PARKER - Steve Martin kept his students and fellow teachers on their toes for 16 years at Prairie Crossing Elementary School.
“My voice is not doing so well. So I hope I can get through the whole speech. It's about 45 minutes long,” he joked, the room bursting into laughter during what could have been a grim retirement party.
Martin was diagnosed with ALS last year. The effects have set in. The 51-year-old uses a walker to get around, relying on it to prop him up as his friends give him hugs. His hands are weak, his speech slowed. He knows it will only get worse - but he’s accepted that.
“I am ready to die at any time. Because I know I'll be in heaven with God. I'll get a new body, I'll get a new camera, continue with my photography!” he said with a big smile. “I am looking forward to dying someday. The hard thing is thinking about my family and leaving them.”
When the doctor broke the news, he turned to his family and apologized.
“That was the hardest thing - that he said he's sorry. There’s nothing to be sorry about but he says he's thinking about us... instead of himself,” said his wife, Chisa, who now spends her days getting Martin to his physical therapy appointments and preparing for the disease to progress.
His kids, Daniel and Liana, are learning to brush his teeth and button his shirts, which are tasks that are becoming too difficult to do himself. His parents, Bege and Nancy, are helping too.
“As we are older, it's not fair that you should outlive your kids. But he's taught us to have, as sad as it is, a peace about the journey. And we're in a journey too with him,” Bege said.
Martin’s a teaching natural. It’s an important part of his journey. A journey that Martin plans to make the most of. As one of his colleagues put it, Martin refuses to have himself a pity party. Instead, he’s turning his disease into lessons.
“I really enjoyed that. It gave me a lot of purpose for my final weeks at the school,” said Martin, who tailored lessons for each grade, teaching students about everything from perseverance to science.
“For example, the kindergarten classes were studying community helpers. I told them about the neurologist, the physical therapist, occupational therapist, nutritionist, speech therapist,” Martin said with an energy you might not expect to see from a man with ALS. “Fifth graders are studying body systems. So, I talked about how ALS affects the nerves.”
His retirement speech, to a library packed with teachers and students, continued his teachings.
“I do have some fear about some things. About what the ALS will do. I have fear about my family and what they’re going through. But, I try not to think about those things. I try not to dwell on them. My faith gives me strength for today and hope for tomorrow. And I believe that God knows what he’s doing. And I can trust in him.”
For him, dwelling on the inevitable would be a waste of time. His body will get worse. But he’s the same person inside. So he’ll focus on family and on building a legacy of love.
“Things like happiness and health are wonderful and I wish I had more of those. But those are all temporary things. But things like faith and hope and love are eternal. And there’s no person, no circumstance, no sickness that can ever take that away from me or my family.”
That family has set up a GoFundMe - if you wish to donate or just learn more about Martin's journey, head to this link. Also, below, you can watch Martin's full retirement speech: