Mr. Decker's Boat

by: Joanne Meehl

Mr. Decker was my high school driver education teacher. He was in his late 50s, tall and stocky, an unsmiling man with a completely bald head, a dour-looking Mr. Clean without the earring. He said little to those of us who followed the rules, and his glare told the jokers they wouldn't get far with him, and they didn't. He seemed to garner little joy from his work, instead going about it like it was a duty. It seemed to my teenage mind that although he was good at what he did, he was just putting in his time.

So imagine our shock when somehow along the way we heard about the sailboat Mr. Decker was building. When he talked about it at the end of the semester, his face softened. His vision was on a blue horizon in his mind's eye. He described how for years he'd been making each part by hand, each part out of wood. It was going to be so big, he said, that he would have to have it towed by a tractor trailer truck to the water. "One day, when I retire", he said, "I'll finally take my wife on the sailing trip I've been promising her. We're going to live on the boat and sail anywhere we want." In the meantime, he'd put up with the misery of teenagers hitting the brake pedal too hard.

About 5 years later, I saw in the local paper that Mr. Decker, indeed, had finished his boat. It was so big that phone lines crossing the street had to be temporarily disconnected so that it could pass by. It was beautiful and in the picture, Mr. Decker was wearing a big smile that we never saw back in high school.

He was finally taking his wife for that sail. They would now have the years of joy that he'd been waiting for. I was happy that he could finally do it.

Except within a year and a half, Mr. Decker was dead. A heart attack had ended his all-too-brief sailing days.

I've often thought of Mr. Decker over the years, and how he postponed his joy for when he retired, then had such a short time to enjoy it. I think of him when I work with a client who's willing to work "just a few years longer" on a job he hates, or the friend who says, about a career that's eating his heart out, "I have only 10 more years until I'm vested, so I'll stick it out." I challenge them with "Shouldn't you have joy each day? Why are you putting it off?"

It must have been wonderful for Mr. Decker to be out on the open seas after being cramped in a car every day for all those years. But I can't help but wonder that maybe if he'd have worked in another job, one that didn't make him unhappy every day, the pain would not have taken its toll and he'd have been able to enjoy that boat sooner and for a lot longer.

Mr. Decker had a year and a half on his boat, but he probably expected to have a lot more.

How much time time do you have?


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