It is never too late to do better

It is never too late to do better

I can’t count the number of times I have heard people say, “I just want to live without any regrets”, which is a pretty tall order, given that most of us inevitably chunk up from time to time, missing a chance to be kind, taking a shortcut that injures someone else, maybe even doing things we had vowed we would never do.  Memory of those things done which we ought not to have done and those undone we ought to have done can weigh heavily upon us at times, and regret usually creeps in, often unacknowledged and always unwelcome.

Regret does not feel great, particularly if it’s the sort of regret that is tinged with shame.  It’s one thing to wish I had invested in Microsoft and another to remember acting selfishly or dishonestly.  Leaving my wallet in the men’s room makes me feel stupid ; not visiting a dying friend makes me feel worthless.  There could be a thousand reasons for having made the wrong choice, and I am inclined to find any one of them which allows me to tuck that regret away, out of sight and seemingly out of mind.  Apparently, however, my mind is a stickier place than I might wish.

It’s troubling; not only does justification and self-deception take a lot of energy from virtually every interaction we have with the world in the present, it doesn’t attend to that feeling of worthlessness or shame that kicked off the whole process in the first place.  I’m going to skip a couple of steps here in the interest of getting somewhere.  Moving beyond regret requires moving into regret just long enough to see things for what they were, acknowledge our part with as much honesty as we can bear, and then do something that does have worth.

It’s easy to say that all we need to do is to get honest and act as honest people do; I guess if it were easy, we’d all do it all the time.  Getting to honesty is necessary in order to move on, and although that’s an important issue in its own right, I’m moving on to regret.

The best advice I ever got came from my wife on a night when I had chunked up most spectacularly.  Her advice to me was succinct:  “Just don’t make it worse.”  It was necessary advice because shame feels really crummy and my first impulse is to do SOMETHING, anything,  to obscure the reality of the situation.  When we have made a mess, it is necessary to take action, but first we have to stop making a mess.  We don’t have to find a different mess; we have to look at the mess we’ve made and change our behavior.

And then?  The past being past, there’s a great deal we can’t undo.  We said what we said; we did what we did.  The suggestion that it’s not too late to do better is essentially a way of paying backward by paying forward.  We work to find a second chance, a do-over.  Not absolution or a free pass.  No, I’m suggesting circling back and taking a second swipe, trying a better, kinder behavior than the one we’ve come to regret, taking the time to attend to a task we had chosen to avoid. We can’t change yesterday, but there is the outside possibility that we can do something about today.

Rather than dropping into a litany of things I deeply regret, I’ll use a relatively benign regret as an example: For years I considered an annual retreat and dinner with colleagues one of the great afflictions pressed upon me by an uncaring universe.  I worked with these people every day; I knew their foibles all too well and had heard their disjointed and indefensible opinions for years.  The event promised nothing but pain, and, being an equal opportunity curmudgeon, I growled to my wife in advance of dinner, pouted and isolated myself during dinner, and then subjected my wife to higher grade growling when we got home.  Grrrr.  Life is rotten, etc.

Year after year, I dreaded the evening, and I had also come to not like myself very much as the glum growling guy in the corner.  I didn’t want to be resentful and cranky; I had to do something.  Jumping to the unlikely insight that I might have something to do with the quality of my experience of other people and regret my small-minded and unnecessarily alienating behavior, I decided I had better act like a grown-up, if only to see if it made a difference.  Against all odds, I determined to change my behavior and my attitude.  My attitude, unfortunately, lags behind my behavior.  I pretty much have to act as if I am a better person in order to start thinking like a better person.  Yeah, attitude lags behind a bit.

Good thing I had the opportunity to grab a do-over.  Annual retreat and dinner arrived again, that being the way of annual things.

Instead of trying to sit as far from conversation as I could, I plunked down between two colleagues to whom I had not shown much respect.  I was determined to make the evening as pleasant as possible for them.  I took the obvious (to a grown-up)  path; I asked them about themselves.  I listened to what they said and asked follow-up questions that allowed them to speak in greater detail about the fabric of their lives.  I asked and asked and asked until I found myself authentically engaged in the stories they told.  We have not become best friends, but I identified with many of the challenges and triumphs in their lives and saw them as people rather than tedious annoyances.

