Saturday, June 28, 2008


It was interesting to see in the news this week that Bill Gates is retiring from Microsoft. Some have called him a “self-made man,” but that phrase really is not a correct one. Sure, he has always been talented and creative and intelligent and has been a hard worker and passionate in his career, but self-made? None of us is really self-made. From the teacher (or parent) who taught him the alphabet to his employees who helped make Microsoft successful to the customers who buy his products, there are many, many people who helped Bill Gates along the way. As it is with each of us.

I was born into a loving family to two of the most wonderful parents in the world. I was brought up to respect others, to be tolerant and generous, and I was given on an extensive education, partly in the classroom, and mostly at home. I have not become rich or famous, nor have I invented anything of use to the world. But what life I have carved out I owe initially to that unconditional love and inexhaustible teaching that for a long time I took for granted. Besides my family, what other amazing teachers have I been blessed with? Miss Vuille, who taught me in elementary school how to play the piano on a “keyboard” made of cardboard, using workbooks where the half notes were nurses and the black notes were soldiers. Miss Stryker and Mrs. Watkins, who taught me how to read. Mr. Knight, who taught me French. Miss Gillespie, who taught me choral singing and joie de vivre. Mrs. Ray, who, along with my mom, taught me how to sew. Mr. Fleming, who taught me how to play a pipe organ.

Actors on awards shows have always been belittled for their endless “thank you” speeches. But if you think about it, those actors are facing the fact that they really do owe lots of people their gratitude. The make-up and hair artists and costume designers who made them look incredibly perfect, the lighting people who did the same, the casting directors who hired them, and all the other skilled workers in the industry, in addition to acting coaches, fitness coaches, voice/dancing teachers, agents, the theaters carrying their movies, and the family and friends who encouraged them. The soloist realizes she is lost without her backup singers and orchestra. The rugged young actor remembers who gave him his first break. Those Hollywood celebrities are indeed not self-made, and sometimes even they realize this.

I was thinking about this today because two weeks ago I finally finished that quilt for Rachel and Chris that had been 6 long years in the making. I did it by my (as of December 2007) self-imposed deadline - their 6th wedding anniversary, which, by the way, is today. Now I am halfway through another quilt, one for my 2-1/2-year-old granddaughter Charlotte, who is moving from a crib to a “big girl bed” very soon. To whom do I owe my ability to quilt? Back in 1987, when I was the choir at Trinity United Methodist Church in Memphis, another singer always had a quilting project in her lap during choir practice. I had sewn clothes all my life, and had learned to cross-stitch and even crocheted once, but I had never seen anything like what she was doing. I finally was intrigued enough to ask her about it, and she graciously invited me to her house near the church one evening for a one-hour quickie lesson on how to quilt. I took to it with passion and never looked back. I owe my quilting life to this young lady, who took the time to pass on her creative knowledge.

All through my 53 years, a myriad of caring people have supported and taught and encouraged me and made me who I am today. They have affected my hobbies, the books I read, the things I want to learn, how I interact with my family and acquaintances, and everything else that makes up me. They’ve taught me how to forgive and ask forgiveness, how to let go of mistakes, how to build on successes, how to tolerate those who are different, and, most of all, how to be grateful and appreciate what I have been given. Some have invested an extraordinary amount of time with me; others have just been there to point the way and wish me luck. Still others will hardly realize that they have had an impact on my life, as I am just one of many whose lives they touched.

Thank God we are not self-made! If that were the case, humility would be in even shorter supply than it already is. For those of you who have helped me and taught me and encouraged me and loved me, words cannot adequately express how much that means to me. I will never be able to thank you on national TV, but this will just have to do. Thank you. I couldn't have done it without you.

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