Blogpost

My Biggest Regret As a Teacher

IMG_4128I was raised in the Catholic faith but have some major misgivings about the history and present of the religion.  Regardless of those feelings there are certain things that stick out from my childhood experiences of religion.  One phrase that always stuck out for some reason was part of the act of contrition.  When repenting for sins, the prayer asked for forgiveness “for what I have done and what I have left undone.”  The second part is what always hit me.  That I was not only responsible for seeking forgiveness for the actions that I had committed but also the ones that I had omitted as well.

Several years ago, I had a student in one of my classes.  He was one of those kids that was smart but did not care about the class enough to put forth much effort.  Since he was a senior, his only goal was to graduate.  So that he could get into the army and get away from the problems at home.  On a particular day, he and I got into a conversation about his lack of effort.  He said “Mr. Huryk, I’m not worried about this class.  I’m worried about what I’m going to eat today.”  After class I asked him to hang around for a minute.  I took out the container that held my lunch and handed it to him.  He refused but thanked me for the gesture.  After that day, I paid a lot more attention to his mood and weight.  It became pretty obvious that he wasn’t lying.  He had gotten skinnier.  So I packed up a brown paper bag with a loaf of bread, peanut butter, jelly, Clif Bars and other low maintenance foods and put his name on it.  I had the secretary in the office call him down right before the end of the day and tell him that someone dropped it off for him.

No one knew who had sent the food but there was no secret that problems ran deeper than just hunger.  I talked to my wife about it and she knows how much I try to help people who need it.  She said if the situation was that dire, I could offer to give him a place to stay temporarily.  I just didn’t know him well enough to take that step.  Besides the year was almost over.  He was going to pass my class and be able to graduate in order to get into the army and move on.  On the last day of class, he asked me if I had been the one who had given him the food.  I admitted that it was.  He thanked me and said he appreciated it.  At that point, I thought I had done my part and I would never see him again.  I was right on half of that equation.

Upon returning to school in the late summer, the secretary who had helped with my covert food operation informed me that he had passed away over the summer.  The combination of his poor circumstances and some poor judgment sent him to a far too early grave.  All he wanted to do was escape the situation that he was in but it just didn’t happen fast enough.

I know that I shouldn’t tear up every time that I think about this.  In reality it was not my responsibility to make sure that this kid got off to the army safely.  I was almost inconsequential in his life.  The issue is that I know the outcome now and can see all of the things that I left “undone”.

We cannot do everything.  We cannot save everyone.  Regardless of how hard we try.  Bad things are still going to happen to good people who deserve better.  The reason why I relive this story in my mind often is because even though we can’t save everyone, I want to live in a world where we try to or at least want to.  Hate, malice and indifference are easy because they take nothing from the person who puts them out into the world.  Kindness, generosity, caring and love require that you give something of yourself and may not get it back.  That is a bargain that many people are just too afraid to make.  However the easy road ends with us all being alone and separated because the caring muscle atrophies when you use it infrequently.  So although it is a painful memory, I will continue to dwell upon what I left undone because I don’t want to believe that it’s not my responsibility to care for my fellow man.

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are!

Pete

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Life of Unopened “Cans”

cansIn my parents’ cupboard when I was a kid, there were canned products that we used all the time.  Chicken noodle soup, tomato paste and green beans were in heavy rotation toward the front door.  They would come in, go out and be replaced by their can cousin at the next shopping trip.  Toward the back of the cupboard were the ancient staples like the can of cream of mushroom from 1985 or its even stranger companion, evaporated milk (no idea what that is).  These cans were born with purpose and hope.  However their lives never reached fulfillment because they were forgotten after they were crossed off of the grocery list and standing by for “someday”.  Having the can in the cupboard was enough.  We never actually had to do anything with it.

As I edge ever closer to 40 years old, I look at my unopened “cans” and I am awestruck by what I’ve left behind.  I’m no longer talking about tin and aluminum but rather the things that I left undone because I know that I can, so I don’t have to.

  • I can lose 15 lbs, so I don’t have to.
  • I can run that 10 mile race in 1:15:00 or less, so I don’t have to.
  • I can reach out to great friends and family at any time, so I don’t have to.
  • I can be a great husband, so I don’t have to be all the time.
  • I can go to the gym daily and get into great shape, so I don’t have to.
  • I can make something better of myself, so I don’t have to.

The knowledge that “I can” has kept me from doing so many things that I know that I should.  The problem with most of these cans is that I know that I can because I’ve done them before.  If these unopened cans were put into regular use, my life would be exponentially better.  Perhaps it’s time to open some of these cans and see, not what’s inside of them but what’s inside of me.  (Note: not everything that you can do falls into the “SHOULD” category.  Some cans are better left on the shelf.)

Is your cupboard full of dusty cans?  Did I just open up a “can of worms”?  Or do you now feel the need to open a “can of whoopass” on yourself and your life?  As you find the courage to do the things that you know that you can, you’ll also see the possibility of doing some things that you thought you could not!

You can!

Pete

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This Is What You Wanted

MarathonAs we are moving past the time when most people have given up on their New Year’s Resolutions, I offer this subtle reminder.  THIS IS WHAT YOU WANTED.  It is sometimes a difficult thing to swallow.  Goals and resolutions are pretty and shiny when we create them.  Everything will go great!  You’ll be able to maintain this level of excitement until you get to the end!  The problem is that we usually forget or don’t know the following.

When you set up a goal or make a resolution it is much like ordering your favorite dessert.  For me that would be the classic chocolate milkshake.  Unfortunately you forgot to read the fine print.  Before you will be served your delicious dessert, you have an appetizer of pain coming.  That will be followed by a main course of discipline with self-sacrifice sauce and side order of humility.  Once you are able to choke down those mammoth size helpings of something that YOU DIDN’T ORDER, you’ll finally get that thing that you wanted.

Just remember that THIS IS WHAT YOU WANTED, all of it is part of the deal.  Embrace it.  You’ll actually find at some point  halfway through the main course that you like the taste of it.  Those things that you overlooked on the menu are actually something that you want for yourself.  The problem is that most people retreat too early because THIS IS NOT WHAT I WANTED!  At the end of the meal you’ll have to settle up the check.  If you stuffed yourself full with meal and goal, the bill is paid with PRIDE.  If you left your meal unfinished, then you have a debt of REGRET that is difficult to wipe away.

Decide on what you want from the menu!

Pete