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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Larger than Life... A Tale that Is Told

I hesitate to write this because some legends can not be improved upon, and often second hand knowledge can't capture what is known first-hand. 

However, I can't help but try, because death is hard and even when it is not personal, when it comes to those you love, it is.

I've been thinking about the theory of six degrees of separation... you know, how in life, everyone or everything is only six steps away from being connected.

In a small town, it may be even less so, because everyone knows your story... or thinks they do. Even though I have known Larry Turner's family all my life, and have heard Wallace talk about him, I never really knew him... I didn't know that he and Linda have been together since 6th grade.  I never experienced him in the classroom.  I know he loved Lisa and Tammy, and then Bryson, with every breath in him... but all of that was second hand.

And this post is second hand... but I am the better for knowing the little that I know. 

Larry was Wallace's favorite teacher... but he was so much more.

My Wallace has some negative qualities. He has a bad temper. He is impatient.  He is stubborn.

But he is also a hard worker, and a provider for his family.

I partially have Larry Turner to thank for that.

Wallace spoke today about how LT told him he had to become a man, and part of becoming a man was in providing for your family.  He talked about how LT never accepted anything less than the best, and when Wallace told him that he didn't think he was college material, LT was personally offended and escorted him into the hallway for a little chat, where Wallace was quickly reminded just who the man was in that classroom.  Despite failing himself and having to repeat Junior English, Wallace went on to college.  Larry proofed his papers.

He didn't have to do that. 

Most teachers would have thought, "I've got rid of this punk."

But not Larry... because he was a true teacher.  The lessons he taught went beyond the classroom, beyond paper writing and reading books.  And while Wallace may not have completely mastered writing papers, what he learned in those four years of English (with an extra class thrown in his Senior year) has served him well.

You man up.  You provide for your family.  You take responsibility.  You try your hardest... and then you keep trying.

Today, sitting in his funeral, watching Wallace sit with his head down on the platform, I thought about how those lessons weren't just passed down to Wallace.

I'm no good at math, but I think the six degrees of separation rule can be expanded here.  LT taught for 20+ years.  Let's say there were 30 students in a grade, and he had each of those students at some time during their high school career (and again, this is just an estimate). 

That's 600 students.  If only half of those students went on to college, that's 300 (and I'm pretty sure that more than half did so). That's 300 doctors, lawyers, teachers, nurses, engineers, journalists...

Wallace has at least 20 kids six periods a day.  That's 120 kids that may not really know who Larry Turner was... but 120 kids who are impacted by him on a daily basis.  And that's just in a year.  Think about if Wallace teaches another 10 years... that's 2,000 kids.  Those 2,000 kids will then impact others through their life work.

If one of those graduates Larry had was a nurse...  (and I know a couple off the top of my head...) and that nurse cared for six patients a day, three days a week, for 10 years... that's almost 10,000 lives that LT has somehow impacted, because of the caring that he showed for former students and a sense of pride in their work.

You can't tell me that what you're doing doesn't make a difference. 

You can't tell me that we live in a bubble...

because every day we are living a life of opportunity.  The chance to make a difference.

I'm pretty sure that Larry knew what a difference he made to his family.  I'm pretty sure he knew what a difference he made in Wallace's life, because he kept on pushing him.  He kept him out of trouble and gave him the benefit of the doubt too many times to count. 

I'm not so sure, though, that he ever considered how far reaching his impact was.

As I sat in the back and watched others file forward to pay their respects, I couldn't help thinking again of how brief life is.  How we have one shot to get it right... one shot to make a difference.

But that difference doesn't necessarily have to be that big, grand plan that we think.

The differences we make are in the daily mundane... the everyday grind.

I'll close using the scripture Brother Gary quoted at the gravesite, from Psalm 90.  "We live our lives as a tale that is told... and then we fly away."

Larry's life is one that will continue to be told.... through his family, his former students, his former colleagues... and all those that are impacted through their life work. The best part about our lives, though, and what we can all find hope in through death, is that Larry's story does not have "The End."  On Thursday, his story became "To Be Continued..."

In a land that is forever.

 Thanks, LT, for making Wallace man up.  I'm pretty sure that the best advice you ever gave him was to find him a smart girl who could write papers.  I'm so glad he listened.

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