What’s In Your Wallet?

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My husband is a very consistent type of guy. And for his four children plus me who know him well, we all know that he carries an odd conglomeration of whatnot everyday. All of the items fit comfortably within the corners of his pants pockets, and each of the them is practical as the day is long. None are overly expensive, and yet together they create more interest than he ever expected.

I, too, have a short list of items that I always carry. My grouping, however, is nowhere near as compact as his. In fact, mine can’t fit in a pocket and are instead kept in a dingy, yet rugged, ziplock bag, plopped in whatever purse I’m using. Mine aren’t near as purposeful and I am very uncertain about the message they generate. Still, I carry them.

His list is simple – a freshly laundered handkerchief for him and for sharing, a few dollars to buy him out of any monetary jam, a scrap of paper with an early morning minted ‘to-do’ list, and a pen. My list is a little more harebrained and non-sequitur-ish.  In no particular order, I carry a pocket-sized copy of the constitution of the United States, my first communion prayer book, a full rosary & a bracelet rosary, and one $2.00 bill.

If I sneeze or if someone else sneezes, I have no immediate particular solution. I’m like a dog chasing its tail, looking round and round for tissue somewhere, somehow.  I have witnessed my husband, on the other hand, reach into his pocket, pull out a crisply folded handkerchief, and use it for the save. In his line of work with patients, I am sure it is more than comforting to have him – without fail – carry an immediate solution to a potential germ crisis.

On the flip side of this coin, I may not be able to circumvent the common household sneeze, but I am able to quickly read the list of names of the Supreme Court justices in order – which happens to be part of the pocket constitution addendum, page 87, seventh edition. I can give guidance on the amendments, offer “Fascinating Facts about Six Founding Fathers,” and help if someone gets stuck reciting the Declaration of Independence. My mini-book is filled to the brim with great stuff to solve all constitutional crises.

However, if traveling on tollways or tipping valets or purchasing a food cart meal, it’s my husband who carries the right stuff. He’s absolutely correct that cash can quickly circumvents calamities. It just does. Need a five, he has a five. Need a ten, he has a ten. Need a twenty, he’s got it. He has all denominations and all combinations of cash and coins too.

He’s always cash rich and I’m always cash poor. Except when it comes to the two dollar bill. That’s my strength. Twenty dollars may cover costs, but a two dollar bill always buys a smile. The two dollar bill buys little, is used little, and is worth little.  But, it’s fun – which I believe is its sole circulation purpose.  No other paper denomination has such crazy-funny power.  And spending a twenty dollar bill is easy, but carrying and spending ten two dollar bills takes a little more courage and thought.  Just try it.  It’s not as simple as it sounds.

Moving on, having possessed my Saint Joseph Children’s Missal since 1964, it is showing severe signs of age. The spine is taped.  The pages are tilted.  And the cover is worn. But, the gentle message inside has the ability to keep me grounded. It’s not a matter of me reading it at a moment of need, just a matter of me being reminded that the world is still in front of me, that I have a group standing with me, and that there is nothing that is impossible when my God is with me.

Likewise is that little ‘to-do’ list that my husband carries. Threaded among the bullet points that remind him to run past the bank or pick up some grocery item are notes that remind him to follow his dreams, to think big and broad, to care for others, and to see the glass half full, not half empty. I only wish I had the fortitude to create and carry such a daily list. He’s got it. I don’t. Nuf’ said.

Then there’s his pen. The purpose of the pen is writing – and the majority of the time that’s what he does with it. But, I have seen him use it to pry things open, to clip something together, and to wedge something apart. He thinks he’s MacGyver.  Always has.  He sees a pen as a tool that happens to contain a little ink. Clogged sink – use the pen. Barefoot and a bug needs to be killed – use a pen. Burgers flaming out of control and spatula is missing – use a pen. There is no problem that the pen can’t solve with a little thought and ingenuity.  In the future, I am hoping to film his uses of the pen to create what I think would be one of the most viral YouTube videos this side of the Mississippi.

Me – my skills with a pen are limited to only those that include paper and writing. If I’m in need of an inventive solution to a difficult problem, I go for the rosary every time. In the short term, the pen might be more successful, but in the long run, the rosary – whole or decade version – may be the best choice.

