Wheels up, David

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NPR photojournalist David Gilkey

NPR photojournalist David Gilkey sticks out his tongue and strikes a pose as he prepares to leave from Pittsburgh International Airport at 5:48 a.m. on Sunday, March 6, 2016. Gilkey was the opening night speaker at the Welcome a Stranger Journalism Conference and Multimedia Workshop at Allegheny College March 3-4 2016. Gilkey died on assignment in Helmand Province, Afghanistan on June 5, 2016. Photo by Cheryl Hatch, copyright 2016, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Outside the Box, by Cheryl Hatch. Copyright 2016

Wheels up.

My friend David Gilkey sent me a text as he left Washington, D.C. last March. He’d already posted a photo of sunrise from his plane window as he sat at the gate waiting to taxi to takeoff.

David spoke and wrote in short, efficient phrases. Understood. Roger that. He’d covered the military for years and the precision and cadence stuck.

When I’d written him months earlier to invite him to speak at Allegheny College, he responded, “I’m in.”

David did not give many public lectures. He came because I asked him. He came because he’s my friend. He came because he said he would, despite the fact that he’d only just returned from three weeks on assignment for National Public Radio in scorched, ravaged South Sudan.

David was the keynote speaker on March 4, 2016, at our “Welcome the Stranger” journalism conference and multimedia workshop.

Three months later, on June 5, 2016, the Taliban killed David and his Afghan translator and friend, Zabihullah Tamanna, near Marjah in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

David and I had known each other since college. We both worked on our student daily newspaper. We both wanted to be photojournalists.

After college, I went overseas first. I went into conflict first—the civil war in Liberia. David followed and then, over the years, surpassed me. We worked in some of the same places—Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan. But we were never in the same place at the same time.

And when I eventually opted out of covering conflict, David hit his stride. In his youth, his anger, in part, drove him. As he matured, it was his indignation and resolve to witness; and, through his photographs, show the world the entire spectrum of what he’d witnessed. Depravity. Death. Joy. Resilience. Love.

David first visited Allegheny College via Skype. He was the subject of the news writing students’ interview for their final exam in December 2014. While he was talking with the students, he asked for a moment to take a call. He returned and finished the interview. He remained available for the students’ questions throughout the three-hour exam.

I had a question. Gilkey, what was the call? It was a notification: our friend and fellow photojournalist, Michel duCille, had died of a heart attack on assignment covering the Ebola outbreak in Liberia.

David was the first person I called when I started planning my trip to Liberia, scheduled for later that December. He’d already been one of the first journalists on the ground in Liberia and he’d traveled to Sierra Leone and Guinea to cover the epidemic. I asked for his advice.

Rubber boots, David said. Take rubber boots. And don’t get close, Cheryl. It can kill you.

David knew the risks of his work. He accepted them and mitigated them to the best of his ability. He wasn’t reckless by nature though he did love a good shot of adrenaline: downhill skiing, scuba diving. And covering conflict and natural disasters.

In March, we had four hours before we’d return to the airport to collect Carrie Kahn, another speaker and NPR correspondent in Mexico City. We headed to Primanti Brothers in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. David’s idea. He knew more about the city than I did and I’d be in Pennsylvania nearly four years. We ate the classic sandwich with fries wedged between the slices of bread. At David’s memorial service in July in his hometown of Portland, Oregon, his friends told stories of his love of food, from “street meat” to fine dining in pricey, celebrated restaurants.

That was David. He enjoyed the fine things in life: a pair of hand-stitched leather boots and first-class travel. And he could live in the most grim and challenging conditions. He could sleep in the dirt and cold and go for weeks without a shower.

When David and I met, we wouldn’t share war stories. On our last visit, we talked about our aging parents and our concern and love for them. We talked about our Humpty-Dumpty hearts, each shattered by a beloved. A sanctuary and sacred trust violated. For both of us, the betrayal marked a profound wounding and trauma that pierced us to our core and persisted.