Oh, and I had a great time and came home happy, eager to tell my wife how much I had learned in the few hours I’d had with folks we’d know for a long time.  I hadn’t made things worse, I hadn’t stacked up a new pile of grievances, I’d practiced being a better person than I had been.

Not only did I feel much better, I learned that it is a gift to try to see a person and to hear the story they have lived.  Huh.  People can be interesting if you give yourself a chance to see them; what a concept!   As do-overs go, it was a very manageable task.  My experience is probably not much of a guide as opportunities to find do-overs pop up at alarming rate for me, a function of all those things left undone, I guess.  But still, I can summon patience in the check-out line at Target if I can imagine that the person in front of me probably also has a life to get to , I can summon kindness when giving up a parking space if I can assume that I’m not only one in a hurry, and I can even summon appreciation when unearned gifts come my way if I can imagine that someone has taken the time to think of me.

Grown up?  Not yet, but coming closer, one do-over at a time.




I’m writing today about women’s basketball, and you know that because “UConn”,  the title of the piece, now brings to mind women’s basketball, but the remarkable accomplishment of a team from a relatively small and absolutely unheralded Northeastern university speaks to more than the Huskies’ dominance in the sport.  Most recent conversation about UConn has been about the danger of a single team’s prominence and its stranglehold on the national championship, even though a feisty Mississippi State team knocked UConn out in the Final Four last season, an anomaly that did not silence the debate.

“Is UConn bad for women’s basketball”?  Back and forth like a series of turnovers at midcourt.

Here’s the thing:  If you have to ask the question, the answer is there wouldn’t be a conversation about women’s basketball without UConn’s transcendent legacy.

Have women’s collegiate sports come of age, particularly since the implementation of Title IX?  Absolutely?  Are women’s sporting events as well attended as men’s?  Not usually, or almost never with a few significant exceptions.  US National Women’s Soccer game tickets may be hard to come by, and final matches at the US Tennis Open are up by more than 30% as more than 690,000 attended in person, in part because American women in addition to the Williams sisters have moved up the ranks.  The highest attendance of any US women’s professional team belongs to the Portland Thorns FC of the NWSL who have averaged about 13,000 per game and a high of 17,653 last season.  In the WNBA, the highest numbers showed up for the 2000 All Star game in Phoenix (17,717) and for the final game between the Minnesota Lynx and the Atlanta Dream(15,258).

At the collegiate level, the University of Utah Gymnastic team leads the pack with an average attendance of 15,000, although as many as 15,600 packed into an arena with a capacity of 15,000 to see the Red Rocks take on the Bruins of UCLA.  The next contender is also a gymnastic program, at the University of Alabama, averaging more than 13,000 per game.  Where’s UConn’s women’s basketball program?  Behind South Carolina, Tennessee, and Iowa State.

So, bad for women’s basketball?  Apparently not, and here’s the argument that carries the most weight.  Although there may not be parity in women’s basketball, and although UConn blows out teams like St, Francis in the first round of the tournament by a score of 140 – 52, leading the St. Francis Red Flash by 94 – 31 in the first half, every televised slamma-jamma-fast break- three point-outlet pass victory brings more viewers to the sport, more attention to the game, and more intensity to the coaching and training of female high school and collegiate basketball players.

Tennessee held the crown for decades.  Coached by Pat Summitt, one of the toughest and most revered coaches in any collegiate sport, the Lady Vols have appeared in all 36 tournaments, 34 Sweet Sixteens, and 18 Final Fours.  In 1988-99, a year in which they won a National Championship, the Lady Vols went 35-2.  Other programs, Baylor, Louisiana Tech, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Stanford, Notre Dame have risen to join Tennessee as contending programs in any year, and any of them could conceivably beat UConn as Mississippi State did last year.

But UConn’s women hold the top two longest winning streaks in collegiate basketball, winning 111 consecutive games from 2014 to 2017 (buzzer beater loss to Mississippi State) and a streak of 90 games from 2008 to 2010.

