My life changed when I read Dr. Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning for the first time. Dr. Frankl’s work inspired my dissertation and changed how I viewed life. When my wife died, I turned to Frankl’s work and sought to find meaning in my personal tragedy. I found a path when I reread his book and focused on his words, “What is life asking of you?” I knew I had to answer the question if i was to move on. It is a question I pose to you, “What is life asking of you?”
You’ve got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail. ~ Charlie Parker
“Dinner’s ready,” called Nick’s mom from the kitchen.
Nick’s stomach was doing flips the moment he walked into his house. A sweet aroma filled the house from his mom’s homemade spaghetti sauce. He loved the smell. All he had to eat since breakfast were the apple and candy bar Johnny gave him. He put his laptop to sleep and went to the kitchen. His dad and mom and two sisters were waiting for him.
Nick grinned, “Sorry, I learned how to do a really tough calculus problem today. I had a breakthrough. For the first time I understand this stuff.”
His dad broke into a wide smile and said, “I want to hear more. Mom is going to say grace tonight.”
Nick, his sisters, and his mom and dad joined hands and bowed their heads. His mom prayed, “Thank you Lord for this meal. Thank you for the people who grew and harvested the tomatoes for the sauce. Thank you for our health. Thank you for Nick’s math breakthrough, and please let Tony’s interview go well tomorrow. Amen.”
The family made the sign of the cross then Nick said, “Dad, you have an interview tomorrow?”
“I didn’t want to say anything, but you know mom, she’s not shy about praying,” said Nick’s dad.
“Well? What is it?” Asked Nick.
Nick’s dad twirled the spaghetti around his fork and put it in his mouth, he chewed it and swallowed and took a sip of red wine. He placed his glass down and said, “This is crazy. I walked down to the coffee shop this morning to give mom some space. I got a small cup of coffee and sat down. Freddy O’Leary sees me and takes his coffee over and we start talking. Little by little I tell him the whole story. Freddy tells me the director of the town’s youth recreation position is open. I told him I don’t qualify. He says I qualify because I coach youth soccer, youth basketball, and youth baseball. He says I’m perfect for the job. I went to the Recreation Department and filled out an application. I beat the deadline by an hour. I got a call an hour ago. I have an interview tomorrow.”
Nick and his sisters got up from the table and went to their dad and hugged him. His dad loved to be hugged. Nicks mom watched the love her children were giving their dad and wiped away tears from her eyes.
After Nick and his sisters sat down, his dad said, “There are four other people they’re interviewing. It’s not a sure thing.”
Nick said, “Dad tell them not to show up, you’re going to do great.”
“Yah! Said his sisters in unison.
Nick’s dad said, “Tell us about your calculus breakthrough.”
Nick told his mom and dad and sisters about meeting Johnny Balboni in the alley. He told them how Johnny gave him an apple and candy bar. Then he told them how Johnny taught him calculus in a way he could understand it.
Nick’s dad said, “It doesn’t surprise me.”
Nick said, “It doesn’t?”
“No, Johnny came to the US with his parents when he was 14. He graduated from high school by the time he was 16. He was brilliant. He had a full scholarship to the best engineering school in the world, MIT. By the time he was 20 years old he had his masters degree. He stayed at MIT and worked on all kinds of projects. He never married, his work became his life. He never made a big deal about his career, he was always a regular guy when you’d see him. I think it was when he was fifty. He was in a car accident. They thought he was going to die. He had severe injuries. He was never the same after that. He never went back to MIT. He began to drift around and soon became what he is today.”
“He wants me to see him tomorrow, he’s going to work with me some more,” said Nick.
“Do it, Nick. It will be as good for him as it will be for you,” said his dad.
“Johnny told me to never give up,” said Nick.
“That’s good advice for you and for me, Nick,” said his dad.
Will Nick’s dad get the job? Will Nick do well on the SATs in three days? Will Johnny’s mind get better
Mr. Durlo, the calculus teacher, used his extended pointer and pointed to the screen. “Any questions on how we arrived at this answer? Nick, you look like you’re someplace else. Do you understand the thinking we used to get this answer?”
Nick knew Mr. Durlo was right. His mind was on his dad. It was on Johnny Balboni. It was on the SATs that he’d take on Thursday. It was on everything but this class.
“I understand, Mr. Durlo,” said Nick.
Nick knew he didn’t understand, but didn’t want to embarrass himself. In one more minute the bell would ring to end class. It would be time for lunch. He was going to sit with Cara and ask her to go over the calculus problem with him. He glanced at her, but she didn’t glance back.