David spoke about his work and legacy. He had a keen desire to see the bulk and span of his work in Afghanistan edited, collected, shared and preserved. David had traveled to Afghanistan in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. He humped through the country with Marines and soldiers at least once a year, often more, throughout the entire 14-year war, the longest in American history. He was committed to the story. And he died covering it, long after the gaze of the public and media had turned away.

He showed me photographs on his phone of his new home in D.C. It was a beautiful space, a photographer’s home, full of windows and light. My house is your house, Cheryl. You’re welcome any time, even if I’m not there. I told him I’d come see him as soon as he got back.

I was home sick and wide-awake the night of June 3, 2016. It would have been June 4 already in Afghanistan. On an impulse, I sent David a text, must have been the fever. I had no idea if it’d reach him. He responded immediately.

I was still in bed the next day when Carrie Kahn called me, sobbing. David’s dead.

Later, I checked my phone to see if I’d written “I love you” in that last text. I hadn’t.

I know I said it at the airport three months earlier. Since David’s death, I make a point to say I love you to friends and family, when I finish a phone call or part company. Some were uncomfortable with it at first. “It’s my tribute to David,” I would offer and they would understand.

Last March, we needed to leave Meadville at 3:30 a.m. for his 7 a.m. flight. You don’t need to take me, Cheryl. Get some hung-over student to drive me there. No way. I insisted.

We arrived bleary-eyed and laughing at 5:45 a.m. It wasn’t a long good-bye. David grabbed his bags. I grabbed a selfie. We hugged. I told him I’d see him in D.C.

With my phone, I snapped a couple frames of David in the dim light in front of the departure terminal. He kicked up his leg, stuck out his tongue. And left.

Wheels up, David.

http://www.meadvilletribune.com/opinion/columns/outside-the-box-i-love-you-tribute-to-friend-killed/article_7d68b5c8-c179-11e6-b064-ab17766afd1e.html

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My mother is strong, fierce—and fragile

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Outside the Box, a column by Cheryl Hatch/copyright 2016

I am not a mother.

I have not known the joy of bringing a life into this world or the pain of watching my child leave it.

As a photographer, I have witnessed a birth in a home on a farm in Ohio. I stood in that scared, translucent space where love and new life mingle, as a child slipped from his mother’s womb into his father’s waiting hands.

In a hospital in Somalia, I have been in that equally sacred space where life slips away on one last breath. In Iraq, I watched a Kurdish mother caress the dirt over her infant’s grave, running her fingers through the soil the way she might have one day run her fingers through her daughter’s curls.

My mother’s mother did not want her to marry my father. She feared she’d waste the college education purchased so dearly just a few decades after the Great Depression. My mother, usually the good girl, defied her mother and married my father. “I love him,” she said.

Dad graduated a year ahead of my mother with a commission in the U.S. Army. He flew back from overseas for their June wedding. There would be no honeymoon. Dad had to be at his station and the Army wouldn’t pay for Mom’s ticket. They saved their quarters, literally, so the bride could purchase a plane ticket and accompany her husband to their new home.

Mom got settled in a room above the barn in a German farmhouse and Dad promptly left for the field. At 21, my mother was alone; an ocean away from the small island where she’d lived her entire life. No friends. No family. And no German language skills.

Soon mom was pregnant with me.

There would be five children—one who did not survive. 26 moves. Twenty-six times my mother would pack and unpack an entire household, usually alone. Dad was either already at his next post, in the field or away at war.

When my father left for his second tour in Vietnam, my mother was still in her twenties, with four children, my youngest brother not yet 1 year old.

When I look back, I marvel at how my mother held it all together. I think sometimes she didn’t.

My mother did not have a home of her own again until she was nearly 50. But she made do and made a home each and every day for my often-absent soldier father and their four children.

Mom grew up at a time when women had two career choices: teacher or nurse. My mom wanted to be a physical education teacher. That course of studies would have cost more money, so my mother became an elementary school teacher.

