In researching a recent blog about I came across a man I wish I had known. James Moffett died young, only 66, and he died handsome. But it was his spirit, more than his appearance, that came through so clearly.
I found an article Moffett had written back in 1982, in the College English Journal, called Writing, Inner Speech and Meditation. His thinking was clear and articulate, engaging throughout.
His words were carefully crafted, rich and simple at the same time. When I dug deeper into his history, I discovered he was a gifted teacher of writing, well beloved by his students.
I wish I could have known him.
That led me to think of other people I have encountered in a lifetime of reading and thinking. Eleanor Roosevelt, for example. An unattractive woman by some accounts—her husband Franklin apparently had a mistress who was much more beautiful. And yet, Eleanor kept the White House going—a defacto President while her husband lie sick and unresponsive. I would like to have talked to her after she left Washington. What was it like being you, Eleanor?
And what about people of truly original thought such as artist Alexander Calder? I have touched his mobiles, and dreamed. And seen the earthy animal toys he build for imaginary circuses, and laughed.
Buckminster Fuller—I would like to have talked to him when he sat on the bank of that lake, depressed and alone. What was it then that encouraged him to move forward? And how much we would have missed—World Games, the geodesic dome—if he had not.
I imagine that Thomas Edison would have been much too busy to pay attention to me. He was always trying something new in his laboratory. But I would like to think that Leonardo da Vinci might have paused in his explorations for a talk. After all, we share the ‘sin’ of being left-handed!
What about people at the end of their time here on earth—would John Keats, who died so young, say it had all been worth it? I wonder about Elizabeth I. She seems to have lived at times a very lonely, risk-filled life, yet one full of triumph and mastery. What would she have to share with me about how to savor each moment?
I came across an old family photo the other day. In it are three women—Great-great aunts, I am told—photographed on a windy spring afternoon, holding sprigs of chokecherry. They wear everyday clothes, aprons wrinkled and hair a bit untidy from the weather.
Squinting from the bright sun, the elder one looks with fondness at the baby held in the lap of the youngest. What would these pioneer women have to teach me, their descendant, over a century later? I ponder what I in turn could share with them, about how their world had changed.
I am sometimes frustrated by the fragments of time, the brief glimpses of past lives that we garner from writings and pictures. I think of what the past has to teach us. And I wonder, what our descendents will learn from us?