“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”
– Henry Adams
Influence can extend beyond a lifetime.
My friend Rob and I share a special friendship, formed many years ago here in a small midwestern town in the heart of Farmland, USA. We went to the same schools, ate at the same restaurants, played with the same friends, worked in the fields, and rode our bikes on the same streets.
Yesterday, we had the rare occasion to bike those same streets again, and even some new ones.
Mounted a pair of old bicycles, we took off across town towards a date with the past. Our goal was to reach the small town of Dawson about five miles away via a new rails-to-trails bike path. More specifically, we wanted to go see the site of the old Dawson school, where every 5th grader in Perry, Iowa was sent.
It wasn’t too hard to see that school was not in session. Only the old flagpole and a sidewalk remained. We searched the rubble for any traces of the red brick building, but found none.
What we did find were a lot of memories – snowmen, kickball, long bus rides, teachers, friends, growing up, growing old – every memory cut strong enough to etch a permanent line in our young minds.
While we were there, we talked about the past but we also talked about the future. Particularly our children’s futures, our influence, and our hopes for them. That discussion continued on bicycles all the way back to Perry.
Before our trip through time was complete, we stopped at the Violet Hill Cemetery. It was here that the power of influence became clear to me.
Rob’s father rests there, nine years gone and far too young. We stood looking at the grave for a long time without saying a word. Eventually, the words came.
He was not only Rob’s father, but our friend. Throughout my youth, I would spend hours at their house. Because Gary was a teacher (our teacher), he had summers off. And he spent them with us.
We would play all kinds of card games together, the winner picking up out of respect for the others. He watched us covertly as we set up our Matchbox cars, and race them down the track again and again and again, trying to see which would go farthest. He took us to get ice cream and on trips to the big city. He would laugh at his made-up jokes, bellowing with a vigor that exuded joy.
I was always welcome at their home, and more importantly, I always *felt* welcome. That still influences me deeply, I recalled as I stood in the cemetery.
I told Rob about the neighborhood kids that my wife and I welcome into our home today – a thousand miles and a generation removed from where we stood. So many kids come through the doors of our home. A smiling young man who lost his mother; a musical boy whose parents recently divorced; a small girl with a mighty karate kick who came to play everyday before she moved away; a smallish and shy boy whose dad spends a lot of time drinking and fishing; a quiet girl; an outgoing girl; large families of children who have come and gone; and so many more. They will always be welcome in our home.
Our open-door policy today grew directly from those many long years of being welcomed at Rob’s home. Gary’s influence lives on. As does Rob’s influence on my life.
What is our influence today? Well, that’s up to us. We can focus on ourselves and our petty problems. Or, we can seek out ways to be a good influence not just to our children, but to their children. Not just to our neighbors, but to their neighbors. Not just to friends, but to their friends.
In years to come, when someone stands on our grave and looks at the headstone, will they come to talk about you and your accomplishments? Probably not.
My guess is that they will come to talk about the influence you had on their life.
Yesterday’s gift of time … Spent the day with an old friend and his father. Both friends who has given me a lot.