Post by Kyle Baker, Program Coordinator at the Institute for Excellence & Ethics.
After nearly a month of traveling to different regions of the country to work with educators and students, last night I flew into Helena, Montana for a few days on the ground. This morning when I woke up, I drove to Whitehall, a small southwestern Montana town of just over 1,000 residents. As I pulled into town, I used my iPhone to access Google Maps so that I could find directions to St. Teresa’s Catholic Church.
I parked my car between two neatly painted white lines in the parish parking lot, and walked into the church just as a funeral Mass began in celebration of the life of Betty Hogan, whom I had never met.
So why was I at the funeral of someone I’d never met, in a town I’d never been…and what does all of this have to do with a “Web of Impact”?
From 2001 until graduating in 2006, I attended Carroll College in Helena, Montana, where I played on the football team. My time as a student-athlete (a term that has come under fire recently, but which I take very seriously) at Carroll was filled with many wonderful and challenging experiences, and marked by great development as a student, an athlete, and a person; it was one of the truly formative periods of my life.
While there, my offensive line coach was a man known to many as “Hogie.” Hogie is the kind of person who epitomizes the term “duties as otherwise assigned.” In addition to serving as a football coach, he also oversees the strength and conditioning program, is the master of the equipment room, and the king of one-liners. Most people I’ve met over the years who have been associated in any way with football in Montana have a “Hogie-story,” and somewhere tucked away in a box I even have a binder full of “Hogie-isms” I collected during 5 years of film-study sessions.
After a person tells you their favorite Hogie-story, they’re quite likely to comment just as quickly on what a good, hard working, and caring man Hogie is. No matter how early I would arrive for our winter conditioning workouts (which usually began prior to 6:00am), Hogie’s car would already be in the parking lot. The door to his office was constantly open, inviting conversations on everything from game plans to relationships to what was for lunch that day in the dining hall. On Saturday afternoons after a game, as everyone poured out of the locker room to celebrate a victory with their families, Hogie could be found washing the game uniforms because he believed that champions should never have grass stains on their uniforms. This is a man who takes his jobs very seriously, because he knows their purpose, even if sometimes that purpose goes unnoticed by others.
The man many know as Hogie is Coach Jim Hogan, son of Betty Hogan, who passed away last week after a long battle with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
Funerals have always been a strange thing to me, perhaps because as a child I didn’t have many experiences of dealing with the death of friends and loved ones. I do remember attending the funeral of a friend’s father (Gary McKenna, my youth football coach, who first taught me to love the game of football, about the hard work required to play it well, and about the relationships that could be developed through teamwork and competition). I remember being overwhelmed by the sadness that permeated the building, and I remember hoping that people wouldn’t be so sad when I died.
Of course this sadness is natural; we grieve for the loss of those we love and can no longer spend time with, we wonder if we should have called or written more, and we are confronted by the truth of our own mortality…but many times, as was the case today in Whitehall, joy is also present. Joy for a life well lived, and for love well shared.
Today as I sat in St. Teresa’s and listened to readings and reflections on life and death, I realized that I wasn’t just there to support my mentor and friend as well as his grieving family, but that I was also there to share my gratitude for the profound impact that Betty Hogan had on my life.
I don’t imagine that when Betty was 12 or 22 or 72, she ever imagined that her thoughts, her words, and her actions would someday affect a kid she would never even meet in any significant way, but they did. Through the impact she had on the life of her son Jim…the values she instilled in him, the life-lessons she guided him through, and even the way she tended to his basic human needs for food, water, shelter, and affection as a child…she had a powerful and lasting impact on my own life, because her son Jim has made a significant impact on me, and has helped me become the man I am today: Far from perfect, but trying every day to learn to be a good person, to work hard, to not take things so seriously that I miss the chance to share a smile or a laugh, to be fiercely loyal, to be genuine, and to love the people around me. In the 11 years we’ve known each other, Coach Hogan has done so many things to help and support me I’ve lost count, and I am certain there have been many more that I’ll never learn of.
His thoughts, words, and actions…the life of Jim Hogan, has had a profound, formative, and lasting impact on me.
The most fascinating thing about this is that the influence of so many others who have had an impact on his life makes up part of an expansive Web of Impact. You and I are part of this web too, just as is the person in the factory that built my car, the person who carried my iPhone from the delivery truck to the store, the person who designed Google Maps so I wouldn’t get lost (well, at least not as often), the person who painted the lines in the lot where I parked, and the usher who greeted me with a smile and a “good-morning” as I walked into St Teresa’s. Just like I don’t imagine that Betty Hogan ever thought,“I bet if I teach my son Jim to work hard and be a good person, he will teach the same things to a football player he coaches someday,” I don’t know that the people who performed the jobs I just described thought about how their actions would affect me today…the impact they would have on me….but what if they did?
And what if I did? What if I thought more about what kind of impact I was making…what if we all did? What increase in sense of purpose would we have? In our sense of self-worth? In our understanding of community? In the joy with which we experience both the profound and the seemingly mundane? What if we thought more intentionally about the impact we wanted to make with our lives, and what if we reflected deeply on this more regularly? Because you see, our thoughts, our words, our actions…they really do matter, and they matter in incredibly more vast and complex ways than we can ever imagine or comprehend. And one of the great gifts of this life is that we get to choose the kind of impact we make, because we get to choose how we think about the world and about the people around us, we get to choose what we say and how we say it, and we get to choose how and when we act. (And as Spiderman always wisely reminds us, this great gift of power comes with great responsibility).
A few weeks ago, I got to speak with nearly 400 high school and middle school students about “Impact” at the Southwest Kansas Student Leadership Conference, hosted at Garden City Community College. (My participation in this event was made possible through a generous conference sponsorship from United Wireless of Kansas). Throughout the conference, students reflected on their own unique skills, talents, and interests, and on how those could be put to use in order to make a positive impact on peoples’ lives, in their schools, in their families, in their workplaces, and in their communities, both now and in their future.
Next month, more students and educators will have the opportunity to contemplate this idea of being a part of a Web of Impact; to reflect on what they want their own impact to be and to learn to develop personal competencies that will help them make a positive with their life.
Through the Kansas PCEP Project, a federally funded initiative that for the last four years has worked to create a sustainable character development movement in high schools across the state of Kansas, students, educators, school board members, and community members have been invited to participate in three Excellence & Ethics Impact Academies which will take place around the state. These Excellence & Ethics Impact Academies provide participants with a unique opportunity to reflect deeply at their own experiences, to identify their goals, and to consider how their unique skills, interests, and opportunities can be built upon in order to make a positive and lasting impact with their lives.
And these opportunities are important, not only for our schools, and our communities…but for our collective future…because what we think, what we say, and what we do matters.
Whether we realize it or not, each of us makes an impact on the people we interact with and on the world around us…and if we all spent a little more time being still with that information; thinking about all the people who have made an impact on us, and considering what kind of impact we will choose to make with our own lives, our individual lives are likely to be lived with more depth and richness, and perhaps our collective impact will begin to solve some of the more global problems we’re confronted with today as a society.
Just like Mrs. Hogan may never have known the significant impact her life had on me, we may not ever directly see tangible evidence that every thought we think, every word we utter, or every action we take will have…but one thing that we do know is that the Web of Impact is real…and we are all part of it.