At the start of the school year, I posted twice about priorities, about how what I'm expected to do changes as I move from summer vacation back into the classroom. At the end of that second post, I wrote, "When I get to part three of this series of posts, I’ll return to the ELA agenda and offer a concrete plan for one way that students may do what they ought to do."
Well, here we are two months later, and I've yet to get to part three. Why? What happened? I could offer the usual litany of excuses:
I didn't have time.
I didn't feel well.
I had something else come up.
The only problem with all of those excuses is this: None of them are quite true. Oh, to be sure, they contain enough truth that I can perhaps fool myself into believing me, but the fact remains that I had enough time, I have felt well more than not, something else always comes up, and forgetting is not the same thing as ignoring.
Much of this hit home last week and over the long weekend. Saturday, I attended the memorial for a dear, old friend with whom I'd barely spoken in years. Every excuse listed above applies just as much to why it took Dan's death for me to get out of the house to drive to Humble, Texas, to visit, and by the time I got there, it was too late.
I met Dan a bit more than 40 years ago. My friend Fred introduced me to Dan, who was living a few doors down from Fred and his mother in an apartment complex that was across the street from Hollibrook Elementary School. Those apartments -- each one identical to the next -- are gone, replaced by a subdivision in which each house is identical to the next one. Fred and I were about 12 years old. Dan was seventeen years my senior.
In hindsight, there is something so odd about a man in his late 20s befriending two middle school boys that I've long been convinced God's providential care was at work. My adult role models were deeply flawed, scarred by abuse, drugs, and trauma. Back then, Fred's father was serving out his last months in prison. What Fred and I both needed in our lives was a man who accepted us where we were at, but who refused to let us stay there.
Dan's father worked in the oil industry, and his family moved a lot when Dan was a child. Dan and each of his siblings were all born in different cities. Dan was born in Roswell, New Mexico. He was happy and healthy, up until Dan ate a sugar cube containing the oral polio vaccine.
Dan contracted polio as a result. His legs and arms withered. When I met Dan, he had been a quadriplegic for most of his life. He couldn't walk. He couldn't sit upright on his own. One of his arms was all but useless. The other arm and hand had limited mobility, but had to be held up by a type of brace that mimicked the elbow and wrist joints. With this arm and hand, he could operate the joystick for his motorized wheelchair.
Dan knew so well that procrastination is a thief who steals time and leaves us with little more than "if only" and "should have", the two saddest phrases in the English language. Doctors had told Dan that he would live a short life. He'd certainly never see his mid-20s.
Dan lived 72 years. He outlived his parents and all but one brother. His son, grandchildren, and great-children survive him. Dan understood better than most the unfairness of life. He endured the pain of failing organs and experimental surgeries, some of which were first performed on a human being when performed on Dan.
As a middle schooler, I spent hours in Dan's apartment. We played video games there, enjoying Atari tournaments with Fred, Dan, and others. Dan taught me to play poker, chess, and Risk. I never felt judged by Dan. I never suspected that I fell short of expectations with Dan. I believe to this day that nothing I could do or fail to do would diminish my worth in Dan's eyes. Consequently, Dan made me want to be better, to somehow mirror the unfailing hope and generosity that Dan displayed every time I saw him.
Those who saw Dan those last hours of his life spoke proudly of how Dan remained a tower of strength until the end. This man -- this wonderful, funny, inspiring man -- whose legs were too weak to support his own weight, who couldn't lift his own arms, who couldn't go to the bathroom or bathe or eat or get dressed or go to bed without help: he was a tower of strength.
And I let years of excuses keep me from him, leaving me with knowledge of two indisputable truths. First, I can never get that time back, but, second, I know Dan forgives me for my neglect. Dan understood better than most the unfairness of life, but he also understood better than most that what little time we have is a gift not to be squandered on regrets or bitterness.
Requiescat in pace, Dan, and thank you for being my friend.
The Knights of the Mightier Pen gather in the hallowed halls of the Regis School in Houston, Texas, to share their tales and poems.