Of memories that come as the years flow by, the most precious are those of unexpected kindness received. Here is one:
Professor Huston Smith is remembered for many accomplishments in the field of Comparative Religion, including a standard text and several videos. He is remembered also as a talented and dedicated teacher. But many who knew him, as I was privileged briefly to do, remember him best for his generous kindness.
As it happened, he sat on my doctoral dissertation committee and was always gently encouraging. The incident that shows him most typically came with his presence as one examiner at my dissertation oral exam.
To say I approached that experience with terror is an understatement. I had traveled by myself from Tucson to Berkeley. I was staying in a hotel. Two of the other committee people were professor/friends I knew much better than I knew Huston. As he came into the exam room, the first prof to arrive, Huston greeted me and added, “I’d like to see you after this is all over, Marilyn.” It was like being asked, mysteriously, to stay after school! It didn’t help my nerves.
After the exam, a success surprising to no one but me, I waited for Huston. He was sorting the pages of my dissertation and apologized for keeping some and tossing some. “I will die one day and I don’t want my children to have to sort through more than is necessary. So I’m keeping only the most important ones.”
Then, “Right now, Marilyn, I’d like to take you home to Kendra (his wife whom I had met once) for supper.”
Astonished, I gladly accepted, but I was puzzled. My friends had not offered any such thing. Why had Huston? He didn’t know me well.
As we drove up to the Berkeley hills, I couldn’t contain my question. “Huston, this is so kind of you and I appreciate it. But–why?”
He glanced briefly over at me, and then, “Oh… Well, Marilyn, there are times in life when one should not be alone. This is one of them.”
They fed me a supper of fish soup, toasted my success with sweet sherry, and then Kendra went off to her meeting and Huston delivered me to the bus and went to his meeting.
Simple. Direct. Indelible.
If you’d like to know more, take a look at www.befriendingyoursoul.com