Shrewsbury, Massachusetts – As a child I was taught that opportunity only knocks once, that if you miss the brass ring on the first time around you’ll never see it again, and if you don’t go to college directly from high school you’ll never get a second chance. Nonsense. I don’t know where my parents got those dumb notions but opportunities present themselves all the time, and I can tell you from personal experience that the doors to higher education are always open whether you’re 18 or 80.
The idea of getting more than one chance was confirmed when I went to a race track with some friends, discovering that you could win money even if your horse came in second or third, as long as you bet on it to Place or Show of course. Wow, what a deal, how could you lose? But before you run out and wager your house on a nag, be aware that most devotees of the ponies have no teeth and are always in hock up to their eyeballs. Maybe my parents knew something after all, for on closer examination it appears that while second chances do occur, people who don’t win are called losers no matter how close to first they finish, and if you aren’t first you’re a nobody.
Everyone knows that Jackie Robinson was the first Black to play Major League baseball but who remembers the name of the second one… nobody. Roger Bannister was the first to run the 4 minute mile, yet the mile can now be run in 3:43.13 and nobody knows or even cares about who did it except perhaps the guy’s mother. Sir Edmond Hillary and Tensing Norgay were the first to successfully climb Mt. Everest and return alive, but once it was accomplished the world turned its focus on other things of interest. Charles Lindberg captured the imagination of the world by being the first to fly solo across the Atlantic and Amelia Earhart was the first woman to do it, but other than those two, for all we know or care it was never done again. Sputnik shocked the planet by being the first man-made satellite to orbit the Earth but though the U.S. put up its own within three months, who remembers our satellite’s name? Continuing on the topic of flight, Alan Shepard was the first American to travel into space and Neil Armstrong was the first human to set foot on the moon, but who can recall the names of their successors? Maybe their grandkids know but few else.
Explorers and soldiers of fortune have always fascinated the rest of us, so though Sir Richard Burton’s name might not be as well known as the others just mentioned, he still is famous for being the first European to get into Mecca and return to tell about it. No, not the guy who married Liz Taylor, the original Richard Burton who not only went to Mecca but also brought the stories of the Arabian Nights and the Kama Sutra back to the West.
Speaking of Liz Taylor, Nicky Hilton was the first of her dozen or so husbands and I’ll bet even she couldn’t remember the names of the rest, other than Burton who had the distinction of being the first to wed her twice.