Thursday, January 24, 2013

In the Presence of Greatness

I attended a beautiful memorial service at the weekend. I didn’t know the person we were honoring very well, but by the time the service was over, I really wish I had.
Colleagues gathered to impart their reflections about their shared professional lives and described a man who was dedicated to his role as provost of the College of Creative Studies. A man with a vision who led with courage and conviction, whose love for his work motivated and enriched the lives of those around him. He was an innovator, an agent of change, a trailblazer. Students told tales about how he had inspired them, pushed them, challenged them to dream big and aim higher. Friends from all over the globe arrived to share the stories of their friendships, nurtured over decades and continents. I learned about a loving and loyal friend, a risk taker, an adventurer, a traveler. Family members described a fun, exuberant man who they longed to be around. His children painted a portrait of a father who enjoyed nothing better than to be with them, guiding them, sharing with them, learning from them and loving them. His own artwork revealed even more about his talents and his passions and I was overwhelmed with a sense of enormous loss.
We’d met on only a few occasions but I couldn’t help but feel sad about the fact that I missed an opportunity to know a great man. I think about all the other people whose worlds collide with mine on a daily basis and wonder how many similar opportunities I have missed. What about the people I spend the majority of my time with, my students?
Children are masterful at showing you exactly who they want you to see: the quiet studious child, the boisterous child who likes to make everybody laugh, the follower, the leader, the helper, the lost. But how well do I really know them? How much time do I take to get behind the façade they allow me to see and figure out who they really are? What hidden talents, gifts, strengths and passions lurk within them that I have yet to uncover?
At the memorial service speaker after speaker lamented the fact that they had been denied more cups of coffee, more bike rides, more barbecues, more time. I have been blessed with a reminder that the time we have to share with the people in our lives, our friends, our colleagues, our families, our students, is short. We need to  be vigilant while we are with them, we need to listen, we need to learn from them, we need to be appreciative of the fact that we just might be in the presence of greatness.

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