much quieter than usual at this time on a Saturday. The interstate ran from Duluth to south of Dallas and it took travelers right through the heartland of the United States. John liked the drive. It showed off how the less noticed states were actually responsible for feeding the world. John never could figure out why the permanent art, hard work, and beauty of growing food was always lost in the background when put up against the glitter, noise, and fleeting topics of the day. It's not that Hollywood, politics, and the urgent pop culture topic of the day didn't interest John, he just let them slip by his ears and disappear with his momentary smile.
John had lost and found three new radio stations. That's how he liked to measure the distance he covered. Somewhere outside of Wichita, he noticed a haunting but beautiful sight. About a quarter mile to the west off of the highway sat a farmhouse. John noticed that there were no cars, no people and no animals anywhere in sight. The grass had grown up a bit and added to the painting like picture of the barn just south with its doors open and vacant. He looked twice, drove past two more mile markers and pulled off for one more cup of coffee.
As John placed $3.00 on the counter he couldn't help himself but to ask the woman cashier if there was a story behind the empty farmhouse a few miles back. Putting his 23 cents in change on the counter, she never looked up: "I know you're not from here. I can tell by your car and that you have no KU sticker or hat on." John noticed the slightest smile cross her lips. "The same family owned the place for almost 100 years. It passed thru 3 generations. There are a couple versions of what happened but the one I believe is that they owed more to the bank than the wheat prices could afford and a larger farm bailed them out. The son's broken arm finally did heal and he and his sister went to New Orleans and bought a place down on Beale Street. The husband and wife stopped in to say goodbye about 3 weeks ago and where they went, well your guess is as good as mine. Nobody Lives There Anymore."
As John watched his Google Maps show 17 miles to downtown Wichita, he looked up and noticed the largest green combine he had ever seen resting in a golden field that seemed to go on forever. Tomorrow it would be on the move. There was a world to feed.
"Leave Things Better" October 16, 2018
The weekend had been great fun. It was one of those father/son trips that David hoped his son Trevor would carry with him on the back roads of his memory for a lifetime. Trevor now knew that a J-stroke from the stern of a canoe made the shape of a J in the water and kept the bow pointing in the direction that the fishermen wanted it to go. He also now knew that "ripples mean rocks" and to accelerate the speed of the boat before swinging the bow around a submerged boulder so that the current didn't dump them sideways into the water. Mallards had slower wingbeats than wood ducks and smallmouth bass hugged very close to the bank. The cool thing about these lessons learned is that they remain constant generation after generation.
As they were making their way upstream along the bank, Trevor noticed that his dad picked up an old plastic cup that was lying half buried in the silt along the bank of the river. Then as they were walking the wooded path back to the car, Trevor once again saw his father clear some fallen branches that were partially blocking the way. He continued to move the bent over small trees and fill a couple of holes in the dirt where a person who was not paying close attention could sprain an ankle or worse.
When they arrived at the clearing where they had parked, David opened the back and tossed the dirty, wet, plastic cup into the truck.
Trevor got in and looked to his left. While his father turned the key Trevor asked his dad why he picked up the buried cup and spent so much time clearing up stuff on the path. Without turning, David shifted into reverse and said;"always leave things better than the way you found them."
Months later Trevor was washing and wiping down a bike that he had borrowed from his best friend down the block. His mother who had finished watering the garden asked Trevor why he was washing his buddies bike? Trevor kept wiping and said; "always leave things better than the way you found them."
As his mother walked inside she heard herself say; "now there's a tshirt for the world if there ever was one."
"Thank You" October 9, 2018
Anna's mother suggested that they call it a night and pick up where they left off tomorrow. It was time to go through the contents of the old house not only to bring closure but it would also be going on the market by the end of the week. Anna's grandmother had lived a long and wonderful life. Not that she hadn't seen hardship or adversity, Anna was certain that she had, but she never talked about any of it, at least not to Anna.
Her grandmother was kind and chose her words carefully. It was a wonderful trait. Being a woman of 90 years and for the most part, silent meant that when she did speak, everyone around her listened very carefully to what wisdom they were lucky enough to have fallen around them as the words gently landed in the room. "Always follow through and hand write thank you notes." was one saying that she said to Anna everytime they saw each other. Not often does a person get to hear the thoughts of a woman who has seen that much of life, much less from one that saw Anna as her most precious granddaughter.
