A Gentleman, A Sweater Vest and Memories:
Last September, I attended the graduation ceremony of a close family member; which was naturally being held in a large, collegiate athletic center.
I freely admit that my opinion of these kinds of events has remained fairly constant throughout my life; in that one generally goes to support the loved one –especially during the “presentation of the graduates” to receive their diplomas. Unfortunately, in order to get to this point, one also has to suffer through all of the speeches and formal program beforehand!
So, during the early stages of the college faculty promenade, idealistic speeches, John Phillip Souza band numbers etc, etc. etc….I was doing everything BUT paying attention! I was squirming in the seat, playing on my telephone, making faces at the cute little baby in front of me, doing a facility wide “re-con” with our binoculars and (generally speaking) just people watching.
During my lazy reverie, I kept sweeping my binoculars back to the section of seating - immediately off to my left and down towards the stadium floor. Now, you may presume to know (or at least suspect) what it was that kept pulling my attention back to this location. Might it have been the schools cheerleading squad? No. How about the military unit (all smartly dressed in their uniforms) having presented and now guarding the United States flag? Well, yes for a moment or two. But even that didn’t hold my attention for long!
For some strange reason I kept coming back to the profile of an older gentleman, quietly sitting in the audience, wearing a rather conservative sweater vest. Initially I had the thought flit across my mind that “perhaps it’s the fact that I hadn’t seen a sweater vest for quite a while or maybe even thought that they had disappeared from current preferred fashion! But no, it was really just his facial profile that demanded my attention.
As I looked, wondered and searched my memory – all of a sudden, the much needed mental synapse fired and in an instant I knew who this was; and along with that recognition - came a flood of memories and emotions! Now, at this point I should state that (out of respect to his privacy) I’m not going to give his name. However, I’m going to share a “bit of a tale” and some lessons learned as a result of my multi-year interaction with him.
As a foundation, I should say that I worked for (and at a distance - with) this person for much of my formal working career. But, I had not seen him for over a decade. During the last twelve years his appearance and once strong public persona had greatly changed and merged into a new, significantly older (but not unpleasant) visage. It might also be important to declare that at least in the earliest days of my career, I felt intimated, and a bit overpowered, by him – but also, held him in at a certain level of “business world” awe.
For over 20 years, I watched as this person rose in prominence (combined with a certain amount of fame) in the industry he served. At one point, he was known the world over; as result of international leadership assignments that had come to him. For several years, he was receiving so many awards and professional acknowledgements (usually combined with beautiful dinners held in his honor) that many of us grew somewhat weary and little bit cynical about attending YET ANOTHER one of these events! On occasion, we were even driven to come up with elaborate excuses, allowing at least some of us to not be in attendance. royal purple bridesmaid dresses
Now to the point of my story…..
It wasn’t the fact that this once “great man” had grown older that had pierced my mind and thoughts, but rather it was the fact that - by all appearances - NO ONE AROUND HIM (perhaps with the exception of his immediate family) KNEW WHO HE WAS OR HAD ANY IDEA OF ALL OF THE AWARDS, TITLES, ACCOLADES AND PROMINENCE HE ONCE HELD; AND NO ONE SEEMED TO CARE! (INCLUDING ME!) He was simply an older man wearing a sweater vest, sitting in a vast audience, JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE!
It seemed to me then, and even more so now, that the real lesson here is that “as time, and the years roll on – and as we’re closer to the end of life, than the beginning – we’re forced to recognize that all of these THINGS we once thought to be so important….become meaningless. “
As the diplomas were handed out and the ceremony was drawing to a close, I took one last look at the person I’d been observing, and asked myself “so, if all of these man-made things ultimately become meaningless, what kind of a man, a human being, was he?” Here are the thoughts that immediately came to my mind:
• I remember him being kind and respectful to everyone; regardless of station.
• I remembered him greeting even the lowliest of employees with a smile and with warmth.
• He always seemed to acknowledge others who had been involved with the company’s success; and frequently said “Thank you”.
• I perceived that he knew (and publicly stated) that his great success, was not his alone; but also belonged to everyone else who helped him get there.
• I perceived that he loved his family, his God and his country.
• His frequent laughter seemed free, easy and an open invitation for others to participate.
To put it simply – by all accounts “he was a pretty good guy!”
For my thinking, not a bad way to measure a life…..and the impact thereof…..