I suppose I could have made an effort to find him, to contact him. Write him a letter or send him an e-mail. Maybe a phone call. But I did none of those things.
He died without knowing what he meant to me. He was a very simple man, but he also was an enormous influence in my life. He inspired me; he taught me much, much more than he could have ever imagined. He was my biology and natural science teacher and I will admit that I didn’t learn much of that. However, I learned about dignity, and decency, and honesty and I learned about life. No one taught me more about those subjects than James Kelly Walden.
I learned of his death on the Pahokee Facebook page. Yes! I read it on Facebook. Sad, isn’t it? I don’t know, somehow I feel he deserved more than that. More than just a simple mention on Facebook. Maybe one of those “breaking news” stories on radio and television. And perhaps the White House and both houses of Congress should have made an announcement. But, more than his death, what should have been told was the story of his life.
Mr. Walden was my friend, my counselor, my shoulder to cry on. He was my teacher.
I was not surprised to notice that I was crying while I read about his death. I’m not surprised to be crying while I write these lines.
Why didn’t I make an effort to contact him? It would not have been difficult. I could have easily obtained his address or e-mail or his phone number. Last time I saw him was over forty years ago. But I know I have thought about him all this time.
I can close my eyes and see his face, his constant smile. I recall his walk, his body language, mannerisms. His soft voice that never changed regardless of the situation. I do not recall ever seeing him angry even though he had an abundance of reasons to be angry. We were not easy. Our attitude and behavior certainly deserved reprimands and even punishments. Yet, there never was that. Only explanations and affection and tenderness and damn good advice.
Even though he was in my life for only two years, Mr. Walden was more important to me than my own father, a good and decent man but totally unable to be and act as a parent. Maybe my mother was more important in my life. And this is not an exaggeration.
I know nothing of his life since those days when he was my teacher and friend. What an ingrate I am! It’s such an injustice on my part not to have let him know what he meant to me. I am so ashamed. I hurt. However, more than pain, I feel regret. I regret not having made the effort to contact him.
I’m not one of those who regrets. I’ve always felt that regretting is wasting time lamenting for something that can’t be changed; something that already happened and we can’t do anything about it. But this time, I admit that I regret. I admit that I was wrong. I finally realize what it means to regret. What it means to not have done what I should have done and could have easily done.
Mr. Walden taught me something much more important than biology or basketball. I suppose that science is important and basketball was fun. But he listened to me, he talked to me, he paid attention to me, he gave me his time. He taught me the subject of life. And his advice prepared me for the rest of my life. I could not have succeeded in life without James Kelly Walden in my life. He, in great part, is responsible for my success, in all aspects of my life. I am what I am thanks to him. I am a better man because God one day decided to put me in his class.
Mr. Walden talked to me about everything. It wasn’t just a conventional science or biology class of basketball practice sessions and games. He talked of challenges in the future, of the choices we would have to make. And we paid attention. Even the class clowns and the incorrigibles. I don’t know what it was about him that other teachers didn’t have. It’s not easy being a teacher. Inspiring young people is even more difficult. It’s a gigantic endeavor that only a few can undertake. Mr. Walden was one of the few.
How many teachers do we have in our school adventure? Here I’m trying to come up with a number. From kindergarten to 12th grade. Let’s say 60. I can remember ten of them, maybe. The rest I might recall remotely if I make a hell of a mental effort. Of those other 10, only two left such a profound impact in my life. James Kelly Walden was the most influential teacher in my life.
I sincerely hope that each one of you have a Mr. Walden in your past. If so, you are better men and women than you would have been without someone like James Kelly Walden in your lives. Now, don’t do like I did. You go and find that teacher and tell him or her what they meant to you.