In the end, the items that we collectively carry are only purposeful to us as individuals. He can’t use my rosary to pray his way out of a sudden sneeze and his handkerchief won’t help me understand the Bill of Rights.

I only hope that my tattered and nearly torn ziplock bag remains in tact for a few more decades. I gotta lot of trouble to explore and I may need its contents.

And I might add a pen for the just in case moments.

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Need a pen?  Or a two dollar bill?  Just ask us.

What We Need

Everyone needs help.  There isn’t one of us alive who – at some time in our lives – won’t rely on help from others.

Clearly, we need help in our youth.  Baby to eighteen is a time when most humans need loving care and support from a variety of individuals starting with parents and ending nowhere in sight.  Caregivers, teachers, neighbors, friends, extended family members – There are just too many individuals to mention, and yes, it does take a village – or as I often call it a boatload of folks all rowing in the same direction – to help one person reach the average and usual milestone of adulthood – which often times stretches well beyond eighteen.

We need help during the middle of our lives.  The help we receive is much different than the diaper-changing, hand-holding, tuck-me-in / keep-me-safe assistance we received in our youth.  Often times, we need that gentle push behind us, telling us that our next steps are okay.

We need to know that there is a safety net – strong and wide – even though we have no intention of using it, hopefully.  We need comfort when we make mistakes.  We need to be reminded to laugh when we want to cry, and to cry when we think we can’t.  We need to know that the village is still there, that it hasn’t left us, but is instead standing with us like a herd of elephants at the ready.

During the end of our lives, from what I can see, we need a substantial amount of help, too.  I have watched far too many parents, aunts, uncles, friends and acquaintances reach a different life milestone, the one that is way beyond that middle part, further to what is that end part.  When facing the end, we need help with almost everything, again.

It seems like we actually need more than the village and the herd.  The needs become so great that it isn’t the number of individuals in the village that matters or the size of the elephants in the herd, rather a combination between the two plus time.  We need the village and herd to offer buckets of time and more buckets of time.  And as the journey of life becomes more and more complicated, we need them to double those time buckets again and again.

Caregiving – at any stage – youth, middle, end – isn’t easy.  We all know that it requires skill, patience, attentiveness, and mental acuity that keeps us one step ahead of the people for whom we offer care.  It also takes great models.

It has been my great fortune to have witnessed some of the best – a friend who cared for her dying brother, offering up nearly a year of her life for his care . . . a brother who opened up his home to my father for months. . . my parents who opened up their home (which was my home, too, at the time) to nearly every relative – young and old – who needed anything for any length of time.

I have watched friends adopt children with disabilities, relatives foster teenagers who lack family and guidance, acquaintances move from their homes and devote portions, and sometimes all, of their lives to the care for those in poverty-striken countries.  One of my cousins just recently and reluctantly detailed his work with a local homeless shelter.  He is out caring for those who can not care for themselves a couple miles from his home.  Impressive.

After a couple of years pondering this particular issue  – I am on the slow but sure train –  I have learned that throughout the time that we are caring for the needs of others, we actually are in need ourselves.  Though our needs as caregivers are quite different from the needs of those requiring the care, we still have needs.

We need time to refresh.  This need is perhaps the most common and the most apparent.  Ask any individual caring for the 0-18 set.  After hours, weeks, months of meeting the needs of youth, even the best of caregivers needs break time, recess for adults, a pause moment.  If this time comes with a little solitude – all the better!  Sometimes it only takes a few seconds, sometimes longer to refresh, but we need to refresh.

Call it a coffee break or a vacation.  Whatever it is called, I am a strong advocate for allowing folks who are going above and beyond in their offering of  service to others . . . time.  I am all for a national holiday that celebrates the efforts of those who so selflessly attend to the needs of others.  Call is Bravo Day – and let everyone helping others rest.  It is such a lovely idea, but of course, impossible to do, because we know that caregiving actually has no holiday.  So much for refreshing!!

We also need some type of confirmation that what we are doing is worthy.  Confirmation is different from refreshing.  All of us can provide confirmation.  That confirmation can emanate from the person receiving the care, from the rest of the village members who are also assisting, or from those who are simply watching from the sidelines.  Regardless of source, we need to know that we are of benefit, that we help, that we make a difference.

