Left to Wonder

Posted on March 6, 2014 by Robert Ringer


When I was a teenager, one of my good friends was Gary Nathan.  Gary was one of those kids who was the target of the school’s taunters and teasers.  Even nice guys threw barbs at him, but he took it all in a good-natured way.

I probably teased Gary myself on occasion … I honestly can’t remember … but I do know that I went out of my way to be kind to him most of the time.  I liked Gary, because he was a genuinely nice person.

What caused him to be teased so much was the way he spoke (a little odd) and ran (very odd).  Seems strange now, but no one — including me — ever stopped to think about what might be wrong with someone who had what we would now clearly consider to be a disability.

Back in the day, though, if someone walked, talked, or acted differently than everyone else, he was simply thought of as a “dork” or a “weirdo.”  Compassion and understanding were scarce commodities in those days.

Things like learning disorders and conditions such as autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, or dyslexia were never discussed.  Nor did teachers or school staff members even dream of giving kids with such problems special accommodations.  It was a pretty cold world for those youngsters.  You either kept up with everyone else or tough luck.

By the standards of yesteryear, Gary’s dad was perceived to be rich by everyone who lived in our little version of Peyton Place.  By today’s standards, of course, he really wasn’t rich.  But I loved going over to Gary’s house, because he had everything, including a great recreation room in the basement with a jukebox, ping-pong table, pinball machine, and more.

What was really interesting about Gary was that even though the bullies in our class tried to make him out to be a dummy, he was actually very smart.  I remember playing a game with him one afternoon with two dictionaries.  One of us would throw out a word, then we would frantically flip the pages to see who could find it in his dictionary first.

As best as I can recall, Gary found every word faster than I did.  It just about drove me nuts.  It was the first time I consciously thought about how smart he was.

I also recall often dragging Gary into touch-football games in the street with two of my neighbors who were roughly our age.  He could catch the ball pretty well, but he ran stiff-legged like a duck.

One of my neighbors (Larry), who was in the grade below us, would mock him unmercifully for this.  Which is interesting, now that I think about it, given the fact that Larry was one of the dumbest kids in his class, having flunked at least one full year that I know of.

As is so often the case, we all went our separate ways after high school.  After a number of years had passed, I heard from Ben, my best friend in high school, that Gary had moved to Washington, D.C.  Every time I came to Washington, I thought about trying to get in touch with him, but it never happened.  Too busy with business matters.

Years later, when I moved to the D.C. area myself, I finally tracked down Gary’s telephone number.  I thought it would be a real kick to get together with my old high school pal and see how his life had turned out.

I’d heard that he was an attorney, but I didn’t know if he had ever gotten married or had children.  Plus, as an adult in a much more open, knowledgeable, and medically aware world, I was curious as to what Gary’s condition actually was and how successful he had been in rising above it.

Calling Gary kept creeping up on my To Do List, until he eventually made it into the top ten.  I felt sure I would be able to get in touch with him and manage to have a little reunion within the next few weeks, and I was very much looking forward to it.

But before I made the effort to actually do it, I took a short trip back to Peyton Place to visit my elderly mother who was in a nursing home.  Ben picked me up at the airport and, as soon as I got in the car, said to me, “Before I even pull away from the curb, I want to tell you something.  Gary Nathan died a few days ago — on the operating table, while having open-heart surgery.”  I was stunned.

I’m really angry with myself that I never got around to seeing Gary.  I’ll never know the answers to all the questions I wanted to ask him about his life.  I especially wanted to talk to him about his condition, as I have two children with disabilities.  But I was too late.

Which leaves me thinking about all those things on my To Do List that were always ahead of getting in touch with Gary.  I now ask myself, in retrospect, “Was each and every one of them more important than seeing him?”  I guess I’ll just have to keep wondering … and wonder what our reunion might have been like.

Who’s on your To Do List, and how many tasks are ahead of your seeing that person?  You might want to start wondering about your priorities.  Wondering about them today — not tomorrow — might just lead to action instead of regrets.  If you wait until tomorrow to wonder, action may no longer be an option.

Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

20 responses to “Left to Wonder”

  1. larajf says:

    Well said. We need to put the people before the things if that person is that important to us.

  2. Tom says:

    Ouch! My To Do List just got rearranged.

  3. Rod Caceres says:

    Wow, this really resonates with me.

    I wrote a post some time ago (it's in Spanish, so I will not link to it here) exactly about this same issue. The task "Call grandfather" kept appearing over and over, and pushed back again and again, until he passed away and I never got to it.

    It reminded me also of a school friend, when we were just kids, we called him "Alan banana face". He definitely had some kind of disability. But it's not something we were aware of really at that age. Fortunately, I always had the tendency to make friends and be nice with those "weirdoes".

    Maybe they should teach us about this, or make us conscious of this, teachers for Christ sake, how come they never brought this to our attention?

