I have forgotten so many details of the day but him I remember—Jack Bauer. He was an eye opener.
I’d been sent on behalf of my school to a leadership conference. I was in high school, a freshman—maybe a sophomore. I’d been there long enough for the administration to see this was my niche. Scholarship kid who lacked athletic ability—but had a knack for Student Council.
I grew up on the west side of Cleveland. Lots of Irish Catholic families. A basketball hoop in every driveway. Friday night fish fries during Lent. Even if your family had money, no one lived in a mansion. You did your own yard work, washed your own car. My family didn’t have money. We lived in a tiny ranch house but my parents raised us with solid Midwestern values. It was very meat and potatoes.
So little ‘ole sheltered me was sent to the East side to mingle with the kids who went to extremely expensive schools. The East side was culture. It was where you lived if you were Jewish, African American or anything else that didn’t “fit” into the West side. They had coffee houses, for Pete’s sake. Coffee houses. Before coffee houses were cool.
I was at some chichi school or club or some such. I was comfortable, though. My mother had made sure that even though we were growing up very middle class, we were exposed to cocktail receptions, teas, dinners out, the ballet, etc. It was her aim to improve our station in life—and she’d be damned if we were going to feel uncomfortable when we got there.
We were in a mock United Nations breakout group. We had roles to play. And mine was to be as obstructive as possible to what Jack Bauer was trying to accomplish.
This was not an easy task. Jack Bauer, at the ripe old age of 15, was not someone most girls would want to obstruct. Wavy brown hair, big brown eyes—and from the looks of his attire that day, a wardrobe to die for. Well spoken, flirtatious and extremely intelligent, he was a CEO waiting to happen. He was pure East side money, went to one of the best schools in town and had class to boot. Obstruction was not tops on my list.
And this is where the story with Jack ends. Because he is not the point. The effect he had on me is. He was what I like to call an eye opener.
The West side girl who hung out with boys from our brother Catholic school had just met a new species. The boys I hung out with had names like Kip, Sean, Pat. They drove Daddy’s Cadillac, wore khakis and button-downs and drank too much beer. Culture was not high on their list. Neither was a rocking wardrobe. Or where they were headed in life. They had some of the advantages of a Jack Bauer, just not the worldliness of Jack Bauer.
My universe had just broadened a bit and I liked what I saw.
Eye openers don’t have to be large, dramatic moments. They could fit on the head of a pin. But their impact is pivotal.
I remember my niece visiting Chicago. We went shopping and to tea. While in the dressing room of a Michigan Avenue boutique, she said, “Wow. This dressing room is larger than our living room at home.” She moved here shortly thereafter. For the dressing room? Surely not. But, her world had just gotten a little bigger. It had never occurred to her that boutiques like this were out there—and hers for the shopping. And she liked what she saw. She wanted to expand her world and the options available to her.
When my sons went to Costa Rica with me, they were changed. Not having traveled out of the country previously, their eyes grew wide at a country where our language was secondary. At houses that weren’t more than shacks, but had barbed wire around the perimeter, to keep the drug trade out as best they could. At people happy despite having what we would consider next to nothing. Pura vida—roughly translated, “pure life”—was a new concept to them. It means that no matter your station in life, all is good. You’re fortunate. Be happy. Someone else always has it worse. And their world got a little bigger, expanding beyond who has the latest Xbox game and who doesn’t.
As we get older, we can choose to continue to put ourselves in situations where our eyes are opened. We can take classes, travel, talk to people of differing opinions, try a new hobby. Or, we can complacently live within our comfort zone. These are the armchair quarterbacks. The ones who tell you how to parent even though they’ve never had children. The ones who pick apart the personalities and habits of those out there in the arena of life, taking a risk.
I can’t stand armchair quarterbacks. Give me someone who ends up making stupid mistake after stupid mistake but grows every day, over someone who stagnates and feels they are master of the universe.
If you’re master of the universe, it’s only because your universe is too small.
Hmm. That could be an eye-opening statement.