Maybe it’s because I’m listening — like right now — to the Train song Bruises.
Maybe it’s because my sister posted a couple of old pictures tonight.
Maybe it’s because I’ll be seeing some great life-long friends in about 10 days.
Or, maybe it’s just because I’m, well, a sap. An absolutely positively sentimental sap.
Whatever it is, it’s got me thinking back. I do it a lot, I suppose. Probably more than you do. Maybe not. But probably. Sometimes I do it even more than I realize.
But, really, it’s a good thing to look back. Why? Simple, I think. Looking back helps you figure out where you came from. Knowing where you came from can help you figure out where you’re going. At least I think it can. Or, at least I think it should.
The friends I had then (many of whom I still have) helped build who I am. They (you) must have done something right, because I have always been blessed with an amazing group of friends — new or old. But, I credit that to the friends I grew up with. Those relationships, some of which remain so strong, no doubt have an impact on relationships I have today.
Today, for example, I had lunch with a friend. A ‘newer’ friend, I suppose. Kids went to preschool together. Ran into each other from time to time. Never really hung out, but just good people. Then, this friend becomes friends with another friend. The circle expands. And, at least in this case, as the overall circle gets bigger, the bond gets tighter. And when that happens, it’s fabulous.
I work with amazing people, too. Not just for what they do. But for who they are. Some of them, I believe, are lifelong friends — even though I’ve only known them for a couple years. Is this because of sharing a common bond at work? Maybe. Is it because of me? Well, you’d have a hard time convincing me of that. Rather, I think it has to do with people I grew up with. People I shared the early years with. People that let me be who I am. Having that core, I think, is what makes the cycle continuous.
I guess my point is, if I hadn’t had such a great group of friends early on, would I have had great friends in high school? If I hadn’t had great friends in high school, would I have had them in college? If I didn’t have them in college, would I have them now? Or, more importantly, would I have the ability to have them now?
Thankfully, I don’t have to worry about that too much. Because, for whatever reason, I do have them. And I’m crazy blessed to say I’ve always had them. And to say that I’ve been able to keep them. Not all of them. But the strongest ones. The most important ones.
I don’t always understand why many of them are female, but I guess that’s a blog for another day. And wouldn’t that be nice, like if I actually came back to this on a regular basis. I digress….
Some of it, too, is about not just people, but shared experiences. You don’t necessarily have to be super tight with someone right away. But, when you discover a shared experience or theme, that can often times strengthen the bond to one that you’ll never want to end. Why? Because of that connection. I can think of two people in particular that way for me. The point is, there are a number of ways that a friendship can be strong — new or old.
And, there are a number of ways a friendship can grow — new or old. I guess that’s the point of this. And, from there, the most important thing, at least to me, is knowing how to maintain the friendships that have those bonds — or shared experiences — that are so strong.
Is any of this making sense?
But, come on, you’ve had those moments, too. Moments where you hear an old song, see an old picture, anything. Anything that brings you back — often times right to a particular person or a particular moment. And it doesn’t always have to be about that type of ‘relationship’ — it can be about anything. It just has to connect you back. It has to bring back good memories and good thoughts. Of good people. With good people.
Some recent examples…because clearly what I’m explaining isn’t really working — or maybe it is?
Just tonight, while I was writing this, in fact, a Facebook friend made a comment on a picture of my Dad. That brought me back — instantly — to a certain place. A certain time. And, more importantly, to certain people. Am I still tight with all of them? No. But I am with some. Shared experiences. Great bonds. Great friends.
For Halloween, we typically take our kids trick-or-treating where I went as a kid. I’m really happy for the kids to get out and have a great experience. But, with every step, I’m thinking back to when I went to those same houses and, in some cases, to the same people in the same houses. I would try to explain this during the walk, but the kids are too focused on candy. But, again, brought back to a certain place. A certain time. And, more importantly, to certain people.
A couple of weeks ago, someone I used to work with sent a Facebook message to me and another colleague. In the message, she talked about being sentimental and thinking back to our time working together. Could we get together, she asked. I certainly hope so. Because, if we do, we go back to a certain place. A certain time. With certain people.
