Today is one of those days where I can get caught up in the “poor me” routine. I had a dear friend pass away Thursday night from his three-year battle with cancer. It’s rainy, wet, and cold today. I could easily slink back under my covers and proclaim a movie day for the boys and me. But, something inside me says no; this is not the way to spend my time here on earth today. Funny, I can still hear the birds chirping away unaffected by the world around them. So rather than dwell on the nagging gloom in my heart, I am going to do something different.
Today, my focus will be on my buddy Simon and how he, like, Simba from Lion King, laughed in the face of danger.
I met Simon nearly ten years ago when I started at the current school I teach at. I remember standing around feeling awkward as the buzz of teachers reuniting after a long summer happened all around me. No familiar faces but a steady hum of energy was buzzing about the room. It was then that I met Simon. A bubbly man, Simon crossed over
the busy room laughing. He approached me and said, “First day?” A thousand feelings came to head: I wanted to hide, cry, run away. But his compassion kept me rooted. “Yeah,” I sputtered awkwardly. “I’m a little overwhelmed.” Again he laughed and said, “Good. You’ll fit right in. I’m Simon.” Effortlessly and without hesitation, he hugged me and led me around the room to a group of ladies, introduced me to them and whisked away.
Over the next several years, he never ceased to amaze me. He had a huge heart and had love, respect, and care for all things living. I witnessed students from all walks of life gravitate towards him. He always had time to stop and visit even if that meant he himself was late for class. A perpetual smile on his face, Simon embodied the grace of a saint. He floated through the halls, laughing, grinning as if he had a secret prank he was going to pull on someone (which he probably did!).
I will digress a bit here and mention just one of the many direct involvements Simon had.
We have a retreat for our senior students which is similar to a weekend-long AA convention. Song, prayer, meditation, small group meetings, games and late-night comradery all take place. It’s a time for the teenagers to share their beliefs in God (or not), talk about tough topics in a safe environment, bond together and engage in thought and meditation unlike a typical church experience. People who do not attend the retreat (family, friends, teachers, etc.) write letters of encouragement and love to those attendees as an added bonus. Simon was always a volunteer for such retreats. He was an inspiration to the kids because he lived what he spoke of. He loved his wife and children; he loved his fellows; he deeply loved God. Students would intentionally sign up when he would be a chaperone because they loved his stories, his truth and his firm belief in God. Each student and chaperone would be gifted a small wooden cross on a string as a symbol of attendance in this retreat. The kids and adults alike would wear these badges of honor as having made this retreat. Of course, Simon had made them all by hand. Literally thousands of these tiny crosses hang around the necks of those he has touched spiritually, mentally, physically, and emotionally.
Simon was never afraid in his life. He knew God would be there for him no matter what. It was an innate belief and came so naturally to him. He lived his life as we all should: Fearless, full, and familiar. He was a blessing day in and day out.
As time went on, Simon started slowing down a bit; he moved from dean of students to campus minister position to classroom teacher to bookstore helper. Simon was diagnosed with terminal cancer. But he refused to be taken away from the students whom he so loved. He fought every day of his life to beat the odds. But, unless you knew he had cancer, you would have thought he was just a guy, going about his day, smiling and continuing to touch the lives of others.
There are only a few things I can recall for which Simon did not have tolerance. One was gossip- unless it was good gossip. Good gossip is the kind that brings joy: pregnancy, new job offers, engagements, weddings, great bands coming to town. Those types of happiness. As for discussing others, he would have no part in it. But he didn’t judge those for doing so. He would quietly excuse himself and seek out people who were engaging in laughter. That was just his style. Another area he did not tolerate was school politics. He could care less if we had to lengthen the school day, rewrite curriculum, have an emergency assembly. He looked at all these as part of life and we could either accept them and do the best we could to work through them, or we could choose to grumble and be forced to do so anyway. He always chose the former. I can picture him shrugging his shoulders, smiling and saying, “Let’s get to work.” Last, he did not tolerate those who judged others. He always fought for the underdog and had unending compassion. As dean of students many remarked his was too lenient and that he wasn’t cut out for the job. And truthfully, he probably wasn’t. Not because he couldn’t handle it but because teens will take advantage if given an opportunity. Still, Simon never saw himself as being taken advantage of. He looked at it as the last stop for some kids to be shown love. He truly believed that another’s gain was his gain, too. He just felt so connected that way.
Before his visitation yesterday, I looked for the letter he wrote to me when I went as an adult candidate for my first retreat. Tucked away in my jewelry box, I found it. He wrote, “There is no way to express the gratitude for all the joy you have brought into my life. God certainly loves us and blesses us with your presence. Enjoy and God bless.”
If he could see that in me when I was actively drinking, he could see the good in anyone.
The best gem of all was on the cover of his handmade card: “Let go and let God.”
I do not know if he was in recovery, but it doesn’t matter. He lived the kind of life anyone in or out of recovery would want: He kept his side of the street clean; he lived without judging others; he was a patient, kind, compassion man. He never took the people in his life for granted.
If I can live for today and live it in a such a way of the life of Simon, I will be the better for it.