A walk in the woods

My friend Venkat contacted me and said he would be in Cleveland and asked me if I could meet him for an hour yesterday.

Of course. I love Venkat. It would be great to see him.

Where could I meet him? Where was he heading? Where was he coming from?

No – he explained – he and his wife would be coming to Cleveland just to spend an hour with me. They would fly in and come to see me if I could spare the hour. Just tell them where and they would meet me from 3:30 to 4:30.

I was overwhelmed. Can I pick you up at the airport?

No, we have already rented a car. It is non-refundable. Let us know where.

I gave them five options – he chose the Rocky River Reservation, part of the Metroparks.

When I worked for a book publisher, I’d edited one of Venkat’s books.

He contacted me and told me what he was thinking of writing about. He told me he would think about the book over the next month or so and then he would be home for ten days. He would write it then.

And he did.

Each day he sent me a new chapter. I edited it and got it back to him that night.

The next day he sent me another chapter and the rewrites from the day before.

In a little over a week we had a book ready for copy edit and indexing.

I smiled remembering this as I drove to the Metropark.

I got there way early. No way I was going to be late.I’d checked and their plane was landing before 2 so I was at the park by 2:15.

I found a bench near where we were going to meet.

Probably half the people who passed by smiled and greeted me.

I smiled back and chatted briefly with them.

Lots of people were walking dogs. One woman called to her dog, “come on Annabelle.”

I smiled and told her and her husband, “our dog is an Annabelle as well.”

They stopped and we told each other stories about our respective Annabelles.

They had found their dog on PetFinder.com. So had we. They had driven five hours south to Cincinnati to pick theirs up. We had driven five hours north west to Michigan to get ours. Theirs was a mix (dachshund and terrier). So was ours (black lab and german shorthair).

Such a wonderful few minutes talking with this nice older couple who were walking their dog and waiting to meet their son. This couple who didn’t know about Kim and didn’t ask. This couple I could exchange stories with.

We said goodby and they passed by in a moment with their son and his dog.

I got a text from Venkat. They were leaving the car rental place and would be there soon. No rush, he texted.

I let him know I was here already and texted him my location.

A family passed by and the two kids were hunting for Pokeman. They were in and out of the nature center in a flash. Look around you, I wanted to say, the trees, the river, the other people. Look up from your phones.

Another family passed by. The father reached over and took the son’s phone and put it in his pocket. “Let’s just walk, ” the dad said. The boy shrugged and hurried to walk along side his dad.

Venkat texted at exactly 3:30 with apologies. He’d parked on the other side of the river and would be there in 12 minutes.

There were plenty of people to chat with over the next 12 minutes. Plenty of families to watch.

Venkat and his wife met me and we walked and talked for a little over an hour.

They were wonderful.

They asked about Kim and Maggie. They listened to stories and concerns and offered their thoughts, sympathies, and advice.

We talked about our work, our standards, what we contribute – or don’t.

Venkat shared stories of loss in his life. Deep stories. Stories that changed him. The loss and the way he acted in the face of these losses. There were lessons there – so many lessons.

How does this change us as teachers? As parents?

A couple of years ago I spoke at a conference in India. Venkat was speaking at the same conference and at another one across town. They had a speaker at the second conference who had travel problems and wasn’t able to get to Bangalore. Venkat asked me if I could fill in and deliver a keynote. I said sure as long as it was ok with the conference that had paid my way to be there.

It was.

I keynoted both conferences and then spent a day watching Venkat teach a Java workshop. It changed the way I teach. I don’t use slides much anymore and do a lot of live coding and interactive work.

I usually have a great sense of direction but his wife had had to gently steer me a couple of times on the way back as I started to take the wrong path.

The three of us wandered on trails for a little over an hour. Venkat apologized for taking more than the time he’d requested of me.

So silly.

We paused on a bridge toward the end of our walk and talked about our time here.

Not here. But here.

The shortness, the insignificance – and yet the impact we can have on others.

How do we live in a word with an uncertain future? How does this change the way we spend our minutes?

When I was a young teacher one of my students told me she was going to miss my class because of a vacation she was taking with her family. I was 22 and thought, “this is terrible. You’re going to miss class.”

She told me that her time with her family was way more important than anything I could teach her in the few days she’d be away.

She was right.

Fortunately, I understood how right she was quickly and it changed the way I treated students. I owe them the best I can give them while they’re in my class but they may have better things to do. They may have more important things to do.

It changes the way we spend our minutes.

We hugged and said goodbye.

I felt so much better.

I was so glad they’d been so generous with their precious minutes.

Published in: on September 5, 2016 at 5:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

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