As we journey through life searching for some ultimate truth that will give meaning and purpose to our lives, we cross paths with countless others who, like us, are on a quest for truth. Many of the travelers we encounter along our way have little impact on our personal journey and serve more as companions on our trek rather than confidants, guides or gurus. But every now and then we chance to meet certain individuals who do make a difference, and prove to be instrumental in our quest. Sometimes these people enter our lives for only the briefest of moments and yet in those moments manage to touch us in life changing ways, giving us direction, mentoring us and positively influencing how we carry out our quest.
I’ve had the good fortune of knowing several of these inspirational souls on my life journey. The first was my tenth grade English teacher. He introduced me to the classics and awakened in me a love of books. Because of his direction and encouragement I learned how to really read a book. He taught me how to read for meaning by reading between the lines. He showed me how to analyze, scrutinize, dissect and speculate while reading a novel. Although I know he was teaching to the entire class, I always felt as though he was speaking to me personally. He was an exceptional teacher. I will forever be in his debt.
My second encounter with a person of influence came the following year. Once again he was a teacher. After a series of very poor choices I found myself finishing off my junior year in of all places, Continuation High School! Only a month earlier I had been a fairly descent student in a private school and then Wham! I screwed up and ended up in what was then billed as the school for bad kids. I remember walking into the classroom on my first day dressed in my tan cords, dessert boots and a long sleeve sports shirt with a buttoned down collar, only to be greeted by a group of mostly long haired, Anglo boys dressed in levis, boots and white tee-shirts, many with the sleeves ripped off. Yeah, I stuck out like a sore thumb.
I remember standing there like a deer in the headlights with everyone gawking at me, when this tall, thirty-something man, with short blonde hair and glasses approached me. He sort of reminded me of Bill Cullen the TV host from the Price is Right. He introduced himself and shook my hand, then put his arm around my shoulder and directed me to an empty desk near the front of the room. I tell you that place was a zoo! The students were unruly and extremely noisy. It was unlike any classroom I’d ever been in. But the teacher remain calm, cool and collected, he had the patience of a saint. He led the class in a discussion and actually had their attention for the better part of an hour, before the chant began, quietly at first and building into a roar. “Smoke Break, Smoke Break, Smoke Break!” The students were relentless. Eventually he smile, gave in and led us across the street for a smoke break.
A little after noon as my first school day came to a close the teacher asked me to remain behind. I remember the guy sitting across from me looked over and made some kind of grunting sound and laughed because I had to stay. He just kept staring at me as he left the classroom. He was kind of a goofy looking long hair, always looked stoned. I never knew what his real name was but everyone called him Gabby. He had the gruffest voice I think I have ever heard. A few years later I heard he died in a hiking accident in Arizona, loaded of course.
The teacher sat across from me and we talked. I will never forget the first thing he said to me after hearing my hard luck story, ‘The Rise and Fall of John S’. “You don’t belong here,” he told me, “They should have let you register at Azusa High, Let’s get you started earning some credits.” And that’s just what I did. Thanks to him I made it through the rest of the school year and managed to earn enough credits to return to the regular high school in September for my senior year. I will never forget that teacher, He was the first adult who I actually considered a friend. He treated me with respect and listened to what I had to say. I in turn listened to his advice and believe it or not, often followed it! Hey that was big for a seventeen year old kid! He truly cared about me and his other students. He believed in me and got me to believe in myself again. He helped me through one of the most difficult times in my young life.
Even after I was back at Azusa High I would stop by often to visit him, particularly when something was troubling me or I had girlfriend issues. He was always happy to see me and willing to lend an ear. It didn’t matter how upset or bothered I was, when I heard his hearty, infectious laugh I couldn’t help but feel better. He made a real difference in my life, things could have gone in a whole other direction had I not met him when I did, very different.
Although it was a blessing to have met him when I did, we were not over. God had other plans. Little did I know at that time that our paths would cross yet again at another crucial stage of my life thirteen years later…
To be continued…