By lex, Sat – March 6, 2004
As promised in the previous post, I went golfing today.
I spend my working week planning, thinking, organizing, managing. When the weekend comes around, I put away planning things.
I don’t plan my golf, it just happens to me.
There are some advantages to this. I meet different people every time that I play. A twosome or a threesome is already formed, and I get to join them, and observe their dynamic. It is a fascinating insight into the human condition, especially in that one will always be tested in a game of golf. It brings out the best in people, and the worst. It is a kind of war: a war against the course, against one’s playing partners, against oneself.
If I had not been a fighter pilot and a naval officer, I would have liked to have been a psychiatrist. I am continually fascinated by the way people react to different stimuli. After viewing the movie “Saving Private Ryan,” I left the film quickly, to stand opposite the exit, and surreptitiously see the faces of the people leaving. To see the way they dealt with raw emotion, thoughts they hadn’t had to face before. Thoughts of their parent’s generation, and the sacrifices they made, so that we could watch movies in cineplexes and malls.
I am not the perfect observer however. Last weekend I saw Mel Gibson’s latest oeuvre. I sat in my seat for several minutes during the credit roll. When I left, I left without looking into anyone else’s eyes. It didn’t matter to me, what their experience had been. I was still digesting mine.
So on the first tee today, I met my playing partners. One introduced himself as Connie, the other was Bill. I asked Connie what his nickname stood for – it turned out to be Conrad. I told him that I had served aboard an aircraft carrier called Connie. And to my surprise, so had Connie and Bill.
They were retirees, former naval officers, and aviators. They were are few years older than me, ten years perhaps. We knew many people in common. Connie and I had cruised together, it turned out, in 1990. He and Bill had known each other for many years. Connie was a bit older, completely bald. Bill had clearly been an athlete in times past. Turns out he played double-A baseball, before joining the Navy.
And because golf is as much a test of character as it is a game, I had the opportunity to view Connie and Bill over the course of the next four and one-half hours, to weigh their character. The casual barbs they sent each other’s way, in a style that is as familiar to me as the air you breathe is to you. When you love someone, you give them a hard time. It’s what we do. It is our way. It is who we are.
I noticed that Connie labored at times to breathe. I noticed that Bill was solicitous when Connie was struggling. When Connie was in a bunker, Bill was there with a hand to help him climb out. They seemed somehow more than brothers, not quite lovers.
I don’t know how things are in the executive ranks at Qualcomm, or Microsoft, or IBM. I think it must be a little different there, than it is here. I go to Tailhook, the association of carrier aviation when I can. While there, I will see men in their 50’s and 60’s see someone they haven’t seen for years, someone they sailed with, and brawled with, and fought with and shed blood with. These men will suddenly throw aside whatever they had been doing, and rush across the crowded room. And these ancient warriors, these granite men, will throw their arms wide, and embrace the long lost and rediscovered, and weep. And not care who sees. Because they will talk about the old times, the good and the bad. The victories and the defeats, and the friends they lost along the way.
I doubt this happens at IBM. The hugs I mean.
After the golf match, I had a beer with Connie and Bill. I learned a bit more about them. They had served together, off and on, for the better part of 25 years. And we told sea stories, and talked of those we knew in common, and we laughed out loud, and I knew them, and they knew me.
Connie had lung cancer – it was stabilized, which means that it is not cured. It is not in remission, it’s just not getting worse, yet. He’s lost two thirds of one lung, and one third of the other. He has three tumors still. Which is why he occasionally labored to breathe. The Navy is taking care of him, since he is actually sick. He’s getting the best possible care.
Bill was a Southwest Airlines pilot who hadn’t worked in several years. He was on a medical leave of absence, having discovered a tear in the mitral valve of his heart. He had written several books about flying in the Navy, and I had read some of them.
And they are not so very much older than I am, and they are living on borrowed time.
But here’s the thing: They were not sorry for themselves. They counted themselves blessed. And they were having a blast.
Because they had fought together, and brawled and shed blood together. Because they were still brothers in arms, and still had each other.
And when they left, I sat in my chair for a moment, and didn’t make eye contact with anyone else. And I didn’t care what anyone else’s experience had been in that room.
I was still digesting mine.