Thursday, August 25, 2011

Wheels

In 1964, I met a fellow called Wheels from Ouachita Baptist College. He came to our apartment right after my wife and I got married while we were undergraduates at Southern State College. Wheels had been my wife’s friend when she was enrolled at Ouachita and he became my friend immediately. He was a thin, slow-moving guy with a deep, meditative diction pattern and he was extremely talkative. Not in a bothersome way, but his rambling was shot through with thoughtfulness and truth.

I will never forget two pearls of wisdom Wheels uttered that autumn day almost a half-century ago: first, he said there are success stories walking around all over the globe, and, second, he said you don’t hear of too many married couples starving to death these days. The first of these two platitudes came in response to our discussion of our life goals. I wanted to become a college professor and we wanted to raise a family in a small college town where I would work. Wheels’ statement was encouraging because he exuded confidence in me, a guy he had known only a few hours.

The second observation about not many people starving around our area came as a confidence builder as well. I think his message came as a result of his discerning a considerable amount of self-doubt as to my ability to make ends meet while we were in college. So Wheels’ words were a salve to our future anxiety and they built my faith that we could work our way through school.

Shortly after Wheels left to go back to Ouachita, the dean of men at Southern State flagged me down as I hurried across campus. “Dan,” he said, “You are an older student, a military veteran—you and your wife are just the kind of people I’d like to have hosting McCrary Hall (a men’s residence hall on campus).”

He went on to explain that the job included a rent-free apartment in the back of the dorm, utilities paid, tuition and fees paid for my wife and me, one meal a day in the cafeteria for both of us and $50 a month. When I mentioned the offer to my wife, she agreed with me that we should jump at the offer and jump we did. Wheels was right, we didn’t starve.

Wheels was also right about success stories walking around the globe. We both finished our bachelor’s degrees there and went on to Auburn University on a substantial fellowship that kept us from starving during the whole M. A. and Ph. D. programs.

Wheels was my friend for about four hours and the encouragement and truth that he spoke so long ago during that brief time have been mainstays for me throughout life. It is fair to say that we never know how much a little conversation can mean to people. It is also fair to say that when someone pops in to visit out of the blue and begins saying things that resonate inside your heart, you should honor that visitor and listen carefully.

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