Even if we are humble, private or modest, we still need affirmation of our efforts.  That affirmation can be as small as a pat on the back, a wink of the eye, a card in the mail, or an utterance of two very powerful words that can never be used enough.  We need it.

So, thank you.

Thank you to every single person who is doing anything to help anyone else.  Thank you for being great parents.  Thank you for being great friends.  Thank you for taking care of someone who is in need.  Thank you for being part of the village and a member of the herd.  Thanks from the bottom of my heart. Please know that I need you.  We need you.  The world needs you.

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A Moment of Refresh – Missouri Botanical Garden April 2016

 

 

 

The Fine Wine Dine

I can’t explain why.  I really can’t.  All I can say is that the evening stood out.  It was a first among equals night. It was one of those moments . . . a moment that as it happens everyone knows that it is destined to become a memory.

Ten of us had gathered.  All of us were friends.  Each of us had a strong connection to one or more of us. Yet none of us were childhood friends with all of us.  Our interests were diverse – nature, health, the spirit, the spirits, enterprise, numbers, learning, teaching – with a lot of some and a little of others.   We met at twilight – the time of magic between daylight and darkness on a cool crisp mid-winter evening.

Those hosting had planned and prepared and welcomed the rest upon arrival.  Though all of us had seen each other over the past couple of months, our greetings were as if we had not. Handshakes, hugs, kisses, pats-on-the-back, smiles – it was a tete-a-tete for ten that started the evening out perfectly. Again, I can’t explain why, but from the moment our feet crossed the threshold of the door, the aura of the making of a memory began.

Our intent was simple – food and wine and conversation followed by more food and more wine and more conversation.  The emphasis here should be, in particular, on the conversation about the wine, of which there was a great deal, for nine of us were learning from the one of us who was a master in that area.

For this year’s fine wine dine, the table setting included numerous wine glasses which to me looked like birds on a wire – straight, dainty, orderly and whimsical.  In addition, each setting included two black goblets, mysterious in both color and shape.  The first four wine flights to be served at the table had been pre-poured.  So all was ready.

However, like most gatherings, our first moments were spent in the kitchen.  We stood, and mingled, and chatted.  We listened and learned about recent trials and tribulations that occurred in our lives.  We watched as those cooking finalized the meal with brief finishing touches.  We were served our first wine flight coupled with a much appreciated antipasto.  Most importantly, we were pausing our busy lives for something beyond the ordinary. Worked stopped.  Fun ensued.

As we moved out of the kitchen, we soon learned much more about the mysterious black goblets.  Regardless of our viticulture ability – (me, a mere novice) – we were to identify each of the goblet’s contents without the ability to see it.  A better name for this portion of the evening might be the fine blind wine dine, a puzzling, curious challenge that had nine of us laughing on edge.

And laughter kept coming, from beginning to end.  We laughed at our ability or inability as hopeful wine connoisseurs.  We laughed at ourselves, at each other, at our futures, at our days gone by, at everything and anything.  At times, we laughed until we cried. We just laughed.  For hours.  For fun.  With friends.

Hours later, as we all departed, we seemed reluctant to cross over that threshold and head in the opposite direction.  If I had thought about my thoughts at that time, I probably was thinking about my luck – to be with a group of friends for a moment of fun on that mid-winter’s night.

I can’t explain why.  I really can’t, but I am going to try.

Like everyone else, there are twenty-four hours in my day and seven days in my week.  Of those twenty-four hours and seven days, the moments that I can recall are few and far between.  I remember the spectacular – the weddings, the graduations, the holidays, the birthdays, the anniversaries.  I remember the somber – the deaths, the funerals, the illnesses.  Most of my memories revolve around my family who are the individuals with whom I share hours upon hours upon hours of my time.   My mother, God rest her soul, has been gone for many years; yet, I can still hear her calling my name from the days of my childhood.

And somewhere in those memories now sits something a little bit different . . . unusual . . . unique.  It doesn’t involve the spectacular or the somber or my family.  It isn’t something of tradition or tragedy.  It isn’t marked by a date on the calendar or tied to a sibling, an aunt, an uncle or my parents.

It is a moment in my life that I spent with friends, good friends, doing something rather ordinary in an extraordinary way – eating, drinking, laughing, talking – personified.  The exact stories we told and why we laughed . . . I am not sure of it now.  I think it was all funny, but . . . then . . . it could have been the wine speaking.

