Thursday, May 14, 2015
“The simple things are also the most extraordinary things, and only the wise can see them.” ― Paulo Coelho
Having been in one undergraduate program and four graduate programs, I have had a lot of professors in my life, but only a handful really stand out. Sadly, all but one have now passed away and the remaining one is old and recently had a heart transplant. They taught me much in the classroom, but the things I remember the most were things we talked about over dinner, or coffee, or sitting on a deck. I had a professor of philosophy, Dr. Harry Oliver (died in 2011) who was the only professor who came to visit me in my 21-day hospital stay when my gall bladder ruptured. Dr. Oliver conceived what he called “relational metaphysics” which is surprising easy to explain. Basically, he claimed that the verb created both the subject noun and the object—in other words it is the “seeing” that creates both the seer and the seen. It is the “loving” that creates both the lover and the beloved which for me explained why God created the universe (and me). He once put a statue of the serene Buddha on one end of his desk and Rodin’s “The Thinker” (all knotted up with his fist on his head) on the other end. He asked us to look at each for ten minutes and then write an exam on the difference between Eastern and Western thought. I made an “A” on that one. He was very creative and a good friend. Another professor friend, Dr. Ben Kimpel, always told me that “everyone ought to know everything” and to stop learning was to stop living. I took that to heart and am still doing it. He also used to slip a hundred dollar bill in my pocket once or twice a semester knowing how hard it was to live as a poor graduate student. His death hit me very hard. Another of my favorites was Dr. Walter Muelder, who was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s professor of social ethics as he was mine many years later. We were also friends, but at the time he was getting very old and dying of pancreatic cancer. One morning, as we were sharing some coffee, I asked him if he was afraid of death. He told me no Christian should ever be afraid of death, but he was afraid of the process and admitted to secretly envy those who died suddenly of accidents or heart attacks. I have come to understand that even more the longer I live. And finally, the one still living, Professor Elie Wiesel, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, was also a professor and is a friend. Once while talking in his office, I asked him, as a Jew and a concentration camp survivor, if he had any special prayer he prayed on a regular basis. What he told me is a prayer I continue to pray every night. He said that right before he went to sleep every night, he would say, “So God, how’d I do today? Did I make You proud or were You disappointed in me?” Try that every night and see if your life doesn’t change. I’ve known some brilliant and renowned scholars, but it wasn’t their fame that was important, it was the little bits of wisdom they shared privately that have stayed with me and still help to make me who I am. I pray that each of you has someone in your life who can give that one little nudge that will keep you going. I was blessed to have known these men, not because they were famous, but because they changed who I was and made me a better man.