April showers will bring college admissions decisions this week and although “fat envelopes”-filled with roommate selection, immunization and myriad other forms-have been replaced by lengthy emails with links, the elation and sadness remain constant across generations. Thin envelopes still represent “we had too many qualified applicants.” Fat envelopes remain the door to a world of possibilities.
Also unchanged is the tendency for second semester seniors to pay less attention to their studies. These kids have been admitted to college. Why would they study? Are you kidding? The only reason these kids ever learned anything in the first place was so they could get a good grade so they could go to college. You don’t put a dollar in a coke machine because you want to watch the sun set. It’s commerce.*
My buddy, Daniel, is hoping to beat his time from last year at the Fakahatchee 50 kilometer race this Saturday. In 2012, Daniel took just over six hours. I am also hoping to beat my time from last year of minor medical emergency.
With my spatial abilities, I easily can, and frequently do, become lost in my own home. It therefore came as no surprise that I got lost in the Everglades. Daniel and I and the 87 other runners were supposed to follow the orange ribbons tied to overhanging tree branches and fluttering from stakes in the ground along the course. But at some point the orange ribbons had apparently gone for coffee and my intrepid party and I took a few wrong turns. “A few” wrong turns in the sense that Noah is said to have seen “a few” rain drops.
It’s hard to imagine how he did it, but in order to avoid burdening his family with difficult end of life decisions that would have ensued from his prolonged illness, my good friend Dan Scharfman died last night. As his undergraduate room mate and friend of 35 years put it, “A gentleman to the end.” Without higher order cognitive functions, Dan was still more thoughtful that anyone I've ever met or am likely to meet. It would have been hard for his family to determine when to take Dan off life support. So he spared them the trouble. He left us peacefully last night, January 20th, 2013.
At 55 years of age.
A good man. Gone too soon.
Think back to the last time you heard a Really Loud Noise.
Was the Really Loud Noise a truck backfiring? How far is the nearest road? Could a sound have traveled that distance? Is it the Fourth of July? New Year's Eve? Could the Really Loud Noise have been a fire cracker? Was the Really Loud Noise a gun shot? Where are the children? Are they indoors? Are the children safe?
All these thoughts--trucks, holidays, fireworks, guns, children--went through your head in a split second. But split that split second into many parts and here's what happened way before all those thoughts sprinted through your awareness: your body reacted. Before you had started to analyze what the Really Loud Noise was or whether or not the Really Loud Noise actually represented danger, you were startled; your heart rate went up; your senses were heightened, you started to breath faster.
Dr. Coleman hit the ground like a sack of potatoes and did not move. An instant before, he had been doing well enough--to my untrained eye--in the fighting portion of his brown belt test, but now he lay inertly on the floor of the ballet studio that served--on Tuesday and Thursday nights--as a dojo. I was tempted to go to Dr. Coleman's aid, but there were actual medical professionals in the class of a dozen students watching the "kumite," so I remained sitting uncomfortable on my ankles.
After a few seconds, our teacher looked up from his notes. Motioning to one of the other doctors in the class--our group seemed to be weighted heavily with health care professionals--he asked, "Is he dead?"
"Then move him out of the way."
Contrast the above scene with the following--admittedly brutally insensitive--joke: A mother is carrying her 12 year-old son from a limousine to the door of a five-star hotel. "What a shame he can't walk," says the doorman."
Following is a gentle guide to help you determine when it is appropriate to make a comment and when it might be better to keep your thoughts to yourself.
1) "Teachers should be compensated based on the test scores of their students."
You get to remark about compensation for teachers only if you have taught in an overcrowded classroom of recent immigrants with limited English proficiency. If you put in 180 days with 35 children in a classroom built for 22; if you were able to help those students overcome the fact that there are no books in their homes nor quiet places to study; if you have dealt with children with un-diagnosed learning differences in the same class with children with attentional issues; if you facilitated high test scores for these children yourself, then you get to comment.
If, on the other hand, the closest you have come to a school is remembering what it was like to go to one some years ago, then you get to hush.
2) "People should speak English."
There is nothing more important than my child being Number One. It's not about skills; it's about place value. Unfortunately, I've been going about the business of making my child Number One all wrong. Fortunately, I now know what to do to ensure that my child is Number One from now on.
Previously, to ensure that my child was Number One, I helped her by making sure she was studying constantly and by doing her homework for her. When the homework got too difficult and time consuming for me, I hired tutors to do her homework and write her papers. I also had to make sure that my child understood the work so that she could do well on exams. When my child would try to fall asleep after five or six hours of studying with her tutors, I would poke her and slap her to keep her alert and attentive. Of course, I also prepared her snacks high in carbohydrates to keep her focused. When these foods didn't work efficiently, I gave my child amphetamines and an intravenous glucose solution.
Sometimes it seems that the stars align and I get just the information I need just when I need it.
Stated another way, when the student is ready, the teacher appears.
I've been having some trouble with my heroes lately. It turns out that one of the people whom I greatly admired is not just a cheater and a liar, but also a bully. And if intimidating his fellow athletes wasn't enough, it turns out that rather than fessing up to his misdeeds, he "doubled down" each time the authorities were on his tail and coerced his team mates to be silent as well.
I loved this guy, trusted him and believed in him. Before I found out what a psycho he is. Admittedly, I was naive, but I just could not accept the evidence before it was conclusive. Besides, he looked us in the eye and told us that he was clean.
One of my running buddies is, by any objective measure, absurdly successful. He is blissfully happy in his personal life with a supportive, accomplished, well-spoken wife. They are that rare couple who met young, fell hopelessly in love, have been happily married forever, and now have three adolescent children whom they adore. Professionally, Ben is the CEO of a company with over a hundred stores across the country. As a boss, he is capable, thoughtful, and insightful. Ben's employees worship him; his board of directors likes him; his competitors admire him. He has wicked business skills--he can read a balance sheet from across the room; he knows when to open a new store and when to close one; he has enough knowledge and information to sense incipient trends in his industry before they happen.
But he can't do tenth grade math.
Sixteen year-old Paula is unhappy at her rehabilitation facility in California.
She was happier last year before ending up in treatment. She was happy when she was running away from home, getting into cars with strange adult men, staying away for days at a time, binge drinking, and using IV drugs.
Paula has been making some slow progress in treatment. OK, let's be honest: she's barely making any progress at all. She doesn't "get it," that drugs were destroying her life, that her future outside of treatment was time limited, that the issue was not "if" but "when" something truly terrible happened. (By this high standard of truly terrible, her STD doesn't even make the list.)