What I am a little more sure about is the value of good friends.  I may not know my wines (to even the basest level of knowing the difference between red or white wine when placed in a black goblet), but I do know that friends are treasures beyond words.

Lesson learned. Enough said.

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The Mysterious Black Goblets

The Untold Stories of the Word of the Year

“Challenge.  It’s my word for 2015,” she said.

At that moment, for reasons I cannot explain, we knew that the conversation to follow would be memorable.  It was just clear that the four of us had moved from frivolous, fun, no-direction chatter to a much higher, sequential, magical plane.  We were about to discuss life and its importance. And from my vantage point, we weren’t disappointed with what followed.

Her plan was to select one word.  Just one word.  She would use that one word as a guide, a beacon for her journey from January until December.  She offered no additional rules, and asked if we wanted to participate.  Just choose one word and keep a steadfast focus on that word until the end of the year.  We all nodded in agreement.

In less than one week, my three friends had landed on their words: Challenge . . . Change . . . Zen, all intriguing, inspiring, daring, complex choices. But, within the same week,  I was still in some type of holding pattern.  Wordless.

Along with starting off 2015 searching for the right word, it just happened that I had been reading some very interesting writing.  A blog, familiar to me in the year past, was detailing circumstances in countries beyond my experiences.  The topics varied from post to post with what I identified as a golden thread of humanity holding it all together.  I would see the photos and read the words, and quickly my mind was blurring with thoughts.

Suddenly, I had a plethora of potential 2015 word possibilities: free, help, center, food, happy, others, world, poverty, irony, give, get, lost, woman.  The more I read, the more words floated to the top.  Now, my problem was no longer a lack of words; it was finding and selecting the right word from the crowded list.

Hmmm . . . what to do . . . .

Though my friend provided no particular rules, by default there seems to be a couple.  First, the one word that I choose must fit all occasions.  It must be able to balance between moments of distinct joy and happiness as well as moments of considerable pain and sadness.  The word must be able to lead me to new adventures, remind me of the difference between good and evil, give me an anchor when I need it, and allow me to laugh, love, and learn throughout an entire year.  It should be bold, blessed, and at times, comical . . . humorous . . . fun.   It should have an intent.

Even with knowledge and consideration of such rules, the days of 2015 began to pass in rapid succession without me finalizing my pick.  I truly was headed towards a million choices and not the selection of one, floundering in a pile of words, until . . . today.

In an odd moment early this morning, I found my word.  I happened to be walking through a snow-covered field at 7:45am.  It was a quiet moment.  The snow had settled, the morning had no wind, and the hour was too early for any traffic. The sun was peeking over a ridge of barren trees and a lonely bird swooned overhead.  It was a picturesque moment, an outdoor winter splendor.

A Crazy-Funny Winter Moment

A Crazy-Funny Winter Moment

Regardless of the extent of the beauty before me, my attitude was not following in kind.  My feet were cold, my shoes were wet.  The 6+ inches of snow buried the trail for my walk, and each step felt like I was trudging through cement moments before it solidified. My iPod blared out all the wrong music, but with a temperature below zero, I wasn’t about to remove my gloves to change it.  And the struggle in walking through the mounds of snow was causing me to be what I thought was late for my eventual rendezvous with my family – who were all comfortably inside about two miles away.

In that moment, at that time, just as my frustrations were nearly getting the best of me, it happened.  After nearly fifty days and after some interesting thinking on my part, I found that one word that I could hang my hat on for the rest of 2015.  As a matter of course, the one word is actually two, but its essence fits the bill.

So for 2015, I am going with crazy-funny.

For good or for bad, I have a tendency towards the serious side of things.  No doubt, I often see the world as having many challenges and problems.  And I know, deep in my heart,  that I must do all I can to help solve and resolve issues that press at all humans.  I must focus on the greater good at all times, lending all of my talents and treasures to such. It is easy to know that I all should do so.  But it is difficult to follow through with that focus for all of us. –  always.

That’s where my word crazy-funny works for me.

As I seek the greater good, I can see that it is important to laugh – laugh at myself, at life, at the crazy-funny situations that happen each moment.  This morning, I had chosen to walk to my destination through that snow-covered field.  I should have known that the entire experience was going to be nothing more than a crazy-funny circumstance and have expected nothing more.

