Losing the battle but winning the war

BY BOB WACHS, Columnist
Posted 7/24/20

Folks everywhere have a wide range of teachers during their lives. Sometimes we even pay attention to them and the lessons being taught, but sometimes we don’t. One of the tricks to life is trying …

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Losing the battle but winning the war

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Folks everywhere have a wide range of teachers during their lives. Sometimes we even pay attention to them and the lessons being taught, but sometimes we don’t. One of the tricks to life is trying to figure out which ones we should listen to and which ones we shouldn’t.

Usually, when we say “teacher,” we mean the folks we encountered from kindergarten or first grade to those who showed us the door after 12 years. Years ago, in the dark ages when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I had a wide range of them ranging from people I still feel very passionate about to some whose names even are difficult to conjure up.

Included in that first group are Lucille Sears (4th grade), Hazel McCollum (6th), Gene Brooks (high school U.S. history), Joyce Cotten (typing) and Annie May and Mary Riggsbee (high school English and creative writing). In the latter group, there is ... uh, well, you get the picture.

Some of those folks are precious memories while others are still around. Occasionally, our paths will cross, and I’m always a better person for that. Some of them tell me to call them by their first names, but that just doesn’t roll of my tongue easily so usually it’s still “Mr.” or “Mrs.”

Later, there came college. A significant portion of that time, for me, was spent in pursuits outside the classroom, a procedure I do not recommend to youth today if they want to do something other than flunk out several times. The names of most of those people who stood at the front of classrooms I did enter are lost to eternity but a couple do stand out — Hugh T. Lefler, who wrote THE book on North Carolina history that thousands, yeah, even millions, of our state’s eighth graders used for years and John Adams, the renowned dean of the UNC School of Journalism when journalism was more than a writer’s opinion on an issue.

In time, I had the opportunity to spend three years on the campus of old Wake Forest University when it was Wake Forest College and actually was in Wake Forest. There, a couple of dozen individuals helped me stretch both my mind and heart on my way through seminary. Even now, almost 40 years after the fact, I pretty well still remember date, time, place and names.

I say all that to say that as I move through life, it strikes me that most of the folks, including and especially school teachers, we listen to are folks helping us deal with stuff we like. Looking back on high school, for instance, English, history and learning to type were the areas I liked the most so it’s those teachers who resonated the most. On the other hand, the good ladies who tried their hardest to teach me calculus and French III weren’t getting much to work with from me, and my reluctance to kick in all the way is part of the reason a four-year college career was crammed into seven years. But the seminary experience, something I was really interested in, likely couldn’t have been any better.

All those good folks aside, however, it’s becoming more and more obvious that the real teacher is life. And the place our school teachers fit into is how they affect our life experiences and how those experiences then go on to teach us. Life is a funny teacher: it gives the test first and then the lesson. Sometimes we get it, but sometimes we don’t. Sometimes I find I’m doing the same thing over and over and life’s lessons just haven’t sunk in yet. But not to worry — life is consistent if nothing else. She’ll just keep giving us the test and the lesson over and over if we need it. Sometimes, she’ll even throw us a curve, like the way we’ve been living for the past six months.

What I’m really hoping from here on out is learning to see the big picture. Too many times, I can’t do that because I’m caught up in the immediate, the here and now. I confess to you that right now, life is being a pretty tough teacher, what with the virus and the disorder in society. I’m really looking forward to the end of some lessons.

Sometimes, we really do lose a few battles along the way as we try to win the war.


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