A hundred years from now, it will not matter what kind of car I drove, what kind of house I lived in, how much money I had in the bank...but the world may be a better place because I made a difference in the life of a child
- Forest Witcraft -
I have believed in and tried to live by this philosophy all my life. But as I have grown older, I've noticed that the statement is too limiting. So I've expanded it as follows:
"...but the world may be a better place because I tried to make a difference not only in the life of a child, but in the lives and existence of all that I touched--people, animals, organizations and institutions, plants and trees, and even the inanimate objects that (for a time at least) occupied my attention and affection and enhanced my life."
I think, for example, of my Troy-Bilt rototiller that joined me to break new ground for many gardens and then cultivate deep patches for potatoes, combine pig manure with sandy soil to grow prize-winning tomatoes, and even prepare reluctant soil for a failed experimental vineyard or cornfield. I cared for that machine as if it were a relative. I cared for its designers and builders and mechanics.
I think of my red, second hand, fat tired bike that I tried to make "modern" with the retrofit of a three speed shifter (not really three speeds) because I wanted to stay competitive with school chums who had received ten speed Raleighs for Christmas imported right after the Second World War. Mr red bike was the instrument of my passage to personal freedom, to getting away from the tight supervision of parents and relatives. My red bike was my steed as I galloped, on Saturdays, to the Bard theater for the double feature capped off by the weekly adventure serials, Milk Duds, and salty popcorn. I can still feel my two cap pistols flapping against my thighs as I pedaled home convinced that I was aboard Trigger or Scout. I loved that bike, and cared for it, and lavished attention on it, and cried to it after crashes, until I was 16 and seduced by 150 horses from Detroit.
I think of my last dog Bessie, a black and white Springer Spaniel, bought as a pup, trained and exercised by me, who was my partner through some of the most difficult years of my life and always seemed able to sense my mood. Afternoons when I arrived home--whether for our regular walk around campus or seemingly endless games of catch the frisbee or fetch the lacrosse ball--she was there with her version of a smile. She would ask for attention always, but persist only if she knew that I was physically and emotionally available to her. If I was deep in thought or emotionally bummed out, she would literally sit on my feet, head turned around onto my knees, totally relaxed and I would stroke her glossy head, tracing the white fur that marked he shiny black face and soulful eyes.
I think of the Maple tree that was one of my best friends as I grew up in Kentucky. I knew her every branch, I knew the fastest way to mount to the lower branches and then which limbs to trust as I ascended to the very top where the wind joined us in a swaying dance as I held her close for hours. I can still smell the perfume of her smooth bark when I accidentally broke her skin with a misplaced toy sword or sneaker. I shared my own tears with her as well--after particularly severe stomach aches, despised clarinet and piano lessons, disciplinary whippings by mom or dad, or the heart wrenching disappointment when I didn't get a Valentine from Lucy or Sally in Class 4A.
I think of a brand, new school I helped to found, a school that was more alternative and liberal than I was, at least initially, of the heady adventure of helping to shape the curriculum and rules and traditions of an exciting new place, of seeing the first students arrive and witness their shock and pleasant surprise at being treated like intelligent and responsible human beings, of the pain I felt years later when I had to resign because I realized that it was no longer possible to adapt the original dream to a rapidly changing world and that I couldn't bend or abandon my philosophy to fit into that new world.
I think of jade plants I've grown from a single leaf, and vintage rose bushes and fruit trees I've transplanted, and Duroc hogs and a dark jersey cow I've raised and nurtured and milked and eaten, of the miles spent in a '65 GTO Pontiac and an Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser, of my love affair with my first Apple computer, my twenty-five year relationship with an irreplaceable Geneva wrist watch bought from a catalog only because it was beautiful, the hours and sweat and work I associate with my grandfather's handmade oak partner's desk that was my companion while I created lesson plans and wrote a book, placed orders in my Agway store in the Adirondacks, headed a school, and tried to find "what it all means" during my Golden Years in Colorado.
In one way or another, I know I made a difference in the existence of all these items, animate and inanimate, and I know they did in mine. And, of course, I know I have made a difference in the lives of others, as a father and teacher and friend, as they have in mine.