Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Cut'em a Break Tuesday

Last night as Iris and I strolled through Great Barrington after dinner, we wandered up to the post office to mail a couple of letters. After pulling back the door of the outside mailbox and depositing the letters, Iris paused to pull the door back one more time just to make sure that the mail had actually dropped into the box.

As I watched her do this, I was suddenly carried back in time to being twenty-one and desperately seeking additional income. My wife Rene and I had returned from Boston to our home town of Wheaton, Illinois to await the arrival of our firstborn, Joy. We had arrived with just enough money to get by for a few weeks and I was looking for any work I could get.

Catching a Break
One day, I stopped by my old high school to visit with my former band director, Chet Balzer. For whatever reasons, Chet had always been able to see past all my foibles, rebelliousness and stupidity to find someone that was talented, capable and responsible, even when I couldn't see him. As we sat in the band room office talking, Chet was quick to pick up on what was going on and how he could help me.

While I sat there, he picked up the phone and called a friend who ran a fund-raising company that helped schools and non-profit organizations raise money by selling everything from Tootsie Rolls to honey to cheese and sausage. He told him that I was a great find and that he needed to hire me right away. The next day, I got a job driving a delivery truck for the Fund-raising Company of America.

Next, Chet told me that he could use some help with the high school jazz band. He hired me on the spot to direct the band providing me another five to ten hours of work per week. I left Chet's office feeling like a great burden had been lifted from my shoulders, confident that whatever happened, it was all going to work out.

Not Everyone Believes
I had a lot fun working with the high school jazz band, teaching them about improvisation, composition, arranging and how to play jazz. I put my heart into it and really worked hard to make the experience special.

Now the high school's head custodian wasn't as keen on me being around as Chet. From his perspective, the school didn't need a young, long-haired, jazz musician walking around with keys to the outside doors and to the band room. One Friday night, I was helping with the marching band as it performed for a football game. After the band was done, I went back into the building to put some things away. I was curious that both Chet and the custodian had decided to go to the band room at about the same time. As I move about the band room placing this here and packing that away there, the custodian and Chet sat in the band office talking.

Finally, I popped my head in the door saying that I was done and heading out. They decided that they were done as well and we walked back to the entrance that led to the football field. As we left the building, I stopped, turned around and pulled a couple of times on the exit doors to make sure that they were securely latched. Then turning back towards the field, I saw Chet extend his palm to the custodian saying, "OK, pay up."

Turns out that Chet had bet the custodian that not only would I make sure that everything was in place, but that I would double-check the door when I left to make sure that school was locked up tightly.

Seeing Iris double-check the mailbox tonight brought me back to that time in an amazingly vivid fashion. As I relived those moments, I was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude for Chet Balzer and all that he had done for me. I'm not sure that it was big deal for him. In fact, I'm pretty sure that it wasn't. However, it was a big deal for me.

So, last night, Iris and I sat Googling and Facebooking to see if we could find Chet, just so that I could thank him. As we did so, I considered how significantly we can help people when we cut them breaks, when we open doors for them, when we give them a chance. Oftentimes, the break doesn't seem like that big of a deal, but nonetheless, a big deal it can be.

So, I decided to declare today, Cut'em a Break Tuesday. If you'd like to join me in celebrating, it's quite easy. All you have to do is find someone who could use a break, just a little something going their way, and then, make it happen. It doesn't have to be anything big. It might just be a free cup of coffee or watching the kids for an hour or dropping off some groceries. It's quite amazing to me how significantly one can affect another's life with something simple and easy. I know that my life was forever changed by the simple act of Chet cutting me a break.

Happy Tuesday,

1 comment:

  1. Teflon,
    Thank you for the wonderful story - and reminder! We all need a Chet or two in our lives - and sometimes I have to remind myself to be my own Chet, too. Maybe the most beautiful thing about this story, besides the fact that Chet saw the real you and gave that kid a break, is that YOU, seemingly without knowing it consciously, were drawn to a mirror that held your true reflection. None of it would have happened if you hadn't stopped by to visit that day ... As always, you are an inspiring way to start my day. xx


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