Joe and I were recently (and happily!) walking through an airport in Jamaica when someone tapped my shoulder. It was Joe Ward. Our families were close most of my life, but I haven’t seen him in 20+ years. Yet I recognized him immediately, and I was deeply happy to see him.

We spoke very briefly, commenting how funny it was to meet in another country after so many years. There wasn’t much to say. How do you catch up after decades? But I was disappointed when he walked away. I wanted to invite him to sit with me so we could talk more, even though I really didn’t know what we would talk about.

I think I just wanted to feel what I used to feel when we were kids. Our families spent so much time together – there were long vacations, awesome parties and relaxing family dinners. I wanted him to know that’s what I think of when I see him; I remember how special our lives once were.

It’s amazing how people you share a history with hold a special place in your mind, and it’s a special place that never goes away. They get to live in that space and share special privileges – like not having to call regularly, or ever – and they still remain beloved and cared about and treasured.

That’s how I feel about Joe Ward and his entire family. I called Joe’s parents “Aunt Nancy” and “Uncle Joe,” even though they weren’t blood relatives. They both died years ago.

And Joe’s younger brother Michael was my age; we went to grade school together. When we were kids, Michael always seemed like he was carrying a burden. He frequently got in trouble in school and while the rest of us found our way as adults, married and had kids, Michael never did. He died when we were in our 30s. I loved Michael dearly and hoped he would find happiness. I don’t think he ever did. 

A few years ago, I had a call from Joe’s son, who was a senior in college. He wanted to talk about journalism and was being very polite, saying he didn’t want to take advantage of my time. As we were ending the call, I said to him, “I know we’ve never met, but your dad and your grandparents were a very important part of my childhood. I’ll always help you in any way I can.” I meant that.

After speaking with him, I was thinking about his grandparents and all the times they were present in my childhood. When our families were together (which was often), there was happiness and warmth, love and kindness. All the feelings I associate with those memories get transferred to anyone related to Aunt Nancy and Uncle Joe.

It’s like my gift to them for making my childhood so sweet. I’ll give back the love by sharing it with their grandchildren.

I don’t have to consciously share it with Joe Ward, though, because he already has it. I don’t know how often he remembers, because it’s easy to forget as you go through your day-to-day life. But every now and then, like say, when you’re in Jamaica, something happens to remind you that you once experienced something really beautiful, and other people were there to share it. Actually, other people were there to make it happen. So those people are very special, and they always, always will be.

Years and years can go by, but all the good memories come rushing back when someone taps you on the shoulder and reminds you. Not much needs to be said. You just remember. You just feel it, because it lasts forever.


My news of the century is I am interviewing Doug Pederson in front of an audience on May 7 at The Merion. We’ll be talking about leadership. I’m eager to talk with him about how you take a group of people, motivate them to work toward an impossible goal and then reach it. I hope you will join me. Find ticket information at sjmagazine.net.

April 2019
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