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.

We Are Many Parts

As I glanced around the room, I felt that time had finally stood still.  All of us had obviously changed, grown, aged, but none of that change seemed to matter.  It was clear that many years had rolled by us, but somehow we were collectively channeling back to what had been such a glorious time in our lives.  We were chatting, laughing, gabbing, and smiling with each other as if we hadn’t missed a moment, as if we hadn’t aged.

There was plenty of food, lots of drink, and a band that beat all bands.  The weather was stunning, the setting was appropriate, and the cost was a drop-in-the-bucket of what it should or could have been. Our conversations were incredible – bringing forth the best in all of us.  It was an evening for the ages as the 1974 graduating class of St. Thomas Aquinas High School had reconvened in full force to celebrate its fortieth anniversary – in style.

We danced, we drank, and we ate.  More importantly, we talked.  Denise become a grandmother three times over earlier in the day.  Jerry traveled to Italy with his entire family.  D’Anne found a bottle of wine with our high school name on it.  Bought it and brought it, of course.  Viv sang with the band.  Larry had rehabbed a house. We all sat and listened to the stories of our lives, and learned a great deal about the actions and activities that had happened over four decades.

I initially thought that what kept us together was that we graduated from the same place many moons ago.  We all attended a Catholic co-educational high school, with rules out the ying-yang, faculty whose behavior today may have been cause for alarm, classes that challenged us to the bone, and tuition that forced our parents to sacrifice.  It was a tough school, whose primary goal wasn’t to produce students who scored well on standardized tests.  Nor was its main purpose to ensure steady and successful transitions to college and or employment.  As a youngster, I didn’t really know why it existed.

I do now.

St. Thomas Aquinas taught us to care.  I listened to story after story from my classmates about my classmates finding themselves in situations that required caring and self-less attitudes and actions.  Folks volunteering to help newborns and their mothers.  Men and women reaching out and helping relatives in any way possible,  moving moms, dads, aunts, and uncles into their homes if necessary.  Classmates participating in fundraising activities and, in general, looking out for those who can not do so for themselves.

St. Thomas Aquinas taught us to think.  We studied algebra, chemistry, world religions.  But, we learned to problem solve, critically think, innovate.  It wasn’t about ensuring that we would forever and a day be able to remember and use the Pythagorean Theorem.  It  was ensuring that we could and would create a successful life for ourselves and our families.  At the reunion, there were folks who had recently retired, who had started new jobs, opened their own companies, raised successful families, and in general, used their wits to live glorious lives. Everyone had different narratives, but all of them seem to indicate lives worth living and lives lived to the fullest.

St. Thomas Aquinas taught us to be accepting.  And on this one, I was most surprised for the 1970s weren’t necessarily a time where people embraced differences.  In fact, differences were often shunned.  But somehow, the Class of ’74 seemed to have pushed beyond the past.  The 80+ people gathered for the reunion were quite different from each other.  No two characters were alike.  But, we – forty years later – were capitalizing on those who were unique – which was everyone – and details on that which made us different, not on that which made us the same.

Learning to care, learning to think, learning to accept are topics for the ages.

To me, these topics are just as relevant today as they were in 1974.  High school students have an inherent tendency to focus more on self than others.  Placing them in settings where they are forced to put others first does build that first needed foundation for caring.

And teaching students to think is a learning gift – a gem. My high school used quirky and unconventional methods in this area, but they worked.  Classroom days built on the pursuit of learning about learning will build a society of great thinkers.  Class of 1974 – case in point.

Finally, the trilogy is complete when students are taught to accept.  There are so many paths that lead high school students towards the low road of non-acceptance.  It can be a time of either fearing those who are different or fearing being different.  I hope – and pray – that those who are leading learning in today’s American high schools, much like those who did so at my high school, figure out ways to encourage students to becoming people who thrive on the differences in others.

At the end of the evening, I had hoped that I would have a memorable take-away.  I thought it would have been something more comical, something that may have happened throughout the event that raised eye-brows and caused chuckles.  Perhaps something that involved some kind of excess and the police.  Something to take me back to my high school days – and the moments when we broken the rules just enough to surprise, but not enough to cause concern.

Not the case.  My thanks to all my caring, thoughtful, and accepting classmates from STA 74.

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St. Thomas Aquinas 1974