I saw another post on Facebook. From a friend I’ve known since first grade. We went to grade school together, but not the same high school. It doesn’t matter. It’s the strength of the bond. He’s going to be home for Thanksgiving. We’ve talked about maybe grabbing a beer with a couple of others. I hope we do. Because if it works, we go back to a certain place. A certain time. With certain people.
That same weekend, there’s a casual 25th class reunion happening. That’s put me in touch with a lot of people. A few of whom are some of my dearest friends. Do we see each other all the time? No. Do we have to? No. That’s part of the beauty of it. The bond growing up was so strong — it sort of transcends the need for that. I’m beyond looking forward to spending time with these people in a few days. Why? Because we go back to a certain place. A certain time. With certain people.
There’s another person who is going to read this blog and thank me for writing. This person is going to tell me that he loves reading what I write. He’s going to tell me that it helped him — or someone. He’s going to tell me I should keep writing. Now, I worked with this person — sort of — for a while. We weren’t overly connected — until we discovered a shared experience. An experience neither of us would wish on anyone. But, we’ve got it. And that’s what matters. Does that take me back to a certain place? A certain time? Sure it does. It’s different, but the fact is, the impact is the same. And that’s what’s important. Strong and impactful relationships. I haven’t seen this person in I can’t even remember how many years. Five? Six? More? And I don’t have any plans to see him in the future either. Point is, there’s a bond and a friendship that’s not going away — regardless of anything. I just think that’s cool.
Every Thanksgiving, I think back to high school. Our school was full of tradition. It was such a special time. I am truly grateful for having been part of the experience. But, it’s an experience that I went through with special people. That’s what makes it even better. That’s what takes me back. So, with this reunion thing coming up, I’m a little more sensitive to it than usual. Then, add in the fact that I’m at a Cheap Trick concert the other night and they play The Flame. Well, that came out during high school. And, one of my friends, sends a message about it just as they start playing it. It was kind of weird. But good weird. Why? Because it brought me back to a certain place. A certain time. With certain people.
A friend I’ve know for only a few years is having a hard time dealing with something. I’ve dealt with the same thing. So it helps. I can share some thoughts. Help give some perspective. Be a good friend.
I guess that’s really what this is about. Having good friends and being a good friend.
There’s no doubt I have good friends. Being a good friend? Well, that’s something I take very seriously. And I guess I take it so seriously to let people I know how much I appreciate their friendship and what they’ve done for me.
And, so, it really is pretty easy. For me, being a good friend is a way of saying thanks to all who have not only done the same for me, but whose friendships have actually made me who I am.
(The real thanks goes to those of you who actually made it to the end of this! Haven’t blogged in forever. Maybe this gets me going….)
I should have written this a month ago. But, can’t change that. So, here we go.
It was Christmas morning. The presents were open. The kids were ecstatic. The tree looked awesome. Renee and I were amazed that it was ‘over’ so quickly, but still enjoying the joy coming from Aidan and Erin.
We were in church, waiting for Mass to begin. My phone buzzed in my pocket. Yes, I checked it. Guilty as charged. But, I was glad I did. Because this is the message I found sent to me via Facebook:
Hope you are having a great Christmas with you and your family! Just thought you should know….the cap on my tooth from your baseball throw many years ago in your backyard fell off today! While eating twizzlers – just brought back a memory of a good time in my life.
Instant smile. Instant flashback. The message, obviously, was from someone that I’ve known most of my life. For so long, in fact, I’m not even sure when he and I first met. Probably when we were seven or eight? I’m not really sure. And it doesn’t really matter. Fact is, it was a message from a lifelong friend.
Sure, we are nowhere near as close as those days of playing together every day. Basketball, bikes, swimming, baseball cards, touch football. Every thing.
Bonds like that never go away, right? Sure, sometimes you may lose touch with someone over time. But it doesn’t mean you aren’t friends anymore. Maybe sometimes it does. But not in this case. Too much history — most all of it good — to change anything. Friends for life. Maybe not every day friends like in the past. But friends for life. Nothing changes there.
We’ve all got friends like that — on multiple levels, based on whenever we first encounter those friends. While this friend and I go way back, probably 35 years, I’ve got new friends within the past five years that I would also proudly call friends for life. Make sense?
