By Jim Mauro
There is something that most who know me are not aware of; I like to talk. Okay, everyone who knows me knows that. While some folks go through their whole lives not knowing what they are good at. I found early on that talking was a skill I excelled at.
I used to take my sons everywhere when they were small. Spending time in the grocery store with one or both in a cart was always enjoyable. A small side trip for an ice cream always was a bonus but during those grocery times, I would inevitably find a reason to start speaking to someone in the store, almost always in the checkout line.
My boys would routinely inquire if I had known that person and most often, the answer was no. But I have always engaged people for a moment or a few, most often getting a smile back, an effortless but sometimes meaningful way to brighten up my day, and hopefully theirs as well. What better way to enjoy a day then striking up a conversation with people you do not know and engaging strangers in whatever topic may come up. I kept telling my sons that you never know who you might meet, a new best friend, your future boss or perhaps even a spouse. You have nothing to lose by taking this approach except to find out that the other person does not want to chat. Talking to complete strangers is where this article came from.
At the end of April, we travelled to New York City by way of Newark New Jersey airport with friends. From the airport, we boarded an Amtrack train that was going to take us to Times Square. On the train a man was sitting across from the five of us reading a book. As I normally do, I began to engage this man in conversation.
Adrian Douglas was an employee of that train company, and we learned that in his “spare time” he is also a Minister. Our conversation took us to where we were from, what we all did for a living and the make-up of our families. Adrian told us about his three sons who he had fostered, what he did to ensure they achieved excellent marks in school and about how one day, one of his sons was at risk of suspension from school. A great way to spend some time on a train, having a wonderful conversation with a total stranger.
Adrian’s boys attended Lincoln High School in Cranford New Jersey where Dennis McCaffery was the principal. Instead of the suspension, Mr. Douglas’s son was required to study a poster that was up on the school wall, a set of principles for life that had became part of the school over the years. Mr. Mccaffery took the poster down at Adrian’s request, and it was here the story took a turn to this article.
Mr. Mccaffery gave the poster as a gift to Adrian and never expected to see it again, but Adrian returned, it, but not before he had committed that poster to memory. Adrian’s son did not end up getting suspended that day, learning the lessons contained within that poster was far more important.
So, while we were riding the train to Times Square, Adrian asked us to take him through the alphabet where he regaled us with the ABCs of life, adopting the philosophy as part of his life and mission to help others. Without exaggeration, the time on that train that day, was an experience that will be hard to forget. Adrian certainly made an impression on all of us. Before we left the train, I asked Adrian for his contact information and for the information of the school.
When I called the school several weeks later, a man answered the phone, and I outlined the reason for my call and mentioned the name Adrian Douglas. The man on the phone did not immediately recognize the name but when I mentioned the Minister with the three foster sons, he immediately began talking about Adrian in the most glowing of terms and how much he impacted the lives of those three young men.
I advised that the poster was put there by the former principal of the school, Dennis Mccaffery. Much to my surprise, the man said that I was speaking to Dennis Mccaffery and that he was still the school principal and had been at this school for 28 years. He joined the school once he had finished playing baseball. A quick google search found that Mr. Mccaffery had been drafted by the California Angles and spent almost 3 years playing professional baseball before his career ended.
Mr. Mccaffery had been attending Lincoln High giving talks during his baseball career and was well thought of by the school staff. When he playing career was over, he was encouraged by the school principal to get his teaching certification and to then teach at Lincoln. It was a short time later that he became school principal and has been there ever since. Mr. Mccaffery could not have been more kind and sent me various photos to make sure I was able to read the entire poster.
Life is a wonderous thing that we normally take for granted but as too many know, it can end far too quickly and tragically. All of us at some point in our lives will be faced with the loss of loved ones. It is the part of life that is unavoidable. That is why it is so important to recognize just how fleeting life can be. It is why I have told my sons to try, every day, to take a moment, 10-30 seconds and just stop whatever they are doing and think about where they are, what they are able to do, and what is important in their lives. Burn that memory inside their head so that those memories can remind you just how fortunate they are to be living the life they have.
When you are nearing the end of life, if you are fortunate to live a life that lasts decades, it is those memories and those you surround yourself with that will make your life meaningful. The purchases you made, the things you have accumulated will not be as important as the relationships you built and the memories that came with them. It is unfortunate that we often do not come to that realization until the second half of our life starts.
Without getting into fine details, 7.5 years ago, I received a diagnosis that no one wants to receive. The waiting for results and not knowing as many of you likely know as well, can be brutal. The hardest part was telling my two boys. Today, things are decent but who knows what tomorrow will bring. No matter how hard I try, it is always there but I do everything I can not to dwell or worry. But that diagnosis was also a gift, received on my actual 55th birthday. My life I believed, based on the information I had been given was quickly coming to an end.