My mom is athletic and as competitive as they come. She played basketball and volleyball in high school. She came of age before Title IX and the opportunities it offered girls and women, so she set sports aside in college.

She played tennis when she could, until her back had other plans. She took up golf at 50. She’s had a couple hole-in-ones. And even now, when she’s putting well, she can score in the mid-40s for nine holes.

She started piano lessons in her late 60s. She writes poems. She’ll wake up in the middle of the night and put pen to paper. Every once in a while, I’ll get an envelope in the mail with a poem my mom wrote for me.

My mother is smart and tough and gifted with languages. She’s athletic and adventurous. She has an artist’s soul. She’s thoughtful and kind—to a degree that can leave her wounded by the thoughtlessness of others.

I have discovered that I am my mother’s daughter.

I rowed crew at a Division I university and earned a Pac-10 championship. I am a writer and photographer. I have traveled the world.

It’s no accident that in my work I have quietly raged against the patriarchal systems that suppress, stifle and dismiss women. The military. Journalism. Now academia.

Early in my career, I focused my camera and energy on women and children who had been displaced, caught in the crossfire of the men who made war and made the decisions.

Like my mother, I have been too nice. Too polite. Unfailingly thoughtful and long-suffering. To the detriment of my spirit and health.

Like my mother, later in my life, I have found my voice. I have given myself permission to speak my mind and my truth. Now, as an educator, I encourage other women to find and use their voices and talents.

When someone asks me where I’m from, I’m always challenged to find an accurate answer. One of my brothers says planet earth.

I have no home in the traditional sense. There’s the place I was born. The place I live now. The place I’ve lived the longest.

There has been one constant in my peripatetic life, my mother. The one fixed point in my moving life. She has held it—and us—together these many years.

My mother is strong, fierce—and fragile. I suspect all mothers are.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

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Walking a fine line

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Outside the Box, a column by Cheryl Hatch/copyright 2016

Allegheny College is losing a treasure this week.

Director of Campus Communications Kathy Roos retires on April 29, 2016, after 19 years of service.

When I first met Kathy four years ago, I joked with her. You work for the dark side, I said. Public relations and journalism use the same skills for distinctly different objectives. Both tell stories. Sometimes we’re on the same page. Sometimes we’re not.

In my career as a professional journalist, I’ve encountered many public relations professionals who assume an adversarial or hostile approach to members of the media with whom they need to work. I can think of software giants who hire entire firms to craft their image and message, complete with stylists and wordsmiths who want to manage press conferences and photo opportunities. Politicians, the United States military, sports teams and colleges and universities all have public relations professionals on the payroll to help members of the media see things their way.

Kathy and I have both been around long enough that we realize that a working relationship can be built on respect and professionalism without thwarting our separate—and often disparate­—objectives.

In the four years I’ve had the privilege to work with Kathy at Allegheny, she’s been nothing but a pro—and unceasingly kind.

I often gauge people by the way they treat students, particularly student journalists at The Campus newspaper.

Kathy reads the student newspaper and has sent email messages complimenting the students on stories. I pass these messages to the students, where they serve as a kind of salve on the sting of remarks and rebukes they also receive.

This is an indication of a consummate communications pro. She can do her job while working with and respecting members of the media.

Last year, Sam Stephenson and Meghan Hayman won first place in the Society of Professional Journalists Region 1 Mark of Excellence Awards. This was a first for The Campus and a high achievement. The students earned the award for their coverage of the Kirk Nesset arrest.

Kathy wrote the press release and didn’t go into the details of the story that won the award. She highlighted the students’ accomplishment without citing the title of the news story, which would have brought renewed, potentially negative attention to the college.

In August 2013, Kathy responded to a request from community members and The Campus. A number of Meadville residents asked if the paper could include notices of campus events so they could attend. Kathy began compiling a weekly calendar of events at Allegheny College, which now fills a third of a news page in The Campus each week.

