Quiet Strength

by | May 19, 2008 | Strength

The first thing I noticed was the hyena laughter, grating on the edge of my nerves.

Then I saw them. Pointing and hooting, they could barely stand up, they were so overcome with mirth. As a single Mom and a secretary at the main campus of a large university, I was sick to death of teenage boys pretending to pursue an education, and I wondered, as they pointed in my direction, if they were laughing at me. Then I saw him. Standing in the middle of a street, trembling violently, apparently unable to move. The boys thought it was simply hilarious.

Suddenly, I felt a terrible rage. I recognized the professor, though I had never met him. Immediately I tore across campus, anger giving wings to my feet. I wanted to reach those boys and just annihilate them. I wanted to be the strongest man in the world and beat them to a pulp! But I raced toward the helpless professor instead, who was having one of his most violent attacks. Professor Smythe had Parkinson’s Disease.

When I finally reached him, cars were zooming around him, blowing their horns, and there I was, no power at all, and not a rock within reach. I didn’t know him, except to exchange greetings, but he always had the most angelic smile. What was he doing in the street, alone? Usually his graduate students guarded him like faithful dogs, walking with him wherever he needed to go, and protecting him from bullies and jerks. His courage amazed me.

I reached him, without a plan. I tried to talk to him, to find out what to do, but he was shaking so violently, he couldn’t speak. So, I did the only thing I could think of. I threw my arms around him, and I held him close, whispering in his ear.

“Shush. Sshh. Everything will be all right. I’m here. I’ll help you. Sshhh.”

I held him, as close as I could, ignoring the hoots and hollers of the idiots in the street, and I rocked him, speaking in low tones, much as I did for my own baby daughter, when she would sob those breathy sobs that children often do.

After a time, the professor’s trembling calmed a little, and I was able to help him to the sidewalk. I walked with him until we came upon his student, who had been unavoidably detained. He got so upset when he heard what had happened, that he vowed to make certain that at least two students would always be there to accompany the professor.

I began to time my lunch to coincide with his walk across campus. I looked for opportunities to speak to him. He was forgiving, and the kindest man I had ever known. There was no treatment for Parkinson’s in 1969, but Professor Smythe was never resentful. He would often say that perhaps he could give people a reason to practice kindness. Perhaps people would reflect upon life’s blessings, believing that “there but for the grace of God, go I.”

I said, that perhaps God was just making a bigger place in hell, for the one’s who never had a thought. He laughed, but he let me know that he felt no ill will towards them. I figured it was good that I never saw those two boys again, because I fantasized their demise, in gut wrenching detail.

One of the last times that I saw Professor Smythe, he told me that as he stood there trembling in the street, he had prayed that God would send him an angel, to help him.

“And God sent you,” he said, looking at me with his kind eyes. It gave me a chill to hear that, and it made me want to become the kind of person that Professor Smythe believed I was.

After the spring term came and went, Professor Smythe never returned. He died six months later. Though I’ve never been able to completely overcome my temper, I think I have become a more gentle person, because of that precious man, and his quiet strength.

“Surely he scorneth the scorners: but he giveth grace unto the lowly.” –Proverbs 3:34

Jaye Lewis jlewis@smyth.net


Quiet Strength