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Seeing It Through Their Eyes

The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.  – Mark Van Doren

 Have you ever noticed that sometimes your greatest lessons come from the least likely sources?

InfluenceTick down the list of people you’d expect to influence your personal compass and shape the lens through which you look at the world. Your parents? How about a Pastor or Rabbi? A special coach? Maybe a college professor? There has to be a close friend or two, right?  Those roles would make sense – after all, they’re the people who are supposed to be guiding us, for good or for bad.  Now think about the people who have actually had the greatest impact on you. Any surprises?

I’ve got one. When I was in college, there was a friend who influenced me in small, but very profound, ways. He was the kind of student the William and Mary administrators would never include in their marketing brochures. He was also the kind of guy you’d warn your daughter to stay away from. But you – and they – would be making a mistake.

Mase was a fraternity brother of mine, and two years ahead of me in school. At least he started two years ahead of me. He was on the “five year plan,” so I got to spend a lot of time with him. William and Mary can be pretty button-down (lots of khaki and oxford cloth), but Mase went from t-shirt to flannel shirt, depending on the temperature outside. He spoke his mind, and if he didn’t like you, he’d tell you. To your face. With great delight. He drove a pick-up truck long before it was fashionable. He played rugby and listened to the Grateful Dead.

To say Mase was rough and tumble was an understatement. A friend was attacked by a Townie at the Dirty Deli (technically, the Prince George Deli) with a shard of glass from a broken pitcher.  Mase sprung into action, overturning a table and hitting the largest guy in the room over the head with a glass pitcher. One of those heavy suckers. I’m sure there were a half dozen Townies who were haunted for weeks by the echo of his crazed laugh as they scrambled out the door.

Grand IlluminationOne winter Mase and I went down to Merchant Square on DOG (Duke of Gloucester) Street for the annual Christmas ceremony called Grand Illumination. The ceremony begins with lighting candles in the windows of the Wren Building, on the eastern tip of the W&M campus. Candles (mostly electric) are lit in succession in the windows between there and the Capitol Building, precisely one mile away. Once the candles are all aglow – which is quite a site in itself – several bonfires are lit, and the festival begins. At each bonfire is a different group of performers: carolers, fife and drum corps, fiddlers, etc.

We arrived just as the candlelight was racing from one building to the next, and the people around us murmured with delight. As soon as the Capitol lights were lit, Mase’s eyes were darting through the crowd.

“What are you looking for?”

He pointed.  A woman stood with her two kids, a boy and a girl.  I guessed they were five and three.

I didn’t comprehend. “What about them?” I asked.

“Karl, this is the best part of Grand Illumination. You need to see it through their eyes. Adults look at this stuff and think it’s a nice tradition, it’s a great way to kick off Christmas.  But if you see it through the eyes of a kid, it’s special.  It’s magical.”

Before I could react, Mase was making a beeline over to the trio. I could see the kids grinning and the mother gave a nervous, but polite smile.

“Exuse me, ma’am, we’d like to borrow your kids.”

She arched an eyebrow warily and drew her kids close.

Mase grinned. “ Ma’am, your kids are waist-high and thigh- high in this crowd.  That’s no way to see Grand Illumination.  Let us put them on our shoulders.”

She hesitated.

“You can stay with us,” he assured her. He gestured to the kids. “Come on.”

The kids bolted from her grip and reached out their arms to both of us. The woman started to protest, then shot me a panicked look.

I was tempted to say, “He’s not as crazy as he looks,” but merely shrugged my shoulders. I could tell she was holding her breath as I picked up her son. Her daughter was already squealing with delight on Mase’s shoulders.

“Let’s go!” he shouted, and off we went, with mom struggling – but determined – to keep up.

For the next two hours we had a blast.  We sang Christmas carols.  We stood at attention for the fife and drum corps. We took a vote on whether the fiddler was scary-looking (he was – it was unanimous).  We sipped hot chocolate and shared what we wanted for Christmas.  And we laughed until it hurt.

As we said our good-byes that night, Mase got a hard, moist-eyed hug from the mother. She thanked us both for giving her kids such a special night.