Two weeks ago, the student journalists hosted a surprise farewell party for Kathy in the newsroom, complete with balloons, cards and pizza. Christina Bryson, the editor-in-chief, offered her a prized Campus coffee mug, a gift of gratitude and respect.

Kathy, in turn, offered her congratulations to the students on their 2016 awards and commended them on their improved coverage.

I wrote part of this column Monday morning in the Market House Grille. I looked up to see a man tucked under a ball cap at a table next to the big frig. He was reading The Campus and I watched him study the page with the calendar of events.

Thank you, Kathy.

Since I arrived at Allegheny College, my goal has been to raise an awareness and understanding of journalism and its role on campus and in our community and democracy. I believe Kathy and I have been partners in this endeavor. We know and respect the limits of the partnership and honor the instances when we can collaborate.

Kathy attended every Ida Tarbell birthday party The Campus staff hosted. She wrote excellent releases for all the journalism in the public interest and Campus events, particularly our annual journalism conference and multimedia workshop. She wrote press releases that served faculty, staff and students from all parts of the Allegheny community.

Her good work brought local, regional and national media attention to the college.

Most mornings I look out my kitchen window and see Kathy and her husband of 42 years, Bob, walking to campus, often hand-in-hand. Bob, a professor of computer science, will retire, too.

On Monday morning, the smell of fresh-cut grass hung in the air as I backed my car out of the driveway. I saw Kathy and Bob walking down the brick road.

I stopped the car and jumped out. Not many more days, I called to Kathy.

She held up her right hand, showing five fingers.

I crashed their morning walk for a short distance, savoring a few moments of conversation.

I will miss Kathy Roos. The Campus journalists will miss her.

She walked the fine line between our two worlds with professionalism, dedication and respect. And she always walked that line with a gentle reverence for the integrity of words and importance of impeccable communication.

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

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Grief is a sneaker wave

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Outside the Box, by Cheryl Hatch, copyright 2016

Grief is a sneaker wave.

As a college student, a sign greeted me at the Oregon coast: Beware of sneaker waves. It had a design of stick person being knocked over by a curling blue wave. I immediately had an image in my mind of a wave running to shore in Converse sneakers.

Turns out, sneaker waves are no joke. I was photographing at the coast—it’s called the coast, not the shore or the beach, for a good reason. It’s still a wild and untamed juncture where the ocean crashes into the land. I had scoffed at the warning and walked out to get closer to the surf. One minute I’m photographing on dry land, the next I’m up to my rib cage in cold Pacific water, dangling my cameras held high above my head. I turned and chugged toward land as quickly as I could. I was lucky another wave didn’t take me down. Or a random log didn’t knock me unconscious. Or the rush of water didn’t sweep me off my feet and under.

Grief has been sneaking up on me recently.

My Humpty-Dumpty heart has been shattered and cobbled together over the years. Wounded and healed again and again. Grief washes over and through me at unsuspected moments.

In my own life, I feel the loss of the children I wanted and never had. I have an abiding sorrow for the loss of the man I believed I’d spend the rest of my life with until he abandoned me. I still feel the loss of the people I’ve witnessed suffer and die in my long career as a journalist.

There’s been so much loss in my life in recent years. My friends felled by bullets and shrapnel in foreign lands. My friend who regularly questions why she should get out of bed in the morning after police assassinated her husband outside their home. I think of my friend whose mother beat back cancer several times and then decided enough was enough and crossed over surrounded by family in her daughter’s home. My friend mentioned how the deep pain of missing her mom show ups in all the “firsts” without her—Thanksgiving, Christmas, anniversaries, birthdays.

In February, I received a message from Brian Castner. We worked together covering the Ebola outbreak in Liberia in December 2014 and January 2015.

Prince Collins died.

Prince was a radio journalist. He’d been our fixer during our reporting and travels in Liberia. He’d arranged our press credentials and driver, Carton. He’d made introductions and connections for our sources and stories. He talked us through a checkpoint and dicey moment on New Year’s Eve returning to Monrovia. He always introduced us as his colleagues. He became our friend.