Anna opened one last drawer in her grandmother's study and found a collection of photographs and letters from her brother, son, daughter (Anna's mother), her long ago, deceased husband (Grandfather Chas), diplomats, congressman and the chairwoman of the Audubon Society. Anna couldn't help but stare and read about what the world looked like that many years ago. As she was shuffling and reading she came upon an offwhite card with pink trim. Anna looked at the handwriting and felt the past wash over her. She recognized it immediately. It was a card she had written to her grandmother 18 years earlier when she was just 21 years old. It was only three lines:
I wanted to let you know that I was offered a job from Sotheby's today. You many times told me to "follow through and to write thank you notes by hand."
I did both and you were right, they gave me the job. I'll thank you forever.
As Anna re-read what she had written almost two decades ago, it dawned on her that her note had made the "important drawer" of things worthy of saving along with pictures and writings from some of the most important people of that time. As she closed her eyes and smiled, she heard her grandmother as if she was in the room:
"Always follow through and handwrite thank you notes."
Autumn Sonnet October 2, 2018
I find myself a chair, a cup of tea
while streaming notes begin to fill the room
the autumn air outside blows at the leaves
and scattered hints tell winter's on us soon
there's life however in this form of death
there's fury in the whirlwind's captive dance
a robin crouches for her final breath
then plays the air as if a game of chance
while spellbound students walk awake in dreams
southbound homeless gather what they may
a blend of mixed emotions so it seems
the color changes all that's in its way
and just backstage awaiting for her sign
a frigid virgin studying last year's lines
Skipping Stones September 26, 2018
Jamie watched his father scan the rocky beach as the cold water lapped onto the shore that kept time like a trained drummer brushing the symbols. The lake was calm that day looking like a giant mirror with gray backing. "The trick is to find a smooth round or oval one like this" as his father stood up showing Jamie the example of the perfect stone. "You hold it like this" his father showing Jamie the stone with his forefinger and thumb wrapping around 2/3 of the brownish colored rock. "Then you throw it side-armed" and with that, the smooth stone spun out of the tall man's hand. It hit the water about 10 yards out flat side down. The first skip off the water was 10 feet in the air, the second 5 feet and it continued until the 9th and 10th skips were inches apart eventually ending as the stone disappeared forever into the cold bottomless lake where it had come from. "10 skips, not bad, and I like it when that first one sales a long way. It's what makes the perfect throw. So you try it." With that order, Jamie didn't have far to crouch his six-year-old body and start searching for a good one. He picked one up tossed it away and then another and another. His father pointed down by his feet and said, "What about that one?" Jamie reached down and grabbed it in his tiny hand.
For the next 30 minutes, Jamie tried over and over to get one of his stones to skip. He would throw with all he had while his father would give him one sentence corrections coupled with a few demonstrations as Jamie watched the dancing stones.
Then, like most "firsts" in a life, it just happened. The stone hit the water and skipped once and then sank. It wasn't the perfect execution or outcome like the ones that came from his father but Jamie knew now that he could do it. It might have been the complicated science of the right velocity, surfaces, trajectory, and weight coming together that made the moment or it may have just been the magic of it all. In any case, it was imprinted in Jamie and would be forever part of who he was.
25 years later, same lake, same spot. A six-year-old Trevor smiled in amazement...."10 skips, not bad and I like it when the first one sales a long way."
Lights On the Early Morning Streets September 18, 2018
Sally exhaled something between a primal grunt and a swear word as the 5:00 am cold water hit her eyes. She didn't get much sleep. The real sound of nighttime rain combined with the rattle of colliding thoughts kept her aware of every passing hour until her iPhone sounded the "old ringtone" alarm letting her know that it was time to begin. Turning side to side and trying different knots on her vintage Hermes scarf, she noticed how silent the September world was. Her Uptown apartment, subsidized by her parents, while considered chic as far as location, also let in the frantic sounds of Minneapolis city life. But at this time there were no street sounds or very few that Sally recognized. It occurred to Sally that no one with half a brain or life for that matter would be awake. Sally, however, had a brain and a life and she was not only awake but dressed and headed for her car.
