I was intrigued by this teenager’s keen interest in photographing the beautiful flowers at Longwood Gardens in Kennet Square, Pennsylvania. We kept running into one another as we wound our way through the many colorful displays of flowers, pools, fountains, and outdoor gardens.
From my long-lived experience as a father, grandfather, teacher, and school principal, photography wasn’t a top priority for most teenagers. This young girl was the exception. After I took this shot of her capturing yet another lovely flower, I spoke with her parents, who stood at a distance, proudly admiring their daughter’s unabashed desire to photograph the gorgeous floral displays.
I showed them this photo and identified myself as a retired principal. Curious, the girl came over to us and viewed my shot of her shot of the flower. She smiled, and I showed her another shot I had taken nearby of a glass ceiling with steel girders. She liked it, so I answered a question she didn’t ask but was on her face. I had taken the abstract-looking photo while others were busy observing the apparent displays all around them. I looked up.
That was my photographic tip to this inspiring and aspiring youngster. “When others are looking one way, you look the other,” I told her. “You never know what inspirational subjects you will find to photograph.”
Next week, my Photo of the Week will be an example of that ditty of advice. For now, “Young Photographer” is my Photo of the Week.
I’ve always liked living where I worked. For all of our adult lives, my wife and I have resided in the communities where we plied our skills as public school educators.
We did so intentionally, knowing there were distinct advantages. Experiencing the everyday life of those with whom we taught and guided served as a blessing far beyond anything we could have imagined.
To walk where our students and fellow school staff members walked gave us insight into the core values and principles that drove their lives. We wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
After we had married in March 1971, Neva and I lived in Killbuck, Ohio where I taught at the elementary school for nine years. I got to see my students first-hand before, during, and after school. I found great reward in knowing their lifestyles, family circumstances, and living situations.
A year after I became a principal in the East Holmes Local School District, we moved to our present home built on an Amish farm. That was 37 years ago. What a joy it has been.
Families invited us into their homes for meals, hymn sings, weddings, and just to visit. We participated in the life circles of the mostly Amish and Mennonite communities. That enabled us to understand and appreciate their ways and values more fully.
When you live in the same location for nearly four decades, incredible benefits find you. Just the other day I visited with a former student from one of the many respectful families we got to know and interact with over the years.
Our conversation in his office thrilled me. Here was a young man who grew up with Amish linage, earned his graduate degree at an Ivy League school no less, and now is serving his home community in multiple leadership roles.
Over the years we have joyfully watched such students mature, finish eighth grade or high school or college, and all contribute in meaningful ways to our culture and society. It’s especially momentous when we encounter one another on life’s journey.
I regularly see many former students. They cash my checks at the bank. They serve me my dinner at a local restaurant. They build and sell me furniture that lasts a lifetime. Even my attorney is a former student of mine. The list is endless.
Others I only see or correspond with occasionally, even randomly. There’s no greater joy for a teacher than when a former student recognizes you in the aisle of a large grocery story and rushes up and unabashedly embraces you with a long, loving hug.
Then there are the times when I bump into the orneriest student ever, and he nearly shakes your hand right off of your arm in recognition that he made it. It’s like winning the lottery, only much, much better. After all, the kid knew the way to the principal’s office blindfolded. Now he has a dream job and a lovely wife.
The memories the students share in these encounters make me smile. I usually have no recollection of the incident or how positively it had impacted them. And yet, whatever was done or said then helped them in their young lives. Being told that warms my old heart.
East or West, I am so glad to have lived where I worked. My life wouldn’t be nearly as full without these precious relationships. All I can say is thank you to those of you who have filled my cup to overflowing.
Soon I’ll be 63. I used to think that age was ancient. I probably was 36 then.
Of course, there was a time when I viewed 36 as old. I was probably 18. When I was nine, 18 was old. You get the pattern. “Old” is a relative term.
I am not saying that I don’t feel my age. I do. I say that because whoever said 60 is the new 50 must have been 50. They sure weren’t 60.
Ever since I hit the big 6 0, an invisible physical switch seems to have been flipped. I eat less and gain more. I tire too easily, but find consistent restful sleep evasive. I have far less hair than five years ago, and what’s left is mostly gray.
My memory isn’t as sharp as it once was, my dexterity not as nimble. Aches and pains seem the rule rather than the exception they once were, even after only moderate exercise.
I might feel the various bodily effects of aging, but my mind says I’m still young at heart. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that I sometimes act like I’m still 18. But after a half dozen tosses of the baseball to my grandson, my arm feels like it will fall off.
I recently spent an inspirational afternoon with a handful of young people, all in their 20’s. The outing was intended to be an opportunity for quiet reflection and introspection.
When it was time to share at the end of the retreat, I told those assembled that I really felt for them. Here they all were, young, talented, each one much smarter than me, and yet, they were struggling to find jobs that fit their training, experiences and dreams.
I shared how it was so much different for baby boomers like me when we were their age. We graduated from college, and we could basically name our price and place to work. They all laughed when I said, “And I chose Killbuck, Ohio.”
It was one of the best decisions I ever made. Killbuck Elementary School was where I began my teaching career. I was 21, right out of college with a degree in journalism. The only education class I had had was driver education.
That didn’t matter. There was a teacher shortage, and since I had a bachelor’s degree and heartbeat, I was offered a contract 20 minutes into my interview. I made $6,000 that first year, and $186 more the second.
But like most educators, I clearly didn’t teach for the money. I taught because I loved the kids, the personal interaction, the daily battle between routines and spontaneous interruptions, the classroom characters, and the challenging instructional process. In all that, I felt welcomed with open arms and loving hearts.
Sure there were things I detested. Every job has that. That’s where age has an advantage. I have found it more convenient, healthier, and safer to let the good memories override the bad.
I told that crew of young people that I never ever expected that we would be in a situation where good jobs would be so scarce. In hindsight, I realize just how fortunate I was back then, salary not withstanding.
My birthday is my personal reminder that time is short. I want to be as productive, as positive, and as purposeful as possible. You never know what tomorrow will bring.
I want to get up everyday with a spring in my step, a song in my heart and an audacious hope that I will remain forever young regardless of how “old” I am or will be.