Tuesday, March 8, 2011

What the evidence tells me

I've been in an email conversation with an old high school friend of mine lately. She still lives in Pennsylvania, where we first became friends, so we don't get to see each other very often.

When my atrial fibrillation was revealed to me last week, she informed me that she's gone through two heart-related episodes of her own in the past two years that required immediate attention. That was shocking to me — she's just a year older than I am and always seemed to be in excellent health.

Somewhere in the correspondence we became both retrospective and introspective. She noted that sometimes she looks back on her life (she was a special education educator and is now retired) and wonders if she'd change anything. She said she wouldn't even if she could. I'm glad.

But that conversation prompted an old issue for me. I was a sports writer for 30 years and at times wondered what was it that I was doing to make a difference. I mean, really. Sports writing. Even in the newspaper business, sports writing is often referred to as "the toy department" of journalism.

My father was at various times in his life a Moravian minister and a public school English teacher; I have one younger brother who is a registered nurse; another younger brother works for Head Start in Alaska. Many of my friends, curiously enough, are educators or theologians. My wife is a professional secretary (the backbone of any business) and a caregiver to her elderly parent. I don't have to look far to see the difference makers around me.

As a bachelor, I tried to compensate for this perceived void in my life by sponsoring a Navajo Indian child through Save The Children, figuring if nothing else, I had made this one contribution. I did that for about 10 years (until he turned 18), and even now, I still feel pretty good about it.

Now there's bits and pieces of my own retired career occasionally popping back up like long-lost cold case crime scene clues. The two most recent instances occurred within hours of each other the day of my hospitalization.

The woman who wheeled me to my room after I was admitted said my name sounded familiar to her, even though I was sure I'd never met her before. Turns out that I had written a story about her son, 25 years ago, who had qualified for a statewide athletic event in Special Olympics. She thanked me for it. How could she possibly remember, or care, that I had written that story a quarter of a century ago?

A few hours later, an echocardiogram technician arrived to do a sonogram of my heart. In the conversation that ensued, it turned out her husband is recovering from leukemia. I asked her last name, she told me, and I replied that I once covered a very good high school baseball player with that name back in the 1980s, and are you related? "He's my husband," she said. Knock me over with a feather (actually, not hard to do right then). She said they kept all the newspaper clippings from all those years ago.

So what do I make of this residue that actually might be some empirical evidence of the impact of my career, and perhaps of my life?

I'm thinking that as we make our way along our journey we leave behind little deposits of ourselves bobbing in our wake. Those deposits mingle and interact with the countless layers of others, some who become our friends and others who remain acquaintances, influencing us, guiding us, poking us, molding us, just as we do to them. Some of this contact may be instantaneous; some remains dormant for years, maybe even decades.

And maybe it is this point of contact where the difference making lies.

Some mood music:

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