No excuses, just a reason. I have been keeping up my running, but I’ve been in a weird place. I have said before that every interaction you have in life builds up who you are. Some are good, some are bad, most have barely any effect at all. But there are some people, parents, maybe a teacher, grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors who can have a profound impact on you.
I did not have a lot of friends as a kid. Of the few friends I did have there was one house where no matter what was going on I was always welcome. My friend’s mom was always greeting everyone with a smile, she’d even play video games with us, or just talk to us. She was an educator and a historian. Even though she had her work, and research, and societies which she belonged to, she made time for the kids, all of us. After a very sudden illness she died the other day and I’ve been dealing with all this. Trying to be there for my friend and his family the best I can, and trying to process my feelings from my end.
My parents gave me so much of my care and drive to help people, to raise everyone up, to make sure every human being is treated with dignity and respect regardless of where they were born, who their parents were, what god they pray to, who they love, where they work, if they work, whatever. Valerie taught me a different side of this though. She knew her story, she knew where she came from and she taught us. She showed us the shackles they brought her ancestors to the New World in. She discussed the racism, apartheid, she shared with us her personal stories about her experiences even in “liberal, enlightened Connecticut.” She was not shy, she was not ashamed. As I sat and listened, I could feel the hurt and the anger, but she never showed it. Even if I didn’t realize it then, she taught me how to listen to other people’s stories and not just take in the words, but to truly take in all of what was said. But it also taught me that no matter what I thought of where society was, or is, I need to listen to other people and accept their experiences, and that I am not the final judge or arbiter of where society stands.
What is amazing is, she didn’t just stop at her family and friends. She reached out to the community at large and taught people about all these things. Fully engaged in teaching New Haven about its own history. Through the Greater New Haven African American Historical Society and Ethnic Heritage Center. They did tours through New Haven of very important sites, even finding a secret room in a house in New Haven that most likely was used as a stop on the Underground Railroad. Her and her fellow historians brought these lessons out into the community and made New Haven a better place.
More than that, those talks also gave me an appreciation for education in general. She wasn’t the only person to tell me the virtues of good education. Not just in a school, just taking the time to learn for yourself, to pursue your own interests in subjects. I definitely would not be an English teacher today without her. I would not have had such in interest in archaeology and history by far. I definitely would not have the perspective on it all that I have today.
I’m glad I got the chance to hang out with the family during Christmas, I feel bad I didn’t stop right in when I got back here this Summer. Loss is hard to deal with. I’m always left wondering if I’ve done enough to live up to what people have given to me. I know so many people have said they just wish me to be happy and healthy, but I feel if people are giving me such wonderful lessons about life and giving me fun, happy, safe places to learn and grow then I really do feel like I owe it to them to do more. I know I can’t help disappointing people at some point, life is full of highs and lows, of successes and failures. I just hope I succeed more than I fail and that all the people who helped get me there are happy they helped me reach that point, and that they feel the time, care, knowledge they used on me was worth it.
That seems like a lot of pressure to put on oneself, put that’s always been the pressure I’ve felt. I am my worst critic by far. Always hoping I did enough, always looking to do better. It can be difficult sometimes, but I wouldn’t want to be any other way. I wouldn’t want to be complacent with myself. First, I’d be a jerk. Second, I think that would be horribly boring. I don’t want to be better so I can walk around talking about how great I am. If I want to raise everyone else up, I have to be strong enough to lift. I have to be kind and compassionate enough to extend that help to all who ask for it. I have to be humble enough to excuse myself when someone doesn’t want that help. Every day, as I say, work to be better than I was the day before. The only competition I’m interested in, against myself.
Not to get too sad, but I’d be remiss at this point if I didn’t mention I actually had two wakes at the same time happening. It was very difficult to miss one, but my cousin was there to pass along my condolences. I have limits and sometimes I don’t want to push them. Let’s go out and do the best we can every day. Also, let’s take the lessons we learn and pass them on, it’s the best way to honor the people who gave us those lessons, it’s the way to keep their memory going.
Have fun, keep running and remember; if Gil can run then so can you!
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