For all these years she's walked her dog by our house, rounded the corner, and kept on. She's about my age, always regal and dressed impeccably, even before 7 in the morning when I was still in my baseball cap and uncaffeinated.
Her Dalmatian walked on her left side. It was like watching two fish swim together. That's how well they seemed to know each other's movements.
Sometimes I'd see her out when I was walking my own dog, back when he was alive and that was the way I'd start my day. The dogs brushed up against each other and we'd say good morning. We never shook hands or introduced ourselves. She had a faint German accent. The Dalmatian's coat was brilliant in the sun, well brushed and tended to. After I moved on, the spots would stay in my mind's vision.
They walked in the summer and their sunrise shadows spread over the blades of grass in the yard, jagged like the teeth in a saw.
This winter there was a warm day, and I saw her walk by with the Dalmatian. She was wearing a head scarf. I didn't think much of it, until I saw her a few days later wearing a different head scarf. She gave me the same polite smile she always does.
It was raining hard one day this spring and there they were, walking under one of those clear umbrellas like kids have sometimes. I could see her scarf through it. The Dalmatian was touching her side as they walked.
I haven't seen her or the Dalmatian in weeks.
I have always thought that those fighting cancer were the bravest people. Then I remembered one breast cancer victim saying she didn't like it when people said that. There's nothing courageous about trying to rid your body of this, she said. That suggests there's some kind of choice.
I appreciated her point, but with all respect, I think you can still admire people even when they don't want to be admired. You take your heroes when they appear.
You've accomplished something, whatever school you're graduating from. Almost 25 percent of Americans don't finish high school. Almost 70 percent don't complete a bachelor's degree. More than 93 percent of people in the world won't finish college. Hundreds of millions across the globe, mostly girls, never attend school for a single day.
So you should feel proud. But don't feel superior. Not everybody had the means or the support that you've had to get here. And anyway, lots of people have done very well without graduating. Peter Jennings and Hans Christian Andersen didn't finish high school. Mark Wahlberg, Louis Armstrong, and Julie Andrews didn't finish high school. Edward Albee, Adele, Paul Allen, Dan Akroyd, and Jane Austen never finished college. That's just a few of the A's.
You're going to have a good time celebrating this event, as you should. Maybe you'll party in a hotel. Tomorrow, there will be a maid who will clean up the room you partied in. Chances are she's cleaning that room because she's trying to get somebody she loves to the chair you're in. She's accomplishing a lot too.
Try to find at least one person that you can confide in. Somebody you trust absolutely and can call at 3 in the morning with a crisis. It doesn't matter if you see them every day or once a year. You'd be surprised how much you might rely on them down the road. To me, a person like that is right up there with food, water, and shelter. Once you have those, you can do anything.
Also, try to be that kind of person for someone else. Think as hard as you can for good suggestions, and listen to every word. If they tell you something in confidence, take it to the grave. No matter what. Helping somebody like that is one of the most satisfying feelings you can have in life.
Don't take too much advice. When you do take advice, take it from good advice givers. One of life's challenges is identifying who they are. For example, I may not be one of them. So maybe you should reject my advice and then go and take too much advice. You'll have to figure it out on your own.
You've probably heard that you'll never use most of the math you've learned, but I think that's wrong. That usually comes from people who didn't like math or weren't any good at it. Math is more useful than you think in life. You never know.
Actually, I think that goes for anything you learn. Y ou can't remember everything you've studied, but try to treat every bit of knowledge that comes your way how a really talented seamstress might use fabric that others would discard. Every scrap could get used at some point to make something cool.
Keep learning. Know it all.
If you haven't had your heart broken yet — really broken to the point you can barely get out of bed — then the diploma you're receiving is just a rain check until the actual commencement ceremony you'll have some day. It might be a person you love that rejects you, or not getting a scholarship or a job you want. You will pour your heart into something and fail. That's the real graduation. Your grandparents probably won't be there for that day, and you won't get cards and checks and a mimosa. But it's every bit as important an event as this day is. It's a transendence. That's the day you start becoming one of the greats.
It's never too late to thank your teachers. Or to thank anyone for something you appreciate only later. Or to express condolences. In fact, it might mean even more years later.
The right response when you get a compliment is to simply say thank you. Don't deny it or reject it. If the person didn't mean the compliment, then who cares how your respond? But more often than not, they meant what they said. Take the money and run.
Avoid the people who discourage you from what you want to do. They are poison for you and me. Usually, they are people who were discouraged from doing what they wanted to do and listened. That turned them into discouragers.
Don't be a discourager. No matter how silly somebody's ideas or plans may seem to you, nobody can see the future. They may surprise you. Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper job and told he "lacked imagination and had no good ideas." Maybe the person's idea really does turn out to be lousy. Let the person fail on their own. Buy them a drink — that might be their commencement day. Then encourage them to do the next thing. They'll remember you when they open their version of Euro Disney.
When you meet somebody new, ask them questions. You can always learn something from someone, and if you don't then it's a missed opportunity.
Learn a good card trick. Everyone loves them.
This is a recycled post, but I can't help thinking about it this time of year.
Most seventh graders can't wait until summer vacation. But I dreaded it. She was leaving, and I'd never see her again.
Through that winter and spring, she was my reason for getting up in the morning. She'd been in my class for years, just another one of the girls. Until one day in seventh grade when she wasn't. There were some whispers, some notes exchanged behind backs. What I gathered was that she liked me a little bit, and then of course I suddenly liked her a lot. That was the beginning of the romance and the end of all conversation between us. Communication after that was through intermediaries or tightly folded correspondence.
The chandeliers turned on above her head. She had gray eyes and a haircut in the style of the Olympic ice skater Dorothy Hamill, as did almost all of the girls and quite a few of the boys.
I went back through all our class photos. How could I not have seen what a beauty she was?
It was late winter. The radiators knocked in the background and I snuck peaks at her. Sent her notes about how bored I was and was she bored too?
Our teacher, knowing seventh graders, moved all our desks around frequently those last months of school. Sometimes the girl with the gray eyes was on the other side of the room. For three electrifying weeks she was only two desks away.
But it didn't really matter. I knew where she sat at all times and there were always ways to notice her. She held her pencil to the side of her face during math and pressed the eraser into her cheek while she thought. A little dimple around it. I thought: It's an amazing person who does something like that. Beautiful and brainy.
The weather got warmer in May and our recesses got lazier. The boys didn't play kickball or basketball but stood in circles and talked about the summer. We all looked to where the girls were. By that time of year, their uniforms, like ours, were exhausted and counting the days along with the rest of us. But I thought she was Audrey Hepburn.
Then there was a note from her. Call me tonight, and her number. We were still at the age when it was unusual to call, so I knew something was up and it could only be bad news. I waited until everyone was out of the room and dialed. I hadn't spoken to her in weeks, so it was like talking to a stranger. We complained about school and how we couldn't wait until the last day, then she took a deep breath and told me her dad was being transferred and they were moving. Very far away and very soon.
The last Friday in May, which I had been thinking about since fall, suddenly became the end of all days. The classroom was stuffy and we yanked open the windows. The teacher didn't bother teaching that last week but instructed us on cleaning out our desks. I lifted the top. All the leavings of the year were in there. I had been so sick of this desk, and now I wanted to sit behind it for the rest of my life.
The day came. I woke up early. Same old uniform. Same old walk by myself. But the school was buzzing. There were trash cans stuffed with paper and workbooks everywhere in the halls. Summer vacation was hours away! And when you're in seventh grade and the eighth graders have already finished and their class is abandoned, that is the day of your coronation as the absolute monarchs of the school.
We shuffled through last routines in class, our teacher said have a happy summer. It was so fast, there was no time alone with her. My desk was barren.
Then it was over and we were all around the playground. The girl with the gray eyes came over to me with a piece of paper. Here's our new address, she said. I got it last night. Write me. She pressed it into my hand and got into the familiar blue station wagon with her mom and left.
Later, when I looked at her address, it was in a state that was on the other end of the earth. I wrote her a a few times over the summer, and she wrote me back. Then we stopped. It was hard to think of things to say. I told her I was having a fun summer and going to the pool a little but was getting bored and was kind of excited for school to start again.
He's sported a lot of them over his career, which has drawn to a close. I'm just a mild soccer fan, but even I got nostalgic remembering where I was in my life during certain of his haircuts.
My college professor said the problem with communism is that not enough people want to be street sweepers. If you have a state-guaranteed income, why take a lousy job?
I was thinking about that during a recent dentist appointment. Not many people like dentist appointments. So imagine being a dentist. Your day is nothing but dentist appointments, one after the other. You wake up in the morning, put on gloves, and scrape goo off people's teeth. Stick the little hose down there to absorb all the gunk and grime and your ears are filled with the sound of suction.
Have you ever looked deeply into a mouth? Take a flashlight, open your mouth, and look into a mirror. You see a dank cavern with bumps and orifices and a long, dangling thing way at the back in the place where everything falls off the cliff and into the gizzard. That's what a dentist looks at all day.
Yet there are thousands of people in this country who voluntarily do that job. Tens of thousands. They devote years of study to make it possible.
And thank God for them. Whether it's for the money, for the love of the job, or for something else, they look into our mouths, and as I see it, they keep the world rotating. If we didn't have dentists, there would be nothing but Austin Powers roaming the earth. You yourself would be Austin Powers. People would be disgusted by those around them and their smiles and their disgusting, twisted, rotting teeth. Procreation would stop. We'd go where the dinosaurs went.
I think you can say that about every job. One of life's miracles is that there are usually enough people to fill every kind of position. They may hate the job and complain about it from dawn to dusk. Not everybody gets their dream situation, and there are a lot more people collecting garbage than are playing drums before a packed stadium. But every job gets done. That is because there is satisfaction in every job.
I have come to respect and admire every type of work that everyone does. If you dig a bit, jobs are almost always interesting, and we should be grateful for the role that people fill. I've made similar observations about hotel maids, lawyers (which is my own job), garbage collectors, and, indirectly, exterminators.
Take accountants: I'm really glad that I'm not an accountant, because if I were then I'd have to do accounting all the time. And I don't like to do accounting. But every 14th of April at 20 minutes to midnight, as I'm hauling ass to the post office in a sweat and panic, I am very glad indeed that there are accountants.
In last October’s Basque elections, almost two-thirds of voters favored parties that, to varying degrees, could be described as Basque nationalists. Those parties took 48 of the 75 seats in the Basque parliament, the body that has governed the Basque Autonomous Community since 1980, when Basques held their first elections and formed their first government after four decades of rule under the dictatorship of Francisco Franco.
The party that received the most votes was the Basque National Party (EAJ-PNV), allowing EAJ-PNV members of parliament to elect Iñigo Urkullu as Lehendakari, or president of the Basque Government. Urkullu is now leader of the approximately 2.2 million people that live in the Basque Autonomous Community, or Euskadi in the Basque language. The position carries with it a significant amount of influence because, among other reasons, Basques control more than 90 percent of their own tax revenue under a unique economic arrangement with Spain.
Besides his direct political powers, Urkullu is also a symbolic leader for hundreds of thousands of Basques who live in the neighboring province of Navarre and French-Basque region, and for the millions of Basques and Basque descendants who have strong communities scattered across the globe — in the United States, Latin America, and as far away as Australia.
