The First Time I Met a Rocket Scientist

I believe it was the summer of 2005 when I was working for a local point-of-sale (POS) software developer.  The company was very small and even though my title was Director of Customer Service, I also took care of shipping/receiving, software support, website updates, customer training among a number of other duties.  After almost 20 years in the IT industry, I saw this company as a shot at being on the ground floor of an up-and-coming business.  I was okay with making less because I didn’t have much of a commute and I felt that there was potential for personal and professional growth.  Well this happened, but not quite the way I expected it…

One of the “jobs” that I have always enjoyed in my years in IT, was going on-site with the client to do software support, installs or training.  This is an exciting time for the client as they have committed to a business change that is both challenging and exhilarating.  They have committed to starting a new process or change and existing one.  For businesses that have been around for many years, this can cause a lot of anxiety on the part of the employees who have an established work routine that serves them perfectly.  It could also mean changes in staffing by hiring new or possibly replacing skill-sets to match the new technology.  I have seen all of these variations and more over the years and while the premise for the change is similar, each implementation is unique because it involves people.  I have come to understand recently that it wasn’t the technology that fulfilled me, but it was the interaction with people that made me want to continue with my work.

On one of my trips I had to fly to Orlando, FL to install the POS hardware and software and then do all of the setup and training for the owner and staff.  I was there for three days in all and the funny thing is, is that I really don’t remember much about the software install.  The bits and pieces I do remember could fit into any number of installs I’ve done with the client giving me little or no direction nor them having any sort of organization to their inventory whatsoever.  I do remember that it was at least as challenging as any other install, but nothing out of the ordinary.

What I do remember happened “after hours” when I wasn’t working on the job.  I had finished for the day and I decided to go to a local cafe/bookstore to eat.  While I was there, I had finished eating and was sitting in one of their many couches and overstuffed chairs reading a magazine or maybe a book when I nice couple in their mid sixties sat down across from me.  For me, I’ve always been a bit of an introvert and didn’t do very well in talking with strangers, but this time I decided to go out on a limb and say hello.  The couple smiled and returned my greeting and then asked me how I was and what kind of work I did.  I explained that I was an “computer guy” here doing some contract work for a client.  What struck me most initially about this couple was their apparent age difference.  I’m not the best judge on age, but the gentlemen appeared to be 10 to 15 years older than the woman, but there was a certain natural connected nature about them that made the age difference invisible the longer I talked with them.

As our conversation continued, I came to know that the woman (Stephanie) ran her own commercial real-estate company in Orlando, the gentleman (Bill) was retired and that they had been married for many years.  She explained that she was having some issues with her software system and she wanted to know if I would be interested in taking a look at it while I was there.  I agreed to help her and was excited about this new adventure of meeting new people.  I had taken a chance to open myself up to others and it was really turning out well.  Meeting this couple was a very new experience for me because they were so very genuine.  I felt that they truly cared about me as an individual just based on talking with me for a few minutes.  I felt important and worthy for who I was.  We spent the evening talking and they even gave me a short walking tour around the area.  During my few days there, I was treated to dinner by this couple, I visited their home/office to review their software issue and in a very short time felt close to this mystery couple.  I was even invited to return to visit them and to bring my family too.  It felt very surreal to be there and I think it was because I chose not to be closed off to others.

When I was with this couple, I remember feeling very fortunate and blessed.  In retrospect I feel as if they were sent to me, just to help me understand that I was worthy of love and respect from everyone I meet.  But more importantly, I was worthy of my own love and respect.  I was reminded that I have accomplished many things in my life and that I should share myself with others because they want to know me too.  I had stepped outside of my fear and found a part of me that I really like.  It was the first time this had happened in many years and I am grateful for the reminder.

During my visit with this couple, I was very focused on solving the software issue for the Stephanie’s  business.  I was so focused that I didn’t spend time to chat with her husband Bill until toward the end of my visit.  When I first met Bill I was struck with how much he looked like a “hippy from the 60’s”.  He had long grey hair with a ponytail in the back and carried himself with a very relaxed, slow and easy gate.  I find it funny now to think about how appearances of people seem to automatically put them into a certain social-historical category.  I find it interesting and a bit disturbing that this happens, but it was what it was I guess.

In talking with Bill I knew he was retired, but I didn’t know from what so I asked him.  He then told me that he was a retired NASA rocket scientist!  I was blown away and even remember snickering to myself a little (especially with all the times I heard various tasks in life compared to rocket science).  I mean how often do you meet a rocket scientist?  He continued to tell me how he worked for NASA in the jet propulsion division  for over 30 years and had been one of many people to work on the ships that first went into space and even to the moon!  I was totally in awe of his stories and was yet again humbled to be with these people.

For some reason I have been thinking about Stephanie and Bill a lot lately.  I even took a chance today and sent an email to Bill telling him how much I appreciated him and his wife for the time they spent with me over 5 years ago.  He probably won’t remember me at all, but I remember them.  My time with them was short, but they affected me greatly throughout these many years.  It goes to show you how much of an affect you and I can have with everyone we meet.  We can show them kindness and genuine interest.  We can show them we care and even if we never see them again, it could positively impact their lives forever.

Dwight Raatz

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