Prepare to be jealous. Really jealous. My husband is the proud owner of the entire collection of Sweathog
figures. You might remember that the
Sweathogs were a group of remedial students taught by one Mr. Kotter (often
pronounced Kot-tare), in the hit ABC sitcom “Welcome
Back, Kotter” that aired when I was little. The cast, and my husband’s collection,
includes Vinnie Barbarino, Freddy ‘Boom Boom’ Washington, Juan Epstein, and
Arnold Horshack. And, we can’t forget Mr. Kotter…their teacher and one-time
Sweathog, who may have been the only person who really believed these kids had
a chance to become something in life.
Throughout our twenty years of marriage we’ve moved these Sweathogs from place to place and state to state. We also moved an old beer can collection, thousands of baseball cards and matchbox cars, a really creepy Emmett Kelly clown puppet, and even a Growing-up Skipper doll (I’ll let you Google that one!). All these traveling toys and not one measly Stretch Armstrong. How could he not have kept a Stretch Armstrong?
But, then again, I didn’t keep mine either. We had one…before we cut it open to see what was inside that made him so stretchy. It was this gooey green substance that would stretch and then almost instantly go back to its original shape. I now know that it was basically just a muscleman-shaped latex body filled with corn syrup. Maybe it we would have had the Internet in 1976 I wouldn’t have had to cut my Stretch Armstrong open just to find out what was inside. But, hey, I was just a kid…I didn’t know any better.
That’s a lot like life, isn’t it? We don’t always know what people are made of. Or we think we do by making assumptions. Sometimes we overestimate. Sometimes we underestimate. Either way, an assumption is just that…a guess, a notion, a theory.
We may assume that the wealthy man is generous and the poor man is not. Or that leaders don’t need encouragement, change is bad, and everyone is your competition. We might assume those things. But, maybe we could dig a little deeper. Not “Stretch Armstrong deeper,” in that we have to destroy something to discover what they’re made of. But, “Mr. Kotter-deeper,” where we trust that our genuine belief in others may be just what they need to believe in themselves. A belief that a rising tide lifts all ships. A belief where the investment of our time, money, or inspiration is worthy because, instead of tearing down, it builds up.
We may live in a world of Barbarino’s, Washington’s, Epsteins, and Horshacks, but we get to choose to be a Mr. Kotter. What do you want your legacy to be? Stretch Armstrong or Mr. Kotter? As Horshack would have said when he got excited because he knew the right answer to one of Mr. Kotter’s questions… "Ooh-ooh-ooooh!” I know. I choose Kotter.