1) Lucy Cullum
2) Colin AMany years ago, from the life of a meditating TM teacher in an obscure meditation centre on the south coast of England, my restless samskaras led to an ill-advised marriage, then kids, then a series of job moves. One of these moves was to a place called Canterbury, which at the time was one of the smelliest towns in England due to the central proximity to the town's tannery to the high street.
Working for a company that sold group pension schemes, tied into an office and feeling like a stranger in a strange land, I rapidly grew depressed and bored... just a year or so previously I had been meditating in the Swiss Alps. Now, it was sitting at a desk opposite a chain smoker, wondering what precisely had gone wrong.
But just when things seemed their bleakest, I got to know Colin A. He was a wiry, Italian looking guy with a wife and kids, and an aura around him of goodness and sanity. He was in charge of the whole department in which I worked, but wore his authority lightly and with good humour, and he was loved by just about everybody.
Colin posed a big challenge to my rigid views on just what was holiness and who were the holy. When you belong to any spiritual or religious group or school you can tend to build up a "us versus them" mentality whereby everyone who belongs to the group is seen as the pure, everyone else... infidels. It's a classic trait of human behaviour and has led to so many wars and disputes every since the first village fought the village next door.
Colin was neither religious nor spiritual in any way, simple a kind-hearted, noble kind of a guy in a very understated way. He had a great sense of humour, but it was his overall courteous and gentle demeanour that really stood out. I can't even remember any specific acts of kindness and indeed only knew him for about a year before I moved on in my career. But even after all these years - 30 years now - he has remained in my memory and in my heart as an ideal householder, a sort of King Rama of England living an obscure, modest life in an obscure town.
How much does our fractured modern society ultimately depend on these kind of people - the wise, the just, the kind-hearted? So much focus these days is on that invidious assumption that you have to push ahead, push others out of the way, struggle for your time in the sun, become as famous as possible etc etc, that it has become a mantra of the modern world: the view that life is just a struggle for the survival of the fittest. As a result there has been a sharp collapse in basic manners - in my country, England, where formality and good manners were once considered vital attributes of every English person.
Interesting that recent scientific research is finally beginning to upend this assumption, pointing to the ultimate success stories in nature that have everything to do with co-operation, not with slugging it out... the colonies of ants, or meerkats, or, well you get the idea. I hope. Niceness, therefore is a trait that saves human society, and that is a point rammed home by the Buddhist exploration of loving kindness, sacrifice, the boddhisattva ideal.
Colin's personality taught me a lot about the art of living, lessons that I have never forgotten,I have no idea what happened to him, whether his career flourished, whether he faced tragedy or triumph. But at a time I needed an inspiring ally, Colin appeared. Perhaps my view is over sentimental. Perhaps not. But I salute him.
3) Mark L
Mark, like Colin before him, was the soul of courtesy and gentlemanly behaviour. He was an independant kind of a guy, who loved travelling and adventure. This is the obituary I wrote for our company after his tragic death:
Mark also loved to tease his comrades in arms, especially those he knew well. He was, in turn, the target of jokes which he took in part. And how many staff, after 20 years, could claim never to have lost his temper in the office? Mark was not one for rage, or for vendettas of any kind. He had a gentle courtesy that he displayed to all he met in the company and outside it.
That was the obituary. What I did not say, but can now:
The spiritual element in his life was understated, but throughout his brief life he adhered to standards of decency, honesty, and politeness that seemed truly royal. He was on the side of the good, an oasis of sanity and measured calm. I saw him tested under many conditions - the nastiest people in the office always tried to target and undermine him - but he never lost his cool.
He was at his best up on the side of a mountain with his many friends, or kayaking down some freezing mountain stream. Touchingly, a year or so before his death he won a family trip to New Zealand, all expenses paid, and wrote the trip up. His two daughters showed the same sense of adventure, even at a young age.
His death profoundly touched me. I lost a friend, someone who always showed an interest in my strange expressions of religious and yogic practice, who laughed at my jokes and cheered me up when I was feeling not so great. I firmly believe that the heart of any organisation depends on noble souls, and that when these souls go the company suffers. It certainly happened with my firm. It became a colder, more competitive place after his death.
In my sentimental way I hope that after my own death, I can see Mark again and we can sit and talk and catch up. Perhaps for me he represents so much of what I wish was in my own personality - his patience especially! I miss him, every day.