The View Down South
How do you make the most of your senior year in high school?
It’s a question that takes up way too much mental space when you’re that age. Of course, I had to get good grades and a good scholarship. Mom said so.
Of course , I was going to finally get a girlfriend and my first kiss before school was over.
But what else was there… oh yeah, how about I give this whole football thing another shot. That’s right, guys! I played football.
I was never a jock or athletically gifted. Mind you, these were in my low self-esteem days, so I was also just too in my own head and anxious to have fun with it.
But man, I really bonded with my coaches.
And I’ve talked time and time before about how important it was for me to have role models in my life. The head coach at the time, Coach Barnard, he gave me some great quotables I still remember to this day. Classics like:
- Y’all are acting like a bunch of titty babies!
- If you’re running around acting like a piece of crap and talking like a piece of crap, guess what? You’re probably a piece of a crap!
- Jiminy Christmas!
He was so good at not cussing.
Coach also had this kind of wit that I was never prepared for at that time. When we’d complain about the difficulty of his chemistry class, he’d respond, “I don’t know– seems pretty easy for me!”
This other time, he made a half-court shot during gym. I was super impressed and asked him how that happened. He just shrugged and said, “Even a dog’s butt gets some sunshine.”
Humility at its finest!
When I first quit, he was bummed. He had all the other assistant coaches try to give me a pep talk. Things like, “You won’t get better if you avoid putting in the time.” and “It took me years before I got any good.”
All true blue stuff, but I just wasn’t having any of it.
Then, in my senior year I finally made the resolve to join again– to have one more hoorah. I was pretty psyched. Not so much to be part of the team, but to be in the environment of Coach’s guidance.
I wanted to work hard for him. I wanted him to be proud of me.
And I remember how happy he seemed when he heard I was coming back.
But then the very next week, that bubble burst. His Mom wasn’t doing well. He was going to be moving, so he could be closer to take care of her. He was a good coach and a good mentor, but he was an even better son.
I mean, a lot of the football team cried too. And for them, that made way more sense– they’ve spent years under his coaching. They had the blood, sweat, and tears accumulated through all the games and time spent on the field.
The impact he had on me was in a much more limited capacity, but it still stung all the same.
Morale was low, so the other coach, Coach Keller took the team out to the bleachers for a little pep talk:
“All of you are feeling down, and so you’re looking down. But if you raised your heads up, ya see we still got blue skies and sunshine…”
And it was true, that day we had some of the most beautiful weather to ever hit Arkansas. It was hard to imagine how things would be okay, but the guy to follow Coach Barnard turned out pretty great.
To the Mountains of Toyama
Years later when I was in Japan, this proverb hit me again.
I never knew how much growing up in Arkansas influenced me. I’d never say I was a good ol’ southern boy, but I did have a sense of southern hospitality. I had the reflex to greet people I passed by.
But in Japan? You just don’t talk to strangers. (I later learned this is the case in Boston too.)
In Japan, even if you’re outside of Tokyo, there’s just this smothering air of hustle and bustle. People are pre-occupied with their own thoughts– their own troubles. Most of the time you’ll see people looking down at the ground.
And sure enough in my first year, despite my dreams and ambitions, I got wrapped up in my own thoughts and my own troubles. But I had no idea I was looking down so much until one of my students called me out on it.
“Jon! Look up! Look up and you can see the mountains. They’re beau-ti-ful!”
And yeah– he was right. Thanks, Eiguchi!
And One More Reminder
I’ve retold that story about Coach Keller’s speech a lot. So much so, plenty of people were surprised that Keller wasn’t on my original Top 10 Heroes list.
I don’t know, maybe it was just too on the nose.
And yet, it’s funny that even though I kept that message close to my heart, I could still forget it. When I’d dwell on the negative, “blue skies and sunshine” would be a mantra I’d try to chant to myself.
Bad days will pass.
But even then, there’d be times where I felt like I was lying to myself. Some days that just felt too dark and too bleak.
I credit my big sis in Japan for pointing this out to me: blue skies and sunshine never really go away. Sure, they can get covered up, but even above the clouds and darkness, they’re still there.