The beginning of the school year is at hand. And, for me, that means I can feel the tide tugging at my blood again. I'm from a clan of educators - my ancestors were teachers, along with my parents, my brother, my wife.
Just as farm kids will always feel the upcoming harvest, teachers' kids always feel the fall school bells ringing in their bones.And despite what some say, I know teaching is not a way of doing "easy time." It's a thankless job, usually manned by thankful people.
"For a teacher," says BYU's Truman Madsen, "waiting for the result of your effort is like dropping a feather in the Grand Canyon and listening for the echo."
So today, let me drop a feather and make an echo.
Let me tell a few tales out-of-school about a teacher who gave me a moral compass to follow and showed me how to make religion work in my life.
He taught me back in the 1960s for about four years - though we never shared a classroom.
He was a Scout master, though Scouting skills were the least important things I learned from him.
Oh, he did drag me - kicking and screaming - into the ranks of the Eagles. And he taught me to cook, swim, hike and camp. He even hauled me out to knock bitterbrush berries from their branches so the deer would have winter forage.
He was a ham radio buff who drove a Porsche and laughed like Eddie Murphy.
He played the trumpet in church and took his daughters to the local dances.
He had an amazing rapport with American Indians.
In short, he was the most uncommon, common man in the county.
And he taught me one lesson I'll carry to my grave.
He taught me it is possible to be yourself and be a functioning, faithful member of a religious community at the same time. And for someone like me - a head-strong renegade who longs to belong - the model of Lewis J. Fish has always been a godsend.
Lew Fish moved easily in harness. He knew the importance of being himself, yet was never self-important. He had a knack for separating false pride from honest individualism. And he balanced his unique personality with the unique demands of his church better than anyone I've known.
A couple of years ago I wrote a short story for a Deseret Book collection called "Once Upon a Christmastime." In the story I invented a classy Mormon matriarch named Ivamae Hunsaker and gave her a full set of my favorite virtues:
When she entered a room, her first impulse was to smile and go from there. There was no guile in her . . . I admired her for being both firm and flexible in the faith - like the bendable birches in a Robert Frost poem.
I know every Utah town has an Ivamae Hunsaker. But only later did I realize my Ivamae was the mirror image of my devil-may-care, God-fearing Scoutmaster.
Almost 40 years after the fact, I was still finding ways of putting his example to good use.
I saw Lew again a couple of years ago when he stopped by my house to make sure I was doing well - keeping my matches dry, etc. Seems like he told me he was living in a solar-powered home in the high hills above Tocquerville, Utah.
Seems like he told me he had a radio antenna on the house that reached half-way to Ursa Minor.
We rehashed the old bitterbrush days and caught each other up on friends and family. He no longer had the Porsche, but he still had that Eddie Murphy laugh. And as I waved and watched him wheel off up the road, I remembered the feathers - the ones that teachers drop in the canyon, hoping at some point to hear an echo.
Back in 1962, Lew, you dropped a feather in that canyon.
It's been echoing ever since.
Thanks in large part to you, today there's one more aging mustang in the world learning - day by day - how to move easily in harness.