Once I started to laugh at the strange pickle I was in, (wading through piles of snow with an attitude that was creating a huge weight around my neck), my trek became my pleasure.  It was a classic crazy-funny moment.  It just depended on how I looked at it.  Seeing it as crazy-funny made it so.  Still the same amount of snow, still the same distance, still the same challenges with walking, but it was all different because of the way I interpreted it.

I am hoping that my word choice will allow me  – and force me – to look at my 2015 with a truly different vision. Here’s hoping that I can hold onto the crazy-funny year ahead of me!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nature and History

The view was nothing shy of spectacular.  And it was certainly not what I had expected to see.  I stood quietly with my companions for what can be described as more than awhile – with only the steady clicks of our cameras interrupting the silence.

The day was ending with evening approaching much more quickly than any of us desired.  Soon our tour would be over, and the six of us would be headed back from whence we came.  Thankfully, from beginning to end, the weather had kindly cooperated, offering us a smattering of sunshine, wind, clouds, and rain.  Eighty degrees and balmy would have been ideal, but autumn is a season of surprise when it comes to outdoor conditions, and we were prepared.

In the last of the moments, I still had not come to terms with the landscape surrounding me.  The cliffs were more than beautiful; the water calmly lapping their edge.  A lone bird was swirling back and forth, seeming to have no particular destination.  And it was quiet . . . so quiet.

I thought I was going to see something quite different.  In fact, I was most positive that the experience was going to be one hundred and eight degrees away from what the experience actually was.  Part of my quiet was due to my inability to quickly move from my past expectation to my current reality.

I knew that to visit this site meant that I would be stepping on ground where many – too many to count – had died before me.  I just didn’t know what to expect.  World War II started and ended well before I was born with every subsequent generation since June 6th, 1944 having chronicled the horrific battles that transpired on and near Omaha Beach.  All six of us had studied the history well in preparation.  But, it absolutely did not prepare me.

I saw magnificent colors in the water swells.  I saw green, moss-covered cliffs with auburn, crimson, and turquoise hues.  I saw a blue and white-painted sky with moments of gray pushing towards shore.  I saw serenity, peace,and calm.  I saw majesty.

I listened as our most reverent tour guide spoke about lost lives on Omaha Beach.  He mentioned those who scaled the cliffs in twenty minutes and survived both the climb as well as enemy fire. And he mentioned those who did not survive.  He described the men who exited their boats and headed towards sure-death on the beach.  He described the deafening sounds of that day, as all sorts of explosives were launched from sea to shore and shore to sea.  The more he spoke, the more I realized that all the ground around me – as well as the tiny piece beneath my feet – held the memory of the death of many.  My heart ached – and still does ache – for all of those who died in pursuit of freedom for others including me.

Yet, when I looked out towards the horizon, I saw beauty.  In fact, the nearby rock formations were mesmerizing.  Likewise were the sandy shores and the surrounding vegetation. Here and there were tiny cottages, some vacant, some inhabited, all that clearly had stunning views of the Omaha Beach of today.  There were many memorials to those who had fallen in service to their country seventy years earlier, all of which were impeccably landscaped and maintained.  A scenic coastline, serpentine road cut through the hillside, bringing visitors like me to see and experience the history of the area.

I must admit that I still have not come to terms in any way with Omaha Beach’s unbelievable beauty juxtaposed with the reality of the heightened degree of suffering and death that occurred in the same place.

Perhaps the generations that follow me will offer greater clarity and understanding of how we, as humans, can come to some understanding of the balance between nature and history.  I know for me it is something that I will ponder for much time to come.

The Cliffs of Omaha Beach

The Cliffs of Omaha Beach

39 Years

It was October in Paris, and he asked me if I wanted to take a walk.  It is a question that he has asked me many times in the past, and it is one that I never tire of answering.  With an enthusiastic yes, I grabbed all necessities – including camera – and stepped out onto the street with him.  It was cold and raining, but right away, I knew that I was on another lifetime adventure.  We had no map and no agenda.  We were just out . . . in the city . . . walking . . . to anywhere.

From early morning to late evening, we walked throughout the city – browsing, touring, chatting, pondering, eating, and drinking.  We saw both the glorious and the ordinary – with both sides of that spectrum equally as interesting.  Our feet led us through the inside of famous and not-so-famous museums, through elaborate and not-so elaborate churches, down prominent and nondescript boulevards, and towards both landmarks and unknown hidden gems.

