Since 1977, I have been sending out a newsletter called LEARNINGS. Here is how I began the first issue:
This newsletter—LEARNINGS—is my way of sharing with you what I am learning. Often I learn something with one client that would have been useful with another client the day before. In order to bridge that gap of time and also to bridge the gap of space that separates me from clients and other friends outside Cleveland, I will share my learnings with you regularly in this newsletter.
That statement feels amazingly accurate more than 35 years later. The only real change is that I moved from Cleveland to London and then on to the Crook of Devon in Scotland.
In the earlier newsletters, I shared one or two learnings each time. Then I read a wonderful book by Michael Phillips called The Seven Laws of Money. He describes the Taoist approach to creating Seven Laws about anything.
I like that approach except that instead of announcing Laws, I prefer to share Learnings. I’ve now discovered Seven Learnings about all sorts of things, including Journaling, Love, Retreat, and Diversity. The latest Learnings starts here; the rest are in the Learnings Archive.
LEARNING: Each seed is a possibility.
A year ago, in February of 1993, my father died. I am still mourning his death, and I am still celebrating his life. Four years ago I wrote a Learnings about him for his eightieth birthday. I tried to sum up what I had learned from him. I didn’t get it all in – and I won’t get it all in this time.
But I do want to share with each of you the words that I said to the congregation last February at the memorial service for Dad. Only six weeks before, I had watched my friend George Simons talk about his mother at her funeral. He used a persimmon as an image of his mother and passed a real one around the congregation so that we could all touch it. I made a note to do something like that – never realising that I would be doing it so soon or that George would fly all the way from California to be there.
I discussed various ideas with the rest of the family. We first thought of passing round some trees, but the idea of seeds appealed to us even more. So, before the service, my nieces and nephews and I placed small packets of seeds in the hymnal racks throughout the church.
I was nervous about doing this and I found myself standing alone, thinking that maybe I should just forget the whole thing with the seeds. I began wondering what Dad would do if he were in this situation or what he would advise me to do.
Then I remembered that in such situations, Dad did not advise me to do what he wanted; instead, he encouraged me to do what I believed in – even if he disagreed with me. I could hear him saying quite clearly: “Sometimes you have to do what you think is best even when no one else agrees with you.” So we distributed the seeds and I stood up to speak. And this is what I said:
This is Mom and Dad’s clipboard. Whenever they go to the farm, Dad makes a list of things to do. I have three things to do this morning; say thank you, invite you to share, and offer a possibility.
First – thank you. Dad always thought of gratitude as a cardinal virtue. All of us in the family are deeply grateful for all the kind support you have given us. Thank you.
Second – an invitation to share. Over the last few days people have told us wonderful stories about Dad. We have realised that there is not time during this service for each of us to share a story. But we would like to hear them. And since we are a family of historians, we would like you to write down the story – either on the paper that will be downstairs at the reception or in a letter that you send to any one of us. Thank you.
Third – possibilities. Dad loved seeds. He loved them with vision and precision. He could envision a garden or a woods where others saw empty ground. He knew the precise name of each seed and tree he planted. He planted vegetables, flowers, trees – and possibilities.
We have brought some seeds with us today. You can find some in your hymnal rack. If you like, you might take them out now and look at them.
We are going to plant our seeds; we invite you to plant your seeds.
When Dad spoke at my sister Fran’s high school graduation in 1959 he said: “It is an axiom of the good life that the mature person plants a seedling so that his children may eat of the fruit of the tree and his grandchildren may play in its shade.”
Let me just say that again. “It is an axiom of the good life that the mature person plants a seedling so that his children may eat of the fruit of the tree and his grandchildren may play in its shade.”
As I have listened to people speak of Dad this week, I have realised that Dad was always planting something – seeds or possibilities.
His secretary said, “He changed the direction of my life.” She learned new skills and increased her responsibilities working with Dad. When she retired, she went back to school for her degree and is now teaching.
The man he helped hire a school superintendent remembers their first interview. When they discussed international education, Dad “beamed with enthusiasm”.
Two young lawyers who worked with Dad wrote of him, “For many who knew him, he was and will remain their one constant role model for every facet of their lives”.
Thirty years ago Dad planted the possibility of women being elders in this church. And thirty years ago Dad planted trees in the southwest pasture at the farm. Neither seed grew the first time. But Dad planted possibilities with patience and persistence. This year we found a ten-foot Christmas tree in the southwest pasture – and this church has had women elders for years.
In this church today – and in many other places in the world – seeds and possibilities that Dad planted are flourishing. And we are here to give thanks for that.
But that is not enough. Years ago Dad told me a story about his father stopping to help someone in trouble on the road. The person offered to pay him but my grandfather said: “Why not just pass on the favour to the next person who needs one.” And Dad has been doing the same thing all his life.
And that’s the possibility for each of us today. As we say thank you for the life of Dean Hopkins we can honour him by planting some seeds. Imagine the possibilities.