In this life our paths cross with all sorts of people. Some are complainers and whiners who are not only never happy, but never have the gumption to change the things they are unhappy about. These people drain the energy around them and bring others down. Thankfully, there are also those who not only find personal satisfaction in their lives by living life to the fullest, but also find ways to make the lives of those they come into contact with better.
The world needs more of the later, but lost one such man last week. Hal "Van" Van Meter made the world a better place not only by having personal conviction, but also by lifting others up.
I thought of him as a very close friend, despite the fact that when I stood near the back of the crowd and I looked at the mass of people at his funeral, I knew there were many there who had spent more time with him and were closer to him. For that reason I almost decided not to write this personal reflection. Then after the funeral I picked up a copy of the Ledger-Enquirer and read a piece written by a reporter who had met Van once - 13 years ago - and came away with a "life's lesson."
That's the way it was with Van. He was one of precious few people who ask, "How have you been doing?" as more than a polite, rhetorical question. He asked because he actually wanted to know and was willing to spend (I know it's a cliche, but) "quality time" with people.
Van was a retired colonel. I never spoke with him in length about his military service, but I've heard enough from others to feel comfortable describing him as not only someone who faithfully served his country, but also as a bona-fide American hero.
He was also a deacon and put his faith into practice on days that don't start with "Sun." There is a letter to the editor from Todd Bowen in this week's paper that gives a good example of that, so I'll refer readers to it.
Locally he was probably best known as the "tennis guy."
Most people know he taught tennis lessons to players of all ages. Many people know he coached a local tennis team that won a 3.0 level USTA Recreation League national championship. Some even know he had also once been a member of a team that won a higher level USTA national championship.
Only a select few, however, know that he once single-handedly defeated a national championship team. When you're on the receiving end of such a whipping, it tends to not come up in your day-to-day conversations. They hadn't yet won the national trophy, but "Coach Van" had already planted the seed in the team's mind and made them believe in their hearts that it was an attainable goal.
One day while putting the team members through a variety of drills, he decided to do something different. He put a doubles team on one side of the court and himself on the other. After winning a point, he turned the doubles team into a "triples team." After each point, he added a player to the other team until eventually he was across the net from every player. I don't recall exactly how many of us were at practice that day, but I'm sure it was at least around a dozen. But I do remember that despite the fact that there wasn't a racquet-length of uncovered court on our side, he got the better of us.
There were so many lessons - both technical and mental - he taught us that summer that I'm not even sure anymore what that particular lesson was designed to accomplish. Perhaps it was about teamwork. Or perhaps he thought he had done a little too good of a job building up our confidence and decided we needed to be brought back down a notch or two.
I don't even know for sure if he ever told us the purpose of the lesson. Sometimes he didn't. He would lay it out for you and let you connect the dots. I guess he figured it would stick better if we had to do a little something extra to earn it.
Heck, he even left us hanging on what became a team slogan - Reverisco! He said it just enough for it to stick in our minds, but for the longest time refused to tell anyone what it meant. Some tried to look it up in the dictionary, but since it was pronounced as if it began "river," it didn't come easily. Eventually we learned that it was a Latin word that is best translated to mean, "flourish in adversity."
The last time I visited Van was about two months ago. He was not feeling well, but still had a larger-than-life presence. I asked him how he was doing and after taking a few short minutes to go through the "medical stuff," he said, "Now, let's talk about the important stuff," and began to quiz me about things in my own life. I was thankful for two reasons. First, it hurt to see a friend who had always seemed invincible battling for his very life. Second, and even more selfish, I knew that in at least some small way I would pick up something from the conversation that would make me a better person.
One final thought: I looked up "reversico" before writing this column - just to make sure I passed along the correct translation. "Flourish in adversity" was indeed correct. But I also stumbled upon an alternate translation: "Grow strong again."
I know Van is now in heaven with the Lord. REVERSICO, my friend!