The braided ramps connecting Highways 180 and 41 have made my life easier in recent months. Today was no exception. After a day of meetings, I rushed home to change clothes and head back across town. His was one retirement party I would not miss. It was rush hour, though, and waiting my turn to go north was taking longer than anticipated. When the meter finally flashed “go” for my lane, I stepped on the gas, grasped the steering wheel, and quickly inserted myself into the long line of bright headlights.
I turned from Shaw Avenue onto Van Ness Extension and discovered all lots were packed. I circled a couple of times, hoping to stalk someone leaving. The party was obviously in full swing — no one was going anywhere. I saw two possibilities: nearby spaces reserved for the massage parlor and liquor store. I was reluctant to take the risk, but decided those purchasing alcohol would more likely be “in and out” customers.
I was greeted by a rather large contingent of sheriff’s deputies and policemen. I instantly felt more comfortable. Surely, they wouldn’t allow a tow truck to haul away my car.
A hug from the honoree and my name tag in place, I entered and struggled to find my way through the crammed banquet room. En route to the bar, I bumped into so many Rotarians we could have had a makeup meeting. Hand-shaking consisted of attempts to balance a plate of tasty nibbles while not dropping the wine glass.
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The official program began promptly as scheduled with formal introductions and eloquent tributes to his professional achievements on the bench. Some spoke about how he touched the lives of so many families and others the amount of time and effort he spent making our community a better place. As I listened, I thought to myself that he must have a closet full of plaques — including the coveted Leon S. Peters award.
A standing ovation moved like the Red Wave at a football game when he took the podium. His wisely chosen words included the importance of balancing one’s life among family, career and community involvement. The last sentence of his speech deeply resonated with me: don’t leave anything on the table.
After more mingling, the room eventually thinned out. It was a balmy December evening as I walked to my car and headed home. Those words continued to play over and over in my mind as I thought about the times in my life when I had left things “on the table” rather than take risks. What if I didn’t try so hard to do everything perfectly? Or, what if I had decided to place my name on the ballot?
But, I also thought about how grateful I am for those who have encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone. Three years ago, a good friend, writer and author, persuaded me to enroll in a Summer Arts writing course. The first morning of class, I sat terrified. I was surrounded by people who could write complete papers while I struggled understanding active verbs. Two weeks went quickly. The professors and fellow students, much to my surprise, were caring and helpful. I learned a lot that summer, mostly about myself.
Another nudge came when I was invited to lead our Rotary Club. I highly admired the members and what collectively they continued to do both locally and internationally. Could I measure up to past presidents? Each week, I get nervous when it is time to begin the meeting. Thus far, I’ve discovered it is OK to make mistakes. I don’t have to be perfect. In fact, being more relaxed is not only accepted, we all have more fun.
The honoree, Robert Oliver, shared powerful words that I took to heart. As another new year begins, they made something crystal clear in my mind. As time presses on and I continue to have birthdays, I need to ask myself what will fulfill my remaining years. I know I am going to do my best not to leave anything on the table.