So one day several months back I was sitting in the McDonald’s Play Place in Bountiful happily eating my grilled chicken sandwich while I watched Lucy disappear and reappear from the gigantic play "thing". Not far from me was an older gentleman who was there with his brood of grand kids. I knew because while I was there he had a continuous stream of requests. "Grandpa can I get an ice cream cone?" as he would promptly pull out a one dollar bill and say "Sure. Here ya go", every time.
It wasn't long before we struck up a conversation which lasted about an hour. As long as the kids were happy we kept talking. His name was Art Nielsen and he had been a teacher and coach for over 40 years. He's currently in his 80's and substitute teaches 4 days a week in south Davis County and loves every second of it. It was so weird to me, but I felt such a connection with this 80 year old man. It was a little serendipitous and I couldn't help but feel at the right place at the right time.
The thing I learned about Art during our conversation was that the relationships in his life were the most important thing to him. And it wasn't just the relationship with his spouse or his children, but every relationship was important to him. He was full of stories about kids he'd been able to help over the years and I was amazed as I listened. What impressed me the most was that Art gave his complete trust to these kids he'd never met. He would work with them one on one, he would talk with their parents, he would listen, he would even loan them money if they asked for it. Art gave them something few teachers and adults ever give kids. He gave them trust. He told me that he couldn't control whether they trusted him, but he chose to place all the trust he had in them.
I recently read a book called Anatomy of Peace. The objective of the book is to teach us how to resolve conflict in our lives. One of the first lessons taught is how to identify whether we are seeing others as people or as objects. To put this in very basic terms, when we see someone as a person we acknowledge that that person has needs and feelings just like us. Where as when we see someone as an object, they don't have individual feelings or needs, but are just part of a group, social class or "type" of people. By labeling someone as an object, it strips them of any personal or individual feelings or characteristics. This can be applied on so many levels, but the lesson is always the same. We treat others differently when we see them as people instead of objects. The book goes on to explain how these views of others effect our relationships and teaches how to over come these challenges we all face.
I have to say, it feels like it's been a long time since I felt sadness about the end of my marriage. I felt I had come to accept that what was done was done and I needed to focus on the future. Reading that book brought back a pain I hadn't felt in a long time. It's that pain that comes when we realize that we have seen those we love as objects and not as human beings. I found myself wishing I could go back and change the past, that I could have reacted differently in certain situations or just been a better person over all. The problem with pain is that, as uncomfortable as it may be, I believe it's a catalyst for changes we must make.
I got to see Art recently. He spoke in a fireside and as I listened to his stories again, I was so impressed by him. It's so hard to explain, but when I look at Art, I see someone who sees no objects, but only the people he is surrounded by. He would give you his time, his money and his love if you asked for it, and probably the same even if you didn't ask for it. The love from this man flows like a river. Unrestrained. I want to be like that. I don't know how, because I'm hopelessly flawed and selfish, but I want to be like Art. God willing. Someday.