So, this all got me thinking. First, how cool it was to just get that message. That this friend thought enough to send it along. Something to simple now, but such an issue back then. Something that is just another way we are connected. Always a story. He shared it because he knew I’d appreciate it. And he was right. And, it was a good time in my life, too. A much simpler, a much easier time.
The next thing I thought about was my kids. Aidan will be 9 in a few months, Erin will be 6 not too far behind him.
I remember those ages — and, more importantly, I remember the people I knew then, some of whom are still very dear friends. I mean, there are people I’ve known since kindergarten (Erin’s class) that I’m still friends with. There are kids from third grade (Aidan’s class) that I’m still tight with, and there are some that I’m ‘Facebook’ friends with. Fact is, the friendship is still there — to some degree.
So, as I look at the kids today and see how they interact with their friends, I can’t help but wonder. In 30 years, will Aidan still be close to some of the kids he’s friends with now? What about Erin?
I think, honestly, that there are some friends they have now that will be with them for a while. And part of that is because they go to a Catholic school, like I did. When you are with a group of people for so long, you can’t help but establish a bond — right Amy, Amy, Mark, Luke and Patrick? And, then if someone new comes in, you establish a bond quickly with them, too, — right Amy, Andrea and Erin? And, if someone starts with you and leaves for another place, you are also still connected, right Ryan, Laura and Michele?
What’s my point? I’m not really sure. I guess I just hope that my kids are blessed with the same type of friendships that I’m beyond blessed with.
Despite what some people think, I don’t ‘know everyone.’ I’ve always been guarded with my friendship. Not letting people in, per se, until I’m comfortable enough to share. It’s not about quantity, it’s about quality. I said it before, I’m probably one of the shyest people you’ll ever meet — until I’m comfortable. Then I open up.
That’s like Aidan. He’s so reserved and so quiet. Not one to jump right into a situation, but once he does, he’s often fine and with no trouble at all. Erin, on the other hand, is much more of a free spirit. I guess I have that in me, too. So, it seems right that I am their father!
I hope they continue to develop bonds with their friends. I hope that I hear the names Andrew, Patrick, Grover, Charlie, Noah, Julia, Katelyn, Kailani, Julianna and Ava for a long, long time.
And, in 30 years or so, I hope Aidan or Erin get the same type of Christmas morning message that I got. From a friend. A lifelong friend. And I hope that message is like mine was — that it was a good time, for both of us. But, more importantly, that we are still friends, to this day.
For those of you that were at a wedding 18 years ago today, you probably remember the groom sobbed continuously — like a baby.
For those of you that weren’t at that wedding, here’s something you should know.
That groom was me.
I was crying for one simple reason. Tears of joy, if you will, that there was someone in the world who picked me as the person she wanted to spend the rest of her life with.
That someone, of course, is Renee.
So here it is, our anniversary. Our 18th anniversary. And she’s not here. She and the kids are still in Florida, finishing up a visit with her family. Not sure what to give her for a present then. I’ve always got words and thoughts inside me. Always.
So, why not give those.
In some of our most challenging moments, I told Renee that I needed to work harder to make sure that she didn’t learn new things about me on this blog. In my darkest times, this was the place where I could come and just say anything. It still is. But you get my point. I hope.
This time, however, because Renee isn’t here on our actual anniversary, she will be learning something about me on this blog. The biggest thing she’ll be learning?
This is her present!
Well, not really. She’ll get that when she comes home.
No, what I hope she learns today is that there’s a simple reason why I was crying 18 years ago.
It’s mostly because I couldn’t believe I was in that situation. That someone would really ‘pick’ me.
I still have a hard time with it. Why?
Because she’s better than me. Always has been. Probably always will be.
You might find this hard to believe, but I’m not an easy person to live with. For a lot of reasons. I’m stubborn beyond all measure. I’m set in my ways (same thing?). I’m crazy opinionated. I believe my way is the right way. And, my biggest challenge, I’m not always open.
That’s why Renee did learn things here. Because I had a hard time opening up as much as I should. I don’t know why. But it’s true.
A few years ago, I went through the darkest part of my life — dealing with the loss of my brother and finally — truly — dealing with the loss of my father. This has been well documented here. But the person who dealt with this the most? Yeah, Renee.