I sent Brian a text. “How are you feeling?”

“Surprisingly bad,” he responded. I felt the same.

Brian contacted the pastor at Prince’s church. He doesn’t know how Prince died. A sudden illness.

I hadn’t known Prince long; yet after a month covering the Ebola outbreak, we had shared meals and car rides, visited Ebola Treatment Units and attended funerals, watched rows of grave diggers carve deep rectangular holes in the red earth with pickaxes. Now I was viewing images of his casket and funeral on Facebook and reading the posted laments and remembrances of his friends, radio listeners and colleagues.

He left a young wife and family, who had welcomed us into their home at Firestone in Harbel. I liked Prince. I fully expected to see him and work with him again in Liberia.

On one of our last days in Liberia, Prince accompanied me as I shopped for gifts that Brian and I could bring home to our family and friends. We walked through tailor shops as I sought traditional handmade shirts. Prince offered advice on styles, patterns and colors. I wanted a saa saa, a hollow gourd with beads wrapped on its exterior with cotton thread, for my percussionist brother. We walked for a couple hours through the narrow, meandering alleys of the local markets. Prince made repeated inquiries until we found a vendor.

We shared our last meal at The Cape Hotel, looking out at the Atlantic. We celebrated the good work we’d done together and raised a glass to better days for Liberia.

And now Prince is gone.

Sneaker wave.

During spring break, I was in Rhode Island. My mom sent me a text. It’s seven years ago today that Sis died, Mom wrote. I miss her.

Ruth was my mom’s twin sister and my godmother. My aunt once told me the story of how she’d been sunbathing on the roof of her dormitory at nursing school when she felt a sharp pain in her stomach. She said she knew immediately that my mother was giving birth to me.

My mom and aunt spoke of the powerful bond between twins and the deep knowing and communication that passes between them and transcends spoken words. And now my mom is the lone living twin these past seven years.

Whenever I’m in Rhode Island, I visit the graves of my ancestors. Sometimes I stop to say hello. Sometimes I stop to say thank you. I stop to honor and remember them.

When I visited the graves over spring break, winter had taken its toll. The fabric of the American flags staked in the earth was shredded. Only brittle twigs remained where plants had once blossomed.

The next day I went to the local nursery to purchase spring flowers. A pink hyacinth and violas for one grandmother. A blue hyacinth and pansies for another.

I fixed the wind chimes on Ruth’s grave and placed one half of a charcoal blue scallop shell on her headstone. I planted violas and a pink hyacinth on her grave. Ruth loved to garden. Her back and front porches were lined with chimes that tinkled and clinked when the wind blew through.

That day broke open bright, blue-sky sunny. I could feel the warmth of the sun and breath of the wind on my face.

Joy is a sneaker wave, too.

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

http://www.meadvilletribune.com/opinion/columns/column-grief-has-been-a-sneaker-wave-for-me-recently/article_1e70eb3f-7505-501f-b192-e51b356b5526.html

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Let’s keep our eyes, ears and hearts open

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Outside the Box

a weekly column by Cheryl Hatch/copyright 2015

Before the Thanksgiving break, I asked students in our journalism class what they had planned for the holiday. Most were heading home to be with family.

A student visiting from Germany said she had no plans.

What? No one has invited you to share Thanksgiving? That can’t be right.

She shook her head. She said the dining hall would have a special meal. She and her fellow German exchange student would dine in the dorm instead of sharing the most American of holidays with a family.

I couldn’t believe it. I wouldn’t accept it. I called my landlord, John.

John, would you and Ellena be willing to have two German students join you for Thanksgiving? I explained the situation, that they had not received an invitation and had nowhere to go, that I would have hosted them, but I was traveling.

Gosh, Cheryl, I’d love to, but Lena’s not cooking this year. We’re having dinner with my sister’s family.

