Empathy Inspiration

Back in 2014 my friend Malu Sciamarelli asked me if I’d consider writing a guest post on her (then) blog. She was looking for a post on a “moment of inspiration.” I am not sure if the post I wrote qualifies but I think about the story from time to time and take some inspiration from it. I am re-posting the story here with Malu’s kind permission. I hope you enjoy it. Instead of giving an introduction about what it’s about I will just let you dive right in. 

He was a good player, the kind of player you could win a few games in a row with. He was a tenacious defender and he despised losing. He was aggressive in that kind of gentlemanly and grown-up and not annoying way. He was an extremely capable shooter, especially with a deadly baseline jumper, and knocked down shots as they came to him within the flow of the game. He was also unselfish and was happy to pass for a better shot.

I remember the first time I met him. We were on the same team at the weekly “Men’s League pick-up game in the small town I grew up in. He got me the ball where I wanted it and encouraged me. He even called me “Griff,” which I thought was pretty cool because to my knowledge we hadn’t even met yet. Other memorable things from that night were his fitness level, socks pulled up to his knees, and super nerdy goggles. This guy in his mid thirties was running with the high school kids and winning and rocking the RecSpecs all the while. He was like some sort of dorky super-hero with his stamina, crisp chest passes and commitment to defense and the fundamentals. Even with all these memorable things I don’t think I paid Ray Boucher much mind after meeting him that random Tuesday night.

Later, in what was not at all random but might have seemed so at the time, we found out he was the new junior varsity basketball coach and thus the assistant for the varsity team. I don’t think it took long to become fascinated with this fiery, eloquent, kind, and perhaps peculiar man. Before games he used to come to the back of the bus and we would grill him with all sorts of strange questions which he patiently answered. I remember how he went to college in quite a few different places because he wanted to get a taste of some different places in the US. He was very forthright about his views and life experiences and I found this endearing. He was patient with the not-so-polite questions he was asked by a group of maybe not-so-polite high school students.

We grilled him about every little thing and I ended up finding out much more than I ever needed to know about the duties and responsibilities and inner conflicts of a state assessor for the purposes of eminent domain. Speaking of jobs, his wife was a lovely woman who worked as an ESL teacher. She might have been one of the first few people I ever met with this job. Maybe there was some inspiration there for me in this fact and possible career that got tucked away in the back of my mind.

Coach Boucher was certainly an inspiring guy for me. I was always impressed with what seemed to be his principled take on life, strong will, honesty and care for others. These are all qualities I believe are worth aspiring to. In addition to being a good role model and a good person there is one more way he was a source of inspiration for me.

empathy plate

Aside from the Rec-Specs and the combination of patience and fire there was something about this man that seemed strange at the time. It took a few question sessions at the back of the bus before we finally asked him about his license plate. It had just one word: Empathy. We even called him “Emp-ah-theee!” as a nickname behind his back. It seemed like a weird thing to have as a license plate. Especially, you know, to go through the process of picking it out specifically and actually paying more for it. So we finally asked him, “What is up with your license plate?” He took a measured breath and said, “Well, I think that we don’t have much of a chance to communicate with most people we ever, or actually never even meet. Like people we see or drive by. We never get a chance to say anything to them. This is the one word and idea I want to share with other people in that short moment they see my plates. I think it is one of the most important words out there and I want to share it. Maybe this little bit can help. Maybe it can give someone something to think about. Maybe it can make the world just a little bit of a better place.

I wish I could say that 17 year old me was suddenly and immediately inspired by this explanation and that it changed my life then and there. I wish I could say that but it is not really the case. Coach’s message took a lot longer to sink in and I am not sure it fully has yet but the man and his license plate are two things that come to mind when I think about the word inspiration.

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