The sudden death of Tim Russert has caused many people to think about the reality of death. Recently, I have been to several funerals and the one common thread in all of them was that everyone is terminal. It is ultimate equality that everybody dies, rich or poor, black or white. After death, there is no chance to listen to a person for any comment that should have been expressed before the person left us behind.
My older sister is a very sharp 93. I hope I am as vital as she is when I reach her age. But life is fragile. So this is my effort to put in words what I want to say before I depart.
First is family. I was born as the middle child with two older siblings and two twin younger sisters. Dad lost all his money when the banks closed in 1929. One day he woke up with the equivalent of a million dollars (in today’s currency) and went to bed with not a penny to his name. My father was a developer in the construction business. He lost all of his property because he could not pay the taxes.
We went from rich to poor in one day and had to move in with my paternal grandmother. My father survived and three of his five children graduated from college. My father set an example for all of us on how to relish life and not be devastated by difficulties.
My mom was a leader in church choir and women’s groups. It seemed to me that when the church doors were open, we were usually present. From my parents, I learned many lessons in how to live a life that made a difference in the lives of others in difficult times.
We were a musical family. Mom and Dad sang in the choir. My older sister took piano and organ lessons for many years and became very proficient. I learned to play the saxophone, as did the younger twin. My other sister played clarinet. The three of us younger siblings were in the marching band in high school. Our brother played the drums in a drum and bugle corps.
In my late teens, I became a professional musician for three years, played in the Fifth Army Air Corps band in Nagoya, Japan, and am presently a member of the Believers Band at First United Methodist Church here.
When an arsonist burned our church to the ground, my father was made chairman of the rebuilding committee. The church sits on a small hill and its copper-covered steeple can still be seen today from miles away.
I am proud to have had the parents we had with their guidance and good examples of helping others.
I met my wife to be in a church choir. After marriage we planned on having six children. I am deeply grateful to my wife and family physicians and teachers who worked with us so we could have healthy, relatively well-adjusted and educated offspring.
All six visited me last fall for my 80th birthday bash. I am overly blessed to have such interesting and different children.
How much richer is my life than that of my oldest friend whom I have known for over 70 years. He never married, never had children. He is the end of his family line and his life seems empty. I feel extremely blessed. I know I am deeply loved by all of my children. God has been good to send them to me.
After I received my Ph.D. from the University of Virginia, I taught in two colleges and two universities for a total of 38 years. What a blessing it was for me to have access to so many hundreds of young minds.
I came to see that the best aspect of being a teacher was for me to listen to students and try to offer any criticism that was appropriate. I believe I gained more from my students than they did from me. If I stirred my students to think for themselves, to seek answers themselves to the questions they faced, then my life as a teacher has been full.
I have a deep felt sense of gratitude to all persons I have met since retiring to Gainesville in May 2000. Every person I have met has had an interesting life, a story to tell.
God had been good to me to let our lives intersect. Thank you for your life. Knowing you has made my life richer.
Tom Nichols is a retired college professor who lives in Gainesville. His column appears regularly and on gainesvilletimes.com.