Monday, July 26, 2010

You Can Change the World

As I noted in an earlier post, I recently attended a surprise retirement party for my high school band director, Mr. John Rodgers. During that event we were given the opportunity to make a few remarks or to share our remembrances from our days in the Kenmore High School marching band. I remember many things. I remember the insane shaving cream fights that we had at band camp (and I still remember how to modify a can of shaving cream to shoot 20 feet). I remember selling oranges to earn enough money to go to Disney World for their tenth anniversary (though I honestly recall very little of the trip itself). I remember many events but I also remember that the band room was like a home away from home for a lot of us. We showed up as soon as we could convince someone to unlock the place and were often there in the afternoons well after school was over as well as many hours of class in-between.

For me, John Rodgers and our choir director Georgia Thomas were trusted adults who modeled leadership, passion for music, respect, humility and many other things. At our party, I noted that though there were perhaps a hundred of us gathered that evening, our numbers are indeed far more than that, we are indeed legion. Each year that I was in band we had something close to one hundred musicians carrying instruments along with many more majorettes, rifle girls, and flags (and Bill Dobbs, fellow Baritone player, as our Cardinal mascot). Over the years that John Rodgers was at Kenmore he invested himself in the lives of many hundreds of students, perhaps thousands. As we gathered that evening it was apparent that time had not stood still, we are all older, many of us have married and have children and now many of our children are inheriting our love of music.

As I shared, I concluded that in his own humble way, John Rodgers accomplished what people in science and politics and every other discipline dream of doing, he changed the world. John Rodgers changed the world but so did Georgia Thomas and so do teachers around the world every single day. We all remember these people because they changed us, they modeled life for us, they inspired us and they ignited a passion within us whether it was for music, or literature, or history or whatever.

I cannot ever thank John Rodgers or Georgia Thomas or Bill Muse, or any of my teachers enough for the gifts that they gave me…

…but there is something that I can do.

In the lives of every human being we are given the opportunity to invest in the lives of others. We are all given the chance to invest in something that reaches beyond the boundaries of today or this week’s paycheck. If we are to honor the people that invested their lives in us then we must answer the call to invest in others.

For me, I was compelled, over time, to teach others about the unimaginable gift of Jesus Christ and to expend my energies helping others spiritually as well as in other ways. For you it may not be John Rodgers, but today I ask that you remember who it was that influenced and inspired you. Maybe it was a teacher, a pastor, a coach, a university professor or it could be a parent, a grandparent, a police officer or even a janitor. Whoever it was for you, I hope that you will use that memory to drive you to invest in another generation.

If you’re a teacher, you can allow that memory to reinvigorate you and to rekindle your passion, but even if you’re not in a career where this is easy there are still lots of options. Choose someone who can benefit from your accumulated knowledge and experience and offer to mentor them. Instead of criticizing their youth and inexperience, take the time to teach them a better way (and listen for what they have to offer you as well). Volunteer in your community. Every ball field needs volunteer coaches and referees. Every scout troop that I’ve ever seen can always use anyone with a spare hour or two. Churches and synagogues and schools and soup kitchens everywhere need compassionate volunteers with a heart to serve others. Whatever it is, find a way to give back (or pay forward) the amazing gifts that you’ve been given. You can make a difference. You can make the world a better place.

Get out there and change the world.

Monday, July 12, 2010

I Am Not The Person I Once Was

I am not the person I once was.

Recently I attended a surprise retirement party for my high school band director, John Rodgers. Mr. Rodgers had a profound impact on an untold number of lives but that’s a subject for another day. I graduated from high school 28 years ago and, not surprisingly, my classmates looked remarkably different than they did way back when. The physical changes in my classmates did not surprise me because, over time, I have watched the man in my mirror change as well. I’m thicker around the middle, my hair is thinning on top and I‘ve had a beard for well over a decade. The changes in my own appearance were obvious indications that my classmates were likewise not immortal.

As I moved around the room and engaged in conversation I was profoundly surprised by one thing, me. More accurately, I was surprised by how others in the room reacted to me. Years ago, we spent time together, a lot of it. Once upon a time, many of us knew each other very well. We met before school, often before the sun was up; we played music together between one and three hours every day and sometimes four or five. We often spent more time together than we spent with our parents. I tell you all this to say that when we met again after nearly three decades apart, in many ways we were able to simply pick up where we left off and enjoy each other’s company… and we did. I for one had a wonderful time remembering old times and renewing old friendships. Even better, with the advent of Facebook and email some of us will do a better job of staying in touch this time.

Still, as I mentioned, I was surprised by something. Long ago we were upperclassmen and underclassmen, freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors. Now we’re pastors, business executives, truck drivers, teachers, doctors and other things. In many ways, we are now our parents. Many of us have kids in high school and college. Looking at how we’ve changed in that way is fascinating but still, that wasn’t the surprise. What surprised me were several of the people who I had once looked up to. Not the majorettes or the flag girls with whom I’d only ever had a passing acquaintance, but my friends, or more often, friends of friends, those friends who travelled in the same circles but really weren’t close thirty years ago. These folks played instruments with my inner circle of friends or played in the jazz band where I worked on the tech crew. We knew each other fairly well, but not well enough to ever visit at home or be invited to birthday parties. Many of these folks were upperclassmen and graduated a year or two before I did. These were the people that I looked up to, who were older, smarter, better looking and more talented than I was, or at least it seemed that way. As I went about the room I was surprised because several of these friends not only remembered me, but they sought me out. They found value in who I was and what I did. Several people indicated that they’d hoped that I would come and they had looked forward to seeing me. Frankly, I was surprised that some of them even noticed me.

As many of us were, I was an awkward teenager. I didn’t get my growth spurt until I was a senior in high school and there were times that I didn’t like myself a whole lot. Somewhere along the line, about the time I was in high school, I had decided that if I didn’t like who I was, it was my job to become who I wanted to be. I wanted to be bigger and so for several years during college I went to the gym. I thought SCUBA diving looked cool (at least when Jacques Cousteau did it) and so I took classes and got certified. I’m not saying that working out in the gym and taking SCUBA lessons made me cool (because my children will tell you that I’m still not) but somewhere in the process I became comfortable with who I am. I am a different person than I was in high school. I’m taller and have a beard, but I also walk taller and straighter from ten years in the Army Reserve, I have a bachelor’s degree in engineering and a master’s degree in divinity and, simply put, I am both confident and comfortable with who I have become.

I was surprised that the people I’d known so many years ago reacted differently to our meeting than I expected. In retrospect, perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised.

I am not the person I once was.

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