Little Fish in a Big Pond

Several events occurred this week that reminded me how big our world is and how small we can seem in relation to the other seven billion-plus humans who live on the planet. The first event was a regional middle school wrestling tournament in Woodburn; the second was Career Day talks at West Albany High School; and the third was an invitation to do some work in Cambodia in 2018.

My grandson Roland had a tremendous wrestling season this year, going undefeated in more than 20 matches leading up to the regional championship. He pinned all but one of his opponents and looked like he had a good shot at competing at the state tournament this weekend. Fate intervened when he injured his neck in practice the day before the regional meet and had to decide whether to compete at all. He chose to wrestle and did very well, but the injury coupled with the higher level of competition kept him from his goal of reaching the state tourney. Roland handled his disappointment well and has moved on to his next goal to finish the year with A’s in all of his classes. Roland’s wrestling experience illustrated the point that even those who excel at something will, sooner or later, encounter someone who is likely to be even better. Our inability to be the best is more a matter of numbers than it is lack of desire or effort and should never discourage us from doing our best.

Mayor Konopa and I were invited to speak at West Albany High School’s Career Day this week, as we have done for a number of years at South Albany. Our experience has been much the same at both schools. The students were generally attentive, asked good questions, and were at least as respectful as I remember being as a high school student 45 years ago. I think all adults should be required to spend some time in our schools to get a more balanced view of what actually happens there. There are no doubt problems in our schools, but the overwhelming majority of students are getting a decent education and the opportunity to become lifelong learners. As with so many things, our attention is drawn to negatives like school violence or the failings of a few teachers, rather than to the daily accomplishments of schools and students.

I am sorry to say that when I hear the word “Cambodia” the first thing that comes to mind is the genocide that occurred there in the 1970s. Nearly all the members of the regime that created that horror are gone now, and the country is becoming a more prosperous and stable place; but much remains to be done. We have hosted two visitors from Cambodia through the State Department’s Southeast Asian Fellowship program, and they are both great young men. A failed genocidal state is on the path toward a much better future.

The connection that links a wrestling tournament, a high school career day, and Cambodia is the affirmation that we, as individuals, live in a big, diverse world that is often confusing and hard to understand. We should never lose sight, however, of our ability to overcome our disappointments, see past the negative, and find the opportunities to do our bit to make things better.