My Mother's Teacher


The wave in a pond

does not recall the pebble

but still carries on.

- Japanese Haiku


This is not a story with a happy ending.

Phyllis Worsham was my mother's favorite teacher. She was young and pretty and married a football coach in town who had recently lost his wife.

She became a mother to his children and, on certain days, would play the piano in her classroom for her students.

My mother can recall nearly everything about her - down to her perfume. During the school year, Mrs. Worsham tried to drive a truck, with her stepchildren, through high flood water. The water was higher than she thought. It swept them out of the truck, and they all drowned.

The first time I heard this story was only a few months ago, but it devastated me. My mother cried recounting it.

I'm not trying to be depressing, but that story has been on my mind. It makes me think about the decisions I make every day.

Phyllis Worsham was a pebble. My mother was one of her waves. The things that go on in the most regular hours of our day, the conversations we have with our kids, the work we do - it goes past us....long past us.

I think it tends to be very small decisions that life hinges on. The time you left the house a little later than usual, what someone told you the day you were ready to give up, telling a kid they matter, and them hearing it becoming a revelation to them - though you may never know.

Jefferson Street Boxing Club will be a “pebbles in the pond” type of place.

God and grades will come before gloves, but the gloves will matter.

Above every other sport, boxing is the life metaphor, and as Ian Humphrey would say, “It’s not about the knockdown – it’s about the Get-up”.

If you watch the end of the Tyson-Douglas fight, when Tyson goes down, he looks completely lost...fumbling for his mouthpiece.  He had no idea how to get up.

That fight was just supposed to be a warm-up for Holyfield, and even though they wouldn't meet for 6 more years, Holyfield said, "I don't believe there is a man in this world that can't be beaten." Of course, Holyfield is right. And, though he is the only 5 time HW Champion in history, he lost 10 fights.

Holyfield knows about losing. Most of the big-hearted, iron-chinned people do.

Our current culture teaches all of us that safety is the most important thing and that we are always in danger.  Consequently, we raise people who, once knocked down, aren’t quite sure how to get up or wonder if they should even bother.  Nowadays, the knockdowns are unexpected as we foolishly try to create a world where they never happen.

I wonder sometimes how much of our world ends up being our choice and how much is chance, and I wonder how much say we have over the knockdowns.  We spend so much time trying to avoid our own knockdowns (and those of our children) that we miss the opportunity they present.

Without the knockdown, we can never learn how to get up.

One of the purposes of our boxing club will be embracing life the way it is.  And, while mostly, this will be a place where energy is expended on bags, we will be talking a great deal about knockdowns: physical, emotional, and spiritual ones.  In order to live life, we all have to learn how to break just a little.

Jefferson Street Boxing Club is about loving our kids “in the future”. 

My mother would have been 9 when Mrs. Worsham died.  I can imagine my mother being an upset child and maybe telling no one what had just floored her.  I can imagine a 9 year old waiting until it’s time to sleep to cry and pray for answers. 

If I could go back in time and comfort my mother, I would.  I would tell her that we are ignorant of the grand design, but that I have deep faith there is one.  I would tell her that maybe Mrs. Worsham's story isn't over and that maybe half a century later, the wave she made for my mother would carry her onward.

I would tell her that Mrs. Worsham was a pebble.  I would tell her that we are all pebbles.

J. M.