Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - June 22, 2007

"Number 5"

A month ago when we were waiting for the awards program to begin, I couldn't help but notice husband Art was whistling quietly. It wasn't his regular through-the-lips whistle, but the one he does with his teeth . . . and it bothers me. Oh, it isn't the whistling, but what it implies. His normal version means he's happy or enjoying the song. But this one meant he was thinking or, more accurately, he was analyzing.

My curiosity wouldn't let it lie, so I asked him if he was nervous or upset about something. "No, just thinking," he answered.

It wasn't until much later that he shared what was running through his mind. He said that as he sat waiting for the program to begin, it occurred to him the toughest challenge ahead for the gathering students was not doing well in school or becoming skilled at something, but figuring who they were and how they fit into the fabric of life.

That made me think of the time when Art started occasionally calling me "Number 5." Again, my curiosity was activated and I asked what he meant by that. After all, everyone wants to be Number 1, but who wants to be Number 5?

He wouldn't tell me, but said he might sometime.

Then, one day after again calling me Number 5, he relented and told me what it meant. At first, I wasn't very happy with what he had to say. He began by telling me that after all of our years together, he could say with some confidence that there really wasn't anything I excelled at. He pointed out that while I teach, I haven't won any teaching awards. While I occasionally turn out a pretty good meal, most are more satisfying than outstanding. I had taken up cross-stitching for awhile and did passable work, but nothing that would make people stop and take notice. I love to take pictures, but they, too, are generally more functional than artistic.

The list went on.

At that point, I was not feeling very good about myself - or him.

But then he shared a story.

In 1957, as a reward for being the worst team in professional football, the Green Bay Packers chose a fellow named Paul Hornung as the first pick in the draft. He had been an All-American quarterback at Notre Dame, winning the Heisman trophy as the best football player in the country.

But he was awful as a quarterback with the Packers.

Then famed coach Vince Lombardi arrived and made Hornung a halfback. While not strong or particularly speedy, Hornung became highly effective. In addition, while he was not an outstanding kicker, he handled all of the kicking chores for the team. Twice he was voted the NFL's Most Valuable Player and set a 12-game-season scoring record in 1960 that wasn't broken until 2005 in 14 games.

"That's you," Art said. "Like Hornung, you are not exceptionally good at any one thing, but taken together, you are extremely good at what you do."

Now I was feeling somewhat better.

He went on to mention how well I functioned in a setting with many odds and ends to take care of, such as organizing conferences, chairing committees and keeping projects moving along.

Art added that he often had been intrigued during his teaching years that when he ran projects, it was often the students who were rather ordinary in their academic skills who did outstanding work as project leaders or managers.

So there we sat awards night, watching the kids choose their seats and waiting until they were recognized for the things they had done well. But while some of them will translate a particular aptitude for some subject into a fulfilling career and life, just as many or possibly more will have to discover what combination of skills and talents will work for them. And perhaps, as in my case, it will be something that will take time to fashion. There well may be false starts and dead ends. But the rewards are great.

Oh, and "Number 5?" That was Hornung's number.

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