I have been feeling remorse or regret the last two months. I succeeded in my New Year’s resolution all the way until the end of July. Then I fell off the wagon. Not in the usual sense. But I failed. I couldn’t carry it through. And I didn’t think I set the bar too high. I thought it a simple, but deeply important task. I was going to remember and name one person each day of the year who has had an important positive impact on my life. I would write their name in my pocket calendar, one each day. Pretty simple. I am over half a century old. In that time, surely there are three hundred sixty-five people in this non-leap year that I could name. Of course I know the names of three hundred sixty-five people. But these had to be people who made a positive impact on me. I got to two hundred twelve: thirty-one in January, March, May and July; twenty-eight in February; thirty in April and June. Then I ground to a halt. Actually it was grinding to a halt starting in May. Getting through June and July was pretty tough. By the end of July, I was stuck, couldn’t go on, fell off the wagon of my resolution.
January was easy. I began with family, my dad on the first, my mom on the second, my wife on the third, my children on the fourth and fifth. I named folks who have had a deep impact on my character, personality and maturity. These included close friends, and spiritual, intellectual, and coaching leaders who contributed much to my growth as a person. I identified brothers, sisters, their spouses and children. I identified team mates and teachers from college. By February I was reflecting on friends from high school, almost all of whom I have had almost no contact with since graduating from high school. They probably, most of them, don’t remember me, or if they could if prompted probably wouldn’t unless prompted. I also was getting on to students of mine for whom I had some mentoring role in their lives, with the natural consequence that I was mentored by them as well. In March I was on to colleagues I have had, few of whom I was close with, but all of whom I had cordial relations with and all of whom challenged me to think deeper or more carefully. By April I was getting on to people that made a generally positive impact on me, but for whom I had, shall I say, less warm feelings. Still, in April there were several named toward whom I have very warm feelings. In April, I had to start digging deeper into my memory. I began to recall other high school classmates, elementary, junior high, and high school teachers that were good for me and to me. In addition, having moved to a new area of the country just nine months previously, I was now meeting new people who were beginning to impact me, had been very kind to me, were beginning to welcome me into their lives.
I was starting to think of people who have impacted me but they would have never known it. For example, I named some living authors of books I had read, whose words and thoughts made a very deep impact on me, some of whom I have met (David James Duncan, Julia Annas, Martha Nussbaum, Nick Smith, Mark McPherran, Nick Wolterstorff, Richard Mouw, Al Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, Alasdair MacIntyre, Ed Dobson, among others) but most of whom I have never met in person (Donald Miller, Philip Yancey, Anne Lamott, Rob Bell, Saul Kripke, among others). By May and June I was naming dead authors, only one of whom I had spent some time with before they died: Flannery O’Connor, C.S. Lewis, Gregory Vlastos, R.M. Hare (the one I spent time with), Ludwig Wittgenstein, Donald Davidson, G.E.M. Anscombe, J.L. Austin, Bertrand Russell, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Rene Descartes, among others.
Clearly, I was getting desperate. I began to expand my criteria for “an important positive impact on my life.” I began to include those who had a positive impact by being an example of the kind of person I did not want to become: an unhappy and mean-spirited junior high teacher; a closed-minded, dogmatic and authoritarian pastor.
And now that I am thinking about it, I am beginning to recall more. I am going back to the beginning of August and starting to add more names. As well, I am including people whose names I can’t recall, and maybe never even learned: the eighty year old mailman we had in Toledo, the UPS delivery guy (was it Steve?) for our neighborhood in Toledo; Tim and Clyde from Nashville, gentlemen African-American waiters twenty years older than me who taught me in the early 1980s how to be a successful waiter at the very expensive Marino’s Italian restaurant, where we waiters wore white jackets and bow-ties. I now have August just about complete, and am ready to move on to September. The regret and remorse are diminishing. Maybe I’ll just pull this one off. Check back with me the beginning of January. Try it. It is much harder than getting three hundred sixty-five Facebook “friends,” most of whom are not friends but barely acquaintances.
I am, in the process, lowering the standards or broadening my horizon on my criteria for “an important positive impact on my life.” I am beginning to realize that there were many people who had an important impact on my life without being in-my-face sort of people. Ben and John at Japanese Auto Repair in Toledo, the most honest and trustworthy car repairmen I have ever known, who always had time to chat with me about anything. Paul, Mike, and John, guys who ran bicycle shops where you could hang out and drink coffee with them and they didn’t make you feel like you were getting in the way of business. Housekeeping staff at places I have worked who have been kind and friendly, perhaps too because I respected them and their work. Doctors and dentists who treated me as a person, not as a thing on a production line. Clerks at stores or shops I frequented, who genuinely seemed happy to see me, got to know my name, treated me like I mattered to them.
I am now down to the last week of September and, as I write, today is the last day of September. In Michigan, it is the last day of trout fishing season on the small streams for the small trout. Whether I make it or not all the way to December 31 identifying three hundred sixty-five different folks who had an important positive impact on my life, I will, in my first post in January 2012, list all the names I have. And if I missed your name, you will have to let me know about it.