Today was a day that she had her chance. She had sent her bio to 13 ad agencies and marketing companies over the last 6 months. It was quite an impressive bio for a 22-year-old woman. Graduating from Brown University with a major in digital marketing and a minor social media analytics coupled with a summer spent in Kenya helping to bring fresh water to the Turkana Tribe should have made her a shoe-in for employment. But for reasons she didn't want to hear or she couldn't change now, there had been no offers. Sally turned her red Quatro off of Lake Street and headed down Hennepin Ave. She liked how the traffic moved quickly with the sound of her tires rolling over water. There was no feeling of stress at the possibility of being late caused by busses or slow walking pedestrians. Only she and the others that had real purpose were awake to see the fading lights on the early morning streets.
Sally was now at 8th street and turned right towards Marquette. The clouds had broken apart and the sky between the rows of the taller buildings was changing color to a faded blue. The street parking was still mostly open as she punched her license number into the box, chose 1 hour and slid her Amex through the slot on the side as the words on the screen directed. She walked to the end of the block, crossed the street and entered the Baker Building. She knew the Streeter and Assoc. Ad Agency was on the 6th floor. It was known as "The Agency" in town having landed both the BMW and Twitter Accounts in the last 8 months. They were hiring and for anyone in the know, Streeter was the place to work. Sally entered the clean, gray and white lobby. Her red banded watch said 8:02 as she was met and escorted back to Howard's, VP of Accounts, small glass office.
It was 10:30 by the time Sally walked out of the Baker Building. She stood on the sidewalk and was somewhat in the way of the hustling people trying to come and go through the double swinging doors. She had been through the same interviews a dozen times before and had gotten better over time with her answers. This was different. Each time she finished with one person, she was escorted to the office of another. She had to be on her game for quite a bit longer than any of her past experiences. She did not know it yet but she was exhausted. She was still going over the last words spoken to her by Shirley, VP of Talent Acquisition; "Wonderful, we will see you here Monday at 8:00 am." Sally looked down the block and smiled at the parking ticket on her windshield. The noise had returned to the city and the sun was hitting the 6th and 7th floors of the Baker Building. While most would consider this a new beginning, Sally saw it as the end at least as far as today was concerned. She had started at a different time, in a different world where only a fortunate few considered seeing lights on the early morning streets as a head start.
Old Florida September 11, 2018
Decisions September 4, 2018
"Don't go more than two blocks behind the house. There are snakes and alligators back there." Jason could still hear his Aunt Gracie's voice clear as a bell even though 30 years had passed since her voice was last heard. It was Delray Beach, on the east side of South Florida hiding on the Ocean between Palm Beach and Boca Raton. Some of the snowbirds even referred to it as "Dullray Beach". A quiet little beach town where Gracie owned a small yellow house sitting on two lots. Jason and his family would stop in and visit his aunt on their way down to Hillsboro Mile where they spent many spring vacations. She was a gentle older woman who had seen quite a life. Jason loved to hear the old stories about her dating F. Scott Fitzgerald up in St. Paul and the years when the US Naval Ships would sail just offshore from her Florida home during WWII. There were the grouper sandwiches for lunch and the old wooden tennis racquets standing in the entry corner as if she might run into a grab and go game.
The whole town was about 10 blocks wide and 4 blocks deep. A1A ran as dreamy as the gulf stream with nowhere special to go. The streets had names like Ocean Reef Blvd. and Atlantic Avenue. The palm leaves clapped in the South Florida breeze. It was quiet, unassuming and magical; and that is just how Aunt Gracie led her life. She had bought a yellow Cutlass from Jason's father in 1964 and that was the only transportation she ever needed putting maybe 2,000 miles a year on the tires.
The salt air, sound of the waves, mourning dove coos and visiting the fishing docks as the boats came in at noon bled into Jason's being and along with the sting of a sunburn would forever be a part of who he was.
But like I said, that was 30 years ago. The forbidden two block boundary was long gone and the city now went inland for 10 miles. A1A balanced the noisy, non-ending traffic as cars ran south to Lauderdale and north to Jupiter Island. Atlantic Avenue was now renowned throughout the entire country as the place to be for shopping, drinking, and eating. Gracie's home was long gone and the lots held homes worth 10's of millions of dollars. There was nothing "Dull" about Delray Beach anymore. The serene magic died along with Gracie years ago.
