As the “Great Pause” restrictions start to relax and we begin to re-engage in more of our normal social activities, my wife, Heidi, and I experienced one of those moments in life that you remember forever. We took an amazing early morning hot air balloon ride over Happy Valley with pilot Kevin Witt of The Sky’s the Limit Ballooning. It was a gift from our children for our 30th anniversary, and while we had to wait a year longer to use it due to COVID, it was well worth it.
Gazing out over the glorious sites of Mount Nittany, the Penn State campus and the rest of Happy Valley, I turned to see the wondrous smile on Heidi’s face. At that moment, I got a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye. I realized just how special our life together has been so far. Thanks to our kids for helping to make a magical moment come true.
OK, the lump in my throat might have been due in part to the fact that we were 1,200 feet up in the air without parachutes, but it really was an emotional and uplifting moment. Kevin and his son Noah (who handled the ground operations) were consummate professionals who were filled with the knowledge of the science and history of ballooning. We felt safe and comfortable as we peacefully floated above landmarks that we often take for granted. It was spectacular.
Yes, moments do matter. If we have learned nothing else from the global pandemic, it’s the value of time and the special moments in our lives. People missed weddings, births, graduations, job promotions, retirements and, sadly, a chance to say a last goodbye to a loved one.
Take nothing for granted. Be willing to get out there, create more of those awe-inspiring moments and celebrate accomplishments and a life well lived. Create moments that will last a lifetime.
I recently re-watched a TEDx talk that my long-time friend and seven-time New York Times best-selling author John Bacon recorded a few years ago titled, “Untapped Inspiration.” In it, the former history major (which he jokingly refers to as a pre-unemployment major) talks passionately about how throughout history, “Individuals matter and moments matter.”
How about you? What are some of those magical, powerful or emotional moments that come to mind easily for you? Take a deep breath, close your eyes and think about the most amazing moments in your life. Moments that made you laugh uncontrollably, cry tears of joy, or want to stand up and shout at the top of your lungs. What moments do you most clearly remember? Not necessarily the ones that everyone expects you to put down, but the ones that really come readily to your mind. The ones that left that indelible mark on your life or that just always pop into your head. Could you pick out just one?
For me, that one moment is so etched in my mind that I instantly recall it. Mine absolutely came on my wedding day. As I was excitedly (and nervously) awaiting the start of our ceremony, I looked at my watch wondering what was taking so long. Standing next to my best man, my brother Jan, I turned around to look to see what was happening. At that very moment, my friend, my fiancée, the former Heidi Smith, peeked around the corner. As we made eye contact, I got that lump in my throat, a big smile on my face (which she returned) and I motioned for her to “come on.” She said “OK” and I just started to cry. I have never felt so much joy or felt so in love.
There are so many other “moments” that I have been blessed to have in my life. Most of the magical moments I remember weren’t things I did alone but those that were shared with others or done for others.
One of the most vivid memories of my childhood was the Little League all-star tournament in July of 1972, held at Penn Hills Park just outside Pittsburgh. We surprisingly made it to the championship game where we ended up playing the other Penn Hills team, considered by most to be a more talented group.
We were up by a run in the bottom of the sixth inning, but, unfortunately, all of our best pitchers had used up their eligibility. I was playing second base when our manager, Glenn Almasy, called us together. I kept thinking who was he going to put in to pitch against the top of the order in such a pressure situation? All of a sudden, he hands me the ball and says, “Just throw strikes Joe.” I almost peed my pants I was so nervous. I looked at my mom and she could barely watch. I rarely pitched on my regular season team and here I am having to face the best players from the other division.
Fortunately, I was able to get two guys to ground out before giving up a ground rule double that was inches from being the tying home run. Dave Lapson, who led the league in home runs, was up next. I threw the ball so slowly that his timing was way off. He took a called strike, then smashed a sure home run that just went foul. With two strikes on him, my heart was racing. I threw a pitch so weakly that it must have looked like a sinker to everyone but me. Lapson, perhaps protecting the plate a little too cautiously, swung and missed. The next moment I remember was being on the bottom of the celebration pile. At first, I felt sheer relief, then pure joy, and finally pain as everyone was jumping on the pile. It was one of the happiest moments in my young life, in part because I got to share it with my dad who was a coach on the team.
Speaking of baseball: My family was visiting us in State College for our son Jonathon’s baptism and afterward my father, brother and I were sitting on the family room couch. I turned on the TV and the movie “Field of Dreams” just happened to be on right when the ghosts of the old-time players were finishing a game. The iconic scene when Kevin Costner’s character is talking with his father comes on and he says, “Hey Dad, wanna have a catch?” We’d been watching the movie for about 15 minutes and there we sat, a baseball loving father and his sons sobbing on the couch. My wife rolled her eyes and sarcastically said, “Men.”
Growing up so close to my family in Pittsburgh I could pick almost any Sunday meal that my grandmothers, my mom, or one of my aunts made as special moments. But the moments I remember most are eating my mom’s homemade gnocchi and meatballs and pastina soup. Thankfully there have been lots of those moments!
Here are a few additional moments that always pop into my mind:
The birth of our first-born, Brianna, and watching my wife be a champ throughout a long labor (while digging her nails into my forearm). That moment when I got to hold “my lil’ goil” for the first time and she’s had me wrapped around her finger since.
Driving into downtown Pittsburgh to celebrate the Pirates 1971 World Series title. Being with my family at the Orange Bowl in 1976 to celebrate the moment the Steelers won their second Super Bowl. Being at the Penguins first Stanley Cup celebration at the old Civic Arena with my father and getting our photos with the Stanley Cup and with Mario Lemieux and legendary coach Badger Bob Johnson.
Standing on the ninth green of the Royal Ka’anapali golf course on Maui, Hawaii with my brother, looking out across the Pacific Ocean as the sun set. It was a living postcard; it was a heavenly moment.
The moment that I received Terry Pegula’s text that he had signed the agreement to make the donation that allowed Penn State hockey to become a varsity sport. Then three years later it was the moment I poured a vial containing melted ice from the old Greenberg Ice Pavilion onto the center ice faceoff dot as we christened the brand-new Pegula Ice Arena.
The moment I reached the top of a 10,000-foot-high mountain, looking at the blown-out side of Pacaya Volcano in Guatemala (it had erupted 2 years earlier) with one of my former players, John DeBlasio, and being reminded of the beauty, and fragility, of the world.
Standing in the 15th fairway at the Masters Golf Tournament and getting an amazing photo with my youngest son and ultra-passionate golfer Ryan. Skating outdoors with my boys at friend Tim Holdcroft’s and having my wife and daughter come to hang out with us. The setting was right out of a Hallmark holiday card.
Staring out into the Grand Canyon with our family; Standing at the top of Mount Lussari in the Italian Alps; Leading the “We Are Penn State” cheer in front of 20,000 Penn State fans at the 2009 Rose Bowl pep rally; Playing golf at Oakmont Country Club.
Wow, it is difficult to remember all of the great moments. I am sure I forgot some good ones and will be reminded by family and friends.
We have lost too much time to the pandemic. It’s left me realizing that we need to get back to making happy memories and joyful moments again as soon as possible. Do not be so afraid of what could go wrong that you forget to live. Life is risky, you may as well enjoy as much of it as possible.
Moments matter. Go out and make new ones.