Heading for home at the end of the day, we took a right turn and found ourselves in what can only be described as a park of plenty.  I saw remarkable gardens and teenagers – dressed in preppy school uniforms – playing pick-up games of basketball.  At the edge of a large fountain, which state side we would call a pond, I saw a line of children using sticks to push small sailboats across the water while their parents relaxed nearby reading books.

In the middle of the park I witnessed two men, both dressed in “Jimmy Fallon – I love my tight” pants, playing tennis as if their lives depended on the outcome.  Fifty yards away, I saw an additional ten men, pairing off for friendly yet seemingly fierce chess matches.  And fifty yards from that point, I saw an endless stream of mothers with strollers, infants, and toddlers playing on some of the most extraordinary playground equipment I have ever seen.

But what caught our attention  – as if gardens, tennis, chess, basketball, sailing, reading, and the merry-go-round wasn’t enough – was actually tucked away near the edge of the park. Initially, we were drawn to a bench – more importantly a vacant bench.  We had journeyed for several hours, several miles – all by foot, and as we closed in on the bench, the idea of sitting became more and more appealing.

Had we not sat down, we would not have noticed the rest of the story.

For directly in front of us were two of the most interesting teams of people, playing one of the most interesting games, for what looked like was an interesting mix of both pride as well as a few, no doubt lucrative, side bets.  All of the members on both teams were seemingly old enough to be my parents, with only one of the approximately twenty team members being female.

In the middle of Luxembourg Gardens, these two teams were sparing and jarring over a very competitive game of Boules.  They would toss balls, run to the side of the court, measure the proximity of balls thrown to the stationary ring, and shout out words in their language that needed no translation to be understood in mine.

There were players with their own polishing rags and players wearing specialized shoes and players using pocket play-books to strategize with each other.  The most interesting feature, however, was something that I just had never seen in a park – or anywhere outdoors for that matter. It made me chuckle; it still makes me chuckle.   For sitting just outside the rectangular, rocky playing field was a sturdy, silver, shiny coatrack.

A coatrack. A coatrack.

The day was chilly and wet, but no one was wearing a coat. They were all carefully hanging from the court-side coatrack.   Crazy-funny at its best.

Moments – or an eternity later – we continued our walk.

Like many moments over the past 39 years, neither one of us said a word about what we had just witnessed.  In a relationship, there are many times when words are really pointless.  A look, a smile, a frown, a glance, a wink can convey an entire conversation. Words just lack the power, the ability, the nuances.

I am not sure when we learned the art of not speaking. I am quite sure it wasn’t in our first decade. I do know that as our early years passed, our security in our ability to speak without words has grown.

And in that moment in the park, as we watched twenty people shout and skirmish over a game played by grown-ups tossing balls on a pebble-laden court, with a random coatrack in the background, i knew that I was experiencing a day for the ages.  It is a memory that needs no words, that is memorable, in fact, because of the lack of language – which to me – is nothing shy of awesome.

Soon thereafter, we walked in silence for quite awhile – beyond the Boules courts, the tennis courts, and the chess courts.  I snapped a few more photos, we laughed at the young boy who accidentally fell into the pond chasing his boat, and noticed that the boys in the school uniforms had left for greener pastures.

We, too, did the same, with the silent hope that we will experience more such moments.

The coat rack :-)

The coat rack 🙂

Though I don't know the rules, the game was beautiful.

Though I don’t know the rules, the game was beautiful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Innovation All The Way

J.J. Richardson – an unknown name to me until recently –  must have had a most creative mind. He saw something, knew something, thought something, did something that took innovative imagination to a level unfathomable by me. I have no idea what he did with most of his life. Really, I know little to nothing about him. He lived and died way before my time, and I am sure – like all humans – he had his fair share of successes and failures, ups and downs, positives and negatives.

Though I have never met him and know only a thimble-full about him, what I do know is quite amazing. In fact, as odd as it may seem, I enjoy thinking about his invention, wondering exactly how he came up with it, and pondering just how and when it leapt off the list of innovative devices and into mainstream America. For sometime in 1863, J.J. Richardson invented a tool that I – even with my lack of skills and abilities in all things mechanical – use on a regular basis: the ratcheting socket wrench.