Jason didn't feel like the great change and influx of everyone was either bad or good. It just was. He wasn't one to do the "I remember when" lecture to his children as if life was better then. He just felt a touch sad like an old friend had left and he would never see him again.
Late one Delray night Jason couldn't sleep so he walked across A1A to the beach. There was a moon that gave him a path down to the shore. Jason felt the cool night sand and sat down. There was no one around and the sound of the few midnight cars gave way to the pounding waves. The sound of the tide turned his head. He looked south and saw the faint sweeping movement of the beam from the lighthouse that had been there for long before Jason was around. And then came the breeze and the smell of the salt air. There it all was. Just as it was with Aunt Gracie and Jason imagined even long before that. He smiled and now knew that Old Florida is much bigger than streets, cars, houses, and people.
It will never go away. It just waits for those who listen.
Good doctors are hard to find.
One time, in southern Minnesota, an English physician lectured me, subtly hinting that I worried too much, and suggesting that on occasion what “people” (like me) define as problems and stresses are not iron necessities, rather can be viewed as decisions. It was interesting because he was highly intelligent and also had the sense of timing that so often can lead to success in interhuman communications. Meaning that he was being blunt, for a Brit.
At first, I was taken aback but was aware enough to listen, and by that evening gave his comments a lot of thought. He was, in a way, talking about happiness, but that’s really too broad a topic. What I did understand is that his comments meant we have more power than we sometimes think, and that has to be a good thing.
The visit led then to weird loops of time, which are always fun. Kind of like this ride I got tricked into taking this weekend at the Minnesota State Fair, which I pegged, after I was already strapped in, as a huge “Ruh-roh” – twirling horizontally and randomly right then left while vertically it flipped randomly forward then backward – until I realized the trick was to press your head back against the bolster and look at the lights and sounds.
True story: In my mid-twenties I was offered a job at Pirelli Tires in Milan, and it all happened pretty quickly so that I had to take an all-night train with my belongings and go to the room they had rented for me in an apartment not far from the train station. So far so good. The widow who owned the apartment was kind and that Sunday fed me a nice dinner, and I was tired so really had time for just a brief walk around. She explained that in the morning I should go to the corner and hop on the Number 4 tram, which would go all the way to Bicocca, Pirelli’s monster industrial complex of Mussolini-era concrete and cement and huge windows. Fine. I woke up early, did as she instructed and stopped for a cappuccino and brioche at the café, and went to the corner and waited for the 4. Other trams came by, all in washed and dinging tangerine orange, turning and veering past each other and zooming cars and then off to wherever they went. The sidewalks were washed and swept and had that smell.
It was in one of those spaces between trams that it happened – I heard a scraping and then thunk, and then unusual noises, and then I saw a Fiat 500 turtled and spinning down the street, not fast, just twirling gently until it came to a firm stop right in the middle of the intersection. It was a weird sight, fascinating but not shocking for some reason, like when you see a ram in the mountains. It was as if a big puff had blown away traffic and people and now let them back in. It had everyone’s attention, including two policemen in deep blue with nice red-piped caps who approached the vehicle, all business. Then, thankfully, there was motion. An attractive woman in a stylish tan business suit crawled out of the 500 with a briefcase, got to her feet and dusted herself off. The policemen went to her and began asking questions, yet she had no time for such monkey business and began shouting at them with all kinds of hand gestures, I think she gave them a card, and after some back and forth, walked away. The police let her.
I knew right then and there that I really liked Italy, and also, that it was different. Over the next few years, I had a really fun time and learned a great deal from the friends I made, about how attitude and approach are really critical things. The English doctor, many years later, was one of those people who give little reminders, and his timing (re-connecting me with the morning on the corner) was impeccable. Thanks, doc.
The Other Side of Time Aug. 28, 2017
“There are rooms of them. The best art ever painted and it’s here. Walls covered with them.” Dakota had followed the Monet signs to the second floor of Musee d Orsay turned a corner and was neck deep into the real thing. Up until today, he had only seen pictures of the Water Lily Pond or The Woman With A Parasol in art books and magazines. Now he was looking at exactly what Monet’s brushes touched in 1875.
