Saturday, February 1, 2014

It's the little things

I don't really know where the idea came from, but the other day I kept thinking about these small moments in my life that had such an out-sized impact on my life.  We experience millions of these tiny moments and most fade in our memory often without even a second thought.  Others experienced these similar things, but without any impact on their lives.  But, for me, these seven moments lasted, they led to other bigger moments and eventually changed the course of my life.  Looking back, these were the first steps of what became long, meaningful paths in my life.  

The Next Door Neighbor

As a child I lived in a middle class neighborhood in Omaha, Nebraska, filled with families with kids.  There were the Rossos on the corner.  BJ and Sharene down the block, Amber and Shea up the block.  The Petersons across the street.  My best friend Tyler a block up the hill.  And, of course, we knew all these neighborhood kids in that way that only happens when you are a kid - when you play with whoever is nearby.  Climbing trees.  Hide n' Seek.  The occasional block party.  But none of those neighbors, not even Tyler, had as much impact on my life as our next door neighbors, the Miles.

I'll be perfectly honest, I barely remember the family.  I believe Ronnie was a few years older than me and he always seemed a bit odd.  They moved out of their house a few years before we moved.  But, in 1992, Mr. Miles called up my dad to see if he might be interested in taking over the restaurant at the Elks Club in Shenandoah, IA, where Grandpa Miles lived.  It piqued my dad's interest and he took a trip to Shenandoah to look at the place.  He turned down the Elks Club, but later said yes to the American Legion.  Moving to Shenandoah, which I detested at the time, had more impact on my life than probably any other decision in my childhood.  And that never would have happened without a phone call from our old next-door neighbors.

The Client

I always loved to read.  Maybe it was the free pizza you got when you finished the Pizza Hut Book It challenge (which I always finished in the first week or so).  I still remember some of my favorite books as a kid.  Encyclopedia Brown, The Bearenstein Bears, The Great Brain series, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad Day, and of course, the Choose Your Own Adventure series (which after choosing my adventures a few times, I'd read cover to cover for fun.  I was a weird kid).

But one of the books that really sticks in my memory is one of the first adult books I ever read - John Grisham's The Client.  I remember my mom had read it and then passed it on to me.  I think she thought I'd  like reading about the kids in the book (despite the messed-up stuff that happens to those kids).  Wikipedia tells me the book was published in 1993 and the movie was released in 1994, so I know I read it somewhere around 5th or 6th grade.  I devoured this book.  Adult fiction was so much better than kid's fiction.  From that moment on, I stopped perusing children's books.  While my friends read R.L. Stein, I read Michael Crichton, Stephen King and Grisham.  Just as important, this book first introduced me to the idea of being a lawyer.  I loved (okay love) the idea of a career where you can get paid for being cleverer than someone else.  I always knew that pre-teen detectives like Encyclopedia Brown didn't really exist, but lawyers were real.  That book (and let's face it, everything else Grisham wrote before I was 20) really turned me on to being a lawyer.

Johanna from Switzerland

I think her name was Johanna.  I think she was from Switzerland.  If I am wrong, my family will correct me on both accounts.  I knew this girl for less than 72 hours.  Yet she changed my life.  When I was in 7th or 8th grade, Shelley came home from high school and asked my parents if we could host an exchange student for a weekend.  Shenandoah was hosting a departure orientation for all the AFS students in the region.  Without remembering the conversation in the slightest (if I was even consulted), I can tell you my dad originally didn't like the idea, but eventually relented.  We had a pleasant weekend, I'm sure, but I don't remember a thing about it.  I could not pick this girl out of line up to save my life.

So how did she change my life?  Sometime before she left America, she recommended to AFS that my family would be a good host family.  AFS later contacted us to see if we would be willing to host a student for a year.  We eventually agreed to host Marta, which opened all of our eyes to international travel in a way we had never considered.  Two years later, I moved to Italy for six months.  Then we hosted Tobi.  I went back to Italy twice and then Spain and Ireland and Belize and now Germany.  All of this from some girl named Johanna (I think) from Switzerland (I think).

The Free Application

How did you pick your college?  Maybe your parents or your sister went there.  Perhaps you love their football team.  The campus is gorgeous.  It's close to home.  It's far away from home.  It's a party school and sunny 300 days a year (*cough* Katie *cough*).  They have the major that you want.  It's cheap.  It's an Ivy.  Everyone picks a college for a different reason.

My choice of college really started with a simple concept - a free application.  I don't know if you remember your junior year of high school, but every day you are bombarded with college brochures and letters.  I literally got at least one a day and usually more.  I dutifully read through the pamphlets and I had my favorites and I had schools I didn't like, but almost all of them had something in common.  It cost you $40 to apply.  I had to work eight hours to earn that much money.  So, one day, when some school I had never heard of offered me a free application, I took them up on it.  They accepted me and offered me a scholarship.  Eventually they made me an offer I couldn't refuse and that is how I ended up at Truman State - one of the best decisions I ever made.

The Fictional Diplomat

One of the authors that I devoured in high school and college was Tom Clancy.  I loved his books of political intrigue, and I loved Jack Ryan - a character who was good and decent and also, almost always right.  He outsmarted his foes in tough situations.  But, my life was actually changed by a secondary, or probably more accurately, a tertiary character in the books.  (The character literally has no wikipedia page).

Throughout the series, particularly in the later years, the State Department is represented in the books by a character named Scott Adler.  He was often depicted as the diplomat version of Jack Ryan.  His career mirrored Ryan's and they crossed paths regularly.  This was the first time I ever really learned about the State Department.  The first time I saw being a Foreign Service Officer as a career that people could actually do.  We know how that worked out.

The $2.99 App

I've been fat my entire life.  I was a fat kid, I was a fat teenager.  I was fat in college, I was fat in law school.  I wasn't fat because I was lazy - although I was, in fact, lazy.  I was fat because I didn't know how to not be fat.  I had tried working out or eating better a number of times, but lifestyle changes are hard and are scary.  I think that's what many people don't realize - how scary it is to try to change your life.  The fear of failure and the lack of experience that increases the likelihood of that failure is almost paralyzing.

That is what made that $2.99 app so valuable.  I cannot recommend enough the Run 5K app.  Where I had failed in exercising before was trying to do too much.  I pushed my body too far too fast and I couldn't keep up.  My body would give up quickly and my initiative and courage would soon follow.  That is what makes the Run 5K so great.  It pushes you just enough to make it hard, but not so hard that you can't do it.  On the first day, you run for 30 seconds and then walk for 90 seconds.  It slowly increases those intervals and each time you think, "I can't do that", but you can.  Before you know it, you run a 5k race, and then a 8k, and a 10 miler, a half marathon, and then a marathon.  Best $2.99 I've ever spent.

OK Cupid

It's how I met Sara.


So what are the little things that have changed your life?

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Al! Your inclusions have reawakened in me lots of little things...memories...from the time when you were a student here at SHS. I'll always remember that you were one of five "middle schoolers" who were thrust into the only 9th grade language arts class I ever had the displeasure of teaching. It was you "young geniuses" and a group of 14-year olds who many had labelled as "most likely to one day become gang members. Remember that?