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When Weird is Normal

I received an e-mail from an Iraqi friend last month asking me to join him on Facebook.  I’m proud to say that I knew what he was talking about even though I had not previously seen the need to construct a MySpace or Facebook profile.  I hadn’t heard from my friend for awhile; so I decided to go through the Facebook enrollment process and see if we could get in touch.

I dutifully put in more personal information than I wanted to and even downloaded my picture from the City’s Web site that makes me look fatter than I really am.  I shipped all this off into cyberspace; and, although I’ve had no response from my Iraqi friend, I now have made new friends with a whole bunch of very young people.  My home e-mail account contained messages from several of my children’s friends declaring that I’m now their friend, too.  I guess Facebook opens up intergenerational communication in ways that I never imagined.  I enjoyed seeing pictures of a number of young people I hadn’t seen in years and learning about what they’re doing.  Most of them have children of their own and seem to be doing well.  I suppose it would be inappropriate to list bad things about yourself on the Internet.  None of this may seem weird in a world where mores change as frequently as the weather, but I don’t know how I would even begin to explain Facebook to my grandmother.

Shortly after the Facebook experience, I found an e-mail message in my inbox asking me if I would be willing to travel to Beirut for a few days to do a workshop.  I travel enough to know that you can get around the world in fairly short order, although I’m still amazed at how quickly you can get from one place to the next.  My first trip abroad was aboard a ship headed to England in 1959.  I think it took about five or six days to travel from New York to South Hampton.  I can now travel to Beirut, engage in a series of meetings, and return home in less time than it took to make the trip across the Atlantic 49 years ago.  It also seems strange to me that anyone would want me to go to Beirut to help conduct a few meetings.

I guess we all know that the world is changing rapidly; and, if we didn’t, we only have to read a newspaper, watch television, or scan the Internet to have it driven home.  Everyone’s attention is directed to the current economic crisis, and it’s easy to get depressed thinking about what might happen.  The best reassurance I can give myself is that weird is normal, and it’s not necessarily bad.  Most of us have the tools, not just to cope, but to flourish in a world where threats and opportunities routinely appear in equal measure.  Our greatest challenge is keeping our own attitude afloat in a flood of changing circumstances.


I haven’t seen the television series “Heroes,” but the title has caused me to think about the many heroes I’ve known.  My family tops the list because, thanks to their efforts. I’ve been able to lead a happy and productive life.  I realize that none of us are perfect heroes and have settled for practically perfect as my standard.

Today we are honoring one of my local heroes by planting three trees at Lexington Park in memory of Dick Ebbert.  It’s hard for me to think or write about Dick without some sadness over the loss of his steady influence for good at the City and in the community.  I know he would have appreciated the trees, and I’m glad that a small plaque will remind park visitors that his many contributions were appreciated.  I am equally pleased that when I take my grandchildren to our neighborhood park, there is a sign that recognizes Doug Killin for all that he did to make Albany a better place.

Sometimes I learn more about people I thought were heroes and have come to realize that they don’t meet the practically perfect standard.  I’ve also learned enough to know that everyone can be a hero at a given time and no one can be a hero all the time.  Recognizing these limitations, one of my heroes who has stood the test of time is Ernie Banks.  Ernie played shortstop and first base for the Chicago Cubs from the mid-1950s through the early 1970s.  He is a member of Baseball’s Hall of Fame for his accomplishments as a player, but he reached my Hall through unfailing optimism and good works in his community.  Little boys look up to sports figures for many reasons, and I’m grateful that some great athletes have also shown enduring great character.

It’s rare that you hear about a local elected hero.  I have acquired one over the past decade who is pretty well-known in some circles but probably would not make a People Magazine list of the 1,000 Best Known Celebrities.  Joe Riley is the Mayor of Charleston, South Carolina; and he has served in that office since 1975.  Mayors in other cities have managed to stay in office for long periods of time, but Mayor Riley hasn’t just held on to his office; he’s magnified it.  Charleston was a seedy city with some charming areas when I visited there in the 1970s.  Under Mayor Riley’s leadership, the town has been transformed into a prosperous, attractive regional center and a really nice place to be.  The Mayor is a Charleston native who probably could have been highly successful in state or national politics but chose instead to make his hometown his life’s work.  I admire him for his rigorous commitment to quality and for acting on his passion for Charleston.

My personal list of heroes is too long to put in a blog entry, or at least too long to put in one that people would actually read.  I am most grateful for the many simple acts of heroism I see on a regular basis and for the great example that so many people provide.  You never know who might be watching and what they will take away from watching you.

Seeing things differently

Last month, my wife and I traveled to Southern California to visit my daughter’s family for a few days.  She lives reasonably close to Disneyland; so, we decided it would be a nice idea to take my three-year-old granddaughter and one-year-old grandson to see the “happiest place on earth.”  I had a few reservations about this adventure because some of my outings with grandchildren have not produced good outcomes for any of the participants.  I could envision soggy, unhappy grandchildren making scenes in very public places, thereby, destroying the whole intent of carting them off to have a good time.


I was happily surprised.  We originally planned to stay at the park from about 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., but the children and adults were having such a great time we didn’t leave until 9 p.m.  Even little one-year-old Owen was happy being rolled around in his stroller while taking in the sights.  I don’t ever recall seeing a bigger pair of eyes than Owen’s during the Nemo’s Adventure ride.  Toward the end of the day, my wife bought Madelyn a pair of Cinderella slippers, and she literally danced through the streets of Disneyland proclaiming, “I’m a princess.”  At least one observer will confirm that she truly is.


I always seem to learn something when I travel or take on an obligation that makes me a little nervous.  I’ve come to realize that the older I get, the more likely it is that I will mistake education for a process that merely confirms my biases.  I can build a pretty resilient shell around my opinions and “knowledge” simply by reading things that support my views, listening to others with similar outlooks, or going only to places I want to go.


Fortunately, I have a wife and grandchildren who seem to realize that I’m not as smart as I sometimes think I am.  They expose me to feelings and ideas I probably could not experience if I simply did what I wanted to every day.  I appreciate that I’m also surrounded by people at work who aren’t afraid to broaden my horizons.  The City Attorney seems to take special delight at this task.


Next week, I plan to sign up for another year as a lunch buddy to a young friend at Calapooia Middle School.  This is another one of those experiences that sometimes makes me uncomfortable, and I can think of a number of legitimate excuses to forego the obligation this year.  My recent tour of Disneyland was just another reminder that many good things happen, and I tend to learn the most when I stretch myself a little to be of service to someone else.