Dakota loved the impressionists and was a pretty good painter himself at 17 having spent his life on a ranch 15 miles outside of Dillon. His parents decided to take him to Paris for his 18th birthday knowing this may be the last important experience they could provide for their son before he chose his own horizon. Dakota was now in that suspended state of seeing in real time what beauty life can pass on. The difference between knowing it and standing there having it be part of his being ingrained in a space of the brain that will never be erased is a much different awakening.
He had read about Monet’s life and knew that he was tortured like many of the greats; battling depression, poverty and other demons that lived in the hearts and minds of the finest artists. But as he read the words on the wall something caught him. He read that what Monet considered his most beautiful accomplishment was the Water Lilies. Not the paintings of them but the actual pond he had created outside of his cottage. The paintings were only a distant second to the actual water and garden themselves. Dakota was struck motionless while briefly caught in a mind twister exercise on whether the paintings were imitating the pond or the pond was imitating the paintings.
The world will never know why most artists see their own work as second fiddle to what everyone can see on any given day. The fact that they are able to capture it and wrestle it to the canvas may be godlike to us mere mortals but to them, it might be nothing more than a calling they are able to do better than the person next door.
Everybody Likes Molly August 21, 2018
Mollie Edington owns and runs a bar
on the way out of Boise called
The Lost Basin.
She is as pretty as the Sawtooths at sunrise and work is just something she does, six days a week from 12:00pm-1:30 am or later depending on the season. Everyone likes Mollie. She can laugh with the locals and then turn with a show-stopping smile that has made many a first-time tourist need to erase irrational thoughts of leaving his wife and moving to Boise to be forever with her.
Mollie's equally beautiful daughter is in her mid-twenties and works with her mother at the bar pouring drinks, taking food orders, bussing dishes and cleaning the whole place night after night so they will be ready to go for the next day and the day after that. That's what they do and their little part of the world is better for it. I've heard from others that Mollie was married for a short time to a man from Hailey. I've never been able to confirm or discount it.
Mollie's conversation flows with the locals with such ease that there is no doubt that she knows by first name the weather, crop condition and the daily news of everything and everyone that works and lives within Boise and its outer limits. I've watched out of town fly fisherman, hunters and campers sit up at her bar and give it their best shot on what it may take to impress Mollie. She laughs, nods and gives one or two-word answers that in turn makes the men on the stools feel like maybe, just maybe they have a chance. The conversation can go from humor to politics to the condition of the country. She looks like she agrees while taking orders, pouring drinks (remembering every pour) and keeping an eye on who is coming through the door like a conductor in the middle of a complex symphony.
Every customer that I have observed leaves The Lost Basin happy and content knowing that Mollie is on the same page and that the both of them look at the world through the same lens. A more astute and impartial observer might conclude that no one actually knows what Mollie believes politically or what she thinks the actual condition of humanity and its imprint on the planet is. In fact no one really knows much at all about her except that she's pretty and she owns a very cool little place on the way out of Boise that she and her daughter run like a well oiled John Deere. The only thing that we know for certain is that Everyone Likes Mollie.
Connected August 14, 2018
The highspeed-stop threw up dust from a thirty-yard dirt-road-skid ending with the car angling across the imaginary left lane. Mac and I both frozen with jaws dropped, stared at the Bull Elk silently standing in the middle of the road about fifteen feet in front of the windshield.
It was late March, sometime in the mid 90's when my old college roomate met me in Idaho for a four day ski trip. We had only seen each other a couple of times since he left for Florida and I for Minnesota in 1979. We were young by adult standards and had not yet been weakened from the blows that life and experience inevitably land on all of us. We knew more than we knew and any questions we had were meant for purposes of intellectual banter, usually with a bottle of spirits close by to help us weave around any thoughts that ran into a dead end.
On one of the four evenings, around sunset, we decided to drive seven miles up Warm Springs Road to find some of the pools of hot water that threw steam into the air from the middle of a river running at about fifty degrees Fahrenheit. We had covered roughly three miles of the winding road when rounding a left leaning bend the car was forced to come to an abrupt stop.
My best guess is that the elk stood about nine feet tall with antlers reaching four feet into the air. He took up most of the road and stood motionless and calm. Not only did the car not startle him but it was as if he knew we were coming and picked this juncture to head us off. The twilight was sending beams of colored light through the trees behind him and looking back, the whole freeze frame was one of those once in a lifetime moments when Nature gives us glimpse into power and beauty from a higher place.