I’m sure within six months, it was a fond memory for Mase, but lost in a lot of other special moments.  Mase gets more enjoyment out of the little things than anyone I know: a good steak on the grill, a beautiful sunset, or just the right amount of foam on a draft beer.  It’s the way he lives life.

Through the eyes of a childFor me, that night remains a vivid memory.  Seeing a spectacular event through the eyes of a child was special in it’s own right.  But that night serves as a reminder for me to ask, “whose eyes should I be looking through to maximize the experience?” It also makes me challenge myself to notice beauty, and discover those amazing moments – every day.

 

Although we lost touch for a period of time, I wasn’t surprised to find out that Mase is a high school teacher and he coaches soccer and cross country.  I’m pleased. He can impact hundreds of kids and give them a touchstone to carry with them so they can discover all that the world has to offer.  Just like he gave me.

Next time you hear about the teacher or coach who looks like a bit of a hell-raiser, with a crazy gleam in his eye, take a closer look before you panic. And next time you find yourself looking at the world with a jaded eye, consider whose eyes you need to be looking through.  Make it special.  Make it magical.

 

Note: Mase serves as the inspiration for a character named Bo Robertson in my upcoming book Castro’s Shadow.

17 Comments Post a comment
  1. Dale Garner #

    Great Story Karl,

    You’re absolutely right about Mase. We rigged together at concerts over at the Hall. Clapton was playing and his roadie was out and out rude, not that Mase described him that way. After taking just enough, Mase explained to this guy what the next few minutes were going to represent. The guy crawled down the cables to the stage and we finished in peace. I was so impressed. Tons of memories of the big guy and was real happy to speak with him recently.

    February 16, 2012
    • Karl Sprague #

      Dale, that sounds like him: self-aware, little fear, and not going to stand for something that’s not kosher. He’d have made a great knight in another era. BTW, the stage crew and security jobs we had in school were great gigs. We saw some fantastic shows – and the running commentaries from Mason,Denny & Bobby Young were just icing on the cake.

      February 16, 2012
  2. Michele Bradshaw #

    That’s a great story, Karl! It brought back great memories of Grand Illumination, the Dirty Deli and Mase. Those were good times!

    February 17, 2012
    • Karl Sprague #

      Michele, those were some great times. I suspect that the Masons and the Bradshaws of the world are continuing to generate great times – and some of us have been pleased to go along for the ride. – Karl

      February 17, 2012
  3. Mel #

    Karl,

    That’s a great story. I know Mike Mason fairly well, he coached me for 4 years and taught me, in class for 1, but in life for 4 also. I was never one for formalities, so I always knew him as Mase. Much like you, it seems. It delights me to hear this story of his younger days, as it adds to my conviction that Mase is a great man with a grand heart. There are a great deal of people, I know personally, that have misjudged him. I hope they get the opportunity to read this story and maybe, just maybe, their eyes will be opened to the true essence of Mike Mason.

    Thanks for sharing.

    February 17, 2012
    • Karl Sprague #

      Mel, I’m glad you reached out to comment. You said something that nails Mase’s personality – a grand heart. When you’re willing to witness – and be touched by – his heart, you begin to see him as he really is. When you discount the rugby-playing guy who’s a little more direct than some people like – you miss out on an incredible human being. – Karl

      February 17, 2012
  4. Kaci (Cook) Durham #

    Mr. Sprague,

    Thank you for sharing this article about the one teacher/coach who truly saved my life! I played high school soccer for Mason in the early 90′s! I was not your typical student athelete though…I was mad at the world! When Mason became my coach we did not see eye to eye and we were both extremely stubborn. I had a pretty rotten attitude and by my junior year in high school I was flunking almost every class and to top it all off Mason kicked me off the soccer team! Soccer was my only reason for even attending school on a daily basis! I hated him! By the time my senior year rolled around I knew I was going to have to beg for another chance or walk away for good. By the grace of God Mason let me back on the team with one condition…I had to run cross-country and finish every race! (I hated cross-county) I did it and he let me back on the team! I was voted co-captain of the team and never missed a game! Mason became an inspiration to me from that day forward! I am not sure he realized the impact that he had on my life, but I will be certified to teach in the Spring of 2013 because he never gave up on me! Thanks again!

