The other day I was sitting in Upper School chapel, listening to Father Nate preach about self-discipline and the power of boredom. His message about taking the time to let our minds wander - giving us time to wonder, to think - allowing us to unearth what makes us our best selves…. it filled me with gratitude. Gratitude for Father Nate. For Chaplain Kennedy, for Chaplain Toni, and for this space.
Father Nate’s sermon came at a time when I had begun to imagine - to think and wonder - about this month’s virtue, Understanding. I had settled on the structure of my message, but was struggling to connect it to a story or image that might describe it. That day in chapel though it clicked. The sense of gratitude that washed over me reminded me of someone very dear that I would like to talk to you about today. His name is Doug.
Although Doug is his first name, almost everyone who knows him calls him “Bos”, a nickname derived from a shortening of his last name. As a youth, his friends called him “Rooster”, a nod to both his disposition and the reddish hair he had in abundance as a kid. Bos grew up in a tiny rural town in the great state of West Virginia. Moorefield, West Virginia is one of those places that time forgot. It has a population of about 2,500 people, which when you combine all ESD’s students, teachers, and parents makes Moorefield about half the size of our school community. The town has one stop light, and that is to make sure the shift workers can easily exit the local chicken processing plant.
Bos will tell you that his childhood was simple but ideal. His dad was a long haul truck driver, criss-crossing the country each week in his tractor-trailer delivering goods to countless Americans, but always managing to make it back to Moorefield on Friday night for his son’s high school football games. His mother was heavily involved at their church and in his schools. For the older faculty in the audience, I share that Bos’s adult friends would joke with him that he grew up like Opie Taylor from the Andy Griffith Show.. He walked everywhere, enjoyed the outdoors, and had a close-knit group of neighbors, classmates and teammates.
He knew everyone in his small town well, and they knew him, too well sometimes. In retirement Bos built himself a log cabin on top of a mountain outside of Moorefield. When I visit him, he lets me join in one of his favorite pastimes - engaging in target practice off his front porch with one of the many rifles he owns.
To say that Bos and I came from different backgrounds would be vast understatement. He came from this tiny little town. I grew up in the big city. He attended his local public high school where it was a big deal if a new person moved in from the next county over. Like you, I was privileged enough to attend an excellent independent school. At my all-boys school, I was surrounded by classmates and teammates who would go on to great accomplishments - a US Senator, a Tony and Emmy Award winning actor, a US Congressman, a Rhodes Scholar, even the two guys who would go on to produce The Simpsons. The girls' school across the street was similar. In my graduating year they had the future National Security Advisor in the Obama Administration and a highly successful Hollywood actress. By my mid-twenties when I first met Bos, even though my own accomplishments paled in comparison to my former classmates, it took a lot to attract and impress me. I had been surrounded by really smart and really talented people my whole life and was naturally drawn to them.
Bos is about ten years older than I am, so when I first met him he had already done a fair amount of living. At that time, he had just endured some setbacks which had left him in a precarious life situation. He had taken a job at the school where I worked - a job that was frankly beneath his experience and skill level, because he needed the salary. He needed to rebuild his life. Beyond being welcoming to a new co-worker, I wasn’t sure what to make of this guy.
In life sometimes you are given gifts that you expect. At other times you get a gift that is not only unexpected, but you don’t even realize it is a gift until much later. Meeting Bos was such a gift in my life. Over the course of our 30+ year friendship, he has taught me many things through example. I offer three to you today.
The first lesson was in how to address adversity. After working with him for a year, I quickly appreciated how Bos was rebuilding his life through hard work. However, just as he was beginning to enjoy the rewards of some relative stability, he received devastating news. His one year old son had been diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis. For those of you who do not know, CF is a cruel disease that can severely shorten one’s life. It can cause terrible lung infections that make breathing difficult, almost choking the patient to death. There is no cure, although advances in treatment are promising. CF patients often die in their teens or twenties which means that for a parent, watching their child suffer in this way can be among the most difficult of experiences. I will never forget both the tears and the resolve that Bos and his wife Robin showed when telling me the news. What was even more inspirational was the tireless work and research they did to ensure that their son not only received the best possible care, but also disciplined himself to take responsibility for the daily medicine and rehabilitation exercises his condition required. Adam is currently in his late twenties, a successful personal trainer and recently engaged to be married - really a remarkable story. While Bos would tell you that his son is the hero of the story, it was his and Robin’s acceptance of the situation and their dedication to making the best of it that set the stage for the life their son is leading.
The second lesson Bos taught me was in how honest argument can strengthen friendship. You see, Bos and I coached football together - he, the head coach, me, the offensive coordinator. He and I would engage in legendary arguments about all sorts of football techniques, raising our voices to the point that other coaches would be concerned we would never talk to each other again. The beauty of Bos though was that we always made up. He had such an open spirit that allowed me to be exactly who I needed to be in those moments. He gave me that space for which I will always be grateful. Those moments only drew us closer. It allowed us later to tell each other hard truths about ourselves, which ultimately made us better people.
The third lesson Bos taught me is that life is more about connecting with people than it is about collecting possessions. Bos was the kind of person who always was the one to host the post-game gathering. He loved surrounding himself with people - laughing and enjoying fellowship. Whenever the weather was nice, and we were together he would say, “Man this would be a great day to go down to the river, skip rocks, and tell lies.” It was his way of saying that there was nothing better in life than spending time with your friends outside, telling stories, laughing and enjoying each other, even if some exaggeration was thrown in for entertainment. That is what we are meant for.
So what does my friend Bos have to do with you, with our reading today, and with our virtue of understanding? I would offer this reflection. We are in this Lenten season in which Christians celebrate the central story of Christianity - that God came into the world to deliver the message of human salvation, was rejected and killed, and his sufferings saved us from our sins.
Our reading today from the Gospel of Luke tells the story of Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem. What is remarkable about Jesus’s ministry is how misunderstood he was. His teachings drove at changing the understanding that the Jews of that time period had about both the social and political order. The chapters in Luke that lead to the story we heard today are filled with Jesus’s parables that preach the acceptance of outcasts and the affliction of the powerful. In addition most thought that the Messiah would be a military or political leader who would conquer enemies and rule. Instead Jesus preached to love enemies and embrace humility. Both the powerful and the ordinary of this time completely discounted or misunderstood what Jesus had to say because he did not fit the image they had of who should matter.
This is a sin often repeated. Ask yourselves how many times in your own life you may have judged someone as not worthy of your attention because they did not fit your “cool” scale. They did not have the worldly attributes that you may value - wealth, popularity, or accomplishment. If I am to be honest, that is what I may have done with Bos originally. I shudder to think about how much richness I would have missed had I not paused and rethought that. I now consider Bos like a brother.
Bos shows every day the wisdom and understanding described in our virtue - that which comes from a humble lifestyle and through action.
My prayer for all of us today is that we may recognize those messengers that God puts in our life - particularly those whom we might first overlook. I pray that we have the wisdom and understanding to see that God is always looking for us, placing before us people who can help us be our best selves. May we have the wisdom and open-heartedness to accept them.