He takes over during a unique time of opportunities and challenges. Supported by its traditionally strong manufacturing and industrial base, the Basque economy is one of the strongest in Europe, and yet it hasn't been immune from the effects of the severe financial crisis in Spain. But Urkullu is also the first Basque president to govern without the burden of civil war or military activity by the terrorist group ETA, which abandoned its armed campaign in October 2011 after more than 50 years in operation. Still, since his party enjoys only a simple majority, Urkullu will have to find ways of working with the other three main parties in the parliament, EH Bildu, Socialist Party, and Popular Party.
How will your government differ from the Socialist-led government of the past four years? What are your priorities?
Rather than trying to be different, this government's objective is to have a clear direction. That means in every area, and also in foreign affairs, naturally. We want to be better known and project ourselves better world-wide. We want to make a place for ourselves on the international stage. We want to get Euskadi recognized in the forums in which strategic debates are held and have our voice heard there.
This government has five objectives in foreign affairs. Firstly, we want to work for Euskadi's sustainable development, promoting our productive sectors' interests. Secondly, we want to take part in the construction of Europe. Our future is connected with Europe's future. We want to grow as a European nation, and we have to get our voice heard in the forums in which our powers are debated.
Our third objective is to strengthen our ties with the Basque community around the world. Many of you are descended from people who had to leave Euskadi because of economic and political difficulties. And many others have moved abroad in recent years for professional reasons or as investigators or voluntary workers. Either as communities, or as individuals, you want to help to improve Euskadi's image, and we want to work with you on this objective.
And this is linked with our fourth objective: getting Euskadi-Basque Country known world-wide. When coming on the world stage, our people and particular characteristics give us a lot of vitality. Our particular characteristics are the Basque language, self-government, and the Basque Economic Agreement [with Spain]. These are our tools and advantages to make ourselves known world-wide, to show our character to the world.
And finally, our fifth objective is to help build a more balanced world. Basque society has to make its commitment to solidarity clear. And that way we can help to build a fairer world.
Those are going to be the main factors in our foreign policy and, to do all this, we are going to need every citizen, every private association, and every Basque company to work with our public organizations.
The Basque Country’s economy has performed well compared to much of Europe in recent years, but it’s still not at full speed. What ideas do you have to improve things, including the unemployment rate? Will the economy make it difficult to implement other policies?
Thanks to the economic policies followed in Euskadi over recent decades we have a stronger manufacturing and industrial structure than several other nearby economies. This has helped us to lessen the effects of the crisis: fewer jobs have been lost, there is less debt, public services are protected, and so on. Even so, Euskadi is in the middle of the crisis, and we are at a crossroads. The decisions we make now will affect Euskadi for the next 20 years. To face this situation, people are our priority and our commitment. Guaranteeing people's welfare in difficult times.How is that principle reflected in the government's decisions? We are maintaining our health service, an education system of the highest quality, and all other basic social services. The fact that last year's tax revenue was lower has forced us to make some modifications, but the three areas I've mentioned are untouchable as far as we're concerned, and 74% of our budget goes into those services. When it comes down to it, we're going to look after people until the worst of the crisis is over, and that includes services for people who are out of work.
And at the same time, although a little more slowly, we are going to lay the foundations for economic recovery. We're going to have to slow down public investment, and we won't be able to start any large-scale infrastructure projects, but we are going to start an in-depth plan for employment and a plan for financing small and medium-sized companies, amongst other things.
For Basques, how important are Scotland’s referendum on independence scheduled next year, and the effort by Catalans to hold their own vote on independence? Regardless of how either of those turn out, do you plan to push for a referendum on Basque independence?
It is important, obviously. And not just for Euskadi, also for the other dozens of nations that make up Europe. However, one shouldn't confuse or compare the evolution of each nation's history. Each nation must take its own steps. And, lastly, one should be careful about saying that independence is the way forward in all cases. There are big differences between what is happening in Scotland and what is happening in Catalonia, even though it's all happening at the same time.
