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Timing is Everything

March 13, 2014

In our Bible classes there is a lot of joshing going on, almost from the first minute when the students come in the room.

We play off each other and it’s a great time. The students and I have a running routine.

I tease them about their eating habits.  They tease me about my age.  I tease them about their obsession with social media.  They tease me about my receding hairline.

Yesterday three girls came in and put their books on their desk between classes, readying for the day.  “Linda,” I said, “it’s about time you started thinking about your career, home, family and retirement…”

“Dr. Zockoll, I’m only fifteen,” replied Linda.

“Don’t interrupt me, woman,” I said.  “There’s no time like the present to start1bbb thinking about your career.  Especially marriage, the sacred institution.”

“What?” she cried.  Tanya, sitting next to her, started to giggle.

“Look, you’ve got to start planning now if you’re going to get that home in the suburbs and that SUV so you can go to the mall and shop every day while sipping a Starbucks that you so dearly love.”

“Listen, I – ”

“You see, I’ve been thinking about this, and since it’s Bible class, I’ve decided to adopt the mentality sometimes used in the Old Testament.”

Linda sat down and sighed.  “And what would that be?”

“Arranged marriage,” I said.  Linda squeezed her eyes and shook her head while Tanya covered her mouth.  I pointed over across the room to Jordan, who was furiously playing a game on his iPad.  He was oblivious to the world.

“Look at that fine young man,” I said.  “Totally absorbed in the high tech world – what a career choice. And,” I said with a knowing nod, “a career choice with substantial income, might I add.  Great marital choice for those who want to while away the afternoons burning through a credit card at Macy’s.  Consider him, shall we?”

Linda turned red.  “Oh, my goodness,” she said.  Amy came in and sat down, enjoying the scene.

“He’s a fine choice for an arranged marriage, I feel,” I said, swiveling in my desk chair.  “Let’s pursue this.”

“Don’t you dare,” warned Linda.

“Jordan,” I called.  “Oh, Jordan…”  He put his game on ‘pause’ and looked up.

“Jordan,” I continued, ignoring the steely stare aimed from Linda.  “Sir, what career path do you choose to follow?”

“Oh,” he smiled.  “Electronics.  I want to be an engineer.  Possibly work in Oak Ridge.”

I looked across the room to Linda and raised my eyebrows.  “Listen to that career, and imagine the salary.”  Jordan looked confused and went back to his game, but I pointed to Linda.  “Can I pick ’em or can I pick ’em?   You know, many of the ancient marriages were performed when the couple’s ages were quite young, so I say this weekend we can arrange a ceremony, all right?  Remember, I’m ordained and I only charge half-price.”

Doc-tor Zock-oll!” cried Linda while Tanya and Amy cracked up.

Oh, but I get my share of missiles as well.

“Sir, would you move to one side, away from the Power Point screen?” asked Dylan.

“Sure,” I said.  “Am I blocking your view?”

“Well,” he said, keeping a straight face.  “The projector’s reflection off of your scalp is blinding me.”  The place went nuts.

Who said Bible class needs to be morose?  Not us.

Yet, I’m often just as amazed at the times when the students converse in other ways.

In the midst of class-time joking one day, Amber shyly raised her hand and the noise subsided a bit.  “Would you remember my grandma?  She’s real sick, and she went to the hospital.  I keep thinking about her,” she said, blinking back the tears.  Immediately the class grew quiet and some nearby girls shifted over to wrap their arms around Amber.  The boys nodded and a few placed their hands on her shoulder.  We went to prayer and Amber’s peers took a whole new attitude.  It was time to comfort and be near.

Timing is everything, I’ve heard.

The fourth chapter of the book of Ephesians gives us a strong exhortation, seven words that could change someone’s day.  Maybe even their life:

“Be kind and compassionate to one another…”

I’ll hear soft words of encouragement in the hallway as I pass by a group of students.  Uplifting words to a fellow who suffered an injury and will sit out the rest of the sports season he worked so hard to enjoy.  Quiet words of comfort to a girl who suffered rejection in a relationship.  Firm words of loyalty in friendship to a student who is facing a severe battle at home as his parents scream and threaten divorce.

Kindness goes a long way, friends.

