Monday, December 06, 2004

And So...

Have you ever wanted to start a conversation with that? “And so…” Seems both familiar and important at once. Like some friend, wonderfully gifted at spinning stories, had agreed to tell one only after he finished his pint. And with a final swig, a lick of the lips, and a wink, he turned and simply began. “And so…”

Life has little place for such people these days. One of the fond memories I have of the brief period of time I spent in England as a young man were the rural pubs of West Yorkshire. These were the sort of places one might expect someone to turn and launch into an “And so…” any moment, but it never happened. I had a feeling the entire time I was there that I had arrived a generation or two late.

Yet there are tales of every age that ought to begin that way. I recall an older friend I met when I first moved to Minnesota. His name was Nick; a Korean War veteran who had retired from a successful career as a business consultant and business owner, but found his life missing too much without an office to go to. So he came out of retirement to do light clerical work part time; mostly for the social element. He needed that especially because his beloved wife of decades was confined to a wheelchair and slowly succumbing to cancer. Our office was his life-line to a world still full of potential and looking to the future.

Nick and I got to know one another over lunch over the course of a couple of years. I can look back and realize he was mentoring me in his own way. I was a kid just out of college who didn’t know what to do with his life chatting casually with a man who had done so much with his own, yet had no one to leave the lessons with. That’s an important thing for young men and old men to learn from. The young need those lessons, and the old need to impart them. But as a society we’ve become very bad at that. Not enough “And so…” opportunities still around anymore, unless you invent your own.

Ours came in the cafeteria, while Nick and I downed cheap microwavable meals. I can’t recall Nick ever starting with an “And so..” But many times he might as well have. I got to know about his Korean War experience – just the basics at first, but over time the truly personal side. He enlisted out of high school as a Marine, and was elevated to Captain before the war ended; with plenty of combat experience about which he talked very little, and plenty of experiences with fellow soldiers and officers, about which he talked a lot. Then I learned about his post-war experience lobbying to get into the Wharton School of Business (which he did). That lead to an eventful career as a business consultant (about which I got to hear many anecdotes). And finally a period in which he ran his own business before retiring.

The above is merely the outline. The stories aren’t mine, so it’s not my place to share them. But they were full of adventure and humor and real life lessons learned the hard way. How many people do we see these days who have that sort of thing accumulated over their own lives, yet have no outlet for imparting them to the young men who follow?

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