There I was sitting on the couch in my living room getting frustrated. As part of the new normal during the COVID-19 pandemic, I was trying to log into our weekly Zoom staff meeting. As I was furiously trying to log in, I got the spinning wheel of death on my computer screen and the application would not let me into the meeting. I kept refreshing over and over again and still, no entry. Sitting next to me on my couch was my 8 year-old daughter Zoey. She too was getting frustrated, trying to log into her Google Classroom, begging me for help with tears in her eyes. I was trying to help her and help myself, then I heard a shout from my 5 year-old son Brooks from the bathroom:
“Daddy I flushed the potty, but the water is still coming out all over the floor!”
My wife was at work and I was losing my cool. I was frustrated with so many things. First, there is the ongoing pandemic and the shutdown of so much of our life. There were many friends who have either been infected or lost loved ones to this tragic virus who I have been praying for. There was so many friends and family who had lost their jobs. Then there is the anxiety of my own job security. Schools are being shutdown as parents are trying to teach their kids from home. It was like a volcano was building up and it finally erupted inside of me. Then it happened. I shouted, “Oh my God…this sucks!”
My children were both shocked. I never raise my voice. In fact, my wife says arguing with me is like arguing with Mr. Bean. My daugther immediately took offense and ran to her room. My son came running out of the bathroom, with his pants around his ankles asking, “what sucks daddy? Is it me?”
I tried to speak. I tried to say something to cover my error, but he had slowly turned around in sadness, slowly walking toward his bedroom with a 6 foot piece of toilet paper stuck to his foot trailing behind him. I was embarrassed for shouting those words and I knew it affected my kids that day.
I sat back, and looked up at the ceiling and breathed in deeply. “you’re an idiot, John!” I thought to myself. I slowly got up and began to clean the massacre that was our bathroom. Realizing I was going to need our dehumidifier, I went to the basement storage room and began to search. I bumped into the wall, and something fell down from a top shelf and struck me in the head. It was a dusty old piece of sports memorabilia from an Orioles game 25 years ago. I picked it up and stared at it and memories of the day I got it suddenly came back to me. It was then I began to realize a piece of advice given to me that day by my father, long forgotten in the midst of the stresses of my current life and pandemic.
-“I relished in the sounds of the crowd, the crack of the bat and the spring sun shining on our faces.”
The date was June 9, 1995. I was fourteen years old, and had gone to a rare Baltimore Orioles game at Camden Yards with my dad. My dad was a hard man to understand at times, but the best way to describe him was the 1990’s version of Archie Bunker. He wasn’t an affectionate man, but he loved sports and it was that subject that we could bond together from time to time. My dad didn’t go to college, but he liked to work with his hands and fix things. On top of that he was an excellent salesman. He had started out as a mechanic in his 20’s, then in his 30’s he had saved up enough money to buy a gas station and attached auto repair shop in Glen Burnie, MD. He had become a small business owner after years of bending wrenches. By the time he was 39, the business was solvent, and he was actually making decent money, but was working long hours as a small business owner. From time to time, he would get some baseball tickets and that’s where we found ourselves that spring day in 1995.
I remember sitting next to my dad. He had an ice cold beer in his hand and was covered in peanut shells, but he had a rare smile on his face. I relished in the sounds of the crowd, the crack of the bat and the spring sun shining on our faces. I looked over at his hands and noticed how beat up and scarred they were. Two of his fingers had been severed to the knuckle from working on cars for so many years. His fingernails were stained dark from the grease and motor oil.
Then he saw me looking at his hands, and said “you know, I’m sorry I don’t get to do this kind of stuff with you often. I know work keeps me busy and I miss alot of stuff, like your baseball games. I wish I could be home more with you kids. It’s alot of work running your own business. More than I could have ever imagined.”
I looked over at him as he took a long draw from his beer. Then I asked him, “is it worth it? I mean, to miss so much good stuff in life just for work?”
Then he looked over at me, patted me on the shoulder and said, “even for the few moments like these, yes.”
Then he said something I had forgotten for 25 years.
“Sometimes, you have to look for the silver linings”, he said. “Life moves fast. Seize those moments when you can. Moments like this. Be thankful for the few and small moments. Those are the silver linings you’ll remember for the rest of your life.”
-“This is my silver lining.”
Back to present day, I looked at my laptop and work in front of me. It suddendly dawned on me that I was the same age my dad was that day at the orioles game: 39 years-old. I completed my Zoom meeting, then I closed my laptop. I thought about the last four years of my life. I had spent weeks on business travel for the federal government traveling the country conducting trainings. During these past few years, living out of a suitcase, I missed alot of my kids events. I missed school plays, dinners and reading books before bedtime on numerous occasions. I had missed alot of the “small things” for work. Early in 2020 I retired from federal service to take a job at my local community college to be closer to home and for a better work life balance. Then the pandemic hit, and I suddenly got alot of “home” in my work/life balance.
