When I was a kid, high school academic teams did not exist. For a clumsy, reasonably smart kid like me, that was unfortunate. While I knew long before my teenage years God did not design me to be a gifted athlete, I always did well in the classroom, and as the only male child in a house full of females, I spent a lot of time as a kid cramming mostly useless information into my head. Shoot, I used to read the encyclopedia for fun.
If it had not been for Mr. Kelly, my seventh-grade history and geography teacher, none of this useless information would have done me much good. But Mr. Kelly liked to form teams of students and have them face off in contests much like today’s quick-recall contests. I don’t like to brag, but I excelled in these contests. I may have been the last kid picked for a basketball game, but I always was the first kid picked for Mr. Kelly’s quiz teams.
One day Mr. Kelly gave me a compliment I still remember well more than 50 years later: “I’ll say this for you, Cannon, you never miss the same question twice.”
He was right. When I gave the wrong answer, I was so humiliated I made sure it would not happen again.
Mr. Kelly’s comment also helped teach me something important about life. We all make mistakes in life. In my 44 years as a newspaper reporter, I confess I have made mistakes, but I have never done so intentionally, and I hope I learned something from every mistake.
None of us is perfect. As the Bible says, we all fall short of what God expects of us. Anyone who does anything is going to make mistakes. In fact, one of the dumbest things we can do is decide not to do anything out of fear of doing the wrong thing. I firmly believe the secret to success in life is not to avoid making mistakes, but to avoid making the same mistakes twice. That’s what Mr. Kelly taught me.
In a much different way, I learned a valuable lesson from a comment my Uncle Lou made after watching me play a baseball game,.
“Your problem is you are not trying to get a hit, you are trying not to make an out,” he said.
“But I don’t want to make an out,” I replied.
“Of course not,” he replied. “But your job is to get a hit. That’s a lot different than not making an out.”
I took Uncle Lou’s advice and started being a lot more aggressive as a hitter. It helped some, but I lacked the skills to become any better than a mediocre hitter, regardless of how aggressive I was at the plate.
I have not ceased making mistakes, but I still hope I learn from each mistake I make and not do it again. Because of that I am constantly discovering entirely new ways to screw up. Life is just one long learning experience.
Of course, sometimes all of us do things even though we know better. Dad told me more times than I could count if something got caught in a piece of machinery to off turn off the machinery before trying to free the object. But Dad lost most of one pinkie because he ignored that advice. One day an ear of corn got caught in the corn picker, and Dad ignored his own advice and tried to pull the ear free. Instead, the ear pulled his finger into the picker.
A stupid mistake, Dad admitted, and I am fairly certain it was the last time he ignored his own safety advice when harvesting corn.
But I have a confession to make: I didn’t learn from that incident. I continued to pull out ears of corn from pickers and to free grass from hay mowers without shutting off the equipment. But, hey, I was not the first teenager who thought he was invincible.
In hindsight, I am just thankful I reached adulthood with all my fingers and toes. That’s because of the grace of God, not because I always did what I should.
JOHN CANNON can be reached at (606) 326-2649.