SideWalk Ghosts / Interview 102: A Good Teacher

“Treat every day as if it is the last day you will see. Life is so fragile; you never know what could happen in a second. There are so many unforeseen pitfalls. Everything could be fantastic and could change instantly.”

The first words Richard, my new friend, shares with me this day.

In a way, he is a noticed stranger, a man I have seen many times walking his dog through a nearby neighborhood I often travel. I’ve caught eye contact with him on occasion, but never have taken the time to introduce myself. My life is different now, and I have pledged to never pass on saying a polite hello to anyone who connects with me eye to eye. Today is such a day.

It’s almost dusk and I’m driving on Richard street. No rush to be anywhere, no stress in my mind, and doing my best to live life as prescribed to me by many of my 365 friends over the last one hundred days.

One hundred days… I need to pause on that…

365 has been an amazing journey, and it’s hard to believe that I’m apexing towards the half way point. One hundred days… I guess that makes us a centennial community, a mark that I could never have accomplished without the openness, and bravery, of all of whom I am proud to call my friends.

With this said, let’s all take a moment to celebrate. No, not with fan fair, cancel the open bar and let Joe the neighbor take five in brining his cover band to the party. Our celebration is going to be a little different. How about we call it a tribute?

That tribute; a simple breath, a moment of calmness, a self-permission to drop the stress in looking at the world around us with welcoming eyes. Can you think of a better way to end 2011 and step into a new year, I can’t?

And in reviewing Richard’s concept of treating every day as if it is the last day we will see, and in talking with him further about the meaning of his council, I can honestly say, “His perspective is a supportive request for peace of mind and of respect for the lives of others.

In one seemingly fatalistic statement, he supports the positive observations and council of so many other 365 members.

Oh, that’s a stretch Mr. Radstone; you are a word bender. No, not really. My friend Richard delivers the goods to support his positive outlook.

Richard and Ashley (The nicest Pitbull I’ve ever met)

First, he has a killer flu; I’m even surprised he allows me to photograph him. As we are talking, I can see that he is so congested that he cannot breath through his nose. I’m sure you have been there, and to have meaningful conversation when ill can be quite a challenge. I’m glad he finds the focus to interview, for Richard expresses words we need to hear.

You see, Richard’s life has been an homage to serving society. A high school teacher, he has dedicated the last twenty-six years to educating special need students. This is something that he does not aggressively flaunt; I even have to lure it out of him. But once we start the discussion, I am allowed into the life of a very kind and patient man. One whose only wish is this, “Leave the planet in good shape for the next generation.”

On that topic, we do briefly talk of environmental, economic and political issues, but these are not exactly what Richard is referring to. What he is addressing is a call to society, “Treat each other kindly. No matter what our condition, we all have something to offer. Learn to not only love yourself, but be accepting of others, again, no matter what their condition.”

Richard has the humble chops to make this claim. Think about it, twenty-six years working with special need teens and their families. That takes a special person.

“Whether mentally or physically disabled, people are people, and we need to look at each other as such.”

“I see lot’s of love coming from my students, as well as parents that are so dedicated to their children. Having a special need child is a blessing, but it difficult and a life long commitment.”

Of this blessing, “These kid have a lot to offer: talents, aspirations and personalities.” I can feel the compassion of Richard’s commitment to his community as he shares this with me.

Even his perspective of the school where he has been teaching for his entire career, and incidentally, the alma mater of my wife, reflects his commitment in seeing good.

“I’ve been a school teacher at Canoga High since 1985. It’s a great campus with great programs. We have lots of advanced classes and it is a nice place to work. I don’t understand why so many families are sending their kids to other schools.”

Does he care, I think so, “It touches me when I see the joy of parents who see progress in their children or when one of my students is successful in their development.” He says.

Twenty-six years dedicated to one agenda, to be a good teacher.

So in tribute to 365 and to Richard, let’s all join this day in one mission, that call, “Keep our chins up, look at people as people and say one simple word, Hello, how are you!”

Richards wish for the future:
“’I’d like to know that the day shall come when people will look back and say, ‘we left the world a better place.’

Richard, Keep on teaching, and feel better, I know the flu is a bummer.