Tuesday, January 28, 2003

In Memoriam - Eric Goeglein, 1953-2003
I got in a lot of fights when I was a kid. At the time, I always thought somebody else started it, but the truth was I’d take any slight, any insult, and turn it into a matter of honor, a reason for violence, an excuse to unleash my anger at the world. I don’t know what I was angry about, exactly. What does a ten-year-old have to be angry about?

At least once a week, it seemed, I found myself in the principal’s office having been pulled, crying, off some kid who was probably crying even more than I was. (I couldn’t tell you, though. I can’t remember anything from those fights except the tears and the color red.) Mr. Goeglein would sit calmly, handing me kleenex and waiting patiently for me to stop snuffling long enough to explain myself. He always asked why, and he always listened as I struggled to find a reason.

It never occurred to me to wonder why these fights were never talked about at home. It wasn’t until I was in college that I found out that my parents never knew about them. Not one.

I don’t know why he never told my folks about our little meetings, but I’ve come up with a number of possible explanations over the years. I like to think he saw our talks as being just between us, man to man, as it were, that he saw the anger and the wild punches being thrown, but he also saw my tears and my frustration at losing control of my temper, at hurting people when I really wanted not to. I like to think he saw the anger and the empathy wrestling with one another, and that he trusted me to make the right decision, in the long run.

I don’t think I really did the math until eighth grade or so, the last year he was my principal. I know I still lost my temper a few times in high school (mostly at home), though I never threw another punch. At least not at a person. By my parents were still active in the church and the school, and I know I came up in conversation from time to time, so I think he knew that empathy won out in the end. I hope he knew.

I can’t say what would have happened if Mr. Goeglein had involved my parents in my problems at school. I would have spent more time grounded, I suppose, and probably spent some time talking to a very calm man in a tweed jacket, with a bust of Freud on his shelf. Maybe that would have been better. Maybe not. I can’t describe the road not taken. But I can tell you that the struggles of my adult life have been lightened somewhat by the knowledge that a good man looked in the eyes of my child self and saw something in there that gave him hope, even confidence, that the good would win out.

Eric Goeglein died on Saturday, January 25, 2003, when an infection took his body by surprise in the midst of his fight against cancer. I don’t know what he thought of his life, but if he touched only a few children each year the way he touched me, then he did more to improve the world than most of us will have a chance at, and that’s the best yardstick I’ve found with which to judge a man’s life.

No comments: