Gord Winkle was nervous. When he got nervous, he tended to eat. Since he was quite spectacularly nervous, he was eating a lot. He had a two-foot-long baked sub sandwich from Fast Freddy’s, two double hamburgers and two chocolate shakes from Belly Busters, a triple chicken sandwich with pickles from Gobs O’Chicken, and a brown paper bag with the poppy seed muffin and salad that his wife had packed that morning.
Gord Winkle was nervous because the school year was starting in two days. It wasn’t that Gord was worried about the content or methods of what he would be teaching; he had been teaching shop classes for fifteen years. He had each lesson plan memorized. He could recite his shop safety lecture in his sleep (and according to his wife, he sometimes did).
No, the thing that had Gord Winkle eating two double hamburgers at a time and already wondering about dessert was the knowledge that in two days, when the freshmen walked through the doors of Bedlam Christian High School, one of them would be his daughter Ziti. She was named after his Italian grandmother—or, more precisely, after his grandmother’s wonderful baked ziti, which was the highlight of every New Year’s Eve. For a moment, Gord’s mind turned away from his daughter as he leaned back in his chair, smiling, his eyes closed and his hands resting on his ample belly, as he imagined sausage, tomato sauce, and three kinds of cheese singing opera across his taste buds.
“Hey, Gordo.” Gord opened his eyes to see his friend Rex Kane, the gym teacher, leaning across the table to steal a fry. “What you smilin’ at? You look like the canary that swallowed the cat.”
“I was thinking about Ziti,” he said, and as the plate of baked pasta in his mind turned back to his lovely daughter’s face, his smile disappeared. “I can’t believe she’s going to be here this year.”
Rex said, “And you’ll get to have her in class. That ought to be cool.” Rex leaned across to grab another fry, but Gord’s hand came down like a hammer, pinning Rex’s limb to the tabletop. Gord wrinkled his forehead and shook his head. Red-faced, Rex withdrew his hand without a fry.
“Actually,” Gord said as he circled one arm around his food and swept it closer to him, “I’m finding myself a bit disconcerted with Ziti coming here.”
Maxwell Prentiss-Hall, the school counselor, had just sat down at the table beside the other two teachers. As he pulled a carrot stick from the Justin Bieber lunchbox his homeroom had given him on his last birthday, he said, “Are you worried about her, Gord? That’s pretty normal for parents to worry. She’ll be fine.”
“No, I’m not worried about Ziti at all,” Gord said. “She’s ready for high school. The problem isn’t with her. It’s with me. I . . . um, I guess I feel like I’ve not really done a very good job teaching for the last fifteen years.”
“What are you talkin’ about?” Rex said. “You da man, Gordo. Who came up with that whole elephant clock project for the freshmen? Man, that was you! Who started the CAD drawing program at Bedlam? Man, that was you! And when Geoff Keily cut off his finger on the table saw, who put the pinkie on ice and drove it and Geoff to the hospital? Man, that was you!”
Gord shook his head, and realized that he actually felt so sad at that moment he wasn’t even hungry anymore. He slid one of his burgers and a small fry toward Rex and said, “Rex, please don’t make a joke of this. I am being serious.”
Maxwell said, “What exactly are you feeling, Gord? Explain.”
“Oh, here we go,” Rex said around a mouth full of fries. “Maxie-boy is going to go therapist on us.”
Gord turned in his seat so that Rex was behind him. Looking at Maxwell, he said, “You know, I’ve taught for fifteen years, and I always said I cared about the kids. And I did. I wasn’t lying. But now that Ziti is coming this fall . . . I don’t know. She means the world to me. She only deserves the very, very best. And when I think about that, then I start realizing that every kid at Bedlam, every kid I’ve ever had in class, meant the world to somebody. Every kid has deserved the very best I have to offer. And I don’t know that I’ve really given my very best day in and day out.”
Rex smiled around the burger he was eating. “Relax, Gordy-boy. Get your game face on. Don’t let good enough ever be enough. Push it to the wall and beyond, my friend. Just give 110 percent, and remember there is no ‘I’ in team. No pain, no gain, and the winning will take care of itself.”
Silence fell, as it often did when Rex spoke. Both Gord and Maxwell tried to hack their way to meaning through Rex’s jungle of clichés. Gord finally spoke. “Rex, how can anyone give 110 percent? That’s impossible. It would be like making a straight line more than a 180-degree angle. It’s impossible.”
“If anybody could measure an angle that way, Gord, it would be you,” said Rex. “You just have to succeed beyond your potential.”
Maxwell cleared his throat. “Rex, I don’t want to interrupt your pep talk. And I certainly wouldn’t want to ‘go therapist’ on anybody. But it does occur to me that we need to recognize a couple of things. We say that we believe that we are sinful and broken. That always seems like a bad thing when we think about it, but I think that realization is also a gift from God. God knows we are flawed human beings. He doesn’t expect us to be able to save ourselves—that’s what Jesus does. Our job is to be thankful, by living our lives as best we can to God’s glory. And that doesn’t mean worrying about doing a perfect job or giving 110 percent.”
He shot a look toward Rex, who seemed oblivious as he licked fry grease from his fingertips. Maxwell continued, “It means doing what we do out of gratefulness for what God has done for us. So you can answer your calling with thankfulness rather than guilt—and do the best you possibly can for your students, including young Ziti. Of course you’ll mess up from time to time, but God will be there, and he will take care of your students, even when you let them down. I find in my job, it helps a lot to remember that.”
Gord nodded and was quiet for a moment, then a smile slowly spread across his face. He wiped his greasy hand on his shop apron and shook Maxwell’s hand. “Thanks, Max. That actually helps, I think.”
Max and Gord both left. They had a lot of work to finish before students arrived in two days. Rex, however, sat back in his chair. He reflected that Max might have a point, and wondered if there might be a market for posters for Christian school gyms that might say something like “Give as close to 100 percent as you can, but more importantly, do it for God with thankfulness in your heart,” or, “No gratitude, no gain,” or maybe, “There’s no ‘u’ in perfection.”
Jan Karsvlaam has recently been diagnosed with Attention Surplus Disorder. This newly discovered condition affects millions of people worldwide. Jan is working on a book about his road to diagnosis tentatively titled, Sorry Honey, I Forgot to Pick Up the Milk On My Way Home Because There Was This Really Interesting Lecture on the Radio About Thirteenth Century Latvian Poetry and Then I Kind of Got Focused on the Leaves on This One Tree and Then, Well, Have You Ever Really Looked Closely at the Upholstery in the Car? My Journey with ASD. So far, Jan is having trouble writing anything beyond the title.