I stood in line at the Walgreens near my school tonight, exhausted from a long Monday at work. As I typed in my phone number, I felt someone sidle up to me and put a head upon my shoulder. I was not fazed. Not many things faze me these days. I assumed it was a student or a former student. Possibly even a parent. Because of this store's proximity to my school, I often find myself visiting with my Mustang past, present, and, sometimes, future. Tonight was no different.
As I looked left, I saw two former Mustangs. They are two of three sisters I coached and taught, the youngest of which recently graduated from high school. Hers was the head upon my shoulder, grinning up at me. Although she was taller than me, even by 7th grade, this has always been the way she snuck up on me, head lowered, fitting into the cradle of my neck and shoulder. Had I had time to think before looking, I could've probably guessed her identity from that alone.
I gave them both a quick hug and prepared to exchange pleasantries and small talk on the way to our cars. They were buying shampoo; I was buying toilet paper and pencils. A Monday task if ever there was one. Before I could even swipe my card, though, they told me that their father had died last week. I stopped, frozen, unable to process what I had just heard. I could not speak, and words are the one thing I'm hardly ever without.
I looked at them, realizing fully what they had said, realizing I was holding up the line. I told them how shocked I was. They echoed my shock, sadly, and told me that it was a sudden death. His heart had given out. We moved outside, trying to pick up the pieces of the conversation. I think they felt bad, giving me such a shock. I felt bad unable to give them any comfort. So we caught up quickly on the good things -- a marriage, a proposal, a life forging ahead. Things that would make their father so proud, this forging ahead.
Mr. F was a giant of a man. Not only big in stature but also in laughter and generosity. He was a man, I know now, that was destined to have only girls. I see them, these men, larger than life, who are delivered tiny baby girls, all pink and frilly, full of sugar and sass. These are the men who understand God's sense of humor. These are the men who understand God's wisdom.
I taught two of his girls in the classroom and coached all three in volleyball and basketball. His voice boomed throughout the gym -- encouraging, cajoling, laughing. After each match or game, no matter the outcome, he was there. There for his girls, for their teammates, for their coach. He seemed a good man.
We talked only a few minutes more before I grabbed them both in a hug and asked them to pass along my condolences to their mother and sister. And I walked to my car in tears. In tears over a man I was not best friends with. A man I did not call by first name. A man I hadn't even seen in at least five years, probably more. But a man who trusted me to help lead his daughters. To help teach them how to compete, to write, to think. What an awesome gift such trust is, and, perhaps, that is what moved me most.
My heart is heavy for them. For his wife, who would greet his bellows with an eyeroll and a soft punch in the arm. For his baby girls out in the world, without him. Because baby girls may outgrow their frills and pink, but they never outgrow their daddy's hands. I haven't yet. I don't know that I ever will.
I realized, again, how little I know of my kids when they leave my classroom and my hallways. I don't always know where they land, who they fall in love with, or which of their dreams come true. I know them only in this middle stage -- this becoming of who they will be. It's hard to not know sometimes. I'm never good with not-knowing. Yet as I watched them walk away, I did know something for sure. I knew that what they had told me was true but incomplete. His heart may have stopped but it had most certainly not given out. Watches give out. Televisions give out. Seams give out. A heart could never.
Especially since there are three strong girls who are carrying it on. Just like he knew they would. What a legacy he has left this world.
Love one another. Tell them often and tell them loudly. Because that's the only reason any of us are here.