He stood and stared through the windshield at the two of us for more time than what was comfortable. It was the first time I had seen where eyes were not only able to communicate an expression but they were actually able to communicate a total concept. He knew we were coming, he knew where he would meet us. Nature doesn't have legal documents that explain metes and bounds and ownership of property, but he was there to let us know that under no uncertain circumstances we were on his turf. He knew every turn in that river, every tree in that forest and every path on that hillside. This is where his family lived and he was alive to make certain that all went as well as possible. When he decided, he slowly walked to the right edge of the dirt road, effortlessly leaped up the embankment and disappeared.
I can understand raised eyebrows and smiling skepticism that may come from the readers. But I know what both of us saw that evening and I know how it has stayed with me thirty years later. No, I don't have some breakthrough understanding of the universe that can finally be revealed but if I learned anything that evening, I learned this for certain: Everything, that includes all that we see, all that we know and all that we don't see or know; is connected.
Take a Walk August 7, 2018
For years my friend and I would walk every day. Sometimes early morning, sometimes after work. We worked in an Elementary School, she in Kindergarten, me in Special Education. We took our jobs very seriously which meant it took a lot of energy, both physically and emotionally. So, walking was a healthy release for us. When we first started our daily walks we used our time for venting, thinking this would invigorate us, but we ended our walks feeling completely depleted!
We were on a negative roll and we just couldn’t stop! This didn’t feel good at all in fact, it felt toxic! When we realized we had totally lost our purpose for these walks we came up with a plan. We knew we had to, as Annie put it, stop ourselves from stopping ourselves! So, we decided we could only vent one way, once we reached the half-way point we only allowed ourselves to say positive things. Some days we would have to stop before the half-way point in order to finish a rant, and once we crossed that point we couldn’t think of anything good to say! So, we would come up with things like, “Nice weather don’t you think?” or “Wow! Look at that crazy cloud!” We simply had to finish our walk in silence or force ourselves to find something positive to say! But, we had committed ourselves to our plan and we were sticking to it! Much to our surprise, it wasn’t long before we found it easier to go from negative to positive thinking. In fact, we were noticing that we were stopping our negative talk before the half-way point without even trying! Eventually, our negativity disintegrated to the point that even if what we were discussing was a tad on the dark side, we were able to quickly turn our conversation around and make it positive. We had found our way, we were back on track, and it became what we originally had hoped for…invigorating!
Corinne Lilja Theis
Years Later August 3, 2018
Harold Peter Kruger, 88 years of age of Holdrege, passed away on Monday, July 23, 2018 at the Christian Homes Care Community in Holdrege.
So reads the first line of Mr. Kruger's obituary that I received via email from his daughter on July 29, 2018
Mr. Kruger was my French teacher. I was a senior in high school and it was 1979. He was one of the "originals." A nice man that was not necessarily feared by the students but was given a fair amount of respect because of his love of teaching. Let me start by saying that I was not very good when it came to grasping the french language. He had a reel to reel library that we were required to listen to with headphones. A voice would command us to repeat words over and over until the left side of the reel was empty. Eventually, one of my more ingenious friends took some of the tapes home and recorded Led Zepplin and Jethro Tull over the french voice. Needless to say, we all looked forward to class after those minor changes were made.
It was early June. School was coming to a close (forever for me) and the year-end program was one day away. I had written a song for the program and my command performance had been set in print. Per school policy, all original performances had to be vetted and approved by an appointed faculty member. That member, in my case, was Mr. Kruger. For over a week he asked me a number of times when would be a good time for him to hear what I had created. I kept dodging the question by giving vague responses in hopes that he would forget. I was evasive for two reasons:
1. I didn't really want my "art" to be judged by a teacher much less an older faculty member who couldn't possibly know what cool was if it hit him between his wire-rimmed glasses.
I was certain that he would make me change the lyrics or not allow me to perform it at all. Well Mr. Kruger didn't forget and that day he called the time and place that he would hear the song. That afternoon the two of us ended up alone on stage in the auditorium.
Let me flashback to the obituary for a moment, if I may.
2. I had written a line about "drinking" in the chorus. The drinking age was 21 at that time and the school had very strict rules against consuming alcohol.
