We walk through this life - or sometimes crawl or at other times jog - and we come in contact with thousands of people, some who become friends and others mere acquaintances. We laugh, we talk, we cry. We pick one another up and tear one another down. We get mad at one another and hold grudges and seek forgiveness and experience all the emotions that God in his infinite wisdom programmed into us.
And sometimes we tell people what they mean to us and sometimes we don't. Sometimes we are aware of the impact we make on the lives of people and sometimes we aren't. And sometimes confirmation of that impact comes when we least expect it.
Such was the case last winter when I was invited to speak at the Newton County Public Library. A quite large contingent was on hand when I arrived, including a gentle giant of a man that I hadn't seen in close to 30 years, Trent Belcher.
Trent played on the football and basketball teams that I coached at Cousins Middle School back in the mid-70s. That would be the 1970s - in the previous century and in a previous life. He had read about my pending appearance at the library and taken time out of his day to drop by and see his old coach and to tell him "thank you" for making a difference in his life.
I have coached hundreds and hundreds of kids. Many have gone on to do great things but few have ever bothered to go out of their way to say thanks. And, I have never expected them to. That's just not the order of things and, besides, I owe a lot more to the students I coached than they owe to me.
But Trent Belcher went out of his way to make sure I knew that he appreciated the hours and hours and hours we spent together during his formative years.
He had very nice things to say and gave me far more credit than I deserved for setting him on the right path in life. During our conversation I happened to mention to Trent that we needed to get all the guys together, for a reunion of sorts to relive the old days and swap stories and just have a good time reminiscing and catching up.
You know how that is. You see someone you haven't seen in a long time and you automatically talk about getting the guys together. Only you never do.
Except Trent did. In the early spring Trent started calling me, ready to do whatever necessary to make the proposed reunion a reality. Don't get me wrong. I wanted it to happen, but Trent was committed to making it happen.
Time after time, week after week, Trent would call and prompt me to do this little task or that little task and would keep me updated on who he had contacted and who he was still looking for and who was available and who wasn't. For months Trent worked on our get-together.
Several times he came to see me. Usually his visits were unscheduled and unannounced. One of the kids would look out the window and see his truck coming down the driveway and come running to tell me that "the great big guy" was coming to see me.
We would sit on the front porch and rock and swap stories and share memories - good and bad - while planning the menu for our upcoming party, deciding who was responsible for bringing what and sharing news about the guest list. I could tell that the reunion was a big, big deal to Trent - just as it was to me.
And thanks to Trent the party went off without a hitch. Forty or 50 folks gathered to eat barbecue and rekindle old memories and a good time, as they say, was had by all.
As the evening began to wind down and as people started looking at their watches and planning their exits, Trent stood up, commanding everyone's attention by his mere presence, and made one of the most eloquent speeches I have ever heard in tribute to his teammates and his old coach - me. I was moved to tears. At the conclusion of his remarks Trent presented me with a commemorative plaque, one of the most prized awards I have ever received.
As we said our goodbyes, we promised to keep in touch and to make our reunion an annual event. Quite frankly, the attention Trent gave me came at an opportune time and made me feel appreciated when I very much needed to feel appreciated.
My family and I left for our summer vacation a couple of days later. We returned to a flooded house and real life and the weeks turned into months, and I talked to Trent a couple of times and that was that.
Until Sunday night. Sunday night I came in from church and checked my e-mail and found one telling me that Trent Belcher had passed away, suddenly and unexpectedly, Saturday night. His funeral will be Thursday at 1 o'clock at Grace United Methodist Church. I hope all his friends and former teammates get the word and show up to pay their respects. And I hope Trent Belcher knew that his old coach loved him.