111 consecutive games.  What talented young woman would not want to be a part of that dynasty?

Coach Gino Auriemma arrived in Storrs, Connecticut in 1985.  I grew up in Connecticut, and I can find Storrs on a map, but I would bet that most of my readers would need some help to pinpoint the Mecca of women’s collegiate basketball.  Storrs is a sleepy town in the agricultural northeast of the state with a population of about 15,000, and UConn was one of the New England state universities that enjoyed brief flashes of celebrity as one of the men’s basketball teams bounced out of the American Conference and into the limelight.  Julius Erving took the University of Massachusetts to prominence at the end of the 1960’s, and John Calipari and Marcus Canby resuscitated the program in the early 1990’s.  It was UConn’s men who first brought attention to the university winning the NCAA championship in 1999, but by 1995, the women had climbed to the top as well, defeating a Pat Summitt coached Tennessee team with the help of Rebecca Lobo, Kara Wolters, Jennifer Rizzotti, Nykesha Sales, and Jamelle Elliott.  The strength of both programs allowed UConn to become the only college to sweep the tournament with both men’s and women’s teams, in 2004 and 2014.  The men rank sixth all-time in NCAA tournament success, but few of us mark the calendar to watch them play.  Even fewer tune in the hope of seeing them lose.

And that’s where I think the UConn women’s team has had a salubrious effect on the quality of the game as a whole.  They face some strong competition during the season of course, but for every other team, the UConn game is THE game of the season.  Not only does UConn make regular season basketball compelling (and few teams do), they push every opponent to the highest level of their game.  The game is elevated, the stakes are high, and the sport becomes a topic of conversation as is true of no other women’s sport.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, UConn plays superb team basketball.  They shoot threes with the best of the best, but also speed in transition, steal a lot of balls, find the open player, grab rebounds, play killer defense, and never stop scrapping.  They play an elegant, furious version of basketball that reminds me why I love the sport.

Last season’s team had lost outstanding players, played younger, and had to scrap a bit harder.  The loss to Mississippi State ended the streak, but pushed both Mississippi State and South Carolina into greater public attention and brought heightened drama to the current season.  In regular play, the Huskies were 16-0 in conference this year and 19-0 against teams outside the conference.  Maybe not all that much drama.

They face South Carolina tomorrow and, should they move along, either Mississippi State or UCLA in the final game.  I watch golf when Tiger plays and I watch basketball when UConn plays.  I’m hoping they keep this streak alive, race to the finish and play basketball as basketball was meant to be played.

Go, Huskies!

Waiting … Waiting

Waiting … Waiting

To set the scene – this is the waiting room in our local hospital’s imaging center, the place where women undergo Sonography, 3D Digital Mammography, Computer Aided Detection, and Stereotactic Breast Biopsies.  It is a clean, well lighted place; the chairs are reasonably comfortable, and the decor is unremarkable.  Women of an age come and go, checking in, sitting for a few moments, rising quickly when called.  Most are alone.  My wife was scheduled for a host of tests, some of which could indicate a need for more invasive testing, so I wanted to be on hand, just in case.  The very good news is that at the end of the morning, my wife emerged with a great report card, off the watch list for another year, and ready to celebrate with a pancake breakfast.  Good news, much relief, and an entirely successful four hours very well spent.

The only glitch was that I had forgotten to bring my computer or my Kindle, so for those  few moderately anxious hours I worked my way through the center’s magazines, moving from stack to stack as seats emptied and the next pile became available.

About an hour into the magazine maelstrom, it occurred to me that someone deep in the bowels of the administrative wing of the huge medical center of which this office is but a tiny adjunct must had invested a fair amount of time in selecting these subscriptions. These were freshly published magazines, not cast-offs. not rumpled, coffee stained shards of magazines from which recipes has been torn; these were current, obviously curated and kept up-to-date.  And there were a lot of them.