She dealt with me pulling back. She dealt with my doubts. About a lot of things. And, all the while, she kept doing everything that she does that makes us better. And, by that, I mean makes me better.
And during that time, I didn’t make it easy on her. I didn’t make it easy on anyone. But especially her.
The best thing she did? She let me figure it out. And I did.
It took awhile. But I did.
And I’m better for it now. She’s better for it now. We’re better for it now.
That’s because the two of us figured out some things, too. And, more importantly, we figured them out together.
You might think I’m the most open person in the world. Sometimes I am. And sometimes I pull back — or hold back. I’m trying to change that.
But there has been change. Change for the better. I was in a dark place. And I’m not there anymore.
And that’s a good thing.
Because there’s someone here that let me figure that all out.
So that’s why I was crying 18 years ago.
Because I wasn’t sure I could live up to my end of the deal, like I knew she would live up to hers.
She deserves so much. Probably more than I can ever give her.
So I’m going to try harder.
Because she picked me.
Things happen in threes, right?
Well, here’s an interesting one for you. The story of how three men — gone from this world, at least physically — continue to make their presence known to those they’ve left behind.
What’s the connection here, you ask? You know, the part of how I mentioned things happen in threes. So, here goes.
As I write this, it’s the fifth anniversary of my brother Tim’s passing. Still so hard in some regard — yet getting better. If that makes sense.
Regular readers know how much this threw me. Absolutely threw me — to the point, really, of needing to talk to someone about it. A professional someone. That really helped.
How do I make sense of it? Well, I stopped doing that. And that’s the key. I don’t understand. I never will. But I’ve stopped trying to understand — because that’s part of what was killing me. Point is, I try to keep his memory alive through my daily life whenever I can — and with the kids through prayers and stories and pictures.
It’s always hard around Erin’s birthday because of the closeness to it all — but it just goes to remind me how incredibly blessed we were to have her at that time — when the world was so dark, there was one little light shining. And, well, she still does.
And so does he.
So that’s one. But that’s the one you’ve know about from before.
A friend of mine lost his brother earlier this week. The good news is the suffering is over. This man battled cancer until it took every bit of his fight. My friend is haivng a hard time — who doesn’t when you lose a big brother?
I tried to share with him the ‘expertise’ I have — but I’m not sure it helped. What has helped, no doubt, is the outpouring of emotion my friend has seen as people have responded to his brother’s death.
I guess you could say he’s somewhat of a local celebrity. He was known by many — respected by them all. So my friend has that going for him — seeing how much his brother has impacted not just him, but — literally — thousands of others.
I tried to tell my friend to enjoy that part of it. To see what an impact his brother had on people. And he certainly did.
I remember when Tim died, how I was completely blown away in learning about his work life — and hearing directly from those people about how he influenced them.
That’s what I hope for my friend. That he continues to see how much his brother influenced so many. And that through that influence, his brother lives on, not just in their lives, but in his.
So, between my brother and my friend’s brother, that’s two death anniversaries within the same week — one ‘fresh’ and one five years.
Here’s the third — also with a death anniversary within just a few days of the other two — yet this person has been dead for 25 years — which is damn near impossible to comprehend.
I didn’t know my friend’s brother that just died, but I certainly knew of him.
This person, who died 25 years ago, I did know. He was a friend. Our familes were close — and always will be, to some extent. That’s what growing up in a small town does.
I remember being at their house plenty of times, playing all sorts of things. And I remember my friend and his sister and brother being at our house and swimming in our pool.
I remember going to high school and being one year behind my friend. I remember how good of a musician he was. And I swear if I think hard enough, I can still remember the sound of his voice. The smile on his face is a given.
He died just before his high school graduation. A sad, sad situation for all involved.
So where, possibly, could be the good in this?
It’s simple, really.
Twenty five years later, he still lives on in the hearts of people who knew him. Who were his friends.
No. Who ARE his friends. Death doesn’t break a friendship.
The younger brother of my friend posted something about the 25th anniversary on facebook. The comments were incredible. Because that’s what happens.
People don’t forget. I’m sorry, but they don’t.
They might not always talk about someone, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t thinking about them. And when they do, the stories that are shared are so precious — and always remembered so vividly.