There are many times – with my not so nimble skills – that I reach for the ratcheting socket wrench to solve my woes when working on projects that involve nuts and bolts. It’s a great device – sturdy, dependable, simple, useful. It’s a go-to tool with little to no fanfare – a standard in today’s toolboxes.

Each time I hold the wrench, I wonder about its development. Was Mr. Richardson a home tinkerer who sought solutions to his individual challenges or was he an inventor who set out to improve the functionality of the world way beyond himself? When did he finish his invention?  Did he know that he invented something for the ages? Did he even consider that someone like me would be using his invention 150+ years later?  When he finished developing it, did he celebrate?

And finally, was there a moment when he smiled that smile that combines confidence, hope, panic, fear, and glee all in one?

Innovation is an interesting beast.  And I have been lucky enough to live during a time of significant innovation. I would be remise if I didn’t mention the high-tech innovations of my time: the internet, computers, cellphones, the rocket ship, email, texting, wifi, the digital camera.  But, I would be even more remise if I didn’t consider the lesser innovations that may have had equal impact on my life with less notoriety: plastic paint buckets with pourable spouts, self-rising flour, perma-press clothes, contact lenses, power washers.

Innovation isn’t only an interesting beast because it has made my life easier.  My interest in innovation stems from something much different.  Though I am 57 years into it, I am still looking for my role and responsibility with innovation. My search has been on for many years.  It is the quest of my life time, a chase that is worth the effort because it is simply fun. I am looking for something that most likely has no end.  With that said . . .

I am almost certain, though not positive yet, that my role with innovation doesn’t sit on the inventor side.  Not sure.  I  have high hopes that one day in the future I will join J.J. Richardson or Tim Burners-Lee or Ruth R. Benerito and invent whatever it is that sets a new course for the world at large, but I don’t think that is the focus of my talents.  I know several folks who are set to do so – youngsters, much younger than I with brilliant minds, and I am banking on their abilities to do so.

I am almost certain, though not positive yet, that my role with innovation doesn’t sit on the inventor-patron side.  Not sure. I have high hopes that one day in the future, I will join the Scientific American Patent Agency or Berkshire Hathaway or Eli Lilly or NCSA and underwrite whoever it is who is inventing the next greatest innovation that reverses whatever tide needs to be reversed and rights whatever wrong needs to be righted. I know several folks and groups of folks who are set to do so, not necessarily young, but certainly those with financial wherewithal,  and I am banking on their desire to do so.

For me, I am certain, actually fairly positive already, that I do have a role with innovation – a significant one, a necessary one, one that I enjoy and find myself entwined monthly, weekly, if not daily. It is within this area of innovation that I have high hopes that my talents fit.  My slot doesn’t exactly call for me to have that brilliant mind nor does it require finances beyond my means and dreams.  It does, however, require action and continued attention on my part.

I think my role is to encourage, to mentor, to be enthused.  My role is to do the fancy-pants-dance when others share their innovative thoughts and ideas with me.  My role is to be genuinely thrilled and supportive as I listen to whatever out-of-the-box idea I hear.  My role is to say yes-yes-yes when everyone else around the most brilliant mind may be saying no-no-no.  It is also my role to help those on the go with innovation navigate whatever waters they find challenging.

On the surface, my role may seem slight.  But I have witnessed all too many times the demise of tremendous innovation due to lack of that spiritual support that helps to move crazy great ideas beyond conceptualization.  I am a firm believer that everyone needs to hear that their ideas are worthy, more importantly they need to be shielded from hearing that their ideas are unworthy.

I know that one day someone will invent an invisibility cloak, a Jetson flying car, a wheelchair that never fails, and a cure for all cancers.  And while these innovations are in progress, I am going to faithfully fulfill my role of being an enthusiast-extraordinaire. After all, it’s my role!

An Innovation from my past.  Some may call it a board with jar lids attached.  I call it the ceiling tool bench organizer.  Simply fill jars with items like nails or screws and attach jars to the appropriate lid.  Voila - organized and stored.

An Innovation from my past. Some may call it a board with jar lids attached. I call it the ceiling tool bench organizer. Simply fill jars with items like nails or screws and attach jars to the appropriate lid. Voila – organized and stored.