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“Encourage the people around you”

By January 21, 2022 12 Comments

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.  

James C. Schaap

James Calvin Schaap is a retired English prof who has been something of a writer for most of the last 40 years. His latest work, a novel, Looking for Dawn, set in reservation country, is the story of two young women joined by their parents' mutual brokenness and, finally, a machine-shed sacrament of reconciliation. He writes and narrates a weekly essay on regional history for KWIT, public radio, Sioux City, Iowa. He and his wife Barbara live on the northern edge of Alton, Iowa, the Sgt. Floyd River a hundred yards or so from their back door. They have a cat--rather, he has them.


  • Eric Van Dyken says:

    I like this post. Thanks, Jim.

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Me too. Thanks.

  • Ed Starkenburg says:

    Thanks for the memories of how he encouraged me…time and time again. Now, go and do likewise.

  • Ann McGlothlin Weller says:

    My South Carolina aunt, who had endured great tragedy in her life, was a person who responded warmly to others with acknowledgments of their presence and often something positive to say. When we asked her how she managed to do that, given her own circumstances, she replied simply, saying, “I just believe in the ministry of encouragement.” After she died, my sister and I established a small fund that we named The Ministry of Encouragement to give modest sums to people who needed an emotional and/or tangible boost: a bus ticket to visit a grandma; new underwear for a woman living in a shelter; a backpack to a child–you get the idea. Thank you for your post today, Dr. Schaap, and may your day bring you some joy.

  • nickdv says:

    He was the personification of encouragement…and he had a hook shot that couldn’t be blocked…

  • Judith Baker says:

    One Saturday morning in May, several years ago, my husband and I watched our son as he ran the River Bank Run. We waved and cheered. He waved back. He was encouraging the encouragers. That is what this post has done for those of us who sometimes need to be reminded to continue to be cheerleaders for those around us. Blessings on your day.

  • Yes! Encourage one another – a biblical admonition so easy to do and way more important than perhaps we realize. Thanks for the encouraging essay!

  • Andy Rienstra says:

    As I read your piece this morning I was reminded of your parents and what people of encouragement they were to the young people of my day. I sus[ect you have been the same Jim. Blessings!!

  • Steven Tryon says:

    Beautiful words.
    This 71 year old is starting out on the Appalachian Trail in a week, for six months in the Abbey of the Appalachians.
    “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”

  • Jim Schippers says:

    Thanks for expressing and encouraging these thoughts this morning Jim, My morning prayer for years has been the prayer of Jabez, I Chronicles 4:10. ” Lord bless me richly, enlarge my territory, may Your hand be upon me”. Basically saying, Lord bless me with gifts that can be used for You, Enlarge my territory,= put people in my path that I can use those gifts for. May your hand be upon me = I need your help & spirit to be your hands & feet.
    I’m sure you make use of many opportunities to do just this.

  • Rowland Van Es, Jr. says:

    I’m not yet retired but did feel old last week when I asked my students when they were born and one said 2000 and the other said 2001! They do keep me young, and your point about encouraging others is good too.

  • Laura Heitritter says:

    The man you mention in this piece encouraged me over many years just as you have encouraged your students, colleagues, and readers. Thanks for the blessing.

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