Minnesota Musings

The Influential Professor

By October 20, 2020No Comments

Waking up late on a recent cold and rainy Saturday morning I did not want to get up. The comfort of my futon, the warm air circulating from my body under the heavy covers, and the reality that whenever I get up from my futon (Japanese style on the ground), my back groans in pain. This keeps me horizontal longer than usual.

It’s already 8 am and well past my wake up time. I go easy on myself and allow another ten minutes before rising to greet what turns out to be a gentle day thanks to the soft patter of rain against the window. After my first cup of coffee I am ready to go. Go where I do not know. On occasion I prefer to let the day unfold rather than sticking to a set plan.

This kind of rigidity masked as discipline is something I like to shake up on occasion before it’s too late and the grooves of routine become too deep to change. It’s not easy as we age. I know I am aging. Stating the obvious we all are. But as we age those grooves of routine become so deep that it’s nearly impossible to change. One less divot in the groove today, I let any semblance of a plan go.

Allowing the gentle feeling in, I barely peruse the news. It’s depressing on all fronts. Back to gentleness. Finishing my cup of coffee, banana and apple slices I decide to go to one of my favorite coffee shops, “Dailies,” to do some writing.

Rainy days keep people away and having the place to myself would be a welcome relief to the packed rush hour train I was on last night for nearly an hour. Walking over I adjust to the gentle rain and slow down my gait. Letting my mind wander as I make my way, what comes to the fore is the contrast between what I am feeling on the inside and what is going on in the world.

My next thought is of one of my favorite and influential professors I had the pleasure of learning from during my second go around with university. The first go around I nearly failed out of in my late teens and took a 20-year hiatus before returning to graduate in my late 30s. In hindsight it was a smart move, although that first go around I felt like a failure. Rather than fess up I went and lived in London, worked in a pub and drank my way across Europe in the mid 80s. This is a story to be explored in detail for another time.

Returning to university in my late 30s was an interesting experience. While my classmates were in their late teens and early 20s I was closer in age to many of my professors. Naturally, I gravitated towards them and in some cases befriending a few. One such befriend, my influential professor, was a Lebanese born American whose specialty was Middle East history.

My major was international relations. The timing for his courses was perfect having just returned to my hometown of Minneapolis from New York City. This was a year after having experienced 9.11 firsthand. I was ripe for knowledge and understanding what happened during that time.

I threw myself into the courses and more importantly became friends with him. He would eventually go on to advise me on my final research paper allowing me to spend hours in his office as we spoke of world issues.

During one such visit I was feeling a bit heavy, code for depressed, because of the state of affairs of the world. That and the fact that I was at the tail end of my research paper, an historical analysis of the US involvement in the Middle East leading up to 9.11. It was an eye opening life changing experience. Cutting through the mainstream and government narrative, I threw off those rose colored glasses that had influenced my view for most of my life.

During our talk that day in his office he tried to console me. Not by saying it’s okay everything will be alright, rather by saying this is the price we pay for choosing to have a finger on the pulse of the world. That is to say, paying attention to issues and making the connections that affect our world.

He was right and looking at the big picture can be daunting to say the least. I went on to finish my final research paper and graduate after that long hiatus. We kept in touch for a few years afterward, but the communication eventually faded with time. His influence continues to affect my perspective of the world to this day.

While I try not to keep my finger on the pulse too long, I still check the pulse on occasion. And so it is while walking over to coffee shop to write this that I think the gentleness I feel is thanks in large part to a reprieve from pulse taking. Looking back if I were to be engaged on the same level then as today I don’t know how I would survive.

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