So here we’ve talked about three men who are dead — less than a week, five years ago and 25 years ago.
And, yet, they are alive — and are being kept alive.
And that’s what’s so important in life.
That people who have influenced, continue to influence. Those around them. And those who loved them.
The way to do that? The way to help me and my friends who have lost their brothers?
To share stories, if you have them. To understand that we want to know what you remember — no matter what it is.
We want our brothers to continue influencing those who they were close to. And in these three situations, that’s totally the case.
And that’s a beautiful thing.
I’m headed back to Disney World this summer for the first time in, well, a long time. More than 35 years, in fact.
Summer of ’76 — Bob and Jackie packed the four of us up in the station wagon and we headed due south. Next stop, the Magic Kingdom. Since that trip, I’ve done Epcot and Universal, but I’ve never been back to the Magic Kingdom.
I don’t have many memories from that trip. And, those that I do have are more centered on the actual trip itself — the stories that a family travelling in a station wagon are destined to have forever.
One of the few memories I have of the actual Magic Kingdom revolve around the “It’s a Small World” ride. I don’t remember it for a great ride. Rather, I remember it for the annoying song that I can still hear in my head — as if I was six-year-old on the ride today.
The point, in case you’re trying to figure this out, is that Walt Disney was right.
It really is a small world.
And, the thing that’s happening now is this — as I get older, the world gets smaller.
At first, I wasn’t a big fan of this notion. Well, both notions, actually – that I’m getting older and that the world is getting smaller.
I can’t fight the age thing, obviously. Though if I could, I certainly would.
But the getting smaller part? I’m a lot more open to this than I would have been just a couple of years ago. Those that know me best, know that I’m actually more shy than social. Hard to believe for some, but 100 percent true.
When I’m in a new situation and/or environment, there are typically two things that help me ‘loosen’ up and become more of my self.
The first usually take the longest. It’s simply a matter of me feeling comfortable in the situation/environment. That could be just becoming more comfortable in the physical space or, more likely, taking my time to get to know new people before letting them know more about me. Before really letting them ‘in.’ Once in, it’s a different story. But it takes a while for me to let someone in. Always has.
The second part of this can get me to my comfort level faster. That’s finding out that, in this new situation/environment, that I actually have a connection with someone there. Usually, you don’t know that connection exists. Maybe it gets discovered in a meeting. Maybe it gets discovered in casual small talk. Either way, when it does, it makes, at least me, anyway, much more comfortable.
Sometimes, that connection is short-term, but it still has a huge impact. One of my previous posts addresses just that situation when I made a deep connection with someone who knew my Dad. I didn’t expect the connection to happen at all — and it came about only through small talk. And thankfully it did, because I still remember that moment fondly. And I know I always will.
Other times, it’s more long-term. And that’s more likely with friends and co-workers. With friends, it’s that no matter how long it’s been since you’ve communicated, you’ve always got some connection. It doesn’t matter how your life has changed, there’s always something there to bring you back — if you wish. For me, there are two situations here that I don’t want to be brought back. I’ve been hurt enough to want that. However, I can acknowledge that if that ever changed, there’s enough in the background (enough of a connection) to at least have a starting point.
With co-workers, it’s a little more challenging — at least for me. But the beauty of this is when you find the connection, the relationship often times goes from colleague to friend. And that’s what’s cool. My workplace employs nearly 3,000 people. I figured it wouldn’t take too long to make some of these connections. And, well, I was right. Start the conversations strictly about work. Get more comfortable. Learn more and discover a connection — whatever it is. It’s a great feeling when it happens. Because it just means you’ve not only gained the trust of a colleague, you’ve gained the trust of a friend.
And, in the grand scheme of things, there aren’t many things that trump the trust of a friend. That’s always been part of my thing, too. While I don’t necessarily hang in big circles, I do hang in tight circles.
The point of this mess is simple. What’s not simple is how I’ve gone on trying to explain it.
As I get older, the world is becoming smaller. There are more connections. And that’s a good thing. Particularly for someone like me, who doesn’t have any easy time otherwise — believe it or not.
