I do not know of any other friend I have made based on such little time spent together in the same room. By all accounts without regard to some higher power, our meeting was entirely coincidental. At a national On Course conference in California nine or ten years ago, organization ambassadors were asked to spread throughout a large room filled with about five hundred people. These folks were sitting around circular tables in groups of six or more. When the spreading out was done, I happened to be standing by Ricardo’s table.
Dr. Skip Downing, On Course author and founder, asked us to share stories of “launching out into something without really knowing how it was going to work out.” At our table, I shared the story of quitting my job as a high school teacher at Calloway County (KY) High School, loading up my family and our personal belongings and moving four hundred miles away to start on my PhD at Ohio State University. After several minutes, Skip asked the people to let him know if they’d heard a story that the whole group should hear.
Having heard the details of using a gutted school bus as a moving van and three years spent living with my first wife and six children in a two-bedroom apartment, Ricardo thought my saga fit the criteria. So, he stood and signaled Skip and I shared my story with five hundred people. I guess Ricardo had chosen well; everyone applauded enthusiastically when I finished.
That was the entirety of my physical association with Ricardo. That one session.
But when I emailed him after returning home from the conference, he accepted my offer to be put on my daily mailing list for my morning meditations. Over these past years he has continually responded with appreciation, encouragement and gratitude. His comments have helped me keep going in those times when I wondered whether or not anyone was reading what I’d written. His praises about my descriptions and insights have lifted my spirits again and again.
And so it was with great anticipation that I looked forward to his promise to meet me at this most recent conference. As we sat together at a small table in the hotel restaurant, I watched and listened intently.
Ricardo’s passion for students and their well-being was obvious as he spoke about the program he has operated for years. I could not miss his love of his family as he spoke of his children and of his own growing up, earning small bits of spending money by helping his father do gardening work for others. As always, Ricardo was also encouraging to me, telling me again how much he appreciates my writing and commending my devotion to the craft. There was another thing about Ricardo for which I gained an increased respect and appreciation.
In the midst of his zeal and care for others, his devotion and determination to help others, along with his apparent concern and love for me, I realized that I had the rare and distinct privilege of being in the company of a man who exuded gentleness. It showed in his eyes, his face, his voice, everything about him. A man of great faith and devotion, a man of passion and wisdom, a man of tempered touch.
I knew before that lunch that passed too quickly that I love the man, respect his work and his values. In the midst of that refreshing peace and gentleness, I realized that I also admire him. He reminds me of another Teacher whose life we both try to emulate, whose grace we have tried to reflect. A man who showed us we do not have to be in physical proximity to have a great relationship.