I was working at the local mental health clinic when one strange looking character walked by my door. An old guy, maybe early to mid-seventies, long silver hair, a black cowboy shirt, black pants, black boots and a little bolo tie. I figured it was my next new strange client. He came back down the hall, walked into my little office, stuck out his hand and said,” Hello. You must be John Sommer, I’m doctor Eugene Tipps, your new psychiatrist for the Center.” He retired from his practice in Houston, traveled, and joined the rent-a-shrink program. We would have him for six months. We became fast friends. After, retirement, he went to Australia with $50.00 bucks and no credit cards. He hitchhiked across the country and would cut wood, farm and whatever else he could do to earn his keep at the home of whoever invited him to stay. I commented, “These folks must have wanted to adopt you!” He laughed and said, “True, most of the time. But I wouldn’t stay more than three days. Then I’d move on.” After six months he had his son wire him money, returned to the states and worked at various mental health clinics throughout the county.
I sat in a few of his women’s groups and beheld the master. They were the greatest groups I have ever seen in my life. He was like a great conductor directing his orchestra. He could lovingly shutdown an aggressive overly animated lady, and sweetly coax a shy one into a significant conversation. At 75, he was fascinating, hard working, and full of great abilities.
When I “extract some cool DNA” (mentally of course), I rarely want everything about the person. This particular man was unbelievably hard working. He was Abe Lincoln honest and put a huge priority on loyalty. If you helped him out of a jam he would never forget it. Lucky for me I didn’t have to “steal” his DNA, as it was my Dad. We rarely want to turn out to be exactly like our parents, but we can focus on outstanding traits we would like to copy. There are a couple from Dad I want.
Job after job, one terrible supervisor after the next, I finally landed a great one. He was diplomatic, motivational, imaginative and full of knowledge. No angry ego to deal with. I remember being quite aware of his style of supervision and how he helped me to develop into a good counselor. I have tried to emulate it in later years with people I have supervised.
A woman came in sharing with me the “hopeless” alcoholic she had been married to for a number of years. I expected her to rant about his drinking problem and then ask me if I could help her to change him. Instead, she was full of compassion and love and instead asked if I could empower her to give her the extra strength she would need so she could continue to love and care for him until the end. When the end came many years later, she was his loving rock. I was taken aback by her loyalty and compassion she had for her tragic husband. I still think of her after all these years, but I’m not giving back the molecules I borrowed from her. I want those loving and dedicated attributes myself.
Rather than just getting older and becoming someone rather accidentally, it seems more logical, and certainly more exciting to try to become someone far greater. We can pay attention to co-workers, acquaintances, other parents, even strangers to provide us with ideas and inspirations to make our own lives more meaningful and enjoyable. I suppose the bottom line would be: expect more from our short lives. Keep your peepers open for inspirations.
Licensed Clinical Social Worker