There comes a desire to discard the old and bring back the new. Cynthia Clawson sang a great number titled, “Bring Back the New Again.” I want to bring back the new again. I take comfort in the statement by the writer, George Eliot: “it is never too late to be what you might have been.” Is that true? For I think back on my youthful, pre-heart surgery self, to a young man of deep faith, a Sunday School teacher and deacon, who thought seriously at one time of pursuing a ministerial calling rather than a career in academe.
The son of two honest-to-goodness Baptist saints, the like of which are hard to find in this postmodern world of constant sorrow, I was reared the old way. I refused and still refuse to place a lesser book on top of Holy Scripture. I participated in Bible drills. I memorized Bible verses in a contest at school led by my seventh grade teacher. And I was reprimanded by my mother and father for having gone into the poolroom three doors down from our family drugstore on the main drag (Highway 41-A) in Dixon, Ky.
And to be an athlete again. Is it “never too late to be what you might have been?” In the summer before my sixth grade year I began to play basketball seriously, and then for the next 10 years I literally never quit playing. Every waking hour, I played or was caught up in dreams of playing in high school and then in college.
I want to feel again the sweet, sweet exhaustion of playing basketball for 12 hours on a summer day, taking only short breaks for water and lunch. Or that one snowy Easter Sunday after my father preached the sunrise community service, when I cleared the outdoor court of snow and then tore apart a refrigerator box of cardboard to try to get even better footing, so as not to limit any time away from my individual drills. I shot baskets for a few hours before Sunday School and our regular worship service at First Baptist.
Several years later, Steve Duncan and I broke into the Webster County gymnasium to play there during Christmas break. When the principal found us, he saw who we were and turned and walked away. In high school, I threw up before almost every game. I could have been so much better if I had loosened up and simply enjoyed the game that I loved so much.
Then at Belmont University, I finally made it to a college that I learned to love and still love today. There in class and on the court I learned life lessons that served me so well for so long. The year after I graduated I played on a basketball team, Sports Ambassadors, in the Philippines, an experience that has stayed with me through the years. Of course, then I was young and thought I could do anything. Anything at all.
I married the love of my life, and Evelyn and I had Wesley and Cammie Jo, two perfect children. Of course, I am biased and know my wife and son and daughter are not perfect. They just seem perfect to me. As for me, I always fell far short of the mark, but they loved me anyway. Is it really “never too late to be what you might have been?”
Before and after teaching and coaching in the public schools, I attended graduate school at Baylor and the University of Kentucky. When I began teaching in colleges—Madisonville Community College in Kentucky and Williams Baptist College in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas—and at Murray State University, I tried to be an energetic scholar, full of vigor, full of promise, and full of the hopes and dreams of any youthful faculty member at the beginning of a career in higher education. I wanted to teach well. I wanted to write books. Good books. I wanted to make a difference. Now, thirty or so years later, that is the person I want to become again, even at this stage in my academic career.
Is it too late? Bring back the new again, I say. Oh, I am not scared to grow old. I just want to regain the urgency and expectancy of those youthful years when I had, as C. S. Lewis put it, “all my road before me.” Even though most of my road is in the rear view mirror, I still believe that it is never too late to bring back the new again.
Duane Bolin teaches in the Department of History at Murray State University and is a member with Evelyn at Murray’s First Baptist Church. Contact Duane at email@example.com.