One of my former professors died recently, and I was fortunate enough to attend his memorial; although briefly. Even though it was a sad occasion, the room would occasionally swell with laughter as a friend, colleague, family member, or student would share fond memories of him.
I was among some of his former students in the room, and although I did not go up to speak, I found truth in the common thread of their sharing that attested to how crucial of an influence he was to their development, and how invested and instrumental his involvement was toward helping each of them to graduate and move on to the next stage of their personal and professional lives.
He’ll always be a part of my story. Although not so much these days, there was a time when I found statistics to be extremely intimidating. However, he loved the work, which helped out a lot, and had a way of explaining the information that made it extremely relevant to real-life social conditions, which really fit with my learning style.
His influence and investment helped to change my perception of an experience from one that felt like a huge obstacle into an opportunity to develop a valuable skill-set that, if used properly could benefit groups large and small for the better.
Like some of the other professors I have had who have influenced me in positive ways, I think of him occasionally and recognize that some of his dedication to his students has rubbed off on me in how I engage with my own students these days.
As much as he’ll stay a part of my story of becoming, as I stood there and listened to stories about the contributions and impacts he made during his life, I also found myself wondering about what people might he have carried with him; if there were people who were a part of his story that influenced how he taught, or approached his work. Unanswered questions that I would have loved to have known.
I didn’t stay til the end. I couldn’t stay til the end, but as I walked out of the building and towards the parking lot. For a moment, I found myself at this thought-provoking intersection of sounds.
Behind me I heard the sounds of laughter. Someone must have been sharing another funny memory. In front of me I heard the sounds of a busy street; cars roaring past, horns honking, and the sounds and sights of people moving about town, living their lives, doing whatever was on their mind that day.
Thought-provoking is the only way I can describe it at this point, as I’m still processing my own feelings about it.
It was thought-provoking because I recognized in that moment that, at the same time those of us who were gathered there that day focused our energy and intentions on remembering his life, and the lives he impacted, the busyness of life; of business as usual was bustling outside as much as it has ever been with people; perhaps some focused on getting to the next thing, running from something, moving towards something else.
In that brief moment felt sandwiched between slow, deliberate reflection, and returning to a whirlwind of thoughts about deadlines, business, and other responsibilities.
Time just keeps moving. It doesn’t wait, even if we want it to.
One thing I’m reminded of currently, especially considering how quickly time passes, is the importance of being intentional about controlling my use of time in terms of how I use myself, and how I allow myself to be used by others in meaningful ways.
It was evident that my former professor’s involvement has had ripple effects not just on me, but on many of the people there, and some who could not be there. One of the ways we can honor the bridge builders in our lives is by being that person for others in our own ways. So as I reflect on the ripples he has made, I will continue going about the work of making my own.
From Aspiring Humanitarian, Relando Thompkins-Jones, MSW, LLMSW