Every week Principal Mike Pinto, of James Cole Elementary School, gives his teachers an inspirational morning message. The following was one he recently shared:
I was a junior in college in 1989 when family circumstances changed and I needed to purchase a car. Like most college students, money was tight and my access to purchase options and individuals to offer mechanical advice on cars for sale were limited. I happened upon a 1975 four-door Chevy Nova for sale which held promise because it was a car owned by an elderly lady being sold by her son and the price was affordable. I remember the asking price was $950 and my bank account held just slightly under twice that amount. I could afford it and I purchased the vehicle.
The car would get me through my junior and senior years in college. It would transport me to and from my summer job and my job at a local store where I sacked groceries during the school year. It transported me and countless youngsters to and from baseball games for teams that I coached. It did its job.
The car wasn’t pretty. First of all it was a four-door. Second, the car was tan in color and had only an AM radio within. The doors creaked terribly when opened and used to cough and gasp for sometimes up to 30 seconds after the ignition was turned off. It was referred to by some as “The Beaster” because it kind of was. But it was all I had.
The car held several challenges including the ever frustrating fog of gravel dust which filled the insides when I traveled down an unpaved road. One rainy morning as I pulled into school during student teaching, I discovered on this leak was due to a crack in wheel-well. I was greeted by a rear passenger foot-well full of water. I have told the story to some about how I fixed the crack with tar that I lathered inside the wheel-well until water from a hose I sprayed onto it didn’t find its way onto the floor of the foot-well any longer. A crude fix, but my options were limited.
The engine would be considered simple by modern standards. But for me, someone who had talents in certain areas but totally devoid of mechanical skills, simply knowing where to put the oil was a learning process. When mechanical problems arose, and they did quite frequently, I was often at a loss. You see, I didn’t have much money and I had even fewer skills and resources. That’s where the father of a college friend came in. He lived two hours away, but I remember several long journeys in that car to his home to help me with a variety of issues. His time ‘under the hood’ fixed many ills and kept the car on the road. You see, it’s embarrassing to drive a car that is falling apart, but it’s even more embarrassing when that car stalls in the middle of the intersection and you don’t know what to do. So when I got the car going after an incident and figured out what was wrong, he served as a mechanical solution to what ailed my only means of transportation. I was always so grateful and he always acted like his help wasn’t a big deal. But it was a huge deal to me.
That car was a gigantic motivator. It was a motivator to get out of bed when I was tired and get to class because I needed a strong GPA. It was a motivator to me to do whatever was necessary to land a job when I graduated because I wanted something different. It was a motivator to me when trapped in the middle of an intersection or with a hose in my hand on a cold November day searching for a mysterious leak to the point where I could no longer feel my fingers. I didn’t want this to be my life. And as I look back on those roads traveled, that father did more for me than he can ever know and he didn’t even know it: Until this week.
I had a chance to reconnect with the family this week and had a phone conversation in which I shared, “Thank you for all that you did. You kept that car going so I could go to work, go to student teaching, and get where I needed to go for job interviews, etc.” The response was quite simply, “It really was no big deal.” The man just never knew what he had done. I am glad I had a chance to tell him. Because to him, it was no big deal. But to me it was quite simply, the world.
Life has a way of balancing you out though, because the very next day a former student who is a senior in high school looking for college scholarships walked into my office. He was apologetic for the time he was taking from me after school to talk with me and quite simply asked, “If you have time, could you write me a letter of recommendation?”
My response was, “Sure. Not a problem. I will get it done before I leave tonight.”
“Oh no,” he replied, “you don’t need to do it now, you have three weeks until it’s due.”
To which I answered, “I’ll get it done tonight.”
He looked at me and sighed and quite simply said, “Thank you. That is so very nice of you.”
I looked at him and said, “Hey, it’s really no big deal.”
You see, I can write a letter of recommendation in no time flat and usually one with a personal touch as well. It’s what I do. It’s really not a big deal.
And as I sat there and saw the pure relief and gratitude flow over his face, it dawned on me – this was my time ‘under the hood’ with his problem. My tools aren’t socket sets and screwdrivers. My tools are handshakes, positive words, and keyboard strokes. Just like that father was able to solve a problem with an action I thought was immeasurable and time consuming, but to him was just part of his skillset, I could reciprocate with my own. And it made me feel good to know that in life there are people who do things for you that make a tremendous difference that they may never know. I try very hard to let these people know these things when I can because life is too short for sure. But also realize that in life there are things you do that have an immeasurable impact, weight and bearing on a person’s life and you may never know it. So when an opportunity comes your way to help someone else, share what you have to offer because in the end, you just may never know what you’ve done and the impact something you take for granted has on someone else.