Sure, some were the celebrity stalking, quasi fashion magazines I regularly see in the check-out line.  I have learned to be grateful for the chance to scan covers, moving from the hard-to-reach  at the top of the racks (People, Oprah) to the in-my-face middle ranks  (US, In Style, and my favorite, OK).  Thanks to OK I know that “Meghan’s Baby Is On The Way … Already!”, and I find out that Leah escaped from Scientology.  I have to admit that I’m not on a first name basis with celebrities, but I’m happy for Leah. Thanks to People, I can join mainstream conversations about the Bachelor Betrayal – “I made  huge mistake … I had to take a risk”.   The lines are long, the wait interminable, nothing’s moving, and I can take the time to check in on cultural trends about which I would know nothing. It could be so much worse as the nation’s most widely circulated magazines do not show up next to the impulse buying candy rack and would not so generously broaden my cultural horizons.  The top three, AARP The Magazine, AARP Bulletin, and Costco Connection may one day perch above the Paydays and Peanut Butter Cups, but even an aging America may not be ready yet.

It’s not surprising to find some of these in a medical waiting room: People, Good Housekeeping, Home and Garden, US, Family Circle, Golf Digest, Sports Illustrated.  Not surprising, but perhaps foolhardy as doctors’ offices lose something like sixty million dollars in stolen (ok, “borrowed”) magazines a year, particularly those that are gossip, fashion, or sports related.  Apparently Forbes, the Economist, and Smithsonian live to see another week or month on the table.

The office in which I wait, however, has certainly anticipated light-fingered chicanery in the waiting room.  Here are the magazines I had before me after looking at an old Sports Illustrated, the two most recent copies of US and InStyle, Golf Digest, a National Geographic, and WebMD:

TV Guide, Sunset, Vanity Fair, Birds and Blooms, This Old House, Food and Wine, Architectural Digest, Private Islands, Breathe Magazine, Scootering – A Way of Life Since 1985, Yoga Magazine, Yachting, Men’s Journal, Motor Home Magazine, Classic Car, and Ranger Rick.

Ranger Rick is a racoon and a heck of a park ranger as any loyal reader knows from following “Ranger Rick’s Adventures”, an ongoing account of Rick’s attempts to teach a clueless world to face contemporary environmental issues.  Since one of my kids dressed as Ranger Rick on his sixth Halloween, Rick is an old friend, and it was good to catch up with him.  It did not take me long, however, to cover most of the ground in recycling Christmas trees, so on to the next available journal, in my case, TV Guide.  There are articles in TV Guide (“Does Jason Bateman listen to Sandy Duncan?  Of course not!”), but the bulk of the publication is the daily schedule of television shows available that week, information more useful in almost any other setting.  Reading a dated TV Guide is like reading last year’s calendar.   Moving on.

I glumly leafed through the magazines obviously meant for the one percent not idly waiting anywhere for four hours at a stretch, Vanity Fair, Private Islands, Architectural Digest, and Yachting, fairly certain that I was not in the market for an island or a yacht, although it was clear that the Okean 50 truly was a Brazilian beauty and nine stunning islands are still for sale in Canada – Go Figure.   Vanity Fair used to fascinate me, in a face pressed up against a window outside the Knickerbocker Club in New York kind of way, but the current iteration is a high fashion version of the celebrity fan mag crossed with some biting cultural controversy.  The cover of December’s edition featured J-Lo and A-Rod in evening wear (their secret is their willingness to share vulnerability), but articles by Michael Lewis on the U.S.D.A and an interview with a mourning Joe Biden convinced me to take a look at past issues when I had a chance.  Architectural Digest  trotted out a Mid-Century inspired design, a country cottage, and a house in the Hamptons as usual, any one of which installed faucets that cost more than I made in my best year.

By the time my wife emerged, I was overwhelmed by the range and scope of the magazines in this space, a generous array, but a tiny segment of a publishing industry that I had assumed devastated by social media, smart phones, and digital gossip.  There are more than seven thousand magazines published each year in the US, most of which I had never seen much less read.  Have I raced out to pick up the latest copy of Soft Dolls and Animals?  I have not.  On the other hand, I have now checked out Supermarket News to see just how much I don’t know about how magazines play a part in the complex world of supermarket management. Overwhelming!

Next time I’m bringing my Kindle.