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  • Writer's pictureBill Stauffer

Gratitude Friday 9-15-23 – The March of Time

My father passed on a few weeks ago at the age of 90. He was preceded by my mother, who passed at age 56 many years ago. He had a full life, his obituary is HERE. I am experiencing some grief, but it is tempered by the fact that he had a long life, with no regrets. We all had time to say goodbye, another gift. His passing had me reflecting on death and the march of time. It seems like just yesterday I was a small child and sat on his back while he did pushups and counted off to 20. He lived fully up until the end and died after a short illness. May the rest of us be so fortunate.

Family is about those relationships that are closest to us. This can be blood relations or otherwise. I know my dad saw this in his own way. He counted among his family students from rural Kenya where he lived with his second wife Dr Helen Kohler for a decade. They traveled the world together. He also helped dozens of young people living tenuously in Eldoret Kenya by paying for their education and helping them live to their fullest. They in turn helped others in a ripple effect. One of those students, now living in the US with a PhD named his son Ronald in my father’s honor. What a legacy.

Education was a shared value I hold with my late father. He was really able to connect with this more deeply after he met Helen. Just over two years ago I wrote a Gratitude Friday post titled Grateful for the Educators where I reference her. She is a nurse and public health epidemiologist who taught all around the world with a nursing degree, a master’s degree in public health and a doctoral degree in epidemiology. With my father, they invested time and resources supporting students from Africa as this article illuminates. She quietly encouraged me to reach a little farther in life years ago and I am grateful for that reinforcement of this shared value with my father. She said to me that education would take time and effort, but that 20 years from then, I would be 20 years older and have an education or not. I have one. That was more than 20 years ago. I have the degrees, I also am now an educator.

The picture is of my father, my grandfather my older brother Doug and little me. I am the only one in this 1971 photo still around. The week we lost my father, I heard a quote that really resonated with me. The one below by TS Eliot from Little Gidding published 1943. When asked about the poem, Eliot said that its theme is humanity's flawed understanding of life and turning away from God leads to a cycle of warfare, but this can be overcome by recognizing the lessons of the past. Its publication had been delayed because of the air-raids on Great Britain during World War II and Eliot's declining health. The theme of warfare and battle over senseless things at the expense of love, peace, human relationship and our apparent inability to see what history shows us about these pitfalls deeply resonate with me.

Writing is such a powerful medium. Eliot captures the arc of life in just a few lines of prose:

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring, will be to arrive where we started

and know the place for the first time. Through the unknown, remembered gate, when the last of earth left to discover Is that which was the beginning; at the source of the longest river, The voice of the hidden waterfall and the children in the apple-tree not known, because not looked for but heard, half-heard, in the stillness between two waves of the sea.” —T.S. Eliot

Writers across time have mused about the nature of life. The meaning of our brief existence. It is not my intent here to try and add to all of that which has been written on these topics over the course of human history. I am not sure I have much of worth to contribute. I would note that whatever else, I am grateful to be here now, come what may. I have learned that adversity and even loss can provide opportunity for growth. It is a life lesson that in earlier years older and wiser people tried to reinforce for me. Education was a value I rejected in the folly of youth but now embrace. As the march moves ever onwards, I find increasingly that these are themes I find myself trying to instill in younger people.

Life is such an incredible gift. That gift has blemishes and challenges, but we are not owed any of it. I think life is defined by how deeply we love, what we learn and service to each other. These are life lessons my father underlined for me from my earliest days. I find myself doing much of the same for others. This is part of the march of time we are all on.

I define family in many ways. I have a biological family. I have a family I wed into. I have a recovery family and I have a community family. Years ago, as part of my formal education in graduate school, the program of Social Work I went through had a concentration on what they called family in environment. It taught that everything we do in this world is influenced by family, and everyone defines their own family. It is why my father considered students from Kenya as family, much as I have similar broad family groups beyond biological. I am grateful for my place in these families and for the march of time and the pure gift of life and the lottery win of living in yet another stage of life as time creeps onward. Whatever family is to you, cherish yours as you count it, in whatever way that is. I am grateful for my father, his legacy and all members of my family constellation.

What are you grateful for today?

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