Sometimes, those connections are more — and this isn’t the right word — emotional. What I’m trying to say is that you don’t have to make a connection with someone because you know some of the same people. You can make a connection because of a shared experience, for example. Does that make sense? I hope so.
In that sense, the world becomes smaller because you discover you, believe it or not, aren’t the only one going through something.
The other side of it, though, is making a connection because you do know certain people that someone else knows. You find common ground. In other words, the world gets smaller. There are more connections. There are more shared experiences. It makes sense when you think about it. Person A knows 100 people. Person B knows 100 people. Person A doesn’t necessarily know Person B. However, when they do have a chance to meet, they discover common connections — and that gets the ball rolling.
Usually, at least for me, if the ball gets rolling, good things happen. And, when good things happen, it all ties back to what Walt Disney said years go.
It’s a small world, after all.
Brace yourself, this post has nothing to do with death.
Still with me then? Good. I’m glad.
So I had a pretty awesome experience last week. If we are connected on Facebook, then, well, you’re sick of hearing this again — I flew in a Blackhawk helicopter!
Well what does that have to do with my job in healthcare? Nothing. Or, maybe it does. Let me explain.
Each year, the local chamber of commerce offers a program designed to expose new leaders (that’s apparently me) with the opportunity to learn more about specific things happening in our area, in a variety of topic areas. The group (there are 22 of us) consists of people from healthcare, education, defense, finance, healthcare and a few other industries. We meet once a month to learn more about a particular topic.
We’ve done healthcare. We’ve done education. We’ve done judicial. We’ve done economic development. Along the way, this program has given me the opportunity to tour behind the scenes of an area casino, spend time with a judge and tour a prison, take part in an amazing program that aims to prevent teens from being distracted drivers and more — including the opportunity to listen and talk to industry leaders in this area.
While the program is teaching us new skills and techniques of leadership, it’s also showing us just how much is ‘in our backyard’ and how the area in which we live are so dependent on all of the industries we are observing.
That was never more prevalent than last week.
Our focus? The military.
Now, this part of the world is heavily connected in the military community. We are, among other things, ‘the submarine capital of the world’ — since the world’s best submarines are, in fact, built here. We have a naval base that employs more than 10,000. We have a major service academy in our area, too.
We are military focused — yet for some reason, the leadership class hadn’t taken on the topic of the military.
Until this year.
Because this was the first time, the military partners involved in the tour rolled out the red carpet. And, well, that’s where the Blackhawks come in.
I, along with a few others, was completely stoked for this experience. Here I am a week later and I’m still in awe of what we did, where we went and how we got there.
The morning started on the base. On the way to the Blackhawks, our national anthem was played over the speakers for morning colors. Everyone stopped and it was hard to not feel different hearing it where we were — and with what we were about to do.
The Blackhawk was incredibly smooth — that’s what shocked me the most. It was such an easy, effortless ride. We touched down at the local National Guard camp and got a tour there, as well as multiple speakers explaining the Guard’s role and much more.
Back in the chopper for a 30 minute tour of our region — just an incredible experience to fly over places I see everyday and get a completely different perspective on the area I call home and all that’s around it.
We landed at another local facility where Blackhawks are maintained and refurbished. I had no idea this was going on in my community.
After that tour, one more short ride where we landed on the front lawn of the Coast Guard Academy. An absolute special experience to do that and then be toured around the Academy by a cadet, before joining up with senior administrators for lunch in the officer’s club. You couldn’t leave the Academy without being impressed.
When we did leave, it was in a van this time (so depressing!) for a ride back to the base where the tour continued with a trip inside a submarine simulator used for training, followed by a look at how submariners train for deep water rescues and then finally aboard an actual US submarine in port for minor repairs and preparations to be made before its next significant voyage — which, according to the commander, could be as long as six months. Where to? He, of course, wouldn’t say. But, with all the continued drama in the Mid East, I couldn’t help but think this sub would soon be Syria bound.
So, Mike, you’re probably asking…here you are, more than 700 words in and you really haven’t explained the point of this.
Well, I say, it starts with the title of this post — ‘Behind the Fence.’
