Archive for September, 2009

remembering another I did not know….

Monday, September 28th, 2009

Tonight I attended a memorial service for Malcom Quantrill. I really didn’t know him, but from the things my colleagues have relayed to me since I arrived here in Texas, he was a very thoughtful, very generous, professor.

I had known he was no ordinary professor of course, I learned he was one of the very very few Distinguished Professors walking the grounds of Texas A&M and the only Distinguished Professor ever named in the College of Architecture.

One of the people who spoke about him tonight also did not know him, but “knew” him through the light in the eyes of his bride and through the character, strength, and quality of his children.

That struck me. I had known him because he spoke up for young faculty, had extended his umbrella of achievement to support the success of young scholars and architects. That is why I attended. I did not know this man, but I believed him to have been a good man.

It turns out I had a number of his books in my library. I’d read them, some a long time ago, but had not connected the power of the words and ideas with the distinguished fellow I’d been introduced to briefly during my interview a few years ago. His work stands with other great theoreticians and critics of our time, a superstar really, but tonight he was remembered as a husband, a father and a mentor.

I’ve been thinking about my life a bit lately (…yes…again…) wondering, sometimes out loud, if I had accomplished what I was intended to, asking myself partly if I was “done” and what I might do next. I’ve lost some of the firm ground I used to depend on this past year or so, made some discoveries about people in my past that undermined my trust in my judgment. This is mostly a problem during quiet moments when I have the sense I should be doing something more or something important. It never once creeps into my mind once I enter the classroom. Not because I contribute that much in the classroom but it is filled with sooo many possibilities! It is the place where we all think publicly, sometimes at the end of a pen, or with pixels, or with words but we all think publicly in the classroom. A marvel really.

Our Dean spoke tonight at the memorial, and spoke very well, observing that Malcom was uniquely gifted to be able to provoke and nurture conversations with wit and challenge in an effortless way. I’ve experienced this in the past, sitting in the living room of Professor Olivio Ferrari surrounded by students, faculty, and books, Professor Ferrari had a way of directing questions that would both stimulate and guide the discussion to achieve what I now believe to be a designed end for both students and faculty. It amazes me to think people like Malcom and Olivio could unravel an outcome across multiple people with multiple questions to effectively construct a lecture on the fly…and not really talk much themselves!

Lost my point there but…

Tonight one of the readings was a poem from Herbert titled “Love Bade Me Welcome.” It also struck me but for different reasons.

Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack’d anything.

“A guest,” I answer’d, “worthy to be here”;
Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.”
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
“Who made the eyes but I?”

“Truth, Lord, but I have marr’d them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”
“My dear, then I will serve.”
“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”
So I did sit and eat.

— George Herbert

I’m trying to learn what to do next, what if anything I want, or might deserve… Love is something that’s hard to ask for, and sometimes harder to accept it seems.

Professor Quantrill’s obituary may be found here:

An excellent paper on Professor Ferrari’s influence on architectural education may be found here:

Let me end this ramble by thanking the super professors like Malcom and Olivio…you’ve left the rest of us reaching for a bar that may never come into reach, but seems worth a lifetime of trying.

Take Care, be kind to each other, honor the honorable when they pass.

…people come into our lives…

Monday, September 21st, 2009

I was listening to a song last Friday as I tried to understand what J.W. might have been going through when he took his life. I heard this line “people come into our lives for a reason”…and found a poem, unattributed that expands on that line.

People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.
When you know which one it is, you will know what to do for that person.

When someone is in your life for a REASON, it is usually to meet a need you have expressed.

They have come to assist you through a difficulty, to provide you with guidance and support,
To aid you physically, emotionally or spiritually. They may seem like a godsend and they are..
They are there for the reason you need them to be.

Then, without any wrongdoing on your part or at an inconvenient time,
This person will say or do something to bring the relationship to an end.

Sometimes they die.

Sometimes they walk away.

Sometimes they act up and force you to take a stand.

What we must realize is that our need has been met, our desire fulfilled, their work is done.
The prayer you sent up has been answered and now it is time to move on.

Some people come into your life for a SEASON, because your turn has come to share, grow or learn.

They bring you an experience of peace or make you laugh.

They may teach you something you have never done.

They usually give you an unbelievable amount of joy.

Believe it, it is real.

But only for a season. 

LIFETIME relationships teach you lifetime lessons.

Things you must build upon in order to have a solid emotional foundation.

Your job is to accept the lesson,
love the person
and put what you have learned to use in all other relationships and areas of your life

It is said that love is blind but friendship is clairvoyant.

Thank you for being a part of my life. Whether you were a reason, a season or a lifetime. 

I was trying to think why J.W. had come into my life, as a way to try and understand why he chose to leave the lives of everyone he knew. From where I live now, I could only see a small portion of the grief that followed his decision, but it was a powerful number of people, and I couldn’t let go of the question why?

Why had he entered my life as an acquaintance? What did I learn by knowing him?

His death brought the same question up about Robert Cotten, someone I knew only briefly before cancer took him. I think I learned about grace from knowing him and the people around him in his last months. While the medical interventions he endured seemed to buy him days, they took big parts of human dignity as a toll, but with the support of those around him, and with his own internal strength, he remained, kind, funny, engaged through the last days I saw him.

J.W. seemed to not have a spectre of cancer knocking at his door. I worry maybe other spectre’s had welled up inside him and compelled him to do what he did. I worry that I didn’t see it in him, but then I’m learning that the people really serious about taking their lives conceal it well.

