By Steve Svetovich
Life is a continuous series of changes. An old friend used to tell me that.
There was a young man only 21 who was trying to find his niche in life in the early 1980’s.
Life was confusing.
He was like a chameleon trying to turn from a young man into an adult.
It didn’t look easy out there in the real world and there were a lot of anxieties.
The transformation into the working world and learning how to fit in was something new all of a sudden.
The young man latched onto a job working in Central Supply at Mercy Hospital, Scranton.
Fitting in and learning something new was a bit scary.
And then an old wise man came along.
He was 34 years the young man’s senior. Even older than his dad.
But he never told his age. That was part of his persona. He was an enigma. He liked to keep everyone guessing.
The young man first met him two years earlier while working in Central Supply as part of a college work study program. Now he was his co-worker working with him on a full time basis.
The old wise man quickly became a mentor to the young adult, a bit wayward and unsure of himself.
He became not only a working comrad, but a life teacher.
He taught the young man a lot about life and how to cope in the working world.
He was full of cliches: Life is a continuous series of changes; The name of the game is protect yourself (and this applies in all areas of life); Nothing ventured, nothing gained; Some mature and others grow old; There are those who love to tell everyone they work hard and there are those who say nothing and actually work hard; There are enough workaholics in a work place to do most of the work; When you are single, enjoy being single. And when you are married, enjoy being married; Sometimes you just need to shrug your shoulders and let it slide; You need to develop a tough skin in life; Some people just have a major maladjustment; The definition of education is to bring the potential of the individual into actuality; There are grey areas in life. Not everything is black and white; Two plus two does not always equal four; Some look at the bottle as half full and others look at it as half empty; Did you ever go on a blind date and become blinded?
The older wise man had a mysterious aura. He told many stories and many tales, but revealed little about himself. “It is good to keep a certain mystery about yourself,” he would say.
He told many stories of his days in the Air Force and spending time in Greenland and Iceland and getting to learn the culture of Eskimos. He talked about traveling in the south, visiting Mexico and living in Washington, D.C..
He was a dance instructor at Arthur Murray Dance Studio and basketball star at Scranton Central, but rarely spoke of his heroics.
With a calm and dry wit, nothing seemed to phase him.
He often spoke of an opportunity to become league scoring leader in high school basketball. It was halftime and his team led by a huge margin. He only needed two points to become the scoring leader, but the coach took him and the rest of the starters out instead. When asked if he was disappointed or angry in not having the chance to score two more points, he shrugged and said, “No, the coach wanted to get the reserves in the game. Instead of breaking the scoring record, I learned a lesson about the value of team work and being a good teammate.” His eyes would swell up when he told the story.
He married later in life and raised two boys and a girl. They were his biggest accomplishments in life and his eyes glowed when he spoke of them.
He cherished nothing more than his wife Jean and three children: Bill, Jr.; Chris and Jeannie.
He often told a story about walking into Farley’s in downtown Scranton. He asked for an egg, but was quickly told by the waitress one egg was not on the menu. “You mean you don’t know how to make an egg?” he asked before walking out. An example of his point that not everything is black and white. There are grey areas.
He often took college classes for self fullfillment. Once asked my a college instructor if he wanted to become anything, he quickly responded, “I am something.”
He took up Spanish and often greeted the young co-worker in Spanish. “Que tal, senior trabajador. Chico Rico.”
The young man at the time was afraid to take chances, try new things. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” he would say. It made more sense as the young man began to take chances.
On dating and being single, he would say to the young man, “When you are single, enjoy being single. And when you are married, enjoy being married.” Such sound advice, maybe easier understood as life experiences start to add up.
When entangled with a smart aleck, he would simply shrug his shoulders and say, “Some mature. Others grow old.”
His simple words, “protect yourself” applied to a world where not all was good. In other words, not everyone is good and righteous, or as you want them to be. You must be prepared when life throws you a curve. You need to “protect yourself.”
He provided the young man with a poem entitled, Desiderata. “Go placidly amidst the noise and hate and remember what peace there may be in silence.” Those were the first few words of the poem and that was the way he lived himself.
The young man worked with this older gentleman for close to five years before moving on to a new career and raising a family himself. After all, “Life is a continuous series of changes.” And of course, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
Despite the 34 years in age difference, the two became friends for life and met for breakfast and lunch over the next four decades.
Eventually the young man became the age his mentor once was. The young man never fully understood all of the cliches when he was in his early 20’s, but every single one of them made complete sense as he went through the various stages of life. You learn through experience.
Bill Hoppel died this past November just a few weeks shy of his 93rd birthday.
He always told me we should celebrate death because you go on to an even better place.
The bottle is half full, Bill.
Your words make so much sense now.
May you rest eternally in peace. Thank you for the life lessons.