There was a celebration of some sort in the gym that day. I don’t know why or what was being celebrated anymore, but the place was full of those blow-up monstrosities little kids love, huge bouncy things you can get yourself lost in. One of them was a formidable, billowing obstacle course half the gym wide.
“Come on, Dr. Schaap–I’ll race ya’,” some kid said. She meant it, as did the gang around her.
I took one look down that air-bubble, fun-park raceway and shook my head. “I’m an old man,” I said with a level of seriousness I wanted them to refute. They didn’t.
For good reasons, I suspect, some little moments balloon out of all proportion, and that moment was one of them. I was a year away from retirement, greatly looking forward to it, ever more conscious of the royal gorge between me and 20-year-olds. The moment that young lady turned and took off down that silly track without me, I felt the crushing realization that what I was going to miss the moment I hit the classroom lights for the last time was that I would no longer have students around to keep me young.
There’d be more such moments, but not until this morning did I think much about what else I left behind when I left the classroom. Maybe you saw Tish Harrison Warren’s “Ten New Year’s Resolutions that are Good for the Soul” in the NY Times a couple of weeks ago. She looked for help from her friends, then put up a list the resolutions they sent her. The eighth comes from Dorena Williamson, who answered, simply, “Encourage the people around you.”
“My reSOULution,” Williamson said, “is to look for an opportunity every day to give encouragement to someone in my path, whether that be a family member, a colleague, a cashier or a child.”
I don’t know that anyone could teach for as long as I did and not spoon out tens of thousands of encouragements. I don’t remember one of them right off-hand, but I’ve always believed something good should be said about even a wretched student paper.
Reading stacks of essays is now ten-years gone, finished, over; but along with them is the daily, hourly opportunity to say a few good things. I’m no longer in the company of students. For that matter, in this Covid-world, I’m no longer often in the company of people, which means, I suppose, I have to be reminded, and to remind myself, to “encourage the people around you.” Not long ago so many humanoids walked along in my daily trek that they’d drive me half-nuts until finally, for a spell at least, they’d go home. They’ve long ago left the building–as have I.
Trust me on this, there’s an unspoken camaraderie among the retirees who work out in a college gym. When we pass, we nod, say hi or make polite conversation even though we don’t know each other; but, as rare as hens’ teeth among the kids on the weights or machines, we acknowledge our anomaly-ness, smile, and say hi, meaning, I suppose, something akin to “keep the faith.”
Sad to say, the really old guy no longer comes around. His obit showed up in the local paper a couple of weeks ago, a much beloved former coach and prof, so great a legend that an entire addition of the facility is named in his honor. He used to come by mid-afternoon, a basketball under his arm, and then try to work up a game of H-O-R-S-E with any student willing to give him ten minutes. Always smiling. Sometimes winning, I bet.
With him, there was always more than a nod. “Did you get a good workout?” he’d ask me, smiling but dead serious. I don’t think he knew me, but he couldn’t help saying something to the other old guy, something, well, nice.
I’d smile and nod, even though when you’re my age and size, no workout is “good”–“good for you?” maybe, but “good”? Nah. You’re just trying to keep Father Time outside the door.
Anyway, the older man is gone now, and I miss him, as do a thousand others. In the local paper, his life was blessedly heralded, as it was in social media. From what little I know of him, I’m guessing the man was so blessed because he gave that blessedness away until he could no longer hit a free throw.
I’ve never been big on New Year’s resolutions. The mere thought of some of the Tish Harrison Warren’s good-for-the-soul resolves make this grumpy old goon roll his eyes. Whether or not I’ll whittle this one into a full-fledged resolution is a good question. But let me say this much at least: I can’t help but believe Dorena Williamson has a point. So, good job, Ms. Williamson.
And with that, I’ve got today covered.