As it turns out, Mr. Kruger was born in Saskatchewan where he rode a horse to school every day. Later, after receiving a college education in Alberta and getting married, Mr. Kruger and family traveled to the Congo where he was Director of the Kafumba Schools (I am not even certain where or what that is.) A civil war in 1960 destroyed their home and he was forced to move back where he settled in Kansas, completed his M.S. and served as Director of Foreign Languages at Collegiate School for 31 years.
I sat on the stage, tuned my guitar and performed the song titled "Leaving" for him. When I was finished I braced for the edit demands that were certain to come. I looked up and I saw a man smiling. All he said was; "Good work. They'll love it." Until now, I never knew the life history of Mr. Kruger. Why would I? I was a senior in high school that only understood my immediate experiences and of course concluded that they were the only ones that mattered. I remember being caught off guard by the response and thinking "Wow, that was cool and unexpected."
I guess it all makes sense now. Mr. Kruger had seen more in his lifetime than I could even imagine much less take the time to consider at that point in my life. He understood sophisticated concepts like time, place and circumstances.
As cocky as I was, I had put myself out on a limb. I was vulnerable. I had opened myself up for him so see me through my "art". I was exposed and we both knew it. Now I know what Mr. Kruger knew. In two days I would be moving on. Hopefully I had learned somethings useful that would make a difference later on. But now was the time for him to give me the nod, and let me go.
I have obviously never forgotten that moment, nor will I. Thank you Harold Kruger for the life you lived and the unbelievable patience you continually showed the rest of us.
I apologize for recording over your french tapes, although you should know that the albums we used are considered classics today.
I got a standing ovation that night.
The Art of Sailing July 24, 2018
Standing 100 ft. back from where the water hits the sand, I felt a calm wash over me as I watched the color of sailboats heading toward a floating bouy in the middle of the bay. As they approached the orange bouy, one by one they came-about, sails momentarily flapping until each one caught the angle that filled them with wind and off the colors went in the opposite direction. I know that what I was watching is called a "race" but it felt more to me like moving art on a canvas of water. A sound in the distance began to interupt the experience. A few hundered yards away appeared a sleek, somewhat larger motorboat traveling at a good clip. As it moved closer the sound of the motors grew louder changing pitch as the boat skipped over the waves.
While the people on the motorboat seemed to be having great fun there was an air of interruption and even disruption that emanated from the entire movement.
The sun reflected off of the black hull while the boat zig-zagged the bay reaching speeds that few other boats on the lake were capable of competing with. It didn't appear to have a destination or a purpose other than to create a large wake at a high speed accompanied by loud decibles from the engines.
My sight moved outward and found the sails moving into the inlet as they turned toward the oncoming wind causing ripples in the colors and the boats slowed to a stop. They had covered the water they intended and returned to where they began. Eventually, the motorboat leaned eastwardly and became smaller in sound and sight until it disappeared.
Still standing by the shore it dawned on me that we all know personalities that zigzag through our lives creating noise, speed, and large wakes. It is my contention that the ones that move quietly with beauty, grace and a dignified purpose leave a much more positive and lasting imprint on not only us but the entire universe.
Your Side of the River July 17, 2018
Down in southern Georgia sitting on the red clay among 100-year-old towering pines is a converted old plantation that is now used for hunting and fishing. It still maintains it's southernly charm with its cabins, horses, and dogs. Resting high on the western bank, Beaver Creek runs below with its coffee colored water moving at a leisurely pace that except for the spring storms, has been the same pace that it chose long, long ago as the best way to eventually find the Mississippi.
One fall morning I was standing on the bank of that river. I had heard the grand stories about the largemouth bass that could be fooled by the smartest anglers that used patience, experience, and luck. That morning I was hoping all three had shown up and were ready to guide. I have fished most of my life and I am more than adequate at casting a lure as far as most other experienced anglers. That day proved to be no different as I threw to the left and then to the right. I watched the weighted Rappala glide high into the air and eventually I would hear the "plunk" as it hit the water and caused a few ripples to move in a circle out from where it landed.
