“Though whether I shall ever ‘create’ is something I can’t really tell. But I do believe that it is possible to create, even without ever writing a word or painting a picture, by simply molding one’s inner life. And that too is a deed.” —Etty Hillesum
It must be 30 years ago, but I still remember it with so much clarity. The shyest student in the undergraduate class at American University where I first started teaching, had been coming into his own and by the end of the semester asked this question: “Had I learned anything since college?” It was the kind of innocent and, at first glance, simple question, that one finds tempting to overlook. But it was also the most remarkable one I can recall in teaching thousands of undergraduate, graduate and law students over the years. Is there a time in life reserved for learning, another for doing, another for retiring and another for the long sleep? No, not if we choose to be universal learners, to use every experience on the road to wisdom.
And books? They are the opportunity for life’s lessons in abundance without having to experience the pain and loss of the author. They are a gift to our consciousness.
Etty Hillesum, who left the quote above for posterity, died at the age of 27 in Auschwitz but miraculously understood, even under such horrendous circumstances, that life was lived in the mind, which is where all creativity begins and that self-awareness alone is its own astonishing journey.
Where do we learn? How do we create? How do we survive and persevere under the most challenging of circumstances? Most of us will not be tested at the level of Etty Hillesum or Malik Gould, a young and successful entrepreneur who appeared on the weekly podcast I co-host with Dr. George T. French, Jr., President of Clark Atlanta University.
Malik survived childhood abandonment, the effects of drug addiction, family dysfunction and PTSD, overcoming adversity time and again with the inspiration of a fatally ill uncle who would gift him his wisdom. Malik speaks about the power of hope, mentoring, love and vulnerability. Already a successful entrepreneur in his early 30s, he has reached back to pay it forward, founding The Black Wall Street Academy as a non-profit to provide educational services to underserved youth.
All of our podcasts go to engineering; we edit out the pauses and mistakes. There is a long pause in this show and we kept it in. It is where Malik is fighting the tears. And so are we. You will, too.
It was too real, too much of a driveway moment, as NPR calls them, when you need to keep listening, even though you have reached your destination. Each day we receive over 5,000 messages and remember almost none of them. It is why advertisers are ever present, hoping repetition with little meaning will be remembered. Yet in this brief moment of silence is a lesson you will never forget.
So…Have I learned anything since college? Almost everything. And on this podcast? Wisdom, boundless courage, indominable strength, the astounding power of love and the inspiration to march forward regardless of the odds.
Enjoy the listen and the journey.