On the occasion of my 66th birthday I think about all the things I’ve witnessed over that time – compared to what I see now and for the forseeable future. How to appreciate the journey, and the destination.
I turn 66 years old today, February 26, and I’m thankful to be here.
Not just for the privilege of life itself, but for the opportunities afforded me throughout the journey of life. I’ve seen a few things. I’ve done a few things. Heard a few. And probably…overachieved!
Ray Zawadzki used that term last Saturday in describing his Troy Christian basketball team this year – 20 wins, a school record for defensive efficiency, and a bond amongst its members that in his eyes was truly admirable. And it made me think about the things that we all take for granted during the course of our lives…and how we really don’t take the time to appreciate things that not only sustain us, but make us strive to do more, because someone said we could.
Zawadzki’s a great basketball coach, and a good man. I know that because he learned from another good man – his dad, Ray, Sr. His relationship with his players often reminds me of my own relationship with a man that I grew up with in baseball, my high school coach, Jim Hardman. Not that I had a close relationship with Hardman, because I didn’t. We became much better friends long after I played for him.
But Hardman taught me something about myself during my years with him at Piqua that I didn’t realize – that once you learn you can do something you didn’t think possible, there’s no limits after that.
And that’s been the story of my life. I’ve done a lot of things that no one ever thought possible when I was in seventh grade at rural Windsor Junior High School, on ‘Greasy Ridge’, in Lawrence County, in 1965. There were 17 of us in that class, and only seven of us remain. The others became victims of work accidents, cancer, suicide…and one was shot in a robbery attempt at a grocery. I heard later that he was just going to the store to buy toilet paper. A crappy scenario when you think about how you’re going to die.
None of those ten ever had a Jim Hardman in their life, or even a Don Flynn, my high school language arts teacher. I often wonder, because I know if there had been someone like that they would have had a better life. They might even still be here!
One of my favorite tunes is Sinatra’s recording of It Was A Very Good Year, because it very closely chronicles the passage of everyone’s life. I look back now with much of the same perspective that Frank sang about in that song. Your ideals, your goals, and your appreciation changes with life and the experiences that shape you. That which was so important when I was 21 isn’t important at all, anymore. You look back at the last 50 years, and we’ve all taken so much for granted. Now, all that matters is the aches in your back, your hips, and knees.
I’ve grown to wonder over the years…why we act the way we do, because I grew up very naively in those hills of southern Ohio. I watched basketball over the weekend and one team was wearing T-shirts that read, “Hate Will Never Win”. And I thought to myself…I never knew there WAS hate until I became an adult. The point being, if there is an innocence to being young, wouldn’t it be better not to live so long – to grow old?
When we landed on the moon in the 60s I remember my uncle, Armour Simpson, saying that we had no business of doing that. He allowed that it would lead to a day when we would fear annihilation from sources we didn’t suspect…because everyone would someday conquer outer space. “I’ve lived too long,” I remember him saying. He didn’t believe in over-achieving, you might say. Today, that’s exactly what we fear with nuclear threats from our enemies. Good thing he never saw Dr. Evil, and Austin Powers movies, huh?
I grew up with guns, hunting, and shooting tins cans with a .22 rifle for fun, and never thought there would be a day when someone would walk into a school and kill 17 people…because they were angry from being bullied, or mentally incompetent. Back then they sent people like that to the sanitarium in Athens, Ohio and they were never heard from again. Today, we pretend that they’re just misunderstood.
If I could change some things, I would. Deep down, we all would. But because of men like Ray Zawadzki and Jim Hardman, I’ve learned to appreciate that achievement comes in different ways, and in different forms. What you learn today is only the beginning of something better that you can learn tomorrow. And when believe that…there is no such thing as “over-achieving”. I’ve learned that we’re all capable of doing so much better.
Thank you Frank…for another good year!