It was a muggy July night when my life changed in a big, unexpected way.
I was 13 years old, playing basketball under the dime-an-hour lights at Brookside Park in Ames, Iowa. When the court went dark at 10, my friends and I scattered to make our way home. The Dahl brothers headed toward the underpass on Lincoln Street, Mulhall rode his bike north to where the lots and houses were bigger, and Billy “The Baby” Baker was picked up by his older sister. Schmidt and I started walking to my house, which was a good half-mile away.
We hadn’t gone a block when my father drove around the corner and with one stern finger ordered me into the car. Schmidt didn’t even attempt to hop in the backseat.
Three blocks went by in silence. Right before Spring Street, my father dropped the big news. His tone was as if he were telling me I was having roast beef for supper. Instead he mentioned our family was moving to Chicago. That was it.
That summer, we went from an apartment in Ames to an apartment in a Chicago suburb. I went from a grade school class of 19 to a high school class of 1,000, from a comfortable kid with a close cohort of friends to a frightened boy who hid out from strangers, from the boyfriend of Maria Brooks to the boyfriend of nobody. It was a scary transition for someone who stuttered and was on the back end of the puberty curve.
Looking back on it today, that move the summer of my eighth grade year influenced, to some measure, my longest-lasting friends, where I went to college, my spouse and my life’s work. It also impacted my emotional and social makeup: what motivates me, my level of resiliency, my appetite for risk and hundreds of other traits.
I am—we are—a series of chain reactions to change.
That evening, sitting in the car with my father, the only thing I could think about was everything I was about to lose. To a 13-year-old, moving seemed like a death sentence. And yet, changes that spring up in our lives, whether determined by parents, bosses, circumstances or our own free will, lead us on different pathways, often ushering in new opportunities and challenges.
Each day we play on new ground. What really counts are not all the paths we did not journey down, but the ones that we did. Sure, as an adult, it is an entertaining mental exercise to project the many “might-have-beens” in my life. What if my family had stayed in Iowa? What if my life wasn’t blessed with fabulous friends? What if the judge had a bad day when my case came up? Yep, I might be a different guy.
But my dad did pick me up that muggy July night. The fact is, I’m exactly who I am today, and I can’t wait for tomorrow.