Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 602 Digging into Bad Memories

This is Retirement Talk. I'm Del Lowery.

Retirement gives us time to look back over our lives and evaluate how we did. Bad memories may surface or good ones. Sometimes we find they may have merged or even switched from being considered good or bad to the opposite. Here is an example of how this recently worked for me concerning one particular memory.

A few years ago my son recommended that I checkout this television series that deals with high school football in Texas entitled, “Friday Night Lights”. He thought it might bring back memories. Then he paused a moment and said, “On second thought dad you may not want to bring back those memories. I had been a player and then a coach. I was a head coach back in the Midwest for two years. Then we fled and didn't stop until we got to end of the road in Alaska.

I watched and a night without sleep followed. My son was right. It may have been something I could have done without. Memories came flooding back about the small town obsession concerning their football team. That is one of the things about retirement we have time to look back and that can be good or bad. Or perhaps a combination.

I vividly remember standing under the Friday night lights for the last game of the season my second year. We had the first undefeated team in the history of the school. We had been tied twice but did not lose any games. The people in town were ecstatic. The superintendent called me into his office the following Monday and told me that the school board had held an ad hock meeting just after the game. They concluded that my budget would be unlimited for the following year. Yes, they were very happy.

Back to standing under the lights. My stomach was in knots. The local doctor had given me some pills for the condition of ulcers. I was twenty-six years old. He said I needed to let up. The season had been intense. I was exhausted. All of my energy had gone into coaching and teaching the past two years. Then at that moment, under the lights, I realized I never wanted to do that again. I knew there were other things in life besides football and winning.

Bear with me while I wallow in this memory concerning football, Friday Night Lights and reevaluating. I recalled all of the encouragement I had given my players and all of the grief. I had pushed hard. One drill was called the meat grinder. In this drill one player would face a line of perhaps ten players. One at a time those in the line would come at the player out front and try to knock him down with a block. He would have to defend himself. Then another player would come and then another until he was on the ground. It was then that I would stand over him and tell him to get up. Players would continue to dive into his body. I would continue to yell at him to get up, stand and defend himself. He always stood again. He would be hot, mad, enraged and would stand in a furry. That's when the drill ended. Difficult? Definitely. Cruel? It sounds like it. Beneficial? I thought so at the time. I wanted the players to know that no matter how beaten and battered they were more energy could be found. New strength could emerge. They had powers they had not ever tapped or even imagined.

Later in life this drill emerged to plague me. It also came to symbolize all the other shallow and merciless treatment of my players. I was not proud to have ever run that drill. Maybe it did achieve its intended purpose but it just seemed like it wasn't worth it. The doubts stayed with me. The television program had a similar drill. Sleep would not come.

Then there was the community obsession with football: the car dealer, the Mayor, the parents, everyone. It was the same in my experience. No one asked what I was teaching in my American History classes. It was the sixties. Vietnam was ranging. Civil rights was a major issue. The Poverty Program had been launched. Cities were burning. These issues constantly gave life to my classroom. These were important issues of our day and yet no one seemed to care.

Standing under the Friday night lights my head was spinning. I had a wife, a son and a serious interest in the lessons being taught in my classroom. Yet my life was being consumed by football. I told the superintendent that I would be leaving at the end of the year. No more football. No more of this town. No more. Then things got worse.

Two of my senior football players came to a basketball game after drinking beer. I insisted that they leave the game and appear at the principal's office Monday morning. The punishment was a three day suspension. One player admitted his error and accepted the verdict. The other player and his parents insisted on his innocents. I offered to resign on the spot if my actions were questioned. The superintendent cringed and lowered his head on the boardroom table. Then the farmers on the board spoke as one. They insisted that my word be accepted and that both boys would be suspended.

The boy's parents felt like he was falsely accused by this departing football coach and took son to a nearby town and bought him one of the hottest Plymouth cars in the county. Within two week he wrapped it around a telephone pole right in the middle of town. I don't know if he had been drinking but he was dead for sure. Some placed the blame on me. It was not a pleasant experience. Friday Night Lights brought back bad memories for me.

Then I had this conversation with my son. He related to me his experience with a coach that was similar. This was in cross country skiing in Alaska. Our son was thirteen years old; the youngest and smallest member of the high school ski team. It was December: snow, ice, dark, and below zero. The coach told them that the practice would be to run six miles up this mountain road and then back. My son didn't think it was possible. But he and the other skiers did it. He learned that he had strength that he didn't know he had. He could push and achieve something that he would have consider beyond himself. “How valuable is that?” he said over the phone. He went on, “It has carried over into everything in my life”. Maybe some of those football players I had feel the same way today.

Dredging up old memories can be dangerous. Retirement gives us time to reminisce and reevaluate. Maybe what we did way back when wasn't as bad as we remember. Compassion is something we need to extend to everyone – including ourselves.

This is Retirement Talk.

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