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Just when you think no one is watching

“Now, remember,” I coached, “when Bill gets here you say, ‘Nice to meet you,’ and shake his hand. Like this,” I held out my hand and grasped the soft, chubby little fingers of my toddlers and demonstrated a proper handshake.

Bill was my husband’s newly-acquainted friend and he was recently retired, if by “retired” you mean running an executive leadership business, serving on several nonprofit boards, and skiing 100 days a year. Bill’s list of activities and interests is both inspiring and exhausting.

So we took advantage of the opportunity to teach our kids a few introductory manners before his arrival that night 10 years ago, and they took advantage of the moment to run around the house in their PJs like Tasmanian devils shaking hands and shouting at the tops of their lungs, “Nice to meet you!” They flailed their arms in mock handshaking motion and repeated their mantra over and over (and over) again, until, in a fit of laughter, they were reduced to an absolute puddle on the living room floor.



I groaned.

Miraculously, however, by the time Bill and his friend Susan arrived, our two toddlers had calmed down enough to execute their introduction perfectly, impressing both adults with their manners.



As it turns out, the fits of laughter would have been OK, too.

Ten years into our friendship, it’s obvious now that this is a couple who has struck a balance in life, and in so doing, strikes a chord with everyone they meet. Together, as well as individually, they have a passion for public service, an appetite for the great outdoors, an eagerness to be involved ” indeed, a very zest for life ” and at the end of the day they aren’t above sitting on the floor in a puddle of laughter with somebody else’s kids.

Both my husband and I have been the recipients of Bill’s and Susan’s much-sought-after advice, and the beneficiaries of their warm encouragement. But it’s the other stuff, the details you notice without really noticing ” the whole zest for life thing ” those are the bits and pieces of our friendship that Bill and Susan are blithely unaware have influenced our family. It’s amazing what can be taught when you think no one is actually watching.

Much of our time together has been spent on the ski slopes, and over the last decade Bill has coached my kids down the steepest terrain, spotted their craziest jumps and raced them to the bottom of the mountain. Along the way he has gently corrected them when necessary and always encouraged their own passionate pursuits. He and Susan have cheered my kids’ onstage performances and tolerated more than a few living room solos. To say they were surrogate grandparents would be an overstatement; they’ve got their own big blended family for that. But to say they served as gentle and genteel inspiration would not.

So now, on the occasion of their move to warmer climes, it’s easy to begin missing their influence. It’s a rare thing when people can actually take a lifetime of accumulated wisdom, share it with their community and make a difference along the way. Thankfully, to simply ride off into the sunset isn’t an option for some folks. It’s been said that a life which is empty of purpose until 65 will not suddenly become filled on retirement. Conversely, it seems then, a life filled with purpose becomes richer upon retirement, and benefits everyone lucky enough to be touched by it.

I asked Ben (he, who led the charge that fateful night, running circles around the living room in anticipation of our first meeting) what he liked most about Bill. He thought for a moment and said, “He’s just so … amiable.” Good word. Thank you, “Caesar’s English.”

“What about that do you like?” I dug a little deeper.

“Well, who wouldn’t want to be known as an amiable person?” he said simply. Just one more lesson taught when they thought no one was watching.

Charla Belinski’s columns run every other Sunday in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.


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