Dearest EXPLORE reader,
Coach Stan Leech retired from coaching this past month.
He was my basketball coach from ’90-’94 and I couldn’t even begin to start laying out the memories from those years as they would be an encyclopedia. Boerne was a different town in those times, and we were all just a bunch of hick kids in a little ranching town way out in the sticks north of San Antonio. Things were quiet here, nobody talked about “growth”, but everyone talked about Boerne basketball. It was royalty.
His retirement party is tomorrow night, and some of the organizers for his party asked some of the old timers (like me) to type up and share some memories. As you can imagine, since you read these ramblings every month, I sat down and hammered out a pretty long and poetic ode to Coach Leech, full of silly stories, dumb sayings he used to have, and peppered it with appreciation for the man.
Then the strangest thing happened: I finished the article, walked 10 steps to my kitchen, and absolutely sobbed my eyeballs out. As in, I had to lean against the wall, bury my face in my hands and violently sob. Even as I did it, I thought to myself “What in the hell are you doing?” Yes, I love Coach Leech and smiled as I typed up my memories, but I’m also a grown man and please understand that this is uncomfortable to confess because sobbing over high school memories is not something I would do frequently.
A few minutes later, I slammed a Gatorade, wiped my eyes, muttered “What the hell was that?” and moved on. But I’ve spent the past few days thinking about that little episode, and thought I might try to unpack a few things. Maybe they’ll make sense. Maybe not. You never know.
I’m an emotional guy, and have admitted this time and again in this little column. I shrug my shoulders and humbly admit that I’m the guy that cries at the end of damn near every movie. I cry at weddings. I cry at every funeral. I cry sometimes when my kids do something beautiful. It’s who I am, and I’m not sure who I inherited this from in my family tree, but oh well. I can’t stop it, and I gave up trying a long time ago.
So I just roll with it. But even I’m caught off guard sometimes by the ferocity of emotion I feel over things that I would consider non-emotional, like old basketball memories. But as I sit here, in my rickety office chair, looking out across my little neighborhood in this same town I’ve lived since ’87, I wonder if sometimes the memory itself isn’t what brings about the emotion – it’s the loss. Even when the story is a GOOD one.
Let me explain.
I’m sure I’m not unique when I say that when I was 18, I had the entire world figured out. My parents were lame and didn’t know what the hell they were talking about, Boerne sucked and I just wanted to move away as fast as possible, I would make untold riches with my amazing job that was sure to happen, would have the beautiful wife, couple of kids, drive an Audi and sit on the Board of several important organizations. If you people would just get out of my way, this was my destiny cause, ya know, I’m 18 and I know what I’m talking about. Am I right?
I would also be happy always, never experience tragedy, never struggle financially, never have marital troubles, and my biggest worry would be where to eat lunch after church on Sundays. The world was my oyster, man.
But then the craziest thing happened in those years between being 18 and 42 (now): LIFE HAPPENED. I won’t even begin to list off the experiences I have gone through, as most of them are not unique to me. Or you. They’re just life. People got sick. I went broke. Multiple times. People died. Family died. Car crashes happened. Economies went to hell. Jobs blew up. Marriages broke down. People screamed and fought and mourned and grieved and cried…and I (like you) got to go through all that. And I’m still going through it today. And tomorrow I will as well.
And so I look back at things like I describe, and maybe with a touch of nostalgia I do an exercise like memorializing a memory from the basketball team, and I remember what those dreams and expectations looked like through the lens of an 18 year old kid that had EVERYTHING figured out. Perhaps I can remember standing in that hot old gym at BHS, listening to Coach Leech scream at me over something dumb I had done, and can remember that I had hot date on Friday and wasn’t really listening anyway because this is stupid and I don’t care. Maybe I can remember thinking that this crazy guy making me run laps was just another obstacle on my path to certain greatness and fortune, and I just wanted to get this chapter over so that I could get away from this stupid one-horse town and change the world.
And then maybe I stand in my kitchen and sob because I realize that the 18 year old was unceremoniously crushed by this thing called LIFE. Ouch.
I’m not trying to complain. I suppose that no matter how my life turns out, and how the remaining chapters read, I trust that I will say “Man, what a life.” Because it has been mine, and while there are parts I wish I didn’t experience, I suppose that they are all part of the story. But perhaps, we reach points where we mourn and grieve for the realization that things aren’t always what we wanted, nor what we expected, and definitely not what we planned. You may or may not sob over them like me, but I bet you’ll get misty eyed if you truly enter your time machine and reminisce about your plans for yourself while you were in high school. Or the first time you walked on your college campus. Or on your wedding day. Or the day you first entered your first REAL job. I’m going to wager that you had expectations and such unbelievably high hopes, and no matter what you have achieved so far, I’m going to surmise that reality has never really matched your expectations.
I’ve been going through a lot lately of a personal nature, and I suppose that I’m hyper-emotional, even for me. I still cry at silly movies, but I’ll admit that I’m pretty fragile and most anything that hits me at an emotional level is met with a pretty extravagant response. Kind of like my silly memories I typed about my days on the basketball team.
I’m not sure where I’m going with this, but I’ll try to wrap it up with this: life is messy for all of us. Even the ones that appear to have everything in order. They also sit and stare out their window like I’m doing right now, and take inventory for where they are on a multitude of issues. I know broke people and I know rich people and I know successful people and I know people that are 5 minutes from homelessness…and at the end of the day, I guarantee you that their 18 year old selves did not map out their story the way that it turned out. That super rich guy had a brother die 5 years ago and would gladly trade in his fortune to have his brother back. The fortune no longer matters. At the same time, the poor woman never yearned to be poor, but she is, and she’s content. And she didn’t know that was possible, but life taught her otherwise. The things that we seek and desire are not always the things that we even actually want. We may not know that we don’t want those things, but life has a way of making it abundantly clear for you.
And when you realize that what you really want isn’t what you began life searching for, maybe you will also sob in your kitchen for a few minutes. But then, hopefully, like I’m doing now, you’ll smile as you are thankful that you now have the knowledge that the pot of gold is rarely the destination…it’s truly the journey that matters. Because the experience is where you learn what matters, and what doesn’t. And that’s the “loss” I mentioned earlier – you lose the dreams, but you find life. They never mirror one another, but friends, they are impossibly connected. And it’s a helluva ride.
I have to go sob again now.
Welcome to September. Temps are cooling down (we can only hope), and seasons are changing. May you EXPLORE your past, your present, and your future and discover that every day is but a page in your story, leading you to your very own pot of gold.
Benjamin D. Schooley