When the morning started, one the military types told the group that our access that day would take us ‘behind the fence.’ That we’d get to see things (the sub simulator) and do things (um, fly in a Blackhawk!) that others just don’t get to do. All of this, he said, was to show us ‘the other 1 percent.’ He wasn’t referring to the uber rich and talking taxes. No, he was talking about the 1 percent that protects the freedom we enjoy every day — without ever really thinking about it.
In exchange for this access, for this unique experience, he asked for something very simple in return. He asked for us to take what we saw back to our world and share it with people we know. To tell them not just what we saw, but who we saw doing it. And to see how much pride was involved.
So, here I am. Letting you know what a day this was.
Now, I’ve basically lived in this area my entire life, save a few years here and there. Obviously I know the importance of the military in this area. But, well, maybe I underestimated that a bit. I had no idea there’s a training ground not far from here where soldiers train in mock villages to simulate what they might discover in the Middle East. I had no idea that helicopters from 13 states along the east coast are brought here to be repaired/refurbished. I had no idea of the size and scope of the National Guard. I had no idea how impressive the Coast Guard Academy would be. I’d been there before, sure, but for a football game. I had never set foot in an Academy building until last week. I was thoroughly impressed.
The base. I had no idea how big it was. I had no idea how many sailors go through submariner school. I had no idea what life was like on a submarine. I had no idea how much work goes on when a sub is in port preparing for its next destination. I had no idea of the true economic impact the military has on, not just this area, but the state as a whole.
Flying in a Blackhawk. That was fun for me and the others in the group. But for the team flying us, it’s more than fun. It’s there job. For everyone we met that day, it’s more than just a submarine or a helicopter. It’s a job. But it’s really more than that. It’s about freedom. Their freedom. Our freedom. My freedom.
My nephew served and did multiple tours in Iraq. I’m proud of him. Or at least I thought I was. But now I’m even more proud of him — and the many others. Now that I got a better glimpse into the life, the work and so much more, I can start to appreciate the sacrifice even more. The sacrifice they make for me. And for you.
The point is, I understand it more. And I wish you all could experience what I was so beyond fortunate to experience. Who knows. I may never fly in a helicopter again — let alone a Blackhawk. I was given an extraordinary opportunity. One for which I’m thankful. And one which I wanted to share with you. Not just because I was asked to do it. But, well, because you should know. Particularly if you live in this area, you should know the incredible work that’s going on right in our backyard. It’s more than the obvious. It’s the stuff you’d never think about. Right here. This close.
And for that, those of us that live here should be filled with immense quantities of both thanks and pride.
It’s been a while, eh? Yup. Sure has.
This story is worthy (at least I think it is) of a return to the blog. So, well, here goes.
Here we are in early February, and, well, surprisingly I didn’t write anything January 30 — the 12th anniversary of my Dad’s passing. It’s been sort of a tradition here at I Got Nothin’ that I’d write my annual letter to him — usually complaining about how much I missed him and how his death has affected me and all that. And, for the record, I do miss him. And, well, yeah, it affected me. Maybe just a bit.
But, none of that this year.
No visiting the cemetery on his ‘anniversary’ either. First time in a while that I haven’t done that. I’ve been recently, though, so it’s not like I’ve abandoned that practice.
I made the choice to not write the letter. I made the choice to not go to the cemetery. One little Facebook status was all I did that day. And that’s a good thing. I promised myself that I wouldn’t force the anniversary of his death on you — and, more importantly, on me.
I remember him a lot. Did I need to have the specific day to ‘publicize’ him to my friends (or, even, myself)? Because, if I ever have to do that again, strangle me. I’m not saying I’ll never post another letter that I write to him. What I’m saying is that I was in a decided pattern of behavior around his death (as well as Tim’s). That’s a pattern that I wasn’t growing very fond of. It was the all-consuming pattern. Not so much a fan of those.
Besides, my going in the opposite direction, by not forcing the memory, by just letting things be as they are, well, I discovered that good things do happen.
Just like they did today. Honestly, this is one of the most touching moments that I’ve had about my Dad since his passing. It might not seem that way to you. Or, maybe it does. I don’t know. And, it’s one of those ‘it doesn’t really matter’ moments. It affected me. And for that I’m grateful.
Here’s the story…and I’m already apologizing to you for the length of this. It’s not a short story.
