“Mawwiage is whot bwings us too-gethah too-day!”

~The Impressive Clergyman, played by Peter Cook, in The Princess Bride

All week long, it seemed, my runs were abbreviated by the need to prepare for my new job. Monday, I got eight miles in and a bit of core before heading to campus. Tuesday, I could manage only five. Wednesday again was eight, and Thursday just north of six. Friday, six more miles came earlier than usual, before I headed to the State of the College address from the school’s President. The things I was doing all week were important, and I knew that, and yet the sensation of having to shorten runs to fit in other things was oddly and uncomfortably reminiscent of times past—back to school, graduate school, campaigning, and other especially busy points in my life. I suppose this is one of those. Nevertheless, after a summer full of runs that were as long and free as I could want them to be, the busy week cramped my style.

After Friday’s meetings, the family left for Grand Island where we swam in the pool and enjoyed the hot tub all evening. Saturday morning I rested from running, judging the wine at the Nebraska State Fair, before the family piled back into the car and drove to Lincoln for the wedding of a former student. It is about that event that I would like to spend most of my time in this post.

The man I watched get married yesterday was twice the age of the boy I had known as a freshman in high school so many years ago, and yet his ready smile and kind demeanor seemed not to have changed a bit. He was taller, more stout, a man instead of a boy, and yet every bit as kind, charming, and humorous as I remembered him being. It seemed—as one might hope it would—that he was very fortunate to be marrying the woman he did. I met her for the first time yesterday, and immediately it was clear that she was intelligent, cultured, outgoing, and most of all, kind. My five-year-old daughter was convinced, for obvious reasons, that this was a princess, and immediately became bashful. In turn, the princess asked her questions, took her hand, and later in the evening gave her a special piece of cake. It had occurred to me to attend the wedding by myself at one point, and that would have been an immense mistake. It turned out to be the highlight of the weekend, if not far more, for my entire family.

Also, between the wedding and reception, I ran into many former students who were classmates of the groom. Somehow, I believe I made time to catch up with most of them, though none quite as thoroughly as I might have liked. At one point, the husband of someone I once taught, approached our table at the reception and said “You have an extremely well-behaved son,” and proceeded to explain that he had seen Titus, who just this weekend began going into public bathrooms without an escort, attempting to wipe up some soap he had spilled near the sink. “Most people would just have left it,” the man told us, and I felt a pride in my son that perhaps was swelling in a new and powerful way. I told my son this, thanking the man, and later texting his wife to thank them again.

Another former student showed me pictures of his daughter. Another couple of former students were married and I got to meet their child. Yet another married a former colleague of mine, and he and I talked “shop” as he is now a special education teacher at, of all places, the middle school where I coached basketball when I was nineteen years old. Every former student I spoke to gave me the feeling of being five years old and opening yet another gift on Christmas morning. Each was rich and filled with promise, beautiful, and incredibly interesting. Had my children not desperately needed a good night’s sleep, I may have stayed at the reception all night.

This morning, Sunday, I rose and made a cup of coffee as I laced up my electric green Gel Cumulus and filled my hip bottles with water and Gatorade, two each. Over the course of twenty-and-a-half miles, bringing my weekly total to fifty-four, I reflected much on the previous night, and on the role I’ve been so fortunate to play in the lives of young people for so many years. It donned on me that I may never again be so involved in the life of a teenager that, over a decade later, they will invite me to their wedding, and the thought saddened me. Teachers are, well, teachers are everything, and I’ve been so proud to be one for so long now that part of me fears that my identity may become unstable should I look in the mirror and not see one looking back at me. I’ve had this same fear about running, you might recall, but unlike running which will, inevitably, be taken from me at some point by time, the classroom I gave up willingly, and come what may I will always have to square with the fact that this new absence is a choice that I made willingly.

Recently, I’ve begun writing a series of essays, featuring great teachers. It seems silly to me that teachers get a week of appreciation when they give lifetimes of dedication and service to society, so I’m titling my endeavor “Teacher Appreciation Always” and have arranged to publish various types of essays highlighting amazing teachers in The Voice, We Are Teachers, and potentially elsewhere. If you’re reading this and you were one of my teachers, thank you. The same goes, of course, if you were one of my students. And if you are reading this and you are neither then I would ask that perhaps you consider reaching out to a teacher and thanking them for, among other things of course, the very fact that you can read at all. Thank you for reading, and for supporting me as I run the Kandahar Marathon to help resettle Afghan refugees here in Nebraska. If you don’t already, consider supporting my efforts by clicking the “donate” button below. I hope to see you on the trails.

Mark

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