Saturday, October 9, 2010

Age and Progress

I just read the most recent edition of BICSI news. It had a wonderful article in it concerning Ray Gendron, a former president of BICSI and the progenitor of BICSI Cares. For those who don’t already know, the BICSI Cares committee collects money at each BICSI conference and donates it to a local children’s charity based in the location that is hosting the conference.

Let me start by saying, these guys are good. They are the definition of good: both in how they operate and in their goals. At my first conference, I was approached a number of times and asked, quite politely, if there was anything I could spare. I can be a pretty cynical guy so I kept my money to myself and my head down. They wouldn’t leave me be.

My boss showed up and laughed while he explained things to me. For just a little bit of money, the BICSI Cares committee would put a little sticker on my badge that would let everyone know that I had made a donation. Then, they would leave me be. I laughed out loud at the thought: a charity protection racket.

This is where Ray enters the story. The next morning, the morning of my RCDD exam, I wandered down the hall and approached the BICSI cares committee booth to get my sticker. I walked up and an older gentleman asked if I wanted to make a donation and I pulled a twenty out of my wallet and started to hand it over. At the last second, I pulled it back.

“You know,” I offered. “I’m testing for my RCDD today.”

“Good for you!” He reached out and shook my hand. There was warmth to his smile and genuine cheerfulness. It had a childlike quality that made me smile. “What do you think your chances are?”

“Fair to middling,” I said. “I’ve got a deal for you. You can have this twenty now, or forty tomorrow if I pass.” To this day I don’t know what possessed me but it seemed funny at the time.

The old guy drew himself up and looked me up and down. He smiled even more and stuck out his hand.

“I’ll take that bet.” He stuck his hand out.

The next day I went back and paid my forty dollars, happily.

For the next two years I happily went back to the booth to make my donation the first day of each conference. Each year he remembered me and would call out to me before I got to the booth. He would stop my donation and ask a simple question.

“You testing this year?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow then. Don’t forget us.”

I didn’t. That man was Ray Gendron. I can’t say that I really even knew him and a number of people have already sung his praises in more public venues than my little blog. But I wanted to share my story of a man who genuinely appeared to enjoy life.

I’ve known another man who had a similar impact on my life.

My father has an older friend who he hunts with from time to time. They were much closer years ago and I’ve known him since I was a child. He’s in his eighties now.

Warren isn’t a powerhouse of a man. I’ve never really thought of him as a great leader, or visionary, or anything that marks a man as important. But he has always been a good friend to my father and a good friend to me.

I work in information technology and the only real constant I have to work with is change. One of the most frustrating aspects of my job is dealing with entrench bureaucracy and people who are frightened by change. Because of this, older persons get a bit of a bum rap in my industry. As we get older, things seem to get more static. Old ways are more comfortable and new ways of doing things just seem trivial.

But, as a child, Warren took me to his study to show me his new Nintendo gaming system. He had a childlike glee to his eyes as he sat me down to play. He explained the ins and outs of the game we were playing (Metroid for those who care) and talked about life.

“You’ve got it good Sheard T”, he would tell me. “We never had toys like this when I was a kid and they’re only gonna get better.”

His wife rolled her eyes from the kitchen. She didn’t approve, but then again neither did my Mom. We all wasted too much time on video games. But in Warren I saw a man who wasn’t afraid of new things – change.

A few years later I was a teenager and I sat down with Warren at his kitchen table. We were talking about how things used to be in the great nation of America and Warren started laughing.

“Sheard T,” he smiled. “Don’t talk to me about how things used to be. I was there and it wasn’t as great as people keep sayin’ it was.” He told me about separate but equal. He told me about friends passed over for promotion. He told me about all manner of injustices and he did it without ever losing his smile.

“That was yesterday Sheard T. It wasn’t all bad but don’t let anybody tell you it was all good. We fought in World War II but we did some bad things too.” Then he told me about all the good things we had today. The KKK was a shadow of what it used to be. Women could be anything they wanted to be.

I started to protest. Things weren’t that rosy. Warren waved me off. “It’ll never be perfect. Just keep workin’ at it. If you do it right, it gets better all the time.”

Last year, I stopped by Warren’s house on a cross-country drive to visit family. We talked about family, he played with my kids, and we generally got reacquainted. Somewhere in the conversation I let my vision roam over the living room and smiled.

Underneath the TV there was a Nintendo Wii.

I pointed it out to Warren and he just smiled. His eyes twinkled and he leaned in to me.

“Do you want to see the PS3? It’s in the other room.”

These men have both taught me valuable lessons. They didn’t mean to but just by watching these little pieces of their lives I’ve learned to appreciate where I am and the opportunities available to me. I don’t lose myself in nostalgia.

And each night I tell my little girl, the best is yet to come.

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