People don’t need much time to change our lives


I remember when Mary Poppins conjured a strong wind to literally blow away the queue of applicants for the position of nanny to Jane and Michael Banks. One moment, there were 20-plus proper English women standing in line, waiting to be interviewed. Then there was only Mary Poppins, who promptly bulled her way into the job.

If you’ve ever read the original 1934 book by P.L. Travers, then you know that Mary Poppins is … a witch. A good witch. Eccentric, vain, uber-English, stuffy, well-mannered and impatient (“Spit, spot!”).

She didn’t come to help the children. She came to help the doofwad father.

The children adore her. “Won’t you please stay with us forever?” Michael pleads. “I’ll stay until the wind changes,” is the magical nanny’s cryptic reply.

Until the wind changes. Meaning, no, I won’t stay with you forever. Now is the time I’m with you. Nothing and no one has forever. Impermanence reigns.

And, true to her word, when Doofwad Dad pulls his head out of his nether-regions and is transformed into a joyous, loving, present father flying a kite in the park with Jane and Michael … the wind changes. And Mary Poppins leaves. Just like that.

Look back upon your life. Most of us can count relationships with people who have walked with us from the beginning. And, in some cases, are still there walking with us. Our parents, probably. Perhaps siblings and extended family members.

Though rarer in this mobile and isolating world, you might even still count as life companion a mate you met in early elementary school. Or maybe you still have an active friendship with one or two high school buddies or college friends. Relationships enduring over time.

But, if you are much older than 21, then you likely also can count another kind of valuable relationship. These are people who appear in our lives, change our lives forever, and then leave. The whole turnaround might be just a few years. Or 12 months. Or six months. Or six days. Or 26 minutes.

And you’re never the same. And you’ll never forget them. And, at once, you are so grateful, yet it seems so unfair. How could someone be so powerful, so magical, so utterly important and life-changing for you … and then leave?

This past January, I wrote a column about meeting and hiring a personal trainer, Phillip The Merciless. Or at least, that what’s I call him. You can read that column here: tinyurl.com/physpain.

I met Phillip last November. I presented him with a pudgy, tired body containing an even pudgier and more tired soul. Phillip accepted the challenge. The first couple of months were awful. Phillip set me back on a course for loving my life by first making me wish I were dead. It’s like he took out his own personal set of commitment papers on me. For one hour, three times each week, he was the boss of me. I wasn’t even in charge of deciding when I couldn’t go on. He informed me when and if I was tired. Once, while I was gasping face down on the floor, a tiny, elderly Asian woman interrupted her own workout to come over to Phillip and say gently, “You are going to kill him.”

But, little by little, my body remembered what it was like to be strong and competent. I went from Stage One (hell) to Stage Two (dizzy and nauseous) to, long about April, Stage Three (having fun and damn proud of myself!).

This morning, I told him I’m excited about my annual physical this fall. As you can read in the column from January, it was my doctor who directed me to find a trainer in the first place. Phillip was happy for me. “Steven, what he’ll see first is your eyes,” he said. “Your eyes are completely different than when I first met you. More vital and alive.”

Then he put me through my paces. Then he sat me down and told me the wind had changed. He was leaving. Moving back to Houston. But of course.

I was surprised by my emotions. I told him he had been very important to me.

In the first column, I compared him to Gandhi, for which he said he might never forgive me. Now I’m comparing him to Mary Poppins.

I want to make sure he remembers me, too.