People drove for hundreds of miles to join the celebration.
One after another, they stood up to express their feelings, to speak of his dedication and sense of humor, his sensitivity and compassion, his athletic skills and intelligence — all coupled with a humility that engendered respect from people of all ages.
His attributes were many, but I couldn’t help but wonder whether something in particular about this man of only 23 years sparked this incredible outpouring of love and admiration.
What was it about the way that he lived his life that affected so many people, of all ages and walks of life, so deeply?
As I listened to the stories, I found it intriguing that people repeatedly mentioned this man’s sincere interest in learning from others.
He made a point of asking to be taught, inviting others to share their insights with him so that he could understand and learn from them.
This may seem to be minor, but this way of meeting people, of seeing them, and engaging them, is insightful.
By expressing a sincere desire to learn from people, to know them, he circumvented the judgments, comparisons and expectations that so often pervade and limit our relationships.
Conflict and division were neutralized by his willingness to take the time to recognize and value other human beings.
The focus was taken off of accomplishments and skills, and placed firmly and sincerely on the connection.
As we listen to the news about the violence and hostilities all over the world, we are challenged to find ways to cultivate peace, to create a kinder, gentler world.
He started with peace.
Martin Luther King, Jr., when speaking of world peace, said:
“One day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but that it is a means by which we arrive at that goal.”
Palestinians and Israelis are uniting to shout to the world: “We refuse to be enemies.” They demand our attention when they announce:
“There is only one side.”
We may question whether it is naïve to believe that we can live together peacefully, whether small, seemingly insignificant actions by individuals can translate into world peace.
The extraordinary impact that this one young man had on so many people reinforces for me that when we meet each other in peace, with acceptance and genuine interest in each other, the possibilities are far-reaching and profound.
He reminded me that our individual peaceful efforts reflect the essence of peace in the world.
Since I have returned home from his memorial, I find myself asking:
What can I learn from this individual?
How can I open the door for them to fully and honestly share their gifts?
How can I start with peace?