Albert Einstein once said that “Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.”
Far be it for me to disagree with old Al, but I know this: Much of any wisdom I have acquired over the years was learned in school. These lessons have carried me through good times and bad. They have taught me to respect those who deserve it and be cautious with those who don’t. To play fair and be a good loser and to recognize one who was not. And, to appreciate good advice when it comes your way.
These lessons have honed my critical thinking skills, which have become especially valuable these days when the world has become more and more confusing.
The years 1964 and 1965 were years I learned several important life lessons, and they came from unexpected places.
I had no idea what I was doing when I tried out for the tennis team at ORR, but a patient coach took me under his wing. John MacLeod must have seen something in me because he told me to keep practicing and come to practice every day and he would teach me. By senior year, I was first singles and team captain.
One time we knew I would not beat the number-one player on the New Bedford High team. He was rated in New England, so Coach Gorman (who had replaced Coach MacLeod) switched me to number-two singles, sacrificing number one and assuming I would win number two easily. (Not exactly fair, but I wasn’t wise enough yet to recognize it.)
Their number two never showed up, and just as they were going to forfeit, their coach pulled a scrawny kid out of the crowd and put him in. He looked like he wasn’t even in high school so I assumed I would beat the pants off him. Three sets later, I had just barely won the match by the skin of my teeth. I learned to never take anything for granted.
Another time we were playing Falmouth High. Again, I came close to winning my match by forfeit when their best player showed up at the last minute in a big, black, stretch limousine. Apparently, he was a member of a well-known tennis family on Cape Cod, and he had been at a photo shoot for Life magazine! Talk about being psyched out! I lost six-love, six-love. A little humiliation is an important life lesson. Even more important lessons came later.
The summer of 1965 was hot. I was working for a local carpenter building houses and, on this particular day, shingling a roof. The job was a way to make money to help pay for my upcoming sophomore year of college and get a nice suntan. Thanks to my Portuguese heritage, that tan was very dark.
From my perch on the roof, I could see the cars whiz by on the street below. Suddenly I heard the screeching of brakes, then a car door slam and footsteps stomping across the plywood floor of the unfinished house below me. I could hear a commotion and my boss’s voice yelling. I had never heard him raise his voice before. “Get off this property!” he yelled. “Get off the property, now!”
At lunch break, I asked him what the commotion was all about. He said someone stopped to complain that he shouldn’t have hired a … well, you get the drift. He turned and went back to eating his sandwich. As we were the only two on the job site, I realized the intruder was talking about me.
That experience has stayed with me ever since. The following September semester would reveal another unexpected encounter with ignorance.
A time-honored tradition at the art college I attended was for each sophomore to be assigned a “little brother” or “sister” to mentor. When mine was introduced, my companions began to laugh and make snide, racially- tinged remarks. I was embarrassed with no place to hide. My little brother was black.
Soon after, I learned that he was not only a talented artist but also an accomplished flamenco guitarist and concert pianist, talents he cultivated in his native Cuban enclave in Florida where he was well-known and respected. All I could do was draw.
Another old adage suggests that as you get older, you acquire wisdom and become humble. I am old so it must follow that I am very wise. I’m sure you’ll agree. Right? Oh, forget it.
Editor’s note: Mattapoisett resident Dick Morgado is an artist and retired newspaper columnist whose musings are, after some years, back in The Wanderer under the subtitle “Thoughts on ….” Morgado’s opinions have also appeared for many years in daily newspapers around Boston.
By Dick Morgado