Anyone who knows me knows that I had an atypical high school experience. Instead of staying home for high school in my small New Jersey farm town with my parents and friends, I decided to go to a more academically-challenging boarding school in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. The thought process behind this decision was based on a number of factors, but it boiled down to me wanting to put myself in an environment where I would be pushed and challenged. Enter The Hill School. Founded in 1851, it was deemed the "Family Boarding School" where you ate meals with your peers and athletic teams and lived with your classmates and teachers. It was weird. And beautiful. And although I don't have a "typical/normal" high school experience to which I can compare, I'd say it was a pretty magical experience.
So why this post just after a new year has begun? Why this post when it's been nearly 9 years since I graduated from that "City on the Hill?" Well, this post came to me because of a package I received in the mail from my parents and a memento inside that remains very close to my heart: my high school softball glove.
I often wonder about the timing of things in life and the reasoning behind it (if there is any). As someone who believes everything happens for a reason, I know that there is a reason why I would receive this most special memento in the mail from my parents.
First of all, my parents know how hard it can be to live in Los Angeles and pursue a career with no set path or guaranteed result. My parents and my brother are my strongest supporters and always have been. We were raised in an extremely family-oriented household, and I know that if I were ever to need anything, I could pick up the phone and call them - no questions asked. Being that they understand (at least to a degree) the struggle of my intended career path, it is no surprise to me that they would send me a glove I scribbled on my freshman year of high school when I made Varsity Softball. The glove reads:
"If you think you are beaten, you are.
If you think you dare not, you don't!
If you like to win, but think you can't,
It's almost a cinch you won't.
If you think you'll lose, you're lost,
for out in the world we find,
Success begins with a fellow's will;
It's all in the state of mind.
If you think you're outclassed, you are,
You've got to think high to rise,
You've got to be sure of yourself before
You can ever win a prize.
Life's battles don't always go
To the stronger or faster man.
But sooner or later, the man who wins,
is the man who THINKS HE CAN."
I would often read this to myself at practice or during games if I were ever having a bad day or doubting myself. My coach would occasionally have me read it to him, discussing the significance of it at seated dinners in the Harry Potter-esque dining hall where we'd have team meals. That coach, Mr. Long, was the closest person I had to a parental figure away from home. Not having a family of his own, the boys on the football team, the boys who lived on his hall, the kids in his classes, and the girls on Varsity softball - we were his kids. He was the epitome of what it meant to be a part of the "Family Boarding School." I still remember getting a call the summer before my 6th Form Year from our assistant coach to let me know he had passed away suddenly. It all felt very surreal that this person who had taken a chance on a 3rd Former and put her in as the Varsity Center Fielder, who had watched and encouraged her growth on and off the field, who taught her valuable life lessons, and who had told her that he had no doubt she'd be an All-MAPL Captain her 6th Form Year was suddenly gone. Just like that. I remember feeling a swell of pain and guilt, wondering if he knew just how much he meant to all of his students, his athletes, his kids. When fall semester rolled around, I read a piece I'd written for Coach Long at a Memorial Service held for him on campus, along with a couple other students. It was clear to me then, more than ever, just how large an impact he'd had on his kids and just how much we all loved him. And I knew then that if I felt that way after a few students' carefully constructed, heartfelt writings, then he must have felt an abundance of love.
Receiving this glove is not only a beautiful reminder of the days I spent on the softball field with the best coach I've ever had, but it is also a reminder that everything comes down to a person's state of mind. I did end up becoming an All-MAPL Center Fielder and team captain my 6th Form year, and I can only imagine Coach Long smiling down with an "I told you so" state of mind.
We all have people in our lives who push us to be better and never stop believing in us even when we have our own moments of self-doubt. Cherish those people because they mean it. Coach Long never stopped believing in me, and I think that's why he was also so interested in my life off the softball field. He taught English, but I never had the joy of taking one of his classes because I was in Honors and APs all through high school, but looking back at some of our conversations at seated meals, he was always interested in my writing and what I thought about whatever material I was reading at the moment. Most of those conversations are a distant memory now, but they are some of the warmest, kindest memories I have. It's so rare to find someone who so earnestly believes in you who wants nothing from you but for you to succeed and to see the potential and talent in yourself. I often wish I'd had more time with him. I didn't get the chance to read Hamlet until my AP class in my 6th Form Year, but my teacher Mr. Rigg, who was also the school's Chaplain, told me it was one of Mr. Long's favorites as we sat down to go over the aforementioned Memorial piece I'd written in honor of Mr. Long in early fall of my 6th Form year. Mr. Rigg then did one of the kindest things for me anyone has ever done. As we were there, talking about life and death and the role God plays in all things - the "vertical element" - and Mr. Long's love for Hamlet, Mr. Rigg stood up, walked over to his book shelf, and removed a copy of Hamlet. It had "LONG" in big, bold letters written along the outside pages. It was my coach's copy. Mr. Rigg was going to keep it as he and Mr. Long were good friends, but instead, he gave it to me. I will probably never be able to thank Mr. Rigg enough for that kindness he showed me. Not only did he provide me with something that I still have that remains near and dear to my heart, but he also showed me a renewed sense of hope that somehow I'd be able to figure out my last year at boarding school without Coach Long's wisdom, support, and contagious laughter. It was the kind of simple, pure gesture that I had come to know and cherish from Mr. Long, and it was the small thing that helped push me along into knowing everything was going to be okay.
Receiving this glove obviously stirs up a lot of memories and feelings, but above all, it is a reminder to never give up on yourself. Sometimes horrible things can happen so instantly they take your breath away, but as long as you keep plugging along, believing in yourself, cherishing those who believe in you, and thinking you can, you will be the person who wins. Never give up.
"Now cracks a noble heart. Good-night, sweet prince; And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest." - (Shakespeare V. ii. 358-360) - RIP Coach Long. Thank you for never ever ever letting me doubt myself. And for beautiful conversations over coffee about English literature and language.