Spiritual Journey Thursday: On golf and good-bye

An elegy.

Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.

-Ecclesiastes 9:11

He was born nearly seventy years ago.

With cerebral palsy.

He would never be able to go up a flight of stairs, for both halves of his body wouldn’t work together.

He would partake of the Lord’s Supper at church with a special goblet reserved for him; the tiny communion cups required too much finesse.

His ever-present smile, however, set his entire face alight with a magnificent inner glow that never dimmed, his piercing blue eyes as bright as the unclouded summer sky.

Perhaps it began with his father, who chose to believe.

Who loved the game of golf and decided his son would, too.

And so he taught his boy.

As if there were no handicap.

Always make a total effort, even when the odds are against you.

-Arnold Palmer

It’s a game of precision, skill, and amazing grace.

The boy loved it.

He excelled at it.

He entered tournaments, won trophies.

A whole case full of them.

I have to believe in myself. I know what I can do, what I can achieve.

-Sergio Garcia

He liked people even though many could not understand his labored speech and, in their discomfiture, avoided him.

He could drive a car and on occasion came to visit the parsonage where my husband and I lived, when our children were small.

I learned he had a mischievous sense of humor, that his brain was, in fact, brilliant.

I wonder how many people understood this.

When I told him that I had to complete a required PE credit on my path to becoming a teacher, and that the only thing currently available was golf, and that I was already in danger of failing it due to my abysmal performance, he coached me.

Brought me pages of yellow legal paper covered with handwritten notes far clearer, finer, and consistent than my own, organized under this heading: The Fundamentals of Golf. Another heading: Form. Accompanied by his sketches of how to stand, how to hold the club, body position, dotted lines for movement…

I contemplated these golden pages with absolute awe.

He brought me newspaper clippings and magazine articles on women golfers. Hoping, perhaps, I’d love the sport. His sport. That I’d maybe rise, somehow, to the glimmering, glorious heights of it…

I never did. Never learned to love golf, not even a little.

The university instructor declared, in utter exasperation, that I looked like I was chopping wood.

But I got an A in the course.

Thanks to my coach.

Golf is the closest game to the game we call life. You get bad breaks from good shots; you get good breaks from bad shots—but you have to play it where it lies.

-Bobby Jones

He taught me much.

He wanted to be married, to have a family.

It didn’t happen.

“People don’t understand God,” he told me during one of his last parsonage visits. “But I understand God.”

I looked at his face, bright and earnest as ever, uncharacteristically serious, eyes fierce, blazing.

And I believed him.

As you walk down the fairway of life, you must smell the roses, for you only get to play one round.

-Ben Hogan

He lived with his mother, who cared for him until her illness and death, after which he went to an assisted living facility.

Parents gone, driving gone, golf gone. Seasons come and gone with slow decline, languish, only memories left of moments in the sun, walking the fairway, making your best shot.

With the arrival of COVID-19, even visitors were gone.

And now so is he.

He could be considered a victim. Of the cerebral palsy that marked an existence of suffering from birth to his death by a pathogen that, in electron-microscope images, looks like a golf ball with extruding dimples.

Some might say his life wasn’t fair… what if his father thought this?

I say he was a conqueror.

More than a conqueror, never separated from the love of God.

He understood.

Only a few will be allowed at the memorial today.

Just know that I remember, old Friend. Farewell. You were, you remain, always, a gift from our Father.

Photo: Chris Urbanowicz. CC BY

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Special thanks to Carol Varsalona for hosting Spiritual Journey Thursday today at Beyond Literacy Link.

Tell me something good

Don't believe everything

Image: John D. Fisher, street photographer. CC BY-SA

When I found this photo of a man reading the newspaper, I noted that his pet pelican has grabbed a corner. I imagined the bird saying to the man, somewhat dryly as it peers at the page, Tell me something good.

It just so happens that a teacher colleague recently wore a shirt to school bearing these same words. Tell me something good.

“Well,” I said to her, “This is something good: Summer’s almost here.”

She laughed. At the time she was was returning her end-of-grade testing materials. “I hope people tell me something good all day.”

I began to think about how different a day could be if people continually heard something good from others.

Vacation’s almost here.

The test is over.

I enjoy working with my colleagues.

I admire your work.

I found twenty dollars in the pocket of a coat I was about to throw out!

Systems and society can make us pretty acclimated to the negative. Deficits, grievances, outrageous behavior, all that’s broken, all that’s not working. Things that beat down rather than build up.

But good stuff’s always happening out there.

All the time, everywhere.

A stranger stopped to change my tire this morning. He was tired, on his way home from working the night shift, but he said that being able to help someone is a blessing. 

I got a well-written thank you note from a young person.

Another Triple Crown winner!

It’s all about hope, really. A reminder that there’s much to keep striving for in the hard grind of life. And that it’s worth it.

Tell me something good.

Please.

But I’m not a teacher

Encourage

He’d saved his own money to buy me a Christmas present. He told his dad he wanted to go to the bookstore, so his dad took him.

He bought me a picture instead of a book and watched with great pride as the clerk wrapped it.

“I got it for my mom,” he told the clerk.

“Oh, she’ll love it!”

He clasped it to his heart all the way home.

He burst into the house, calling, “Mom! Mom! I got you a present!”

His dad said, “Son, just put it under the tree. It’s for Christmas.”

“I want to give it to her now!”

“All right,” I said,  sitting down on the couch. My little boy scrambled up beside me. “I’ll go ahead and open it, if that’s what you want.”

He watched my every move as I unwrapped the paper and pulled out the matted picture bearing the quote: A teacher in wisdom and kindness helps children learn to do exactly what they thought could not be done.

I didn’t know what to say for a moment.

“It’s beautiful, honey,” I said, hugging him. “Thank you so much.”

“Do you love it, Mom?”

“I do … but I’m not a teacher.”

My son surveyed me with huge dark eyes that seemed far older than his six years: “Oh yes you are, Mom.”

At the time, I wasn’t even a college graduate. Teaching wasn’t on my radar. Thirteen years, a degree, and another baby later, I actually became a teacher. In all of those education courses that required me to describe my educational philosophy, I wrote: A teacher is an encourager, recalling that solemn little face, those big eyes, the absolute conviction shining in them. Children, sometimes, are the greatest of sages, the most profound of prophets.

Three more years, and the boy graduated college himself with a degree in history. “What am I going to do for a job?” he asked one afternoon, a slight hint of anxiety in his voice.

“Teach,” I answered, smiling.

He didn’t smile back. “But I’m not a teacher.”

“Oh yes you are, Son.”

Before the summer ended, he had a job teaching social studies at his old high school. When he went to set up his classroom, he cleaned out the cabinets and found old tests – including his own.

He also became a soccer coach, taking his team to the championships and winning regional Coach of the Year this past season.

We didn’t seek teaching; it found us. We’ve done exactly what we thought could not be done – we do it every day, all over again.

And every day is new, if not easy; every day offers wisdom, beckons kindness, invites us to believe in others, in ourselves, every moment a chance to create, to reinvent, to overcome. It can be done.

Encourage one another.

slice-of-life_individualEarly Morning Slicer