Thoughts by Richard Bleil
Many years ago, when I found myself in the neighborhood, I elected to visit my old high school. I had graduated from high school many years prior. It was just a nostalgia trip. The school is organized as “pods”, originally two around the central, all connected. Entering the central pod (the only way to enter the high school), turning right you head towards my “home” pod, the West Wing. To give you some idea of how long ago this was, there was no security at the front, the doors were unlocked, and nobody asked me my purpose. Today I think that a single man with no children in the school might not be permitted without some kind of official business.
I turned towards my home pod, walking past the photos on the wall. Every year, a composite class photo of the senior class is created from the individual senior pictures and put in one of those displays that you can flip through like you sometimes see in stores that sell posters. Sure enough, there was my class. I walked on to my old locker. No, I didn’t open it. I couldn’t have if I wanted to, the combination has long left my memory. And yet, it was there that I had a wave of sadness flow over me.
I came to realize that not only have the years gone by, but so have the memories. Whoever had that locker then has no idea who I was, no more than I knew who had the locker before me. In fact, nobody at the high school remembered me, save perhaps some of the teachers although, frankly, I was never a memorable student either. It was gone, and any impact I had had on the school, regardless of how small, had long since disappeared like grains of sand being washed into the ocean.
And yet, I wonder if this is truly the way it is, or if it’s in my mind. Who can say how much we have impacted the lives of others? I had so many friends that I loved so very dearly and have lost through the years, but who is to say that today they don’t still periodically think about that strange little kid with whom they went to high school?
My first teaching gig was at a very small Christian medical arts college. I’m still friends with one of my friends from there, a colleague who taught computers back when computers were massive beasts that took space on a desktop, as opposed to being held in our hands and still ironically called “phones”. He is very kind, and periodically told me of the lasting impact I made on that college, such as the support group I had organized for new faculty members that was still there when he eventually moved on several years after I had.
We don’t always know the impact we have on the people around us. Feeling very depressed, I had to take a trip to try to get my laptop repaired. Stopping in at a very small computer store and repair shop, which was of no value to me since it was iPad which at the time I didn’t have, the man at the counter, called me by name. As it turns out, he was one of my students from several years ago. Over the years I’ve had at least a couple of thousand students, and I don’t remember all of them, so I felt bad that he didn’t look familiar to me, but we struck up a combination. He was very complimentary and had nothing but nice things to say about my influence on his life even though he only had taken chemistry as a “general education” course.
Being more or less retired, today I spend a lot of time sitting in my house, slowly being passed over and forgotten by the world. It’s all too easy to wonder if anybody remembers me “out there”, or if I’ve made a positive impact. Or if indeed I’ll ever be a positive influence again. Yes, this is self-loathing, but still the root of my recent depressive episode.
Sometimes it’s difficult to look forward rather than dwell on what’s in the rear-view mirror. The problem is that when you focus too much on what’s behind you, you’re more likely to crash into what’s ahead of you rather than navigating it successfully. It’s not an easy thing to do. Sometimes your gaze is too transfixed. Some people can never look past their “glory days” in that high school (which I never had) and struggle moving on. I’ve had a lot of amazing successes, soaring to heights I’ll probably never see again, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t reach the heights to give great views, nonetheless. But for now, I’m still struggling to find that road to my future, however bleak it may be.