Tuesday, February 20, 2007

To Tell The Truth

I read recently that golf balls originally had no dimples. They were perfect spheres, round and smooth. When a golfer made his swing, pulled the club back in an arc over his shoulder and brought it back down to hit the ball, the trajectory was more like a baseball line drive than a basketball floating jumper.

The story goes that only after a ball had been used for a while, whacked and beaten, scuffed and bruised, did it begin to take off, to lift into the air high above the heads of the golfers and caddies and spectators. It became obvious that the game was more interesting this way and in 1909 the Spalding Company began manufacturing balls with dimples, that is, imitation defects.
It is said that a dimpled golf ball will travel almost two and a half times farther than a smooth one.

Isn’t that a great story? A morality tale that reminds us that being used over and over isn’t always a negative thing. That paying attention to the way things work, rather than the way they are supposed to work, is the first step toward innovation. That it is sometimes the wounds we receive and the scars that remain that give us the loft to fly higher and farther.

I know some people who have been golf balls. People who rose to their greatest heights after having been beat up a few times. And people who started their lives’ journeys with all the right things – good family, intelligence, enough money – , but who didn’t accomplish much in the way of obtaining their hearts’ desires until they’d been through some days when it seemed as though all the blinds in the world had been drawn shut and it would never be light again. And people who remembered that it was a game and just stayed in it, confident that sooner or later the odds would fall in their favor.

Yeh, the golf ball story is a great one. Except it may not be factual. The Spalding Company website, which has an extensive section called Heritage, doesn’t mention 1909 at all. And it certainly seems that such an event, a modification that changed the whole game, would merit some mention if it actually happened.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that it isn’t true. There is a big difference between factual and true. Facts are verifiable. Scientifically provable. Authenticated, corroborated, substantiated by independent sources. Facts are universally recognized.

Truth, on the other hand, may not be provable. Truth is something that comes from the heart and no EKG in the world can produce a printout of love or loyalty or patriotism, all of which are very real. A particular truth may very well exist for only one person. And, interestingly enough, it is usually truth, not facts, upon which people are willing to risk their lives.

Just a few thoughts to say that I believe the golf ball story. Maybe it wasn’t Mr. Spalding who had the light bulb moment. Maybe it was a golfing physicist who stood at the tee one day, twirled the ball in his hand and thought, "This would probably go farther if it had a lot of little dents all over it." Maybe the guy who wrote the article I read made it up entirely. It doesn’t matter.

What matters is that the story struck a familiar chord, gave me a visual image to consider the next time I’m feeling a little exploited or misused or the next time I need to encourage someone who is feeling that way himself. What matters is that, call it fact or call it truth, none of us gets through life without a knock or two and it helps to believe that we can be left with something more than just a bruise.

Copyright 2007

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Things That Stay

"You need to come to Indianapolis," the voice on the other end of the telephone announced with such assurance that it didn't occur to me to question it. Barry is a salesman, a car salesman, born to the breed. He is a hard person to contradict.

"You need to have some fun and I can promise you that we'll give you some fun. So, when are you coming?"

I hesitated. Taken off guard, I mumbled a few words that neither of us understood.

"You can't tell me no. I am not a person that someone can say no to. You're going to come. You just tell me when."

"Let me check my calendar. I'll call you back."

Two weeks later Barry called me again. "You didn't call me back," he said matter-of-factly. "So when are you coming?"

As I said, Barry is tenacious. And he loves his wife. Though she is very happy in Indiana after living there for nearly 16 years, he recognizes that it can't hurt to continue to express his gratitude for the fact that she packed up and left Georgia, two toddlers in tow, to settle in a place where Easter outfits include overcoats.

Barry also loves surprises and he had decided that my visit would be a surprise. For three months we exchanged secret e-mail's and telephone calls and on the Thursday afternoon before Martin Luther King Day, I found myself on a plane to Indianapolis by way of Cincinnati (whose airport, incidentally, is not located in Ohio, but Kentucky).

My plane from Savannah to Cincinnati was delayed an hour. I called Barry. He was completely nonplused by the fact that his list of lies about why he would be getting home late would now need to grow by at least one. "I've got a plan," he told me and I laughed. It's hard not to laugh at Barry.

I finally got to Indianapolis at 10 o'clock. Barry and I hadn't seen each other in 15 years and I was wondering if we'd recognize each other. I rounded the corner and there he was. His hair was grayer, mine was longer. Otherwise we looked about the same. It probably helped that at that hour the airport was virtually empty and there weren't that many passengers/people waiting from which the two of us had to choose.

"This is the plan," he told me. "I got an empty pizza box last night. I'm going to call Sandra and tell her that I'm ordering pizza. When we get home, I'll go inside and then you can go to the front door with the pizza box and ring the doorbell."

It went off without a hitch. One of those I-wish-I'd-had-a-camera moments. And the look on Sandra's face was worth the delay, worth the earache I always get as the plane descends, worth all of Barry's lies, for which he was immediately forgiven.

And I did have fun.

It didn't surprise me really, but time and distance have a way of eroding things and anyone with any amount of living behind her knows that not everything lasts.

Sandra and I met when we were ten years old. We have never lived in the same town. We have never spent more than five consecutive days in the same town. Except for the fact that we both love to talk better than just about anything, our personalities are near-polar opposites. Sandra is spontaneous; I am deliberate. Sandra is self-effacing; I am self-critical. Sandra is blonde; I am not. And, yet, somehow over nearly 40 years we have remained friends. We have lasted.
What a comfort. What a joy. What a gift.

Copyright 2007