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Keillor writes: "I stopped in a cafe on Sunday after church to get awakened from a feeling of blessedness and who should I run into but my Anoka High School gym teacher Stan Nelson, who is 99 years old and still talking and making sense."

Garrison Keillor. (photo: MPR)
Garrison Keillor. (photo: MPR)


The Pleasure of Running Into Stan on Sunday

By Garrison Keillor, Garrison Keillor's Blog

21 July 19

 

stopped in a cafe on Sunday after church to get awakened from a feeling of blessedness and who should I run into but my Anoka High School gym teacher Stan Nelson, who is 99 years old and still talking and making sense. He looked at me and said, “Are you still having trouble with chin-ups and the rope climb?” I was 17 at the time and now I’m 76, and I told him that I’ve managed to stay out of situations that might require me to climb a rope or lift myself up by a horizontal bar, so the answer is, No, it’s no trouble at all.

“You’re looking good,” he said. He’s looking good too, hearty and keen, as if 99 is what he was aiming for all along. “You flunked the physical for football, didn’t you,” he said. I said, “Yes. Heart valve. They fixed it in 2001.” I opened my shirt and showed him the surgical scar on my sternum. He said he didn’t think I would’ve liked football anyway. I agreed with him about that.

It made me happy to see a man of 99 enjoying his life. It puts everything else into perspective, all the mopey poetry I wrote in college, the long single-spaced anguished letters written to friends under the influence of Kafka and Kierkegaard. Self-conscious misery is for the young; old age is the time to cheer up.

I was brought up by people who went through the Great Depression and the war and who told me how hard life could be and I matriculated into prosperous times when I put myself through college working part-time in the scullery and could still have a beer now and then. I’ve been independent ever since. I never confided my problems to anybody; I just let them go unexpressed and eventually they blew away like dry leaves. Or they became quirks. I was lucky. I married well. I got my heart sewn up by a surgeon and now I’m older than most of my aunts and uncles. I went to church and was forgiven and took Communion and now my old gym teacher is pleased to see me.

Minneapolis is near where I grew up on the Mississippi. The city has risen, spread, renovated, beautified itself since I was a boy — the old factories and warehouses are now expensive condos — and it’s lovely to walk around the old hometown, one foot in the past, while looking at the unimaginable present, the enormous towers, the male couples, the young women checking their cellphones, the ordinariness of being among people of color: that didn’t exist back then.

I’m at peace with all of it and a great deal more. The children of my friends are engaged in good works, trying to help people addicted to opioids and heroin whose lives have fallen apart, who live in ragged encampments, desperate families with small children, a scene of wretchedness out of Dickens’s Oliver Twist in the midst of my prospering city. I admire the doers of good works. I worry that they’ll forget to go to the state fair and ride the Ferris wheel in the dark and laugh and enjoy their cheese curds.

Life is good. Power and influence are illusory. Rich people often get lousy health care. Doctors don’t give thorough digital prostate exams to CEOs. Famous people are more likely to die in stupid accidents because their handlers are afraid to say, “Stop. That’s crazy.”

We live in treacherous times but so did Thomas Keillor who survived the five week voyage from Yorkshire in 1774 and my ancestor Prudence Crandall who got booted out of Connecticut in 1831 for admitting young women of color to her school and so she fled to Kansas where she campaigned for women’s suffrage. She was a Methodist. I like to imagine her sitting on a porch in Kansas, writing fierce polemics against male supremacy and the racist killjoys who blight the landscape, and at the same time enjoying the music of meadowlarks and the taste of tomatoes eaten off the vine and the pleasure of shade in the midst of brilliance. To change the world, you must start out by loving it. It’s fine to march but don’t forget to dance. The Lord is gracious. Come unto his gates with thanksgiving. In other words, get over yourself. It isn’t about you. Grab the rope and pull yourself up. Try. Try again.

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+10 # shudderer 2019-07-21 09:45
I woke this morning thinking of words
do we need new words for new ideas of how to live. So much baggage come with all the words we know. A mean twisting of meaning, the mean meaning of who we can be and become.
Then the first thing I see is, these tired old words of Garrison, giving, generous, meaningful, thoughts, that replenish. thanks
 
 
+15 # tedrey 2019-07-21 12:12
"To change the world, you must start out by loving it."

Good reminder. Thank you again, Garrison.
 
 
+6 # logical1 2019-07-21 13:21
I had trouble with the roe climb too. To get on the Presidents list it was a 12 second climb not using feet. I made 13 seconds several times.
Now I do not climb roe or do pull-ups.
Maturity is for having fun (until your wife gets dementia and drives you crazy) lol
 
 
+15 # wipster 2019-07-21 13:27
Thank you Garrison Keillor... it's obvious from your recent writings that you haven't lost a step either.

Keep 'em coming mate, you never cease to make my day!
 
 
-15 # BKnowswhitt 2019-07-21 14:06
Obviously this is a great guy. Treacherous times have existed from the beginning of man up to right now. Man's heart was corrupted early on if you understand the Bible. The World is corrupted via the Prince of Darkness who is in it and OF the World. This country was founded on Christian principles & what Christ did dying for our sins. God so loves us he sacrificed his son for all of mankind. Loving the World .. No Way .. but he's got it partly correct ..
 
 
+2 # elizabethblock 2019-07-21 21:08
" Self-conscious misery is for the young; old age is the time to cheer up." Yes. Young people, remember: It gets better.

And Prudence Crandall - your ancestor? Wonderful. Sally Rogers wrote a song about her. It's on YouTube, look it up.
 
 
+5 # kcmwilson 2019-07-21 22:27
It is wonderful when the past stands up a mirror to show us who we were and how far we've come to be here now. This world is truly a wonderful place and we should all care for it and all who inhabit this Earth. We are all on the same boat and there is no reason not to care for and about all life on this little spinning raft.
 

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