In high school, I took an English class from a teacher named, Mr. Bobbitt. Mr. Bobbitt seemed “old” to me – he must have been about 50 when I was one of his students.
In class, Mr. Bobbitt would never let us use the word, “good”, to describe anything. He said the word revealed nothing about what we were discussing. “Good” was too generic and lacked definition. In class when a student would say something was good, Mr. Bobbitt would stop the conversation mid-sentence and say, “Please describe what you mean when you use the word ‘good’”. I really enjoyed this aspect of Mr. Bobbitt’s class because his request to flesh out the definition of something described as “good” led to some interesting stories in class.
What really surprised me about Mr. Bobbitt was one day when he showed up at one of my swim meets to watch me race. He walked down from the bleachers to greet me after one of my races.
When Mr. Bobbitt showed up poolside he looked a bit out of place. He did not seem the type of person who would like sports. The coaches, parents and swim team members were all dressed appropriately for a swim meet, each in casual attire. Mr. Bobbitt was dressed like an Oxford professor.
As Mr. Bobbitt talked with me, I began to appreciate the fact that he was there with me. I was not sure what to do or say. Deep down inside, I felt a bit honored that he had come.
When the next race started something strange happened. Firing off a pistol started each race. When the loud bang of the pistol went off, Mr. Bobbitt ducked down violently like a bullet had just been fired over his head. I thought the gunshot must have simply surprised him and he would know it was coming and be prepared when the next race started.
Over the course of the next hour, I saw Mr. Bobbitt duck down each time the pistol started a race. Because his reactions had become very obvious, Mr. Bobbitt explained why he was ducking down each time the starter pistol went off.
Mr. Bobbitt had been in World War II. He was an infantryman in the U.S. Army in Europe. He was in the heat of deadly battle. He had experienced the horror of war and the reality of someone trying to kill you. He had been trained to make himself as small a target as possible when bullets were fired. This is why he still had a reflexive response to duck down at the sound of a gun shot.
In the remaining months of English class, I looked at Mr. Bobbitt with a greater level of respect. I appreciated him as a teacher and him helping me understand why things needed to be described beyond the definition of “good”.
What really touched me most about his life was when he attended my swim meet. I could tell it was very painful for him to be around loud noises that reminded him of war. I could only imagine the pain inside his heart and mind when the sound of a weapon cracked. Maybe he saw images of friends dying. Maybe he saw a German soldier fall to the report of his own rifle. I will never know because it was not for me to ask.
Mr. Bobbitt taught me something about the value of supporting someone even when it is painful to do so. Mr. Bobbitt could have easily left the swim meet at the first report of the starter pistol. A quick explanation to me of WWII would have been enough as he walked away and I would have understood.
What touched me then, and still touches me today, is the value of his remaining in a painful situation so he could honor me by being present in my life. Mr. Bobbitt must have heard 20 loud pistol reports that day and he ducked down at each one.
To the other people who were poolside, Mr. Bobbitt must have looked strange, but not to me. The events I watched that day was the story behind the definition of Mr. Bobbitt when I say he was a good man.