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Frank J. Dinan: It’s intriguing to ponder the evolution of a life

I love baseball, and I am a tipped-over New York Yankees fan. Just how these passions of mine evolved is a question I often wonder about. But this is a smaller, much less important version of a vastly more important question: How do we become who we are?

My love for baseball began when I was in sixth grade and heard my first World Series on the radio. The Chicago Cubs were playing the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers had two players I knew a little bit about – Hank Greenberg and Hal Newhouser – and this made me root for the American League’s Tigers. They won the series, Greenberg and Newhouser did well and I became an American League fan.

But why a Yankees fan? I loved New York City. It was pure glamour in my young mind. So much great music came from Broadway, the writings about it by my then favorite author, Damon Runyon, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, Coney Island – all of these things about New York City thrilled me.

By then, I knew about two great Yankees baseball players, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. I had even managed a weekend schoolboy visit to New York City in 1947 and found it utterly fascinating.

That year, these things that meant so much in my young life came together: baseball, New York City and the Yankees. In 1947, they beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series. I even got to watch a couple of the games on a black and white television set while standing in front of a “radio store” window. That was it, I was hooked, there was no turning back. I became a Yankees fan for life.

Now, over 70 years later, I look back and wonder, would it all have changed if the Dodgers had won the ’47 World Series? Would I now be a Dodgers fan? If the Chicago Cubs had won the ’45 series, would I have become a National League and Cubs fan? Would I have been intrigued by Chicago, not New York City?

I started college, intending to become a chemical engineer. I had to take organic chemistry in that program. By chance, I ended up in an organic course taught by a wonderful teacher and great man, the late Dr. Howard Tieckelmann. This was another of those pivotal moments. Tieckelmann’s magic led me into a lifelong love affair with organic chemistry. That was the end of chemical engineering and the beginning of a 45-year career teaching organic chemistry.

When I was a college freshman, I walked down a hall and saw a pretty girl sitting on the floor. She had a cramp in her foot and was surrounded by people trying to help her. I thought she was really cute, and still remember what she was wearing that day. Today, that girl, Ann, is my wife of 62 years, the mother of our three children and grandmother of eight grandchildren. What if I had walked in the other direction?

The Chaos (Fractal) Theory famously tells us that a butterfly flapping its wings in New Mexico may result in a hurricane in China. In other words, seemingly insignificant changes can have large and unpredictable consequences in complex systems. What more complex system than life itself?

The at first seemingly unimportant events I discussed above altered my life in important, but totally unpredictable ways. Does everyone have such pivotal moments in their lives that are visible only on careful reflection? Moments that are equivalent to the butterfly flapping its wings? Mine certainly does; how about yours?

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