A wise man finds time for every purpose

June 21, 2005|By MICHAEL OLESKER

THERE IS a season for everything, Bruce Hart knows well. He draws his sentiments from Ecclesiastes. A time to tear, the ancient words tell us, and a time to mend. Hart is a high school vice principal. He teaches Bible classes, too, and has a master's degree in education. He's a deacon at his church. He's been a lacrosse coach, a business owner, a member of the Harford County Chamber of Commerce. All, for the last 21 years, from his wheelchair. For Hart, every season is a season in the sun.

He's been a quadriplegic since that January 1984 afternoon when he drove out of the National Guard Armory at Glen Arm and was hit by a 21-year-old who'd lost control of his car at a bend in the road. Hart banged into a guard rail, blacked out and woke up with his body hanging across his car's console. He was wearing his seat belt. He tried to open a door but realized he couldn't move his arms or legs.

On the helicopter ride to Maryland Shock Trauma Center, he died. The medics pulled him back. At the hospital, he died again but came back. His neck had been broken in three different places, and his spinal cord severed.

What might have commenced a final wintry season of his life instead became a community inspiration. He refused to capitulate to self-pity. He was alive, he had a family, there were things left to accomplish. Now, 21 years later, he's just finished his third year as vice principal of James Run Christian Academy in Fallston. He's about to start teaching summer Bible classes at Grand View Christian Church. He'll focus on Ecclesiastes, whose words are his inspiration: There is a time for everything under heaven.

"People tell me I've got a lot of courage," Hart, 60, was saying yesterday. "I tell 'em, `No, you do what you've got to do to live. That's all.' Anybody could do it, but you have to make the decision: Live or die. People in wheelchairs don't think we're anything special. I'm not tied to this chair. I use it, like people use glasses or a cane, because it allows me to live my life. But I'm not tied to it."

This is the wisdom of someone who has thought things through. He spent his early seasons as a marvelous athlete: an All-Metro football lineman at Poly, a two-way lineman at the old Baltimore Junior College who literally never left the field of play, and then a lineman at Towson State with a 54-inch chest, a 36-inch waist, and an 18-inch neck.

"I tell people," Hart laughs, "I've still got the old measurements. They've just shifted around now."

He's a got a hair-trigger sense of humor, deep religious faith and memories of old coaches' pep talks. They all help him over the roughest moments. At Poly, he played for the legendary Bob Lumsden. After the accident, Hart spent two months at Shock Trauma and another 10 months at a veterans hospital in Richmond, Va. He had a wife and two small children who needed him. But what could he do? He remembered Lumsden.

"Lummy used to tell us, `If a play doesn't work, huddle up again and try something different," Hart recalls. "Don't second-guess what's already gone wrong.'"

After college, he had taught and coached lacrosse at Towson High and Bel Air High. Then he left teaching for full-time duty with the Army National Guard, where he rose to major. He knew about working with young people. He knew about discipline and teamwork. A year after the accident, he got a telephone call from Frank Mezzanotte, who was then lacrosse coach at Edgewood High.

"He wanted me to come help him coach," says Hart. "I was going through depression and self-pity. He kept bugging me. He said he needed me. Heck, he didn't need me. I was sitting all day watching the bird feeders outside my window. He ... forced me out of the house."

Hart started coaching jayvee lacrosse at Edgewood. His team went undefeated. He saw there was life beyond his wheelchair. He started a car lube business with some old buddies from schoolyard days: Bobby Lueckert, and Jimmy and Bruce D'Anthony. He got involved in a restaurant business. Now he serves on 10 boards or committees, including the Harford County Board of Education's ethics panel. He chaired it for three years.

He's self-sufficient enough that his wife of three decades, Susan, has gone back to work. She's a recreation therapist at Brightwood Nursing Center.

"I wouldn't have made it without her," says Hart. "I always tell people, `I broke my neck, but the backbone I have at home was even stronger."

He says this at the end of a long conversation. He's saying how lucky he is that his health has been good for the last 21 years. Then, almost parenthetically, he mentions, "I do have lung cancer."

The doctors found it 3 1/2 years ago. It's inoperable. The doctors said he might live a couple of years. Hart figures he's already ahead of the game. But then, he always has.

"I have no symptoms," he says. "No coughing, no shortness of breath. I figure I'm in God's hands. When he wants to take me, he will."

Meanwhile, he lives the fullest life he's been granted. School has ended for the year, and now he can teach his class on Ecclesiastes. For Bruce Hart, there is a season for everything. He's made his life an eternal springtime.

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