    Kaci

    February 17, 2012
    • Karl Sprague #

      Kaci (and call me Karl!), what an awesome story. Sometimes people like Coach Mason don’t even know the impact that they have on people. Please keep me posted on your career as a teacher. You have an incredible opportunity to “pay it forward,” and impact the lives of your students. You and I share something very cool – the influence of Mase. Thanks for sharing your story – and good luck!

      February 17, 2012
  5. Nevada #

    I’ve known Coach Mase for about 4 years. I met him as a freshman and played goalie for the school soccer team and the next year I ran cross country and played soccer, both, for him. I stuck with both till I graduated. The 25th will make 3 years since my house burned down. Coach Mase and Coach McGarry (the girls cross country coach and my Woodshop teacher for three years) were probably the first two people to really jump in and help me out.  Coach Mase is an incredible person and has really helped me out. Not only has he helped my family through a very difficult time but he has also helped me become who I am and keep a little of who I was. He was always there with helpful words when I got discouraged and when I was laying on the field crying from nearly breaking my ankle just weeks after my house fire he told me, “Don’t cry, don’t let the other team see you cry.” It made me laugh which made me cry more but helped out overall. Those words have stuck with me through the last couple years. I interpret them as him saying to stay strong and try not to show your weeknesses. Coach had a rule about using foul words OR negative words, if you said either you did 10 push ups. I’ve never cussed much and try not to say many negative things but I remember being assigned the consequence from him on a few occasions because of my own mouth and a few from his wife. The memories still pop into my head when I say a word that would get me push ups and I automatically correct myself. Thanks to that rule I didn’t hear as much cussing on the field as most sports would have and still have not picked it up. I cherish that because I never want to set a bad example for any kid and plan on having a couple of my own, someday and don’t want them picking it up, either. I’m glad that he’s one of the teachers and coaches thy really do care about each child in school. He’s taught me a lot and is one of my top four heros, my mom, dad, Coach Mase and Coach McGarry. They have been my biggest influences and I thank him greatly for always being there for me. 

    February 22, 2012
    • Karl Sprague #

      Nevada, you and I have something in common, and you said it better than I ever could. You said that Coach Mason “helped me become who I am and keep a little of who I was.” He’s not looking to change us completely, just to bring out the best that each of us can be. It doesn’t surprise me that Mase jumped in to help you after the fire – most of us sit around and think about how we might help – Mase just goes and does it. Thanks for letting me know your story – now I’ve added Coach McGarry to the list of people I need to meet! Best of luck to you.

      February 22, 2012
  6. Elizabeth #

    Thank you for this wonderful story about a coach that changed my life in high school. He told stories about cOllege but only ones that wouldn’t influence us negatively. Reading this I could seep tire him perfectly in my head, hear the laugh, see his great smile. He is by far one of the most influential people in my life and this describes him to a T . Cheers. And Coach McGarry is amazing as well, definitely a man you should meet.

    February 22, 2012
    • Karl Sprague #

      Elizabeth – we all hope to be influenced – positively – by a teacher, a coach, etc. I’m glad we both were influenced by Coach Mason. I, too, think about the laugh, the smile (along with that crazy gleam in his eye), and it makes me smile, too. Thanks.

      February 22, 2012
  7. Tim #

    Probably one of the nicest Gentleman you will ever meet. Im blessed to.be able to call this man family. Although I dont know anyone he doesnt treat like family. Haha.

    February 25, 2012
    • Karl Sprague #

      Tim, it’s always good to hear that some things never change. I haven’t seen Mase face to face in thirty years and there’s no doubt in my mind that if I called out of the blue at 3:00 a.m. and said I needed help, he’d reply “Whatever you need.” You’re right about “family”; you share him with a lot of us – and we’re grateful!

      February 25, 2012
  8. Bobby #

    I grew up a “few” years ago friends with one of Mike’s younger brothers. I really didn’t know Mike that well, but everything you wrote fits what I did know. He was always good to me even though I was the little brother’s friend. I do remember thinking he wasn’t the W&M type, but thought him one of the good guys in this world. Reading this story again makes me think about what’s important in the world, I guess Mike has taught another lesson in life.

    Cheers,

    Bobby

    October 11, 2012
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