We were having people over for dinner that night and we decided not to cancel. Christmas was only eight days away and a New Year just around the corner. We had recently torn down our old camp and a new building had been put up, not quite finished, but useable. Our first overnight was New Years Eve, and I had assumed that was going to be my first and only New Years in this new building.
The next morning, despite where my head was, I was still able to enjoy skating on frozen Lake Superior for the length of over 2 football fields each way. It was such a beautiful memory. It was not until 7 weeks later that we learned that my “death sentence” was not quite as severe as first thought and while not ideal, was far better than we first had anticipated. So exactly how was this a gift and how does this connect to Adrian Douglas and his poster.
What I discovered, far later than I should have, is that the lessons I tried to teach my sons about those memories, finding joy in the moment, and taking all that life has to offer were things I was not doing myself. That all changed that diagnosis day where sometimes even the smallest things can make such a huge difference. The everyday joy I get from family and friends was something I too long took for granted. It is unfortunate that it took an illness to wake that part of me back up. How many times have we heard people say that it took too long to realize what the truly important things are in life.
But this diagnosis had changed me and while it is always in the back of my head I try to take motivation from it. Getting stronger than I have been in thirty years from my personal trainer from hell, Jack Murphy at Unleashed is a start. I could do a whole article on Jack, a man so mentally tough it exhausts me. But this man has inspired me, tortured me, and got me to a point that I did not know I could achieve, and we are still just beginning. It has made me fight far harder than I thought I could and when I needed time for my brain to turn off, it was Jack’s circuit of torture that provided it. He has become a friend.
For those part of my Facebook page, you know I also have a 22-month-old grandson, something I could have missed out on. My time with him is a gift that I am never going to waste along with my immediate and extended family. I always was of the mindset of family and friends, but becoming ill truly made me throw the garbage away and to spend every waking minute possible, thinking about and enjoying these people.
When my not yet two-year-old grandson knows exactly what booth to go to, when we arrive back at our usual breakfast stop, I know the time with him is truly special. But again, what does this all have to do with Adrian? Well, these rules of life that he provided to us on that train, capture far better than I ever could, rules that I think are vital to for individuals to strive for. I believe it captures the true spirit of how people should approach life.
So, with many thanks to Mr. Douglas for taking me down this alphabet path, and Mr. Mccaffery for providing the list, here is the ABCs of life that I hope you will find as meaningful as I did. The label of the poster is: To achieve your dreams, remember your ABC’s. They did push the grammatical rules a little with the X, but I think we can ignore that slight literary misstep.
Avoid negative sources, people, places, things and habits
Believe in yourself
Consider things from every angle
Don’t give up and don’t give in
Enjoy life today, yesterday is gone, tomorrow may never come
Family and friends are hidden treasures, seek them and enjoy their riches
Give more than you planned to
Hang on to your dreams
Ignore those who try to discourage you
Just do it
Keep trying, no matter how hard it seems, it will get easier
Love yourself first and most
Make it happen
Never lie, cheat or steal, always strike a fair deal
Open your eyes and see things as they really are
Practice makes perfect
Quitters never win, and winners never quit
Read study and learn about everything important in your life
Take control of your own destiny
Understand yourself in order to better understand others
Want it more than anything
Xcellerate your efforts
You are unique of all God’s creations, nothing can replace you
Zero in on your target and go for it
I do not recall Adrian Douglas missing any of these on the train that day and it appeared to all of us that Adrian does his best to not only live by those words but to share this philosophy with those who are around him. I would have loved to have attended one of his Sunday sermons, to see him in this element, my belief that he would be a great orator commanding the full attention of those in the pews.
So that was the result of meeting Adrian, learning about the ABCs of life. I thought, could someone reading this article and looking at that “alphabet” come away with 13, 5 or even one item that may make a difference in their lives and then possibly the lives of others? I hope so.
Because as much as I enjoy writing about topical items such as politics, policing issues, and such, my lone little literary voice is not going to move the needle very far in the grand scheme of things. But if I can reach one person and change their outlook on their own life, to make them slow down and “smell those roses”, then it will indeed be a good day.
With the turmoil, stress and levels of unhappiness that appear to be consuming us, making someone smile or improving their outlook on life will be a great day for me. After all, with the increasing amounts of self-check-outs, it is becoming tougher to start up those conversations that I used to love. So, my new “talking” must be done through writing but the outcome I hope will be the same. Put a smile on someone’s face. There are few things better than that.
So, to Adrian Douglas, thank you for that conversation that April day. It was the start of what was an enjoyable trip. Your name was mentioned so often it felt like you were with us and in some ways, you were. One conversation with a stranger put a smile on my face. Given what we learned about Adrian in our short time together, I am sure that is something he does every day. It is a good lesson for us all. Just a thought!