The bell rang, Nick stood up and walked to the front of the class and waited for Clara. The class slowly emptied. Clara remained at her desk. When Mr. Durlo and all the students were out of the room except for she and Nick, Clara said, “We need to talk, Nick.”
Clara pointed to a desk next to her. Nick’s stomach hurt. He knew Clara and knew her voice. Her voice this time was filled with seriousness. Nick had a feeling if this were a movie it was not going to have a happy ending. Nick sat at the desk in row next to Clara. He moved his desk so he faced her. He said, “Want to go to lunch? I could use some help on my calculus.”
“Yes, I want to go to lunch. But I am not going with you, Nick. I like you. I really like you. But I am going to end our relationship.”
“Why? What did I do?” Asked Nick.
“It’s not what you did. You didn’t do anything to hurt me. It’s just that with you working on the weekends we’ll never have time to see each other. I want more of a life and it’s not going to happen with you.”
“It’ll only be for a short time. As soon as my dad gets a job, I’ll be able to quit. We can see each other at lunch. We can get together on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Want to give it a chance?” Nick didn’t want to get upset. Each time he felt his anger rising, he fought to control it.
“There’s more Nick. You don’t know it, but everyone is laughing and you and your father for helping the town bum out. He’s disgusting. You’re so much better than him. If you promise not to go near him, I’ll give it a try for a couple of weeks and see how it goes with us. Is it a deal?” Asked Cara.
Nick turned his head and stared at the Calculus problem on the screen. He thought, that is how my life looks, it’s one big problem after another. He made a deep sigh and looked at Cara, and said, “Johnny Balboni is no bum. He’s a human like the rest of us. If you talk to him, you’ll find out what a decent guy he is. I won’t stop talking to him or helping him out where I can.”
Cara took hold of her purse, she stood up and said, “Have a nice life, Nick. I’m not part of it and don’t try to sit with me at lunch.”
Nick watched Cara leave. He sat and thought about it. Everything happening to me is because of Johnny Balboni. And, Johnny doesn’t even know anything about it. Nick stayed in the empty classroom staring at the calculus problem. Twice he walked up to the screen and studied the problem more closely. He was missing something, he couldn’t figure out what it was. He snapped a photo of the problem with his iPhone to study later.
Nick went through his advanced chemistry class and his Spanish IV class in a daze. He couldn’t concentrate. In the space of a couple of days he lost his best friend, Buttons, his girlfriend Clara and any hope he had for scoring well on the SATs. After his last class, he left school and began walking home. He couldn’t remember walking home without Buttons. A first time for everything he thought.
When he got to the center of town, he decided to take a short cut through the alley behind the row of stores. He wouldn’t meet anyone in the alley, he didn’t feel like talking. He wasn’t quite sure how he felt. He was angry. He was sad. He was scared. And, he wasn’t going to tell anyone.
Nick was nearing the end of the alley when he saw an empty bottle. He bent over, picked it up and threw it against the back wall of a building. The glass bottle exploded against the wall and shattered into a thousand pieces.
Breaking the bottle didn’t help Nick. He still felt lousy. He kicked at the ground and started walking.
“Hey, Nick. Hey, Nick. What you do that for, break a bottle worth a five cents?” Said Johnny Balboni.
Nick stopped and looked for Johnny. It took him a minute before he found him. Johnny was sitting next to a large empty box, eating a sandwich and sipping from a bottle of water.
Before Nick could say anything, Johnny said, “Come over here and keep me company while I eat.”
Why does Johnny want Nick to sit with him? Will Nick’s string of bad luck stop? What else can go wrong for Nick
If you’re a blogger, you’re a writer. I’m always searching for tips on how to improve my writing. Here’s a short YouTube video with five tips for writers drawn from the habits of great writers. Who knows, perhaps one of these tips will ignite your writing greatness – here’s hoping it does.
Don’t pass it by–the immediate, the real, the only, the yours. -Henry James
Don’t be afraid to follow your instincts. Trust them. One of my mentors gave me that advice early in my career and it made all the difference for me. Our instincts will tell us what we cannot yet see. Others may scoff at you and tell you you’re crazy. Go ahead and be one of the crazy ones and listen to the voice within. Dare to be different. Dick Forsbury did and revolutionized the high jump. Get inspired in the following 2 minute YouTube video. Trust your instincts. They’re usually right.
Nick went around to the back of his home. It was one of the ground rules for Nick and his two younger sisters. Nick was six years older than Laura and eight years older than Stella. Laura was in middle school and Stella in elementary school.
Nick scuffed his shoes on the outdoor mat, another ground rule and opened the door. His mom stood in front of the stove working on dinner. Nick knew what he was having for dinner before he opened the door. It was Friday and Friday’s were always the same, the family was having bean soup. That’s what Nick called it. His mom and dad called it pasta fagioli.