As nations, they are claiming their right to be recognized and their right to make their own decisions, but the response from each state has been completely different: on the one hand, the United Kingdom has recognized the Scots' rights in that sense. Spain, on the other hand, has denied Catalonia those rights, and the difference between the two states has been made very obvious.
We don't want to get into a sterile debate with Spain about whether we should become independent or not, but we are going to work for Spain to recognize our rights and respect them legally so that we will have the possibility of exercising those rights at some time in the future.
I also think that we should think again about the meaning of independence in current-day Europe. In fact, the states that make up Europe have less and less sovereignty, even if they are independent states.
What have been the biggest consequences so far of ETA’s ending its armed campaign in October 2011? What is the long-term significance of ETA’s decision?
ETA giving up its arms has been the best news for Basque society in recent decades. Euskadi needed and deserved peace. And that, in itself, is a great achievement: the time has arrived for Euskadi to start building its future without the threat of violence. Now all the citizens of Euskadi can live in complete freedom, and that is the biggest consequence. We can now tell people all over the world about Euskadi without any problems, without any of the damage that violence used to cause us. We can demonstrate that we are an honest, loyal, mature society.
Even so, peace has to be built day by day. To start with, ETA still has to make its final decision: as well as giving up arms, it has to announce that it's disbanding. Basque society is still waiting for that to happen. Steps still have to be taken to establish peace firmly: recognizing the victims, justice, and the possibility of a joint understanding of our history, as far as that's possible. Fortunately, it's going to be easier for us to move forward now that we’re no longer threatened by violence.
You've said it's a priority of your government to "internationalize the Basque Country" and to "secure the recognition and participation of the Basque Country as a country in our right in the international community." What do you have in mind with those statements, and what are some of your ideas to accomplish those goals?
Internationalization is often linked with the economy, but it isn't just about business structures. It's a process that affects the whole of society and it's up to the government to build the bridges between all the stakeholders in order to develop that internationalization: the economy, culture, education, development cooperation, and so on. Euskadi is going to have to play a key role in this over the next few years, and all the stakeholders are needed there.
To start with, I'm having meetings with all the ambassadors in Spain and, recently, with regards to Europe, I've had meetings with the European Commission [the European Union's executive body] and the President of the European Commission Durao Barroso, and with [European Council President] Van Rompuy in Brussels.
I mentioned this government's objectives earlier, and this is where we have set our sights. We have strong, firm resources to be able to achieve these objectives: on the one hand, the Foreign Affairs High Secretariat, led by Marian Elorza. On the other hand, you, the Basque diaspora. You are indispensable in the process of internationalizing Euskadi. Third, as I mentioned before, the business world, people who work in culture, voluntary workers and so on. In fact, all Basque citizens' contributions are valid in Euskadi's internationalization process, in the project of making Euskadi-Basque Country known all over the world. One of our greatest challenges is bringing all those forces together.
Why do you think the Basque diaspora is so important to the Basque Country's future? Do you think the history of that diaspora should be part of the curriculum taught to Basque children?
The Basque diaspora is part of this nation. The Basque diaspora is one of the main players in making Euskadi so well-known all over the world. Euskadi's good reputation, character, culture, and history. That diaspora has worked to make that known all over the world for years, and we definitely have to carry on protecting that treasure by working together.
It is important that children today know about the diaspora as you are part of our nation. You are a part of the history of the Basque Country, we are one and the same, even though we live on different continents, but we are one nation. What's more, in this increasingly global world, in which our young people are no longer afraid to travel abroad, they have the chance to feel at home in many different places thanks to the diaspora.
Earlier in your career you were a teacher. Did you ever imagine you would become Lehendakari?
To tell the truth, it wasn't in my plans then and nor was it for a long time afterwards. But life, and politics, often put you in surprising places. Being Lehendakari is a great honor, but it isn't an end in itself. You're Lehendakari to lead Euskadi in the right way, that's the objective, that's what you have to keep in mind. Basque society chose me as Lehendakari, the people’s confidence put me here. My concern is responding to that confidence in the right way.
