I've been asked so many times where I get inspirations for my columns. My answer is that I get my ideas from traveling, meeting people and reading newspapers and magazines. But most of my ideas come from people because I enjoy meeting and talking to them.
For instance, I just returned from my summer vacation in Detroit Lakes, Minn. For a number of years now, I've had a place on a lake called Melissa, located about 40 miles east of Fargo, N.D. The people I meet in that part of the country are a fascinating bunch. They exude good fellowship and always seem to have time for you no matter what the circumstances. I also get the impression that they don't really care what college or university you attended or even how much money you're worth. They seem to judge you by your manners and character, and that's refreshing in this day and age.
I've been going to that area for over 40 years now and the people I meet there are about the same as when I was first introduced to that part of the country by my wife, who was raised in Fargo and attended North Dakota State University.
I bring up my vacation for a couple of reasons. A few days after arriving at my summer place, I got on a plane headed back to Chicago to attend the funeral of one of the great leaders of healthcare, Walter McNerney. I wrote a column about Walter a couple of weeks ago talking about his extensive background and his brilliance. During his career, he won all sorts of awards and accolades for being so incredibly bright and being one of the movers and shakers behind both Medicare and Medicaid.
But that wasn't all -- he had been a hospital administrator, a professor of healthcare administration at the universities of Michigan and Pittsburgh and ended up in the private sector as chief executive officer of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. The story that wasn't told in all the obituaries about him was that about 10 years ago Walter had a massive stroke and from then on was not able to talk or walk and was confined to a wheelchair. But that didn't stop him from conversing with his family members, friends and others via computer.
In spite of his handicaps, his brain was still active and his cognitive abilities were still there. Think of the frustration he must have felt over the years. Before his stroke he was one of the most articulate and engaging people you could possibly know. I was lucky enough to be one of those people, and I will always be thankful I was.
Then the following week, I again had to interrupt my vacation, this time for a trip to Charlotte, N.C., to address the Association of Staff Physician Recruiters. The people I spoke to were an enthusiastic and fun group, and I enjoyed being with them.
After my talk, I made a beeline to the airport where I was looking forward to catching a plane back to Chicago and then another flight to Fargo to resume my vacation. After passing through security at the Charlotte airport, I headed to my gate and sat down to relax.
I couldn't help but notice a row or two away there was a lot of laughter and the individual who seemed to be enjoying himself the most was a young man with curly blond hair. He was big, about 6 feet 4 inches tall, and I thought possibly he was headed to Chicago to attend college and even play football for one of the schools there. I also noticed a number of Marines in desert fatigues sitting at another gate waiting for their plane. They seemed like a convivial bunch, and I walked over and introduced myself to them. I told them how proud I was of them and how much their loyalty, courage and character impressed me. They thanked me and told me they were on their way back to Iraq for their second tour and how eager they were to get back to their buddies. Their attitude and dedication impressed me, and I felt humbled to be in their midst.
Then my flight was called and I boarded my flight to Chicago. Sitting next to me was the young man I mentioned earlier. You could tell he was really wound up about something, and when I found out why, I got just as excited as he was. He told me he was on his way to join the Chicago White Sox after being called up from the Charlotte Triple-A team. He said he got the call the night before and asked me about Chicago and what kind of a city it was. I said he would like it and that Chicago was good to its sports heroes.
He talked about his girlfriend and family, and he talked about hoping he could stay in the big leagues. He was nervous but he was also as enthusiastic as any young man could be after being called up. For me, it was almost a scene out of the movies. Here I was sitting with a 23-year-old kid who was getting his big chance to be a star, and I was experiencing a lot of the thrill he was feeling about this opportunity. It was so American in many ways. He was a good kid, and I sincerely hope he stays with the Sox and does well. It was fun being with him.
So when people ask me where I get ideas for my columns, I simply tell them: I meet interesting people all the time when I travel. Of course, luck has a little to do with it as well, and I admit I do go out of my way to meet and greet the men and women in uniform. When I encounter them I always shake their hands and thank them for serving our nation. To me they are true patriots, and they deserve every handshake they are given. They are outstanding people, and I hope the Marines I said "hello" to in Charlotte do well, come back to their families soon, and live long and full lives.
If all of us will only look around us and pay attention, there are all kinds of dramas and emotions in front of our noses that we too often miss. All of us are blessed to be part of the human drama.
People make it all worthwhile,