Almost a year ago I came across an article in the New York Times digital addition that caught my eye. It encouraged readers to “share your story” and “life lessons,” perhaps to provide some wisdom for students graduating that spring.
I have long believed that every adult – particularly in my generation – has led an interesting life; so I’ve frequently encouraged friends to record their experiences for the benefit of their children and grandchildren. Anyway, I decided to respond to this article in hopes of reading about the lessons learned by others.
I’ll get to my little story shortly, but I decided to start at a much earlier time with this blog because I believe the following event – and a later event – have significance too.
Shortly after doing the cap and gown bit at my Florida high school I had a chance meeting with a classmate, Ted, who I only knew because we had been in the school chorus together. At the time I was pumping gas and greasing cars part time at a two-pump filling station near my parents’ home. I had no clue about my future, except that it wouldn’t include college in the fall.
Ted was excited about a career development meeting he had recently attended where an FBI agent talked about clerical jobs with the Bureau in Washington, D.C. This piqued my interest too and together we decided to visit the local FBI office to learn more. We were in casual clothes so the agent gave us an application and told us to come back properly dressed for an interview.
That second meeting led to a 300-mile drive for another interview at the FBI Field Office in Miami and in September 1957, Ted and I took off for the nation’s capital in his 1952 Chevy, eager to start our first real job.
Fast forward a few years to the story I submitted to the NYT, along with my “life lessons”:
In 1960 I was a 20-year-old accounting clerk working for the FBI in Washington, D.C. and attending night classes at George Washington University. My objective was to become a special agent. One afternoon a co-worker walked by my desk and casually asked if I intended to take the test for a job in the Bureau’s computer department. My high school math grades weren’t all that good but this seemed like a great opportunity for advancement so I eagerly applied for the challenge.
The test was an exercise in logic, but my experience taking college exams helped me get a qualifying score. This quickly led to a transfer and a promotion. So, a chance encounter and a simple decision put me on the ground floor of a burgeoning technology where I learned to program some of the first IBM mainframe computers.
Life lessons: Be open to every opportunity that comes your way. One might just turn out to be a dramatic life changing event. And remember, hard work and perseverance are omnipotent.
Fast forward a few more years.
It was New Year’s Eve, 1964; a loud party of young government workers was going strong in the large, dimly lit basement of an old, three-story home in Alexandria, Virginia. I was leaning against a musty brick wall, drinking a beer and trying to chat with a friend. Couples were twisting away with Chubby Checker and the volume of the music made normal conversation almost impossible.
The bare wooden stairs descending from the main floor were directly in front of me – illuminated by a single light bulb dangling on a cord from the ceiling. All of sudden, a beautiful young lady in a lime green sweater and matching slacks stepped into this light. I was in pursuit before she reached the dancefloor – a totally unusual reaction for me.
We danced a few times, mostly the twist, and I asked for her phone number. She refused my advances and later left the party with some girlfriends well before midnight. Normally, I would have forgotten about this rebuff or assumed that I might see her again at one of the frequent weekend parties I attended. At the time I had a challenging job as a computer programmer and was totally focused on the college classes I was attending almost every weekday night.
But I was smitten. I had her name and perseverance prevailed. Soon I had her phone number and arranged our first date. We became engaged on her 22nd birthday in March.
When I think about how we might never have met that night, or maybe ever, it simply boggles my mind. She had been stood up by the guy she was dating; I could have attended any of several parties to welcome the New Year of 1965. Still, I don’t believe in fate or that we were predestined to meet. Each of us is occasionally presented with an opportunity that may not seem all that significant when it occurs. Our New Year’s Eve encounter was one of those. Yet, it’s how we react that can make all the difference in our future.
Next month, this lovely lady and I will celebrate our 55th wedding anniversary.
Life lessons for today: Dwell on pleasant memories; they will sustain us. Be open for opportunities to promote truth, justice and civility; they are pillars of our democracy. And above all, keep persevering. Better times will surely result.