Some mornings, like this morning, the strangest things come to mind. In 1957, the Bobbettes released their first hit song “Mr. Lee” in which the narrator proclaimed her devotion to her crush—her school teacher, Mr. Lee. A few years before that, when I was in the seventh grade, a new English teacher came to our school by the name of Mr. Lee.
Mr. Lee was a tall, ruggedly handsome man, with a scar on his right cheek that gave him a stern look. He was single, but I doubt that any of the girls had a crush on him. He didn’t own a car and it was his habit to walk the three or so miles to school each day. At that time very few people walked for exercise or Fitbit, and Mr. Lee’s penchant for walking seemed strange to us. Mr. Lee walked everywhere and sometimes rather long distances. On weekends he walked the highways and byways of our rural area and often past my home several miles outside of town. We laughed at Mr. Lee’s behavior. We considered him a bit odd and made up stories about him.
In the classroom he was a master teacher. I can still see him “declining sentences” on the chalk board. He encouraged reading and helped us broaden our vocabularies. But still we looked upon him as a bit strange.
One weekend when I saw Mr. Lee walking past our house, I went out to meet him and walked with him. I told him about the caves down along the Walkill River and he said he’d like to see them. So it was that I began to walk with Mr. Lee and came to know him. During one of those walks I asked him if he would be willing to help at our Boy Scout meetings. Mr. Lee agreed and our scout troop benefited from his being with us.
Walking alongside Mr. Lee made all the difference for me. It is amazing how we see looking from a distance—and how we see when we get up close? Mr. Lee was a Korean War veteran and his walking was not some strange act, but his way of dealing with a leg wound he had received in the war. Mr. Lee came into a town and a school as a stranger and “strangers” are made “strange” by those who refuse to receive them. I learned a valuable lesson from Mr. Lee. There are no strangers unless we make them so. “One, two, three. Look at Mr. Lee. Three, four, five. Look at him jive, Mr. Lee, Mr. Lee. Oh, Mr. Lee, Mr. Lee!”