How has everyday life changed for you and your family since you became Lehendakari? What’s been the hardest part to get used to?
As I’ve said, being Lehendakari is the biggest honor for a Basque, at least, that's how I see it. It is an honor and, as such, a responsibility. We have to turn around the situation Euskadi's in, and, as Lehendakari, I'm going to do all I can to achieve that. That means work, and enthusiasm too. Those are my tools. As far as my family's concerned, there is no doubt that this new situation influences them. My family has always been my biggest support. I wouldn't be able to go forward without their help.
Now that you’re president of all Basques, who will you root for when Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad play? [Athletic, from Bilbao in Bizkaia province, and Real, from Donostia in Gipuzkoa province, are the bitterest of soccer rivals, putting Urkullu (a Bizkaian) in a difficult spot.]
There are many Basque football clubs, and I'd like to express my support to all of them. Even so, it's true that the matches between Athletic and Real tend to be the most fiercely contested matches. I can't deny, Bizkaian as I am, that until now my heart has been white and red. But I also support Real in the matches between them ... May the best team win! Whoever wins, matches between Basque teams are always incredible football events, and long may that be so.
(Translation from Basque by 11itzulpen. Thanks to Concha Dorronsoro, Ander Egiluz Beramendi, and Henar Chico.)
Breathe in. Hold it. Exhale.
Don't breathe for a while. Hold it. Hold it. Keep holding it. Feel your stomach muscles tighten. Feel the beads of sweat forming on your forehead. The panic inside you. Cough. Inhale.
Close your eyes. Relax your stomach. Think of your dreams. Think of when you were a child, all the things you wanted to do with your life. Just because you haven't done any of them doesn't make you a failure. Think to yourself: I am not a failure. I am not a failure. Keep telling yourself that.
Inhale. Hold it.
Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Forget that the rest of your life is a little shorter than it used to be and that you wasted much of the first part of your life on nonsense. Say it again, say it out loud: I am not a failure.
Don't exhale yet. Hold it. Let the new oxygen circulate around your brain. It's fighting the old, stale air that has been in your body all these years and allowed you to settle for second place. Now blow all that bad air out! As you blow it out, make a little trumpet noise. It's fun.
Open your eyes. Turn and look at the person to your left. Now turn and look at the person to your right. You're better than them. Or at least one of them. Maybe you're equally as good as both of them or at least one of them. And even if you're not as good as one of them or both of them, what counts is that you think you're better than them, and it doesn't matter that everyone else knows you're not as good as them, or that it's mathematically impossible for three people to be better than each other. You know what I mean.
Stand up. Breathe. Hold out your right hand. Shake it all about.
Sit down. Inhale. Close your eyes. Don't exhale. Inhale again. Say "Bah!" Say it again: "Bah!" When you're really fed up with your life and the people around you, it helps to say that loud and proud: "Bah!"
Make a mental list of what you want to do with your life. Now make a mental list of the things you want to do this year to start making some of those things possible. Now make a mental list of the things you want to do today to make those things this year possible. Got it? Now wipe all those lists from your mind. You should just relax, man. The more you relax, the longer you live. It's the key to a long, uneventful life.
Are we on inhaling or on exhaling? Thanks. Exhale.
Take the paper and pencil you've been provided and draw a picture. It can be a picture of anything you want. Just focus on the drawing. While you do that, I'm going out for a sandwich.
Okay, I'm back. Inhale. Look at your picture. It's probably a really bad picture. Tear it to shreds and throw it up in the air. Exhale.
Stand up! Stretch! Now give me a standing ovation! It feels great to have people give you a standing ovation. Any time you are feeling down, give yourself a standing ovation. Ask others to join in, even if they are perfect strangers. Don't let it bother you if they refuse and just stare at you blankly. That's their problem. You just go on giving yourself a standing ovation and being the best "you" that you can be.