Without warning, I heard the voice of a man no more than ten feet behind me. While reeling, I turned to see the elderly foreman of the property standing and casually taking in the entire picture of the morning. In a slower and comfortable cadence, he asked, "How's fishing?" "Too early to tell." I replied; "I have only been here a few minutes but the river certainly looks like there are fish to be caught." As he stood there I couldn't help but show him how far I could launch the bait across the river, damn near to the other side. After watching me cast ten times or more he turned to leave but stopped just before and left me with these words; "I have lived on this river for more than 60 years. One thing I have observed without fail year after year is that the people on the far bank of the river cast their lures as far as they can to get as close as they can to this bank while the people on this bank cast their lures as far as they can to get as close as they can to the other bank." With that, he left as quietly as he came.
Countless parents, teachers, writers, and clergy have spent thousands of words attempting to say what that foreman said in two sentences on that southern morning by the bank of the slowly moving water. More than not, purpose, meaning, love and fulfillment all rest on our side of the river.
Take the Road July 10, 2018
Robert Frost said a thousand things in one simple sentence;
"Two roads diverged in a wood, I--I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference."
That is by and large the definition of poetry.
Three days ago I was in northern Minnesota. I couldn't help but pause and quietly stand under and absolutely beautiful summer day. I had finished walking a marked path that ended onto a dirt road giving way to a view of Lake Superior. It was one of those moments when nature showed off just a bit in order to remind me of what Art in its truest form can be.
During this lesson in silence, I heard sounds coming from behind me somewhere up the dirt road. Clearing the cover of a bend and some branches appeared three bikes gliding towards me ridden by three boys all around 10-12 years in age. One was standing on his seat while the leader looked back and was shouting rapid-fire orders that were being answered in less than decipherable half sentences. The bikes all came to a skidding stop a few yards away from where I had been taking in my transformational moment. Out of breath from pure excitement, the boys nodded at me as politely as they had time for, which was obviously very little.
While still out of breath they loudly spoke of a hill too steep to run out. Some hairpin turns that sent one of them skidding to the gravel and rocks that obviously had bent a spoke that one boy was trying to pull back to resemble something sort of straight. After swallowing from their water bottles and running out of adjectives like; "Rad, Awesome, Thrash, Sick and Whales", one of the boys said something about the Knife River and with two or three pedals they were gone.
There will be cold days ahead and trying times for each of the boys as the years pass by. But for a glorious moment on a summer afternoon, they showed me an Art of living. The one standing on his bike just because he could. The out of breath recanting of a downhill ride slightly out of control because that was where the adrenaline hid. Then after the brief pause, all three gone as quickly as they arrived. On that day it wasn't "the road less traveled" that made all the difference, it was that they took the road at all. Their lives will never be the same as friends. The lessons of danger and pure excitement are imprinted on their young minds and will change the way they understand life more completely then had they never taken the road at all.
Most of the time we all just need to get up, go out and take the road.
"Because That Is What You Do" July 3rd, 2018
I was watching the finals of the Minnesota State High School tennis match last weekend, trying to quietly sit unnoticed in the bleachers while reliving the days when my own boys represented the same school in the same tournament a few years earlier. The team competition consists of 4 singles and 3 doubles matches ( 7 total), The team that wins 4 or more matches wins the title. After about an hour and a half my sons' alma mater, Blake Schools, had won 4 matches, and the courtside celebration erupted. Meanwhile, there was 1 match still in progress even though at this point a win or loss had no effect on the outcome of which team would be state champion.
The player from Blake waived to his coach on the changeover. I decided to drift closer to the court so I could eavesdrop on the conversation. The player, looking up at his coach from the bench asked; "Coach, why am I still playing? Everyone else on my team is celebrating and whether I win or lose this match doesn't matter." The short but concise answer that came from the coach may be some of the most worthwhile words the player will hear in his young life.
"Because that is what you do." said the coach now leaning at eye level to his player. "Tennis is not always about playing on court number 1 with the spectators hanging on the points you win or lose. It's about going out and competing at your best level on that particular day. You could quit now, shake your opponents' hand and it would make no difference to the outcome of our team being state champions. But if you do that, it will make the next time a little easier to quit and the next time after that even easier. It doesn't matter if you win or lose now but what matters is that you give every point all you have until the match is over today. You are a tennis player and that is what you do."
The coach stood up and walked to the side of the court. He kept his attention on the one match that didn't really matter as the player took one more drink and walked out to serve.