J.W. always seemed quiet, comfortable in any setting, smart and had a kind of humor that let you know he was very observant, very intelligent. He was committed to fitness, to his new bride, to supporting her work and career, and the quiet countryside of rural Virginia…how…why… could he choose to leave? I’ll never answer the question I know. But I worry, could the same spectre’s of hopelessness that convinced him to end his life show up in anyone? How compelling they must be to convince a person like him that life was over?

I won’t dwell on this anymore, I feel very badly for his widowed bride, for his friends, family, and the communities he played a role in. All are grieving still.

So it seems we never really know what’s happening inside of those people we have in our lives, and those people who come into our lives for a moment at the checkout in the grocery store, or on the corner as we wait for a bus.

They must be sent to us to help us learn, and we must be sent to them to help them in some way…keep it in mind as you go about your daily life today, tomorrow, and the next day…that smile, that hello, the politeness and kindness you give to people who come and go from your life, and the people who are in your life for a season, or a lifetime, its your gift to the greater good each time you give it.

I remember my Mom telling me when she was diagnosed with COPD after having survived cancer. I had brought my family to visit her and Dad for the holidays in Chicago. My youngest daughter seemed afraid of Mom’s wheelchair and I asked her to give her Grandma a hug before we left, telling her that Grandma needed a tiny bit of her energy to make her feel better. My daughter ran to her Grandma and gave her a long hug and a tiny kiss that only a three-year-old can and you could see Grandma light up. So it must be true, we share our energy through the little things, and ideally, when we are at our lowest, there’s someone who comes into our life to share a little of their life’s energy and get us over the low spots.

The first day of Fall arrives in a few days. A signal that the longer nights of Winter are just around the corner. During these darker days, share what energy you can with those who play a role in your lifetime, your season or your day…you never know who really really needs it. Because like J.W., they won’t tell you – you won’t know they need it until they are gone.

Eight years ago this morning I went home sick

Friday, September 11th, 2009

Eight years ago this morning I went home from work sick. I usually don’t remember being sick but then most of us remember what we were doing eight years ago today.

After word of the first aircraft hitting the World Trade Center reached me and my office mate, we found live coverage on the web minutes before the second aircraft struck. I remember we watched in silence as stunned as everyone else in America that morning. Seeing that plane vaporize when it hit the second tower, you instantly knew hundreds of lives had ended, right then. You could almost feel it. Like the world lost something that very second.

Its true that thousands, some sources say 70,000 people die each day in the world, so the loss of hundreds somehow shouldn’t affect us, but seeing it, realizing these people hadn’t prepared, hadn’t said goodbye…you could feel the loss. After the tragedy at Virginia Tech, poet Nikki Giovanni wrote “No one deserves a tragedy” words she later spoke in a resolute tone that lifted the tear-stained faces and brought that community up from its knees filled with a resolve to restore their spirit and move forward. That didn’t really happen after the losses eight years ago. I often wonder how the world might have been different if the poet-laureate of the United States had been able to lift us up, restore our spirit and embrace the good will the world focused on us towards addressing the underlying problems that provoked these extreme attacks.

But that day, the poets were silent on the national stage and instead, we embarked on a path of retribution that cost the world thousands more lives, cost us some of our best citizens, and squandered the good name of our country.

Extremism in any form, for any purpose, is a danger we must all stand together to oppose, be it Christian extremism that results in doctors being killed while they worship, Islamic extremism that results in women being stoned to death for driving a car, Communist extremism that slaughters peaceful protesters in Bejing or Capitalist extremism that results in slave labor to produce cheap goods for big-box retailers. If we don’t stand together as the people, those few who live their lives in fear, anger and righteousness will act. They will stop at nothing to have their fight, especially if they don’t have to fight it…only our voices, our unified voices are strong enough to squelch their bellicose rants that underpin the run-up to violence.

I watched the coverage of the towers, engulfed in flames, the street scenes of people running from the WTC site, and of the uniformed services personnel running towards the site. Who are these people who race towards disaster? They are the heroes among us, our neighbors, our friends, some trained and employed to help us during tragedies, some ordinary people who just know…someone needs help…and they offer it without thinking of their personal safety.

Dozens of stories of ordinary heroes emerged from that morning’s tragedy. One that strikes me, that makes me aspire to be a better citizen, is the story of the passengers on United Flight 93. They knew what their aircraft was being used for. They knew what would happen if they did not act. They knew what would happen if they did act…and yet, they acted. We don’t know for sure what they prevented, or who they saved. But it was likely they saved many of the people who disrespected the President the other night in the joint session. Ordinary people, gave their lives so elected representatives could act like insolent children, they should be ashamed, but like many who hold extreme beliefs, they felt empowered to act as they did. The worst part about that was the millions of children who watched and now sit in the back of classrooms, scanning their cell phones, rolling their eyes because their elected representatives said through their actions “its ok” “if you believe you are right, any behavior is acceptable.” Its hard to not imagine this point of view being passed back and forth in the cockpits of those aircraft eight years ago.

“No one deserves a tragedy.” As the first tower fell, I couldn’t believe it. These were robust buildings, conservatively engineered, the best our building culture could do, they were never supposed to fall. I saw that and my foundation, my core beliefs were cut out from under me. I felt sick. Went home, saw the other tower fall, and was sick again.

We still need a poet to take the national stage and lift us up to beat back the drums of war. A war that we are still fighting eight years later, a war we will still be fighting eight years from now…all for the want of a poet’s voice.

Be especially good to each other today. We all carry wounds from eight years ago, some more painful than others.
Take Care, speak out.