All I know is that he would frequently mess up my teaching lesson plans, and he continues to occasionally disturb my workouts; and yet, he is my favorite, always making me stronger.
I don’t know who thought of it. It was probably Max’s idea. After I taught him an entire year as a 9th grader, he started calling me dad as a joke. I just shook my head, crazy kid. By 10th grade, Max Pardington was in my English class again, but it was THAT year we took the picture posted below. He posed in front of my laptop with my two biological sons displayed on it. My Three Sons I named it.
It wasn’t until Max’s THIRD tour with me (as a senior in my college-credit composition class) that I started calling him son. We both got a kick out it. More often than not, that’s what students and teachers do: grow on each other.
I’ll never forget when Max sporadically popped out of his chair and started dancing during one of my lessons on Shakespeare. That’s when one of his classmates took this picture:
Note the misspelled word “Schopspere,” yet another one of his jokes. Max was always that way; his name seemed to identify him as a boy of great extremes, everything was to “the max.” He was either wide awake with an electrified personality or completely exhausted from his teenage-life of beautiful distractions.
I remember when we tweeted on Twitter the father/son stuff while he attended one of my alma maters, Michigan State University. It seems like Max made everyone he met part of his life. To me, he represents the quintessential young man that every teacher aspires to teach for, and in that process both teacher and student touch each other’s lives forever.
Losing a child is the worst thing that can happen to a parent, and a very painful second, is a teacher losing a student. What did I tell you? Max always did things in a big way, and he left us in June of 2014, early and unexpected. That’s just Max, always surprising everyone. Even in death, Max’s memory catches you at times and makes you laugh and cry, but you always feel better about life afterwards. He’s taught us all so much in such a short time. He was 19.
Each day, each memory, doesn’t just honor Max, it honors the strength and fortitude of the Pardington family. Their love for that boy is unbound and limitless.
Max visited me one last time before he headed up north to Traverse City for a summer of winery-working and athletic training. He looked like Adonis when he visited my classroom. He had all the vigor, strength, and beauty of a young mountain, a young man in his prime. I remember shaking my head, “Look at you!” I reached up and gripped his shoulders in awe of his naturally muscled frame. Like me, Max was fond of the idea of testing limits, especially the Ironman competition. He had been training for one for sometime before his early passing. As you may know by now, Max suffered from an undiagnosed enlarged heart. I think you see the irony here. That’s right; his heart was too big, so loving. Some may say his heart was weak, but I say it was stronger than any of us will ever know. In fact, I say his heart was made of iron. Some people think iron is cold, but when you shape it, it needs to be hot. Hot iron is an image and light you never forget, its glow, its color, its vibrancy. And then it cools, hardens. Max’s heart may have burned too hot, but it did not weaken. It was only cooling. I witnessed these stages in him.
Max has an iron heart, and it continues to cool and strengthen everyone who loved him, and he will beat on forever in our memories.
And just for Max, I’ll teach him one last lesson, a final goodbye with two of Shakespeare’s greatest lines and a few of Schopspeare’s:
Go touch lives since
Not one can ask more of you than your best.
Good night, sweet prince,
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!
Live Like Max.