Most of you know that for thirty-something years, my father was a public school administrator. He once told me that his philosophy on education was simple: There are those kids who will make it no matter what. There are those kids who will not make it no matter what. There are those kids who are somewhere on the border of making it or not making it, and those are the ones you need to work to save.
Dad never spent much time in the classroom. He went straight into administration as a principal. Many of his high school students were not much younger than he was, and in later life he was good friends with many of these students. His ex-student and friend, Jim was probably in the second group listed above – he wasn’t going to make it in school, but Dad was determined to put him in the third group and save him. Jim had had a hard life with alcoholic parents in a rough oil field town. Education was not his cup of tea. He was determined to drop out of school. Dad stayed after him constantly – no telling how many times Dad busted Jim’s bum! Jim went to a Navy recruiter and told him that he would sign up if the recruiter would promise to get him out of town before the sheriff of Mr. Barker could find him. So Jim joined the Navy (keep in mind that this was the early 60’s) and made a career of it. The Navy did what Dad had not been able to do and made a man of Jim and gave him an education and a career – it saved him.
Another thing that "saved" Jim was Barbara, his wife. Barbara had not had an easy life either, but she thought Jim hung the moon. She loved him and supported him and raised their four children the best she could on a Petty Officer's salary. My dad was not wrong about Jim. He was a smart man and he recognized Barbara’s love for him, and he loved her in return. Their life together was still not easy or perfect, but they were happy. A lot of that was because Barbara was the type of person to be happy – to try and make everyone happy.
After Jim retired and moved back to the area, he and Dad found each other again. Jim credited Dad with having tried to do what was best for Jim when he was younger. He understood Dad’s love for him - Dad’s way of caring – and he loved Dad for it. They became great friends in their older age. Every Sunday Dad and Mom would drive out to the lake where Jim and Barbara had a fishing barge. They would drink coffee or have a beer together. Dad continued to try and give Jim "a better life" for his family with wise counsel and good friendship. When Dad got sick with cancer, Jim and Barbara were right there for Dad and Mom. They came and visited every week. They brought little things to Dad and did all that they could do at a pretty hard time. I loved them for that.
Two days ago, Barbara died unexpectedly – probably a heart attack. Yesterday, I went with Mom out to the lake to comfort Jim and his family. There were several things that gave me food for thought while visiting with Jim and his family. They were not "well-educated" people. They were simple people. They had had a hard life. Their children had had hard lives. Hardship may have been normal to them. The Navy helped, Dad helped, and Barbara’s love helped. Their lives were probably much better than their parent’s lives, and yet, not great. Did they know that it could have been even better – probably not – they were happy. I’m not judging their life. I’m only making observations about the differences in people’s lives.
Jim and Barbara were not what people would call religious (in fact, most people would have considered their life pretty wild). Jim said that when he prayed he only prayed The Lord’s Prayer because that was how Christ said to pray and it was the ultimate prayer that said it all. But in times of real or specific problems, he would ask Barbara to pray. He said that there was nothing as powerful as a mother’s sincere prayer. This made me see how much he loved Barbara, how he thought of her, and how much she did for him. They had a good life together. And yet, could it have been better? Could it have been easier?