Sometimes I wonder how much any of us look beyond our own immediate concerns and needs. I can’t remember if it was the seventies, eighties, or nineties that was supposed to be the “me decade,” but it has certainly dragged on. The word for the new millennium often seems to be solipsism—and the fact that I use a word like solipsism without bothering to define it shows how little we seem to care for the needs of others.
But then one of those events happens that is significant only in retrospect, and we have to think again. I attended a memorial service for a friend and neighbor, someone I have known for over 25 years as a captain of industry and a pillar of the community, who had died suddenly and unexpectedly. The community gathered, along with other captains of industry, and the service was simple, dignified, and sad. The reflections of the family members were particularly touching, and we were left with the impression that this had been a person with depth and feeling. The captains of industry seemed a little restless during the service, but perhaps that was just me.
The service was followed by a reception (in many places it would have been a wake), at which the captains of industry—and there were quite a few of them—spoke about the qualities of my friend and neighbor. They lauded his qualities of integrity, patience, perseverance, and vision. They applauded his achievements on behalf of the community. They reminisced about his quirks of personality. And yet, and yet… there was a hollow at the centre of the achievements that they praised so highly. The qualities he showed, and the accomplishments that were associated with him all surrounded objects and activities, committees and functions. Things, but not people. And I was left reflecting, once again, how privileged we are in this most human of professions.
Unlike my friend and neighbor, I can’t claim to have built any landmarks or shaken the hand of visiting royalty (although I was not too far from Elton John on one memorable occasion). But I have held up a newborn baby for an exhausted, exhilarated mother and father to see. I have held the hand of a frightened young woman as she drifted into unconsciousness before surgery, and I have held the hand of an elderly woman as she died. I have been told things of the most personal, tragic, and humorous nature by people who trusted me—and all without asking. Maybe I didn’t help all of them, but it certainly felt like I had, and that is as rewarding as it gets.
None of us could seek more fulfillment than this. So, for now, I have stopped wondering how many of us look beyond our own needs and concerns. It doesn’t matter, because at least in this profession we have the privilege of being involved with people who reward us with their confidence. Everyone should be so lucky.
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