Archive for August, 2009

The Breadth of Joy

This week school begins. I did have several mornings and afternoons of meetings this past week but the slow trickle of students back on campus didn’t register until Saturday as the freshmen class arrived with their parents. I do realize I’m getting older but this years freshman look so very young, which is due to the fact that they were born in 1991. As some of those interested in speech and debate have dropped by my office, they are filled with so much anticipation for the next four years. They want to be involved in everything, get good grades, and be the very best. They hope to change the world or, at the very least, make a difference. I like freshmen like this because their minds and hearts are open to the education they are about to receive.

Compare this with one of my neighbors, Al. He’s 80 years old and his health is quickly deteriorating. He’s having an operation on his back in a couple of weeks to do something very similar to what my grandfather just had done. Al’s problem is a kind of arthritis that deteriorates his spinal cord. He has been in pain ever since I’ve known him. He has difficulty walking or lifting. He calls me his young professor because I help him carry in his groceries, take out the trash, or any host of tasks that have become unbearable for him. I love talking to Al.

Al’s wife passed away several years ago. He worked in one of the many now defunct factories that populate our town. And he talks about the past with laughter and nostalgia, which I’ve found is very rare in older people. He loves life but knows that he’s not going to be around for many more years. He and his wife were not able to have children but he has dozens of grandchildren in our apartment complex, albeit non-biological.

Last week I got home from a very long day of meetings. I just wanted to go upstairs to my apartment and take a nap but there Al sat on his porch. He smiled and I walked over. We talked for the next couple of hours. As we sat there, I realized that I’d never asked him why he always has a smile on his face. So I did and he told me, “Because life is grand.” There he sat, in pain, but  happy to be living. Yes, he’s a Christian, Southern Baptist to be exact. Maybe our conversations will be the subject of a future blog.

Al and my freshmen have something in common that I’d never noticed: joy. Freshmen are just so happy to be there. Yes, they are scared out of their mind but they are happy, as is Al. The difference between the two is the depth and breadth of their joy. I’ve been thinking about this issue over the weekend and I don’t have a nice and tidy way to end. Maybe you can help me.


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