The Net

Here’s a whole other way of thinking about Spring. It was written in 2009 when I was still the superintendent of education for our rural school district.


“When lilacs last in the door-yard bloom’d, And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night, I mourn’d—and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.”

Those words belong to Walt Whitman, 19th century American poet. The lilac is a plant that has purple flowers that bloom in spring. Around here, we have the wisteria; it too is a plant that has purple flowers that bloom in spring. So every spring I see the wisteria alongside our roads and in people’s yards and growing in trees—and to myself I quote Whitman’s words.

Wisteria behind the graveyard of the Old Silver Creek Baptist Church, April 3, 2014.

The “great star” for Whitman was Abraham Lincoln. The poem was written as a response to Mr. Lincoln’s death. The President was murdered in April when the lilacs were in full bloom. The last ten words are very easy to understand; the poet says that he will mourn with the coming of every spring.

Okay, so maybe I have a streak of strange running through me, but I, like Whitman, feel a distinct tinge of sadness when I see our wisteria. I am in awe of the personal sacrifice and of the work of Abraham Lincoln and often wonder how different the world we live in today would be if he had not been assassinated. I will remind you of a few words that he spoke in his 2nd inaugural address just five days after the War had ended and just four weeks before his death: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in….”

“With malice toward none, with charity for all….” Some theorize that the South and therefore the entire nation would have developed and gone forward in a much different way, possibly a much better way, had Lincoln lived to serve his second term of office.

Last year there were times when I felt like I wrote too much about death in this column, and I’ve made an attempt to stay away from that subject. And at times I’ve felt like I’ve allowed myself to be too personal with this writing. If you’ve felt the same way I offer my apologies.

At some point in my life I had this picture come into my head. There was a big net under me; I hovered over the net. The net was held up by all the people who helped me to build my life, and if I faltered or fell those people would catch me, support me, pick me up, and send me back up to hover over the net to catch me again the next time I fell. The two primary bearers of the net were my mother and father, but there were many more there to hold up the net. As I grow older, I keep losing those people who are holding up the net. Lost two more of them in the past week.

“Uncle” Russell was a perpetually jovial man who watched me grow up, and for whatever reason always believed in me, and there never was any doubt that he loved me—and I loved him. Mr. Pat was my first baseball coach. My first baseball practice was held in the field where the school district’s vocational center and gymnasium sit today. I was too scared and too shy to get out of the car. The country boy had come to town to mix with all the town kids, and it was scary; I was eight years old. I really did have thoughts of not getting out of that car and not playing any of that baseball. But my mother ushered me on out and assured me, as had my father, that Mr. Pat would look out for me and take care of me. He did. An hour into practice I was liking that game pretty good. It was a life altering day. I figure I’ve been to well over two thousand games or practices since that first practice.

So from now on in the spring, when the wisteria blooms I will think of Mr. Lincoln and Uncle Russell and Mr. Pat. And the net under me is held up by fewer and fewer people.


The other day I was at a K-8 school. A line of young children stood near the principal and me. Many of them would say “Hey, Mr. Bull,” and wave to him. Two children standing in line said to me, “Hey, Mr. Tony.” I didn’t realize that any of them knew who I was.

As the line started to move, a girl maybe 7 or 8 years old walked by me and gave me a big hug around the waist and then moved on with the line. It surprised me. She never looked up, and I don’t even know who she was. Is there any earthly act of love that sinks deeper into the chest and into the heart than the unadulterated and innocent hug of a child?

It sure felt comfortable having all those wonderful people under me. But I’ve been knowing for a while that it’s my turn to pretty much work without a net and be one of those holding up the nets for lots of wonderful kids. I can only hope that I’m as good at it as Uncle Russell and Mr. Pat.

5 thoughts on “The Net

  1. Sitting in my room before the bell rings to start my day and read this article. Awesome! A great way to begin my day. I look forward to the next one. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Yes, we are holding the net or I like to say we are the first line of defense. When we were young it was our grandparents, etc. on the first line, then our parents, aunts, uncles, etc. on the second line and then us. As time and our elders have passed, we are now the first line of defense. It’s a bit scary, but as those before us showed us the way, we will prevail for those behind us.

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