When I first began Tae Kwon Do, there was an middle-aged gentleman from Spain that was also beginning. He started coming to the club perhaps a few weeks after I did, and only stayed for one semester. I didn't know much about him, except that his English was not as strong which made him seem slower (something I'm now so much more sensitive to), and that he was older than the 20 and 30 year olds around him. But he kept trying and kept coming to class. There was something very silent about him, and I assumed it was due to the language difference. When he received his yellow belt at the end of the semester, and was preparing to leave (to return to Spain I suppose) he spoke to all of his and I remember very clearly the way he looked around the circle and said, "I have learned something from each and every one of you." He really meant it. He commanded our full attention with his sincerity and gratitude. What could he have learned from me or from others, this silent older man from another country? I had so little personal interaction with him.
Today, one of our masters, who is herself from Spain, sent us an email to inform us that he had unfortunately passed away. She had been in touch with him and his family and said that he had been battling cancer for a while and that it kept coming back, three, four times, and that this was the last time.
It's amazing how blind we are to the people around us. It's amazing how much somebody right next to us can be carrying and we can have no sensitivity to it. I'd like to believe that as I get older and become more aware of what one can carry that I have become more sensitive. As I look back on this gentleman from a few years ago, from my eyes a few years younger, I realize how little I saw. What incredible strength stood next to me. To be battling so many things, to put himself in the situation of our Tae Kwon Do class, which is strenuous for a 20-year-old, in a foreign country, perhaps having seen death and overcome it, perhaps continuing to look at as he did front kicks.
And when he said he had learned something from every one of us, I realized I could not have returned the comment to him, and I wished it weren't so. Having gleaned the love and the nature of his perseverance I think I can. May he rest in peace, and may his lesson reverberate through the world.