When I was in high school and going through the college admission’s process, my English teacher, Ed Breslin, told me that life isn’t always about what you know; often, he said, it’s about who you know.
I didn’t even know what he meant, but his insight would turn out to be great foreshadowing.
Giving It The Ol’ College Try
After graduating, I left for California where I would attend college the following fall, but only if I could make enough money to pay for it.
By July, I still hadn’t found a job and had only improved my tennis game and my tan, so I went back to my hometown of Chicago to live with siblings and work at McDonald’s.
I loved “Micky-Ds.”
I got to eat my favorite meal at a huge discount: caramel sundae with nuts, large fries, a fantastic new sandwich called the McRib, and a large Coca-Cola!
I was in heaven – everyday!
Until Dick Webster, the Headmaster from my high school called. (Hello Loooooozer)
I was terrified that he was calling to tell me there had been a mistake and I would have to send back my diploma, so I avoided his calls.
He was relentless.
Come to find out, he was calling because he had heard that I was back in Chicago and not going to college.
He said I’d regret not going, that I needed to go through life with the least amount of regret as possible.
I didn’t understand these educators from my former high school.
I thought they were all in cahoots with their esoteric knowledge, fancy vocab words, and ability to use metaphoric symbolism at the drop of a hat.
They were supposed to be done with me.
I graduated; I didn’t have to return my diploma, yet I was still being tested on a curve that still wasn’t working in my favor.
I just wanted to eat my caramel sundae with nuts and my McRib sandwich everyday – in that order – and play tennis with this great guy who turned out to be a cocaine dealer – which explains his speed.
On the court.
I tried reasoning with Mr. Webster.
Even according to my math, my McDonald’s salary wasn’t going to cover the costs of college; it barely paid for my caramel sundae with nuts and my McRib sandwich, and I had my nice discount.
He asked me to have a little faith.
Ten Days Later
Sight unseen, I was driving out to the East coast to attend Notre Dame of Maryland University.
Mr. Webster had called a friend by the name of Dr. Mike Mahoney.
They played LaCrosse together in college at Johns Hopkins and Dr. Mahoney was the Dean of Admissions at Notre Dame.
On the first day of classes, I went into the admission’s office to meet the only person I knew on the East coast – Dr. Mahoney.
Not only had Mr. Webster procured my enrollment at Notre Dame, Dr. Mahoney gave me a college work-study job in his office.
As if that weren’t enough, Dr. Mahoney handed me five hundred dollars cash so I could get my books.
He said I came highly recommended.
By the end of my first week in college, I found two additional jobs – one in retail; the other waiting tables and by the end of my first semester, I was able to pay Dr. Mahoney back in full.
The Significance of Coincidence
It’s impossible to know how the people or the events in our lives will fall in their order of significance, but I don’t believe in coincidence.
I do believe that our words and our actions matter.
That the intentions in our hearts should match up to the actions we take and the words we choose to use because eventually, they add up to the sum of a life and I want mine to count.
Despite having to accept life’s many mysteries, I want to make sense of the nonsense when I add it together.
Breslin was right.
It’s not always about what you know; often, it’s about who you know and the “who-I know” are the few I know that care enough to divert me to the place I need to be.
Right here; writing now.
It’s not about the diploma that hangs on a wall or collects dust in a forgotten box in the attic.
It’s about the caring teachers in the classroom of our lives.
Here’s to remembering who we know because of who they are, and to remembering that a warm smile or a kind word can change the course of someone’s day – maybe even their life – whether we know it or not.
Until next time,
Cheers to leaving our regrets in the past and to giving our kindness away now.