So Aidan is a second grader at Sacred Heart, the Catholic elementary school within our parish. Erin goes there, too. It’s a great place for them. And, after spending my entire elementary schooling in a Catholic school, I’m pretty happy they are in one now.
We are just wrapping up an annual celebration of Catholic Schools Week. It’s primary goal is awareness. But it also does some fun stuff for kids and families to get involved. One of those things is what made today special.
The local Catholic high school, St. Bernard’s, hosts an annual art show during Catholic Schools Week. Each year, they solicit art projects from area Catholic elementary schools and they are then displayed in a true exhibit space within the school. It was very cool to see. And part of the reason for that is because Aidan had one of his projects selected for display.
Because the show is in the school, I had called ahead to check on whether or not it was possible to come by late in the afternoon. The art teacher called me back and said he would be there late, so no problem at all coming toward the end of the day.
A student led us down to the gallery room and, after a bit of searching, we found Aidan’s picture — a really cool snowman image. I’m not sure where he gets the talent from, but it certainly looked good to me. While we were in the room, the teacher walked in and welcomed us and asked if I was the one who had called earlier in the day. Nothing fancy in the conversation. At least not yet.
He was just telling us about the show, how he enjoys getting the elementary schools involved with the high school. That sort of thing. Then he told Aidan that he went to Aidan’s school as a kid, so that was neat. And that he still lives right across from Aidan’s school. So very slowly a connection was being made here — at least unbeknownst to me.
At one point in the conversation, the art teacher, who is clearly still passionate about what he does, stated that this was, in fact, his 40th year at the school Forty! And that’s where it clicked.
Not because this man has been doing this for 40 years (but, um, wow!), but because I wondered if he might possibly have known my Dad.
How would he have known him? Well, some of you probably don’t know that my Dad was, first and foremost, an educator. He taught elementary school and then moved into administration and, for a time, he served as assistant superintendent of schools in the Norwich diocese where St. Bernard’s is located. In fact, he was very involved with St. Bernard’s early on and had worked closely on a variety of projects there.
I wasn’t sure if I should bring that up, though. I mean, this guy has been teaching 40 years. Imagine the people he’s met over the years. And, well, Dad left that job in the mid 1980s. I didn’t want to ask and be told no. Nor did I want to ask and get a tepid response and think he was just being polite. So, I didn’t say anything.
As it was time to leave, the teacher said he’d walk us back to the front lobby of the school. I didn’t think anything of it, because it was quite a walk with some twists and turns. Besides, we were still chatting about a variety of things.
As we went down one hallway, there was a huge portrait of a former bishop in the diocese — a bishop that I had known because of my Dad. Ah, I said, I know him. I met him a long time ago when my father worked for the diocese.
And that’s when I could tell the teacher did know my Dad. “I thought so,” the teacher said. “And that’s why I wanted to walk you out. I recognized your name when we spoke on the phone and I wondered if maybe you were the same family.”
“That’s us,” I said.
The teacher told me that he remembered my Dad. And then he did the coolest thing. On our walk, he took us to the chapel within the school.
He went on to explain how two statues in the chapel were only there because of my Dad. That these statues had been in another school and somehow ended up at the administration office where he worked. And at one point, in discussing needs for the chapel, my Dad mentioned these two statues to the teacher and, well, that was that. So now, as you go in the chapel, the statues are still there.
Even though he said he had known my Dad, I wasn’t quite sure what to say or how to react — until I heard this story. He definitely remembered him. He definitely remembered this story. It wasn’t like he was just being polite.
He also knew my Dad had passed and made reference to that a couple of times. I thanked him for sharing the story, that it really meant a lot to me to hear something like that — particularly something so unexpected.
And then he said something that really got me — that really made this an emotional homerun for me.
“Because of those statues,” he said, “your Dad has left a lasting impression that is with us every day.”
He sure has.
For me, this was huge. It helped me understand that, yeah, you don’t have to force memories. They will come. And it’s not just me that has them. Other people remember my Dad, too. I lose sight of that sometimes. Make that a lot of times.
But, seriously. I didn’t sign up for this today.
No, we were just going to an art show.
We were just going to find a picture of a snowman.
Turns out we found a whole lot more.
And I’m really glad we did.