    Great post, great story, I am sorry for the way it turned out, but thanks to that, you can now inspire everyone with it.


    Rod Caceres http://www.obsessedforsuccess.com

    • Robert Ringer RJR says:

      The reason teachers don't call these things to the attention of students is because most of them either encourage bullies (often in subtle ways) or are bullies themselves. This is the most ignored tragedy – and best-kept secret – in American schools.

      • DOL says:


  4. Michael Cranston says:

    You are so right Robert. I just jotted down the names of three people I am going call today. Thank you.

  5. Marte Cliff says:

    Yep – There are some past clients and some friends' parents that I always "intended" to call or visit, but didn't make time to do it. Now it's too late.

  6. marktrail says:

    It's like the day you finally realize the love of your life of 40 years is unexpectedly no longer here to finish that conversation, take that trip, and so many other seemingly trivial things. It's a bummer.

  7. Tom Justin says:

    I learned long ago that when you feel those kinds of out-of-the-blue thoughts, they are a form of "intuitive clicks" and when you learn to understand those feelings you're more likely to act on them. I think this was surely the case with Gary.

    Years ago I taught a course on mind power and intuition at UCLA's Experimental college and it was life changing for all of us. Understanding our native intuition and learning to use it expands our consciousness and our lives to new horizons.

  8. R Van Der Voort says:

    Yes, we all need a "round tuit" to do things squarely. I never did go to see Uncle Chuck when I got back to the area, even though old buddy, Ron, often suggested that I take a couple of hours and go see a favorite uncle who was the town's favorite "old man" . Everybody loved Uncle Chuck. He was a "character", always smiling, always encouraging the younger folk. He wrote old fashioned poems with positive themes, and gave them when he thought appropriate. Now in my own Old Age and in my own way, I try to pattern myself after Uncle Chuck. He was a deeply religious Baptist, but I never heard of him selling his beliefs when making his rounds. He was one of the "Real Ones". If there were a heaven that he believed in, he'd have been a candidate for entry. He lived what he believed. I shoulda gone to see him, especially since my dad was Uncle Chuck's favorite younger brother, and Dad's protector. I shoulda coulda woulda but didn't.

    • WeirdlyCOChick says:

      Good Lord, R — I'm in your same boat right now. You don't even know. My daddy even gave me a "round tuit," DECADES ago. I've lost two uncles in the past few months. (One was just a couple of weeks ago.) Both were WONDERFUL souls!!!! Both WWII vets, too. I cry daily, but that probably doesn't help much, at this point.

  9. John E. Gabor says:

    So true. Applies to our own death, too.

  10. Serge says:

    Too busy for business matters. I've been there, and have also missed out on those special moments. Today, I push myself to downsize and and simplify life. It's tough when your a born entrepreneur.

  11. Robby Bonfire says:

    Thanks to Facebook, I have caught up with many valued people from my distant past. Which is great, but my real lament is letting so many appreciated friends drop out of sight in the first place just because I moved, or got hooked on the horses for 15 years, etc.

    As you get older you start to realize that the young people of today do not share your values, know nothing about the times in which you grew up, reject your music and taste in just about everything, reject your ideas and your cultural values, and count your life experience for just about nothing. This is where the friends of a lifetime come in – they bridge that communications gap so well. Getting older is not nearly so depressing as having to share the planet with a young generation that is on a different psychological and spiritual plane, starting with their having no compunction about being unkind about your age. At least we know they are in for some tough reality checks in the years ahead, which will temper their self-absorbed attitude of today, just a bit.

    • John E. Gabor says:

      I think most of us were the same way in our youth. And it goes back in time much farther than our generation: 9 Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment.

      10 Therefore remove sorrow from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh: for childhood and youth are vanity.

      (Ecclesiastes 11)

  12. Robert Ringer RJR says:

    It is, indeed, very sad that youth is wasted on the young. Today's youth are not just another rebellious generation. They are a product of a decaying civilization. Fortunately, however, there are millions of morally sound, hard working young folks out there who are not buying into today's cesspool culture. They are Western civilization's only hope for undoing the transformation of America into a society totally devoid of certitudes.

  13. Phil says:

    Robert, so brilliant re the last post regarding today's cesspool culture and so weary of worrying about whether our daughter is going to make it through unscathed. Or relatively so. Prayers, I hope things change. No prude am I but what these kids are immersed in via the insanity of America 2014 is just vile. Great peace, I believe your friend in heaven will know you thought of him.

  14. Michael B says:

    Best reason I have ever heard to have a to do list. Priorities.

  15. Vikas says:

    In India, it is pretty normal to stay with parents or with kids. We prefere a family with kids, parents and grandparents. My parents are aging and I have been staying in a different city for "business reasons" (job), now I am moving back to be with them, to take care of them and also to ensure they see their grand daugther grow. Robert, your post came at apropriate time as I had even thoughts whether I could have taken this decision few months or even years later; now I know, this is the right time. Thank you very much :)