I received a letter in the mail today from my old mentor, Norb. I say old as in former because he's no longer a daily force for action in my life, even though his influences on me can be felt daily. And I do not mean "old" even though he is 70 years old. Norb is a great philosopher, a man of the cloth, a student of life, and a really great guy. If you ever look back on your life and you find those few defining moments, when the trajectory of your life was irrevocably altered, you can often point to an event or a person and say, that moment was important, that person changed my life. For me, the moment was considering yet another try at college at the ripe old age of 30 and meeting Norb, Director of The Honors College.
Norb was The Honors College. It was his baby, his creation, his vision. I was changed by his vision and I know in some ways, I changed the college as well. Norb was/is big on embracing life, encountering "the Other," and constantly learning and growing. Meeting him was a good fit for me, at the right time in my life when I was finally ready and serious about learning, when I desperately needed to discover my true potential, and also at a time when I needed a safe place to grow and be nurtured among enough like-minded people to encourage me, and enough unlike-minded people to throw a few bumps in the road, make some lessons a challenge, and help point out the rough edges I needed to work on.
The Oak tree is a symbol for The Honors College. This one was painted by a former Honors student, Derek Kaplan and hangs in the Honors Forum, complete with Roman pillars. At least it did the last time I was back there to see it. I was last back there for Norb's retirement party. The "official" retirement, even though he still teaches the occasional Honors Seminar, still writes and researches in his office, and is still a presence around the Honor College offices and classrooms. Honors was so quintessentially Norb, that I can't imagine it without him. My life used to so revolve around that place that I couldn't imagine ever leaving the nest or any life outside of that perfect world. Yet, Norb has retired, and I haven't been a part of that community for ten years now. Life changes, you can embrace the change or resist it. As the Borg would say, resistance is futile. So back to the point of this post, the letter from Norb. I consumed his letter immediately, so full of the words, the lectures, the ideas that made Honors what it was. I felt torn in two directions, nostalgia for what can never be again, and sadness, because I still need someone like Norb in my life today, to show me the possibilities, to encourage me that I can grow and endure the pain that comes with walking into the unknown. Someone to challenge my brain and make me think deeply about things, read and question, debate. I miss that stimulating environment for learning. I think that might be why I still love being on a university campus, because every now and then, I overhear intellectual conversations, I see a glimpse of curiosity and growth in a student and I think of Norb. He made something really special with his life. He changed so many lives. I place this expectation upon myself that because I was lucky enough to have studied with this man, learned from him, grown in the environment he nurtured for me and hundreds of other students, that I owe something back to the Universe, to honor Norb's life's work, to keep passing on the gift that was given to me. Now how to do that in my own way?