His name was Dyson and he was a sixty-year old head cook in our cafeteria.  His demeanor wasn’t a pleasant one.  Most school staff remember him for the two things he wore:  a Kansas City Chiefs football cap and an unyielding frown.  Every day.  Every minute.

“His food’s okay, I guess, as far as school lunches go, but he’s a pain to be around,” confided one teacher.  “Steer clear of him and just pick up your tray.”

The next week I had a planning period and I headed to the empty cafeteria to grab a coffee before I started grading essays.  Across the cafeteria I saw Dyson working alone, scowling and shoving trays into a gigantic oven.  As I made my way through the tables I kept my eye on him.  He was working feverishly, and may I say, amazingly fast.  He had his foot to the pedal, making every minute count before the first round of students arrived. He seemed tired.

I grabbed a cup and poured myself a coffee as Dyson carried a bin of lettuce nearby.

“Look, Dyson, I want to tell you something,” I said hesitatingly.

“Yeah?” He turned and scowled.  “What?”

I pointed to him.  “I admire the work you put in here.  You serve the school all these lunches, and you also fix the meals for the many church ministries.  I just wanted to tell you I appreciate the work you do.  You’re doing a good job, man.”

He stared at me.  At first I thought he was going to walk away, but then I realized he was processing what I had said.

He was processing a compliment.

He slowly nodded.  “Thanks.”  He never asked my name.  He walked away.

The next day I walked through to get my coffee and Dyson leaned over the counter.  “Hey.  You.”  I turned to him.  He motioned with a flick of his head.  “Come here.  Back here.”

I went into the kitchen.  “Take a look at this,” he said, removing a giant tray of stupendous-looking cinnamon rolls slathered in icing.  “For the senior citizen luncheon today.”

“Whoa,” I exclaimed.  “Those look great.  You’re like an artist.”

He slid a spatula under one,  dropped it on a plate and pushed it to me.  “That’s for you.” He stared into the oven.  “Goes good with coffee.”

“Really?  For me?” I asked.  “Hey, you didn’t need to…”

“It’s for you,” he repeated and went to the back cooler.

A few days later as I grabbed my coffee, there was Dyson leaning over the counter.  He looked right and left as if he were handing me CIA documents.  “Come here, got something to show you.”  I went to the back and he displayed a tray full of cakes.  Chocolate cakes, brother.  “Take one.”

And that continued on for weeks.  I would politely refuse, but not too hard.

“Hey, how do you keep getting stuff from that guy?” asked the science teacher, looking longingly at my dish of apple pie.

“It’s a secret.  I got connections,” I said, grinning.

Dyson opened up and we chatted about his job, his grandkids, his favorite sports teams and his hobbies.  Often I stood in the kitchen with him, snacking and chatting.  He wanted to talk.

Then the big day came.  It was late fall when Dyson leaned over the counter.  “Hey.  Come here.”

“Dyson, how are you doing?”

“Got something to show you.”  The smell from the kitchen was heavenly.  As I stepped into the back I gasped.  It was the apex of all meals, sitting right in front of me.

“I made the senior citizens’ luncheon for Thanksgiving,” he said proudly.  “What do you think?”  The table was loaded with holiday foods.

“It’s the Mona Lisa of meals, ” I said.  “You’re Da Vinci, my man.”

He turned and handed a tray to me.  You couldn’t see the tray for the food.  Turkey and gravy.  Mashed potatoes.  Peas and corn.  Stuffing.  Carrots. Cranberry sauce.  Even yams, for Pete’s sake.    I almost got emotional.  It was a work of art, which I was going to destroy in about five minutes.

“Dyson, you outdid yourself,” I said, holding the overloaded tray.  “I was planning on an iceberg lettuce salad for lunch.  I thank you very much.”

“Hey,” he shrugged.  “You’ve been nice to me.”

I sat down at the Teacher’s Table and heard the gasps.  “Hey, how did you get that?” asked the English teacher.  “Did you bribe Dyson or what?”

The science teacher came back.  “I tried to compliment Dyson to get some of that dinner, but he said I was just putting on an act.”  He frowned as he looked at my meal.

“Hey,” I teased.  “Timing is everything.”

But in reality, I had learned a valuable lesson: kindness goes a long way.

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