Fred Lokuta had news for me when I walked up to him at the gym a few years ago. We typically had a little chat as soon as I’d arrive about 6 a.m. Fred already would have been there for a while, usually finishing up his workout before I even began. But he always had time for me. Seeing him did wonders for my motivation.
I’ve known Fred Lokuta since he was a high school district wrestling champion and I a sportswriter at the local paper. I knew his dad, the former mayor of Dupont, even better, and remember well how the whole community wept when Fred Sr. died way too soon in 2005.
Fred Jr. and I had not seen each other much in the 30-plus years since he graduated from Pittston Area High School, but renewed our friendship about six years ago. We’ve grown extremely close since, getting together whenever we can and even sipping champagne at his home when his son, Fred III, graduated from law school.
My admiration for Fred, which began decades ago watching him on the wrestling mat, only grew when I learned what he did for a living, caring for people with intellectual disabilities as director of the White Haven Center, and what he did for fun, lifting weights. He was the state champ in the bench press for his weight and age when I met him and has since become national champ. He still holds that distinction. He also coached a mutual friend, Dan Brogna, to a state title.
The news Fred had for me that day was that he had stepped down from his position at White Haven to become deputy secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare Office of Developmental Programs. He’d be overseeing a budget of $3 billion and 3,000 employees. It was quite an honor and congratulations were in order, but I had a question. Would he be moving to Harrisburg?
The answer was no, which led to another question. Did he actually intend to commute from his home in Dupont all the way to the state capital, more than 100 miles each way?
He did. And that prompted one last question.
“Fred,” I said, stretching my arms out to draw attention to the weights around us, “how will you find time for this.”
“Ed,” he answered with a sly smile, “there’s always time for this.”
Those words have rung in my ears since. Especially when I feel life and all its responsibilities closing in and am tempted to put the gym on the back burner. I think of Fred waking up at 3 a.m. and say to myself, “There’s always time for this.”
But Fred’s words have much broader implications. They extend far beyond a tread mill or a set of weights.
The “this” that there’s always time for can be any of a number of things. In Fred’s world his “this” is his daily workout. But it’s not his only “this.” Another is his God. Another his family. Ask him about either, and he’s sure to say, “There’s always time for this.”
The lesson I’ve learned from Fred is to be mindful of each “this” in my life. My list also includes working out, but there’s so much more: God, family, students, profession. Is there time for each “this”? There is if I want there to be.
It reminds me of another lesson, one from the book “The Little Prince.”
Written in 1943 by Antoine de St. Exupery, “The Little Prince,” or “Le Petit Prince,” is one of those children’s books filled with messages for all ages. The most-oft quoted line from this book is, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly.”
The story revolves around a prince, a little boy, who has come to earth from a far-off planet. As he attempts to learn about people on earth, he is dismayed that the adults he encounters seem to have lost their childlike sense of wonder, innocence and playfulness. Back on his planet, he explains to those who will listen, he has only one thing, a rose. “It’s how you take care of your rose,” he says.
By “it” he means the whole purpose of life. By “your rose” he means the one thing that is most important to you. Life is about caring for your one most important thing.
The Little Prince’s “rose” is Fred Lokuta’s “this.”
It’s still early enough in this brand-new year to make resolutions. I suggest you make a list of each and every “rose” in your life, each and every “this.” And resolve to make time for all of them.
Even if it means waking up at 3 a.m.?
Well, Fred Lokuta does.
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week for Greater Pittston Progress. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.