The problem was, I had gotten so frustrated with the difficulty of working from home, helping my kids do school work and the anxiety over the future, that I failed to see the “silver lining”. First, I was blessed to even still have a job and work remotely. Also, I was finally getting the time with my kids that I never got over the past four years as I was currently working from home. I got to see them wake up every day. Eat breakfast with them. Eat lunch with them. If I wanted to take a little break I could read a book with them. I could go for a walk with them or play outside with them (since I was now home while the sun was still up). I was getting to make up for four years of being gone. Instead of yelling “Oh my God…this sucks”, I should have yelled, “Oh my God, this…this is awesome.”
I understand that perspective is important. There is alot of pain in the world. Many have tragically lost loved ones to the COVID-19 virus. Many have lost jobs, livelihoods, their 401k’s are nearly gone, friendships have been strained, etc. My revelation here about the “silver lining” isn’t meant to minimize any of that. The tragedy is real and heartbreaking.
Whatever your situation is, during the stress and anxiety of this pandemic I would encourage you to pause for a moment. Take a deep breath and think, “what is the silver lining in all of this?” What small things have you been able to do right now that you couldn't do before? What have you learned about yourself, your family or coworkers that has strenthgened your relationships. What skills have you refined under pressure during this time has made you a better professional, leader, parent or friend. Is there a roof over your head, food on the table and Netflix to binge with a loved one? There is good reason to be concerned with the big, heavy things. However, take a moment to be thankful for the small things. There you will find your silver lining, and hopefully some peace.
As I sat there after my Zoom meeting I began to think about what life would be like for my children 25 years from now. Chances are they will probably be where I am. Immersed in their work, kids, bills and who knows what pandemic may even be taking place at that time. How would they know to remember to look for the silver lining? How could I set the example? Then I remembered the basement, and that old piece of sports memorabilia. As Paul Harvey used to say, that’s when I suddenly remembered “the rest of the story.”
-“Honorary Contract as an Off-field fielder”
Going back to that June day in 1995 I left out an important part of that game. Not long after my dad’s “silver lining” comment, a foul ball was hit directly at us. I reached up my glove (yes, I was that kid who brought his glove to the game) and I made an amazing catch of the ball. The Public Address announcer yelled, “give that fan a contract!” Within minutes, a Public Relations representative for the Orioles came down to our seats, got my name and address and gave me a pass to get the ball autographed after the game (which I did). Sure enough within a few weeks, in the mail came a contract with my name on it as an “Honorary Contract as an Off-field fielder” with the Baltimore Orioles. My mom got it placed in a plaque and framed, along with the baseball. This is the dusty old piece of sports memorabilia I have been referring to.
For years, this contract has hung on the wall everywhere I have lived and served as a great conversation piece. I would always tell the story of how I caught the ball, but always seemed to forget to mention my dad’s advice prior to the foul ball. In retrospect, his advice was worth so much more then an honorary contract and a ball. In fact, the time I spent with him at that game was just also just as valuable. I just didn't realize it until now.
I realized I had taken it off the wall a few years back when we were doing some painting and totally forgot to put it back up. There it sat for years, gaining dust for the right moment to fall and smack me in the head. To be honest, I deserved a smack in the head. I went back to the basement and grabbed the plaque with the contract and ball. I cleaned it up and I gave it to my son Brooks and told him, “this is yours now.”
He looked up and asked, “Daddy, why did you give this to me?”
I said, “because, one day you’ll need to remember to look for the silver linings too.”
“Silver linings? What are those?” he asked.
“Tell you what” I said, “when you’re in your late 30’s with a wife, kids and a job, I’ll tell you all about it over a cold beer.”
“I like root beer too, Daddy!” Brooks said.
I laughed for the first time in a few days when he said that. Then together, we hung the contract on the wall of his bedroom and he was so excited to have it there. I turned to both of my kids and apologized for my “outburst” earlier. They both hugged me. At that moment I realized I forgot to finish cleaning the bathroom disaster…
-“Oh my God, this…this is awesome.”
After fixing the bathroom massacre my son had left me, my daughter came up to me and grabbed my hand. She said, “Do you want to go play some whiffle ball in the front yard with our friends?”
I looked out my sons bedroom window and saw a handful of kids, aged 5–10 with a whiffle ball bat and ball, waving for us to come outside. It was like a scene from the movie The Sandlot. I looked over at my laptop and my work as it lay on the table. I knew I had alot of work to do. But then I remembered my father’s words, “Be thankful for the few and small moments. Those are the silver linings you’ll remember for the rest of your life.”
I looked back at my children and said, “Absolutely.”
Together we played a game of whiffle ball with their friends. I had not played whiffle ball in years, and it showed as I embarrassed myself. As I ran the bases made out of frisbees I realized I may have eaten one too many Chick-fil-A milkshakes during the pandemic shutdown. But in that moment, I completely forgot there was a pandemic. I completly forgot about the anxiety of my job security, school closings and wearing masks at stores. For a moment, I was one of the kids again. Just as I did with my dad at that Orioles game so many years ago, I relished in the sounds of the crowd, the crack of the (plastic) bat and the spring sun shining on our faces. For a moment, life seemed normal.
I must confess I shouted out loud again. But this time the words were different, as I shouted, “Oh my God, this…this is awesome.”
My friends, especially during these times, always look for the silver linings in life.