In my days at Whitman (1963-1967), our beloved Dr. Ball was often quoted – or misquoted – as saying “Always do what love requires.”
I cannot remember for sure if he ever actually said that, but I know for certain that it was often repeated, and controversial for him whether or not that statement could be a fair conclusion to draw from his courses – or his commitments. As I went back to visit a few more times over the subsequent 45 years, it was clear he felt that kind of thinking was – or at least could lead to – an oversimplification of his message.
While I totally agree with that possibility, what is vastly more important to me here and now is to cultivate an understanding of just how enormous and all-encompassing his concept of love really was. In three short words, he lived it – with everyone he touched. He radiated it in his beaming smile, his sharp and inquisitive gaze, the depth of his intellect, the compassion of his causes, and his total, focused presence – an undivided attention to whomever he was with, an unwavering interest in their deepest concerns.
His love for you, or for me, or for a newcomer or a total stranger, for his planet, for the campus grounds, and for anything else showing signs of life, seemed to drive his very being. He cared. He really cared. For everyone. Equally. He was game-free. He seemed to have no allegiance short of the sanctity of all life. (Ghandi comes to mind, as does MLK. But this was a man who seems to have made deliberate choices not to give even the slightest appearance of being larger than life.)
My favorite piece of practical advice from Dr. Ball came from his recommendations for success in his two-hour final exam essays: “Don’t write anything [except scratch notes] the first hour.” It takes time, careful contemplation, and thoughtful planning to describe clearly the issues he always wanted us to see.
His legacy? For starters we can always simply ask “What would George do?” It was never about him. It was always about us and/or others. He defined “selfless” by example. His glow, his radiance – that burning image in my soul – is just as strong, if not stronger, today than it was months ago when I was apparently correct in assuming he was still bicycling around town, being the light that he will always be.
Profound gratitude for your many blessings, Dr. Ball.
Baker Stocking ’67