Less than 30 minutes later, I got a text from Ellena. Cheryl, I would love to invite the young women to join us for Thanksgiving. Change of plan and venue. Ellena went shopping.

On Thanksgiving afternoon, Ellena welcomed the students to her home with a monster turkey and all the trimmings. The students brought mulled wine they’d made as their Thanksgiving offering. Ellena, John and his son, Nick, and the guests from Germany ate, laughed and talked until 11 p.m.

My first semester at Allegheny, I went blind in my left eye. I was alone, new in town, fresh from recovery from a life-threatening illness. I needed help and I turned to people at work. I made a couple requests for assistance at the college—to no avail.

Far from friends and family, I was bereft. As a last resort, I asked my landlord, John, if he could give me a ride to my appointment with the specialist. John wasn’t available, but his girlfriend, Ellena, who I had not yet met, would take me. She switched her appointments with business clients that day and drove me to Erie. She was waiting for me when I returned, sad and scared, after learning that I would need surgery on my eye.

I am not good at asking for help. It doesn’t run in my family. I come from stoic New England stock, cross-pollinated with a stern military upbringing. We don’t whine. We don’t cry. And we sure as heck don’t ask for help. We don’t trouble people with our troubles. When we fall, we get back on our feet. We grit our teeth and persevere. We find a way or make one.

This semester, I noticed I was having trouble seeing. I bought drugstore eyeglasses so I could read the tiny vowel markings on my Arabic homework. Students would wave at me from a distance and I couldn’t recognize them. I had difficulty some days reading the board from the back of the classroom. In yoga class and the weight room, I found it hard at times to hold my balance.

I went back to the eye doctor. I was blind in my right eye.

I asked the students in our classes and on The Campus newspaper staff for their help and understanding. I explained that I have limited vision, that if they approach from the right, I might not see them. If they wave, I’ll probably ask them to identify themselves. I told them that I might feel awkward sometimes in front of the classroom, unbalanced. I told them that I would do my best.

These past few weeks, I’ve been finding myself in moments of joyful sadness when I reflect on the bumps in the road and the blessings in my life. As a photographer, I’ve been knocked off balance twice by the loss of my eyesight. And yet, I am so thankful that I have access to medical care and can afford the surgery that will restore my sight. Without either, I would now be blind.

I am thankful for my friends, John and Ellena, who have always responded with kindness and empathy when I’ve asked for their help. Through their generosity of heart and hearth, they made two strangers feel welcome in our country on the day when we celebrate our bounty and blessings.

My entire life I have been blessed by the kindness of strangers in trying times. Working in Africa and the Middle East, I’ve had people offer me food, shelter and safety when they barely had any for themselves.

A few weeks ago in church, the gospel reading was from Mark 12:38-44. It’s one of my favorite stories. Jesus is watching people put money into the treasury. Many rich people put down large sums and a poor widow walks by and offers two small coins. Jesus said the widow had given the most. The others contributed a small amount from their abundance. Out of her poverty, she gave everything she had, all she had to live on.

I read a story in The Washington Post recently about Guilford College in North Carolina. Headline: “What if every U.S. college campus offered a house to a Syrian refugee family?” What if Allegheny College did? What if Meadville did?

I’m a journalist. I read the headlines. I hear the stories. Of the politics of bullying and shaming. Of bombs that shatter legs, lives and dreams. Of suffering that drives families apart and far from home. Of a blatant disregard for the gifts of this planet.

There are other stories to tell.

We all need help at times in our lives. We all have the capacity to offer that help. A Thanksgiving meal. A few coins. A home and sanctuary.

Let’s keep our eyes, ears and hearts open. A chance to help will present itself.

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

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2014 in review

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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here's an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 3,700 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

How you play a golf course reveals how you live your life

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Outside the Box, a weekly column by Cheryl Hatch, copyright 2014

A member of the Allegheny men’s golf team invited me to watch the team play during the recent Guy Kuhn Invitational at the Country Club of Meadville. I accepted and walked a number of holes on Sunday afternoon and a couple more on Monday.

