Moses never entered the promised land and I don’t expect to.
Nobody owes me anything. God owes me nothing, but every once in awhile He gives me a glimpse, a flash. He used to do it more often. Since I’ve gotten older, apparently I am expected to suck it up and figure it out on my own, but God gave me a flash the other day.
I was invited to tell a group of young nurses about a woman named Cecelia Waggoner. Mrs. Waggoner turned 100 years old earlier this year. She was the woman who started the Department of Nursing at PSU.
Now, I need to be careful when I talk. She was working as part of a system. There was university support for it. If she hadn’t done it, then they would’ve gotten someone else to do it...maybe.
Then again maybe not.
However, that’s not my point. My point is the fact that she did it. The flash I received was in looking at the auditorium of student nurses. There were a couple of hundred there. As I talked to the crowd about her founding the department and working to line up the money for the building, the building that we were all in, it hit me that the students there — and the 500 that are in the program at any one time--are there because of what she did all those years ago.
It made me feel good at the time and the feeling has lingered and grown in the passing of time.
This is because what is true about her is true to a lesser degree for most of us. We all have an effect on those who follow. It’s like a shadow: It grows from us, fanning out like an ice cream cone, small at the tip but getting bigger as you go along.
Cecelia Waggoner has been blessed with being around long enough to see the effects herself. There are people in our neck of the wood who are getting nursing care because of what she did forty years ago.
For most of the rest of us, we don’t get to see it ourselves, but it’s there even with something as simple as being a parent. (By parent I mean someone who raises their kids as opposed to just throwing food to them every once in awhile like you were feeding a squirrel.)
To keep the math easy, let’s say you have two kids and that they have two kids when they are 25 and this continues from generation to generation. This will go out as 2, 4, 8, and so on. Eventually there is a generation of more than 1000 people who owe their existence to you, but you’d have to live to be 200 to see it. If you have more kids, it’ll happen quicker. That’s just a mathematical fact.
I just use parenting as an example. Teaching also works, and I don’t limit the act of teaching to those who are in the classroom. My daddy was a truck driver and I still hear from people who worked with him and were affected by the way he did things and things he said: “You don’t have to drive so d**n fast if you don’t spend all your time drinking coffee with some pretty waitress.” It all goes out in a ripple multiplying as it goes.
It is very rare that anyone gets to see the effect they’ve had. It takes more than the standard threescore and ten for it to play out and most of the time it’s too diffuse to be seen easily. Think about the person who taught you to write. You use that everyday. Think about the people who’ve gone out of their way to help you; did you even know they were doing it? Did they live to know how much they helped you?
So when I celebrate someone else’s success, I am doing it for myself, too. It will take whatever I do 1000 years to amount to what she has done, but by celebrating for her I can feel the joy now.
(Bobby Winters, a native of Harden City, Oklahoma, is Assistant Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Mathematics at Pittsburg State University. He blogs at redneckmath.blogspot.com and okieinexile.blogspot.com. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)