Thursday, December 02, 2010

A Meaningful Life

Benson Medina '76

     In the fall of 1972, I met Eric Witt '76.  He was actually from my hometown of Kailua, but we went to different schools.  Eric was a hippie/surfer type, who had a very peaceful look on his face and a gentle nature.  He had a great smile and was always friendly to me. We both arrived at Pacific in the fall of 1972 and were neighbors on the first floor of Clark Hall.
       Eric played the guitar and I could hear him playing occasionally.  But he got everyone’s attention when he started to sing.  But not in a good way.   His voice was a cross between an animal caught in a leg snare and a mile long locomotive slamming it’s brakes on.  Condensing it down into one word: painful.
       But it didn’t seem to bother Eric, who kept right on singing despite the expletives being spewed in his direction from every corner of the dorm.  I ran into him in the hall one day and asked him the present day equivalent of,  “Dude, what’s up with the singing?
       He broke into a wide smile and said, “I love music and I love to sing.  It doesn’t matter if you can sing or not, what matters is that you do it for the love of it.”
       That encounter changed my life because it gave me the confidence (“If Eric can do it, I can do it”) to start playing the guitar and singing myself.  Almost 40 years later, I occasionally think of him whenever I pick up the guitar.   But beyond music, Eric knew the meaning of “living your passion” way back in the ‘70s, long before it became the buzzword for a meaningful life.
       In my four years in Forest Grove, I had many similar experiences that were life altering, though I didn’t know it at the time.
       At Pacific, I got around black people for the first time and saw how closely they stuck together and how they had such a strong sense of culture.  Though many people were put off by the arrogance of the “Black Power” movement, it made me understand the attitude it took to make social change a reality.  Several years later, when we were going through the “Hawaiian Renaissance” I was thankful for the important lessons I learned from my BSU (Black Student Union) buddies.
       I learned that I loved to write while I was at Pacific but I needed Mike Steele to help me hone my passion into a skill.  He taught me to get to the point quicker and to pay closer attention to the mechanics of writing.  He recognized my raw talent but wasn’t going to allow me to coast my way through his Advanced Writing course.  In my professional life, I’ve always gravitated toward a person like Mike Steele, an expert with high expectations, but a willingness to be helpful.
       Working in the cafeteria during the breakfast shift, I learned how to frost maple bars, a pastry I never saw until I got to Pacific. Since there were only a handful of us that could get up at 6 a.m. to work, I met a simple, yet beautiful co-worker from a small farming community in Nebraska.   She taught me to love and appreciate Oregon, a place I initially hated, but ended up spending 36 years of my life there.  Rhea became my wife and the mother of our son and stands today as one of my greatest teachers, even though our marriage ended years ago.
       As an academic institution, Pacific was a wonderful small environment that launched me into the working world with a coveted bachelor’s degree.  But more importantly, it was the “social petri dish” I needed to expose myself to new ideas and experiences, meet people who would have a lasting impact my life and provide a reference point where I can see how much I’ve changed and grown over the years.
       And what about Eric Witt?  He lives happily with his family on the Big Island, plays a mean guitar and still sings at the top of his lungs.

Medina '76  lives in Honolulu and writes a blog called Any Moment, where he chronicles thoughts on the enormous changes and challenges of human life. People die, lose jobs, get their property destroyed, get cancer, lose limbs, go to war and come back to a completely different scenario than what they left.  This blog looks at people who have had massive changes and examines how they have adjusted.

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