Posts Tagged ‘teachers’

People. People Who Need People.

March 21, 2016

If we’re lucky, I mean truly lucky, every so often someone will come along and offer you the kind of unsolicited advice that amounts to a life talk. It might happen when you’re a captive audience, or it might be something tossed into play from the periphery of a fleeting moment in your day.
That advice? Well, it might come in the form of a sentence or two.
It might also take the form of a full-fledged conversation. Or, if you’re fortunate, it might be a series of conversations than span decades.

I can remember those significant moments now 30 and 40 years later.

The first time was when I was in Boy Scouts. I was at a weekend event and did something really impressive. Once accomplished I proceeded to strut about like a male peacock displaying his full regalia. I’m certain this deed was not nearly as impressive to those around me, but I was a teenager (which really ought to explain a lot). In the midst of this, one man, my best friend’s father, waited for me to finish then pulled me aside. “Ron,” he began, “whenever you do or accomplish something worthy of recognition let other people notice without bringing it to their attention.”

You know, that’s pretty heady stuff for a 12 or 13 year old. Lee Widner was one of those people who just did that sort of thing. While growing up he was, in some ways, sort of a surrogate father. He often encouraged me with expert subtlety to get those Merit Badges and seriously focus enough on getting my Eagle Scout, which I completed all the requirements for, but moved out of the state and territory before I was awarded this honor. (To make matters more complicated, when I settled and located another troop and scout master, Richard Brown he did the research and could find no information I’d completed the process. I learned of two stories later, though had no way of confirming either. One said the troop disbanded. The other story suggested a massive vacuum created by several assistant scout masters leaving because the scout master left. I’ll never know. And I digress). Point is, Lee took the time to provide me doses of attention ordinarily reserved for his son Brad. I have little doubt, in reflection, that he didn’t provide such doses of guidance to others. It was his nature, and no doubt sewn into his DNA.

The second person that saw something in me worthy enough to garner his attention was my history professor, Ralph Clark. Mr. Clark was the kind of professor for whom people took classes they didn’t need nor would apply towards their curriculum credits. In many ways I was reminded of him the first time I ever watched Dead Poets Society. You see, Mr. Clark took the time to talk about history and went so much further. He loved teaching as much as he loved history, and he loved history. After a series of lectures and facilitation in Honors Western European History he set up a road trip. Destination? Vizcaya (if you’ve never heard of this place, look it up).

I went to college in South Florida, getting both my Associate’s degree and Bachelor’s degree from institutions of Higher Learning. The Chateau Vizcaya was an hour away from school. I signed up and was glad I did. I love history and always have. But what Mr. Clark did transcended anything I’d ever Learned. We walked through the rooms and then went outside and walked the grounds, studying the architecture. Mr. Clark would point out an architectural nuance or an element that had been talked about in class and then quietly step back and watch us engage each other. That keen sense of awareness, of how history would resonate because we were not only exposed to it but we were talking and living it. He was no fool. He knew we’d retain more than he taught.

Last class of the last semester of my Associates degree with Mr. Clark. I was halfway through the room when Mr. Clark said, “Ron take a seat for a moment.” So I did. After the room cleared he came over and sat down next to me. “Ron? You’re about to go into the big leagues. I mean sure, you may have a professor that cares enough for you to get to know your name but in most of your classes your grades are going to be determined by a Midterm and a Final. Extra credit will be a thing of the past.”

He took the time to explain to me what I was getting into. Honestly I had no idea and simply justified his conversation as the rattlings of an old man. But he cared enough to take time out of a day no less busy than any other to talk to me. When he finished he simply said, “Well, that’s all Uncle Ralph has to say.” He retired and went to live in the Shenandoah Valley, a place rich in history. With his departure went a era.

Another advocate was Dr. Peter Roundy. Fifteen minutes into my first class I knew I had to take others. And I did. Much of my  electorate requirements were populated with courses taken where Dr. Roundy was professor. Our relationship developed into a genuine friendship. He travelled the world, gone for six to nine months at a time, teaching English in Thailand or some other fantastic locale. In a turnabout for memorable experiences, he told me once, over lunch, I was one of the only students that wrote him every time he travelled. I liked him and couldn’t help myself. His method for dispensing advice was simple: a few words here and there, doled out like chocolate sprinkles on a double dark chocolate cupcake. It was as if he’d see you starting to slip off the path and he’d turn you right again. Of course, if you were me you chose to bulldoze your way through life, only reflecting later on something said and remarking to yourself, “Oh. That’s what he meant.”

And then there was Christopher Burns. I have written much on the man that became my brother with a bond that could not be broken by words or actions. Every living creature should be so fortunate as to have someone in their life so generous. He was a general in my army, champion to my action, and quiet observer to my missteps. He was wise enough, as any oracle, to let me stumble.

An idea man, he often studied and dissected things (including me), looking for a way to make it better. I was fortunate to be the recipient of those talks, even if the ideas might take years to stick.

I still reflect on those conversations and wish I had the chance, especially with Christopher, to sit and simply talk, letting that wisdom pour over me like a comforting breeze. Those talks never truly resonated with me at the time. But that’s the thing with really insightful advice: sometimes it requires time to germinate, to find purchase in the rich soil of the mind. Many take heed and respond to the call quickly. Others like yours truly sometimes miss the opportunity to give such advice the chance to help us change direction. As a result, when it does seat, we’ve already moved on.

I guess my message is this to you, my dear reader. We need people like that in our lives. They give us contextual insight through objective eyes. They are sometimes our reset button. If someone comes along and gives you the sort of unsolicited advice that peels itself like a Foxtail Palm or an artichoke and reveals more every time you glance its way, here’s what you do: if you can’t actually listen, retain and immediately apply that information, at least try to remember the critical piece of it. Give that advice a chance, just as that person who cared gave you. In time, you’ll not only be applying some of those helpful hints and life coach adjustments, but just as good, you’ll discover someone who might just need a little bit of the same.

It’s another way of making the world better one deed at a time.

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