I have become one of them.
One of the people I used to make fun of (or, in honor of my grandmother’s insistence on correct grammar, those of whom I made fun.)
As a college student we’d see them on campus occasionally but especially at Homecoming. The old people. The alumni. We could spot them right way. They walked without purpose, mainly wandering around as oppose to we students who had Places To Go. They’d say things like, “The trees have gotten so big.” Well, yeah. trees don’t shrink, you know. They’d remind each other of escapades that happened in this place or that, things that seemed a bit quaint to our sophisticated ears. And they took pictures. They were always taking pictures. I mean, how many pictures of the bell tower does one person need?
I have become them. I had a meeting this week in Greenville, SC, giving me the perfect opportunity to return to my alma mater, Furman University. I wandered around. I kept interrupting my run around the lake to take pictures (yes, including the bell tower.) I muttered to myself about how big the trees were now. I got misty-eyed.
Actually, to be perfectly honest, I cried. In front of students. To their credit, they didn’t panic when this old person talking to them started crying and they didn’t start edging away from me. They stood their ground and told me about interfaith cooperation. What I couldn’t tell them was that I cried because my heart was so full.
Technically I was walking the campus alone but I had many people with me… my roommates and fellow “Hutslers” (RobI, CaroLee, Dorat, and KatWorlf – I’m looking at you. We lived in a lakeside house called the Hut and which looked more like a hut than its present resort cottage incarnation. (Sorry for the old person digression.)
But I mostly walked with my professors, some of whom also became my friends. As I walked down many of the sidewalks I thought about walking them with the chaplains, both of whom mentored me in different ways and both of whom blessed my gifts. Many of the professors and one of the chaplains are gone now but their influence continues in my heart.
I was overcome, my heart filled with gratitude. Gratitude for having the opportunity to receive a fine education. Gratitude for having spent four years in such a beautiful place (even if I was not yet a runner in those days.) But mostly gratitude for the people who didn’t just teach me things but who invested their lives in my life. They made a difference. They changed me, all for the better.
The truth of it is that we all have the opportunity, professor or not. It comes as we bless and name the potential and the gifts we see in another. Or it comes as we encourage them to be the person whom God created them to be. It comes as we create safe containers in which they can be honest about their despair, their grief, the joy and their dreams. It comes as take the time and make the effort to look another person in the eyes, to stop for even just a moment to be present with them and to them.