Sunday, June 20, 2010

Forever young

I noticed the first changes about five years ago. My wife called and reminded me to pick up a few things on my way home from school. A student asked me about that letter of recommendation that I had promised. My “across the hall” colleague reminded me that a staff meeting was beginning in about two minutes and that she was looking forward to my presentation.

These first major FAILS of my life were ones I could honestly say that I did not even remember either hearing or promising or knowing. This getting old thing is not for the faint of heart.

This week has certainly been filled with those age-related anxieties: deadlines, notes, remembering how to spell Phoenix. So I fell into my “don’t make a mistake” mode, and it took this weekend’s events for me to realize that I was missing the heart of the institute – the parts that are so much more important.

Just like the goob that I have become, I was too late for the generous ride to the laundry Friday afternoon, so yesterday after four hours of detailed video editing, I set out for 7th and Roosevelt with two bags of unmentionables and some shirts and socks. Easy to find, but once inside, my four decades away from dormitory living were telling.

As I stood there wondering whether Tide or Bounce went into the washer, a middle-aged woman approached me and asked if she could help. I handed her the coins, and she made quick work of pushing the right buttons, sharing which washer did the best job and providing a warning about the dryer settings since my load included cottons and not cotton stuff.

I offered to buy her a soda, but she declined saying that everyone needed a hand every once in a while.

My wife was proud that I did not lose my small town values in the big city. I was just happy that I found my way back to the hotel.

Then this morning, church. I am not the best Catholic. I attend the regular Sunday services and work with Hospice when asked, but I kinda drift off a bit when the sermon topics are irrelevant to the world at large. But this morning, I was caught off guard by my reaction to the mass at St. Mary’s Basilica, a church steeped in tradition and friendship. Songs were sung with gusto. Prayers were offered with sincerity. Handshakes and welcomes were given in the spirit of friendship. I am sure the Franciscan Friars have a lot to do with this, but the extended greetings were sincere; the congregation interested in the obvious visitor to their church.

I left though their shaded grotto next to the building, sharing the paths and peacefulness with a local family. The place was quiet even though children were running and laughing and conversations were dotted with various accents. They told me about their community and the faith that kept them together even through the recent difficult economic hard times.

I don’t want to return home to my students with only the results of research and the suggestions of how to improve my lessons. I want to remember the generosity of the Taylor Place cooks who shared their heat handling stories with our team and your tales of journalism experiences that have been the heart and soul of every lesson. I may not be a great note-taker and I certainly admit to the catastrophes that accompany the gray in my beard, but when my students call me Mark Twain, it is because they know that every lesson is framed with a story, which sometimes they remember better than the lesson.

This institute is about us. Advisers. Teachers. Colleagues. People. This weekend has reminded me that it is the personal stories that will travel with me down every road I roam. The data is in the binder, but your passion will surround me when I am far from home, and in my heart, I will always stay forever young.

Sam Bidleman
Bloomsburg High School
Bloomsburg, PA


  1. I can really relate to this, Sam. Probably everyone has notice how "uptight" I've been trying to keep up with all of the info coming at us day after day, but on Tuesday of this past week, for whatever reason, I started to relax a bit. Maybe I just mentally surrendered to the situation and that allowed me to begin to take in what I could without stressing so much about what I missed. This weekend has also allowed me the opportunity to see how valuable my Fellows are as colleagues but more importantly, as friends. It's been refreshing and I am looking forward to this next week with a sense of renewal and optimism.

  2. Sam, thanks for the reminder to keep our eyes (and hearts) on the important things in life: family, faith (whatever your bent) and values - all elements that are vital to maintaining our humanity and connections to people.

  3. God bless you, Sam. Your heartwarming commentary really touched my heart as well. You are such a kind-hearted friendly guy, I'm sure that your students love you. I feel that the generosity of the Reynolds Foundation has given us more than a chance to learn and polish our skills,they have given us a sense of community and companionship that will last for years. Perhaps we won't realize the full impact until we are in the throes of teaching our classes next fall and say...oh, they told us...
    Remember when they asked us to share what we learned here? Well I am going to present to our school in our August in service, but I have contacted our Lutheran high school conference association and have volunteered to present this fall at our teachers' conference.
    Jodie Schommer
    Lakeside Lutheran High School
    Lake Mills, Wis

  4. Sam, I, too, was at St. Mary's Basilica this morning. Mass was beautiful. The music was very reflective and soothing, especially after our long week we have just survived. I attend mass regularly at my home church, but sometimes a visit to another church can be eye-opening and meaningful.
    Leona O'Neal
    George County High School
    Lucedale, Miss.

  5. I was with you right up until the Forever Young reference, Sam. I also admit I am just plain afraid to click the "unmentionables" link!

    Zach Anderson
    aka "Alt Boy"

  6. Sam, you are amazing. Each time I talk to you, or read what you have written, I think to myself about the tremendous impact you must have on your student's lives. I am so lucky to have the opportunity to work with you this week.

  7. Sam,

    We must meet when we come to Harvey's Lake. We will be introducing Maddie to the lake, and your invaluable knowledge is a necessity.

    I have leaned on your experience and marvel at your awesomeness. :)