The plane was still boarding as a young black man entered. The kid was twenty-something, dressed in jeans and shirt, carrying some big books. I guessed he was a college student. The plane was virtually full. The only seats left were in the center.
At that time, passengers were not assigned specific seats. In this plane, there were three seats on the left and three on the right. What usually happened was that one person took the window seat and one took the aisle seat. Then they piled their stuff in the middle seat: coats and hand carried bags to make the center seat off-limits.
As the young man continued walking down the long aisle, no one offered him the center seat. As he approached, instead of trying to shield my center seat, I gave him a friendly “Hello,” knowing he would sit on the seat beside me. And he did.
The young man was nice looking and sharp. His speech was excellent and he was interested in talking. He was attending the University of Oklahoma at Norman, majoring in engineering. He said he was from Chicago.
“How did you happen to get into school way down in Oklahoma?”
He stared at me. “You won’t believe the story of my life.”
I encouraged him to elaborate.
When he was in junior high, his Mom worked in his school cafeteria and this embarrassed him. He did not know who his Dad was, and that embarrassed him some more. He described the terrible social situation in which he found himself. “At that point of my life, I was just a N_____. I was a screw-up. I was rotten and I did rotten things.”
“I made terrible grades and only went to class when I had to,” he said, sadly. “All I wanted to do was lash out at the world and at God.” He continued for some minutes describing his former self in the most derogatory terms. “In that early part of my life, I had no pride in myself. I was a no-good kid with no ambition or direction. Life was meaningless. I was angry, mad, cruel, insolent, destructive, violent, and suicidal.” He lowered his head thinking about his former actions. “I was sliding fast – on my private highway to hell!”
“Then, one day,” he took a deep breath and straightened up, “my science teacher told me I had as good a brain and as good a mind as anybody in the school – and that I could do anything I wanted to do – but that I was only using my “social position” to goof off and not even try – really try.”
“Naturally, I did not believe him.” He eyed me. “Why would a white teacher want to help a black student?”
“I hope that every teacher, black or white, would want to help every student,” I said sincerely.
The young man stared at me. Clearly, his experiences had been different. “This science teacher was different,” he countered.
“Every time I got into trouble, this teacher found out about it. He would kindly yet firmly confront me, “See, you are doing just what I said you would do.” The young man raised a finger and shook it at me as if I were him getting lectured by the teacher. “If you keep messing up, you could go to jail and stay in the gutter, or you can – if you choose to – be one of the best students in this school. Choose wisely. Do not waste your life.”
I smiled at his rendition.
“Can you believe that this was my science teacher?” he asked me.
I shook my head in mild disbelief because a strange eerie feeling run through me.
The young man looked at me earnestly. “This teacher kept telling me that I had the brains to do whatever I wanted to do. He told me it was that simple. I could use my “social background” as an excuse or I could use my brains. He kept after me and would not let go.”
The young man waved his hand in the air as if waving away his former self. “After awhile, I decided to do some homework to show this teacher that I could not make it in school.” He looked at me. “Nobody was as surprised as I was when I found out that I could really do the work! The teacher made me stay after school and made me work more because he said, I had a lot of catching up to get even with my classmates. I started looking up to my science teacher and doing whatever he said.”
The young man smiled. “By this time, my mother thought this science teacher was the most wonderful guy on planet earth.”
“After that – it was simple. Once I learned and loved how to study, I went through high school making good grades and doing good behavior. I do not mean I did not have to work at it, but now I knew I could do it. I did not have a chip on my shoulder anymore. I had pride in myself and in what I could do.” His face radiated confidence. “I can do anything I want – even become an engineer.” The young man finished his incredible story with, “I owe my life to my science teacher. He saved me. He was special.” Again, that strange weird spooky feeling came rushing back.
A wild idea popped in my head. I was going to make a bizarre guess. “You are describing a teacher I know,” I said. “I bet I can tell you the name of that teacher.”
We locked eyes.
“Ted Forbes,” I announced.
I will never forget the look of bewildered surprise on his face. His eyes grew as big as his books. Mine must have, too. He was as shocked as I was that I got it right. Here were two strangers from different states on an airplane with one person in common in Joliet, Illinois.
“How could you possibly know that?” The young man’s voice was full of amazement.
“My guess was based on several clues from your story – junior high school, science teacher, white man, and it just sounded just like Ted. He is my father!”
I was grinning. “My biggest leap was guessing that you are from the Chicago area, not Chicago itself.
“Yes, I am from Joliet,” he confirmed.
For the rest of the trip we talked about the young man’s experiences with my Dad and how amazing this coincidence was. But what was even more amazing was – without my family’s ever knowing – my Dad was pouring out himself to save his students’ lives.
-compiled and “adapted” by, the Overcomer, from Teacher Miracles, (Inspirational True Stories From The Classroom) edited by Brian Thornton; Saving A Life by Anne Forbes as told by John Young
My Dad, Ted Forbes, was a teacher most of his life. He strongly believed that all students could do well if properly motivated and personally encouraged. He would work with his students and often succeeded in helping them – in spite of themselves. We never knew anything about it because Dad was modest, even though his was a forceful personality.
God gave Dad three months to say goodbye. While in the hospital, many of his former students stopped by to say how much he had helped them – save their lives – and thanked him not only for sincerely believing in them but more importantly – for not giving up on them!
We are grateful that Dad knew how to give of himself to others. Many lives are touched by many good teachers. And, they say – that Dad . . . was one of the best. ~Anne
- They say that, a man can pay back a loan of gold, but that he dies forever in debt to those who were kind to him.
- Many times, it is better to be kind than to be right.
- People may forget what we say to them or what we do for them; but they never forget how we made them feel.
- A sincere kind word or a firm personal encouragement is better than – a handout.