A middle-aged man, a stranger to me, walked awkwardly along the rails-to-trails path this morning as I ran north toward the town of Abita Springs. Just as we passed each other he yelled out, “You’re an inspiration, man!” For the remainder of my run, I thought about people and places that have inspired and lifted me over the years. Here are a few:
I hated putting my face in water, but my mother made me go to swimming lessons year after year with the other kids until I realized she was going to make me go until I learned. Mom’s determination turned into inspiration and I learned to swim in a couple of days. Later I became a boy scout swimming instructor and lifeguard.
For a science fair project in high school, I was attempting to replicate Abraham Michelson’s 1887 interferometer, a breakthrough experiment about splitting a light beam into two parts. After seeing my futile attempts day after day, my father told me he thought the concepts were too complicated for me to understand. I took that as a challenge and soon I’d built a working interferometer that took me all the way to the state competition in Baton Rouge.
In north Louisiana, there’s a river called Bayou de L’Outre, the River of Otters, that runs through bottomland hardwoods and empties into the Ouachita River just north of Monroe. Towering cypress trees hug the river’s banks; pines and hardwoods dominate the higher ground beyond. The river seems almost untouched by humans and that makes it feel like a treasure. When I need to feel more at peace, I just close my eyes and picture Bayou de L’Outre.
At age forty-seven, I met Eva. We snapped together like two long-lost magnets and I wrote love poems like a maniac. Pure inspiration – I needn’t say more.
In college, a sociology professor graded test papers immediately when they were turned in – right while you were standing there. He marked the grade in red ink in his grade book and on the test paper and handed it back. Then he had a brief exchange with the student and sent them on their way. I had struggled in college at first, but this was the semester when I was trying to turn the corner. I made an “A” on the first two tests. When I turned in the third one, the professor looked at me, not the paper, and said, “What grade did you make?” I said an “A” and he marked “A” on the paper and in his grade book and sent me on my way. Through that one act, I knew that it was up to me, not anyone else, to do my best all the time, and I became an adult.
Inspiration comes in many forms and we give it to each other.