I'd like to tell you all about one of the most important hours of my life. I was a very young speaker, just beginning a journey that would take me all over the world. I have never been a comfortable speaker and always, even now, fiddle with the lecture, rehearse lines, reassure myself, right up until I begin. I have grown comfortable with the nerves because I am aware that they give me energy and keep me focussed. But one day, I was particularly frightened of speaking in front of someone in the audience.
Sol Gordon was, at the time, at the peak of his career. He commanded large audiences, he had the reputation of a speaker of power and humour, he had cut a very large path. I had heard him speak twice and was completely impressed with his 'voice' ... he managed to have his style and his humour highlight the content of his presentation in ways that I had never seen before. I was used to humour being an overhead of a cartoon that only barely had anything to do with the theme of the presentation. For Sol, humour, drama, were part of life and life was the subject of his presentation. 'Gifted' isn't enough of a word to describe him as a speaker, he was so much more than that.
A couple of years later I was speaking at a conference where Sol was the 'wrap up' keynote. I was terrified to speak in front of him. He was the best and I was afraid that he'd simply sit in the audience and shake his head mournfully while I presented. He didn't. I watched him while I talked, he laughed, he made notes, the attended to what I said. Afterwards I spoke to him when we were both gathering notes and tidying up in readiness to leave the lecture hall. I congratulated him on another barnburner of a lecture and asked him what he thought of my lecture.
He looked at me and asked, 'Do you want flattery or feedback, I can give you either?' I said, 'I'd kinda like both.' He laughed and said, 'Let's sit ...' We talked for almost an hour. He had me think about what it was I was attempting to do up there in front of the audience, evaluate the goals of my lecture. He asked me to think about who the audience was, what their goals were, what they had come for. He asked me to think about the purpose of my work and the meaning of my words. And he gave me advice, freely and, even, lovingly. His praise was wonderful but his guidance was firm. He said that he felt that I had greatness in me that had yet to be discovered, that if I was willing to constantly think about the means and the message, I could make a difference.
We ran into each other a few more times over the years, he invited Joe and I to the Glide Church in San Francisco and we had a wonderful lunch together. He came to hear me once, he wasn't speaking, he just came as my guest. It had been a few years since our talk, I had made the changes he suggested, I followed his advice in preparation and in presentation. Afterwards he said, 'Today, I have only flattery.'
I recieved an email from a friend yesterday letting me know that Sol had passed away. I hadn't heard. After his wife died we lost touch and I never heard from him again. I think of him still as I write new lectures - I begin with message. He introduced me what it was to have grace with greatness. He taught me what it was to enjoy the talents of others without jealousy or alarm. He taught me what a few minutes can mean to someone on the way ...
Sol, I hope my work over the last many years will have the impact that your work, your life and your message had. Because you had the courage stand for what was right, you gave permission for others to stand behind you and with you. The darkness of ignorance and of prejudice has been challeged by the light from the candle that your life lit.
Memorial for Sol