“Hi mom,” Nick said taking off his backpack and setting it on a chair. He walked to the refrigerator, opened the door and stared into it.
“Don’t ruin your dinner, Nick. We’ll be eating when dad comes home from work. It’ll be another hour. Have an apple or orange. How was school?”
“It was okay,” said Nick reaching for a small to go box he knew contained two pieces of pizza.
Nick’s mom’s back was turned to Nick. She said, “If your trying to take the pizza, don’t. Dad wanted to eat it while he watched the Celtics play on TV.”
Nick didn’t know how his mother could always tell what he was doing, even when she wasn’t looking at him.
She said, “If you’re really hungry, on the top shelf, is a Tupperware bowl with three meatballs in it. Heat it up in the microwave for a couple of minutes. You know where you can find the bread.”
“Thanks, mom. I’m starving,” said Nick.
Nick made himself a meatball sandwich, put it on a plate, and said to his mom, “I’m going to my room to study.”
“Okay, but you need to relax a little, Nick. Give your brain a break. You have the whole weekend,” said his mom.
“The SATs are next week. I need to ace them to have real chance for a scholarship,” said Nick.
“You know you can always live and home at go to college in town. It’s as good as any other university,” said his mom, her back still turned to Nick.
Nick couldn’t count the times he’d been down this road. He knew he’d never win the argument. He said, “I know.” Then he walked out of the kitchen with his backpack over one shoulder, and the plate with his meatball sub in his left hand.
Nick sat on his bed. He placed the plate to his right, took his laptop out of his backpack and text his girlfriend, Cara. “Hi, want to study for the SATs with me tomorrow?”
Cara text right back, “Sorry, Nick. We’re all going to visit my nonna in Providence. We’re going to spend the night. How about Sunday night?”
Nick text back, “C U Then. Love U.”
An hour and a half later, there was a knock on his door, “Nick? Dinner’s ready,” said Laura.
“Okay, Laura. Tell mom and dad I’m on my way.”
Nick’s mom and dad sat at the ends of the table. Laura and Stella sat on one side and Nick on the other. Nick’s dad said, “Nick, it’s your turn to say grace.”
This was another family rule, no ate until the family said grace. The family joined hands. Nick said, “Lord, thank you this food and bringing us together to share it. Please bless the food and each of us. And, let me make a high score on the SATs.”
Each member of the family made the sign of cross. Nick’s dad looked at him, “Don’t worry about it, Nick. Do the best you can. You know you can always live here and go to college in town.”
“I know,” said Nick.
Nick’s mom ladled soup into each bowl. A platter of hard crust Italian bread was passed around as well as a small dish of parmesan. Nick’s mom asked the obligatory question, “What happened at school?” Nick and his sisters gave the obligatory answer, “Not much.” The meal was unusually quiet. Normally, Nick’s dad liked to talk about politics or sports, not tonight.
When the family finished the meal, Nick said, “May I be excused, I want to study?”
Nick’s dad said, “Stay for a minute, there’s something I want to tell the family. I already told your mom.”
Nick and his sisters looked at their dad. Their dad took a deep breath. He said, “Christmas is in three weeks.”
Laura and Stella nodded with great anticipation. Nick listened.
His dad continued, “It won’t be as great as other Christmas’s. I got laid off today. I wasn’t the only one. They cut two-hundred jobs. We’ll all have to tighten our belts until I can find work. Nick, if you don’t mind, I talked to Tino Martini. He likes you. It will be a big help. You can work Saturdays and Sundays and be on call for the week after school when he needs you.”
“It’s not fair, Dad. I have SATs, I going to train hard for the 800 meters. If I qualify for states, I have a chance at a scholarship.”
“Nick, life isn’t fair. Stuff happens over which we have no control. We have to pull together. Everything will work out the way it is supposed to work out,” said his dad.
Nick’s heart sank. “Okay, dad. I’ll see Tino tomorrow.”
“Could you go over now?” asked his dad.
Nick took a deep breath and nodded.
Are Nick’s dreams evaporating? What will his dad do?
When I worked with groups as a university professor, I collected data as a qualitative researcher. My colleagues and I often said of the people we worked with, “Perception is reality.” We frequently discovered that differing perceptions of the same event was the source of conflict. We knew if we could change the perception, we could change the reality. The following brief YouTube video shows a former magician demonstrating why we may see something that is not actual reality. Enjoy.
Each one of you has something no one else has, or has ever had: your fingerprints, your brain, your heart. Be an individual. Be unique. Stand out. Make noise. Make someone notice. That’s the power of individuals. – Jon Bon Jovi