I watched a visiting player hurl his club after a missed putt on what must have been a bad hole for him. I heard another visiting player swear loudly after a shot he didn’t like. That would not fly in the Hatch family, I thought. At any sign of disrespect for others or the game, my father would discipline us.

I grew up in a golfing family and I’ve walked innumerable golf courses. My father has played golf for as long as I can remember. My brother played in high school and college and still carries a single-digit handicap.

I never played the game when I was younger. Never liked it much, actually. I rowed crew in college. Family vacations were often planned around the availability of golf courses and tennis courts. I wanted to scuba dive.

My mom is a natural, competitive athlete. She played volleyball, basketball and tennis most of her life, until her back had other plans. She picked up golf later in life.

Last month, my mom called, thrilled to share the news of her hole-in-one on the Tournament Player Course. Number Three. A water hole.

Giddy, Mom described her shot. She suspected immediately that she’d made a hole-in-one. Dad was playing ahead of her. He said he watched her shot but didn’t see the ball on the green. He said he figured it went in the water.

Of course you did, Dad.

I tried golf a few years ago. My instructor told me I had a natural ability so I decided to take lessons. I found a woman golf pro, whose approach to the game was the right fit for my style. She gave me a few tips on my swing and then told me to see the target and send the ball to the target. And I did. On my first drive, I hit the ball well.

How far is that? About 225 yards, she said.

Giddy, I called my dad that evening. Dad, I hit my driver 225 yards.Cheryl, you cannot hit the ball 225 yards.

Well, how far do you think I can hit it? About 150, maybe 180 yards, my dad said.

Huh. My instructor might have been mistaken, though I liked the idea that I could send the ball 225 yards.

The next time I visited my folks, I went with my father to the driving range at the country club. He sat right behind me as I teed up the ball. Tense, nervous and anxious to impress my father, I hit the first few balls poorly.Then I sent one flying. I looked back at my father. How far was that, Dad?

About 225 yards. I don’t believe it, he said. Then he dashed to clubhouse to find the golf pro.

As I played more golf, I discovered that I could learn a lot about a person’s character in a round of golf, sometimes after a few holes. It turns out, in my view, how you play a golf course reflects how you live your life.

People will offer unsolicited advice: there’s a bunker over that rise; there’s water on the left; the rough is brutal on this hole. They focus on the potential problems.

I don’t want to focus on the hazards or obstacles. I aim for the flag, the green, the goal. I know that where I send my mind, my ball will follow.

My father and brother often coach me on the reasonable shot or appropriate approach. Play it safe. Play it smart.

Once, my father told me I couldn’t reach the green on a water hole. The safe shot was to lay up short of the green. In other words, don’t go for it.

I insisted I could hit the green. My first shot went in the water.

Now you know the shot to play, Dad said. My second shot went in the water. I was headed for a “Tin Cup” moment; and, I still believed I could reach the green.

On my third attempt, I hit the ball so hard it flew over the water and the flag and landed behind the green.

I happily accepted the inflated score on that hole because I proved to myself what I knew to be true—that I could reach that green.

Golf has taught me to trust myself and have confidence in how I play. And how I live.

I play by feel, by intuition, and I don’t play it safe.

Some players focus on problems. I look at the target and go for it. Some players dwell on the negative. They swear and throw things when the going gets tough.

I usually choose to focus on the positive. On some rounds of golf, I simply remind myself how lucky I am to be alive, to have the sun on my face, to be healthy enough to swing a golf club and share the game with friends.

The day after the Gators finished fourth in the Guy Kuhn Invitational, the assistant golf coach emailed me, thanking me for showing up to support the team. The coach thanked me, too. The student who invited me sent a thoughtful, handwritten thank-you note.

You can learn a lot from how people play and their follow through.

Allegheny College’s golf team is a class act.

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

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http://www.meadvilletribune.com/opinion/article_c638f20c-44e6-11e4-945b-7b2d00a84efe.html

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