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Of course you can

Of course you can

When I was in college I started working a few days a week for one of the retired Philosophy professors, Dr. Kingsley Price, who was in his late eighties and blind. We’d go grocery shopping, pay bills, go through mail, but mostly I’d read to him – philosophy journals, letters from friends, novels. He was witty and curious and always gracious. I enjoyed his company so much that I continued working for him every once and awhile even after I’d graduated and moved from Baltimore to Howard County. He always asked about my garden.

I remember making him a cup of tea, adding in the milk and sugar (or so I thought) as he liked it. He carefully lifted the cup, took a sip, smiled politely at me, and said, “you’ve found the salt.”

One day I walked over to his condominium prepared to head out on errands with him. I found the power out, and I carefully made my way up the dark stairwell to his home on the 7th floor, worried about how we’d make it back down together. As it was, he practically led me down the stairs, finding his way with perfect ease.

He’s the one who taught me to purchase the heaviest grapefruit you can find. Those are the juiciest.

For a while we were reading Don Quixote. I struggled with giving the right inflections to the Spanish words, and I continued saying Don, as in short for Donald, rather than pronouncing it as title of respect. He kept correcting me and at one point I said, “I can’t do it!”

“Of course you can!” he retorted. “Millions of Spaniards say it every day. There’s no reason you can’t.”

Somehow that simple exchange tapped into a larger truth for me. So many times when we say ‘can’t', we mean ‘haven’t yet’. I’m not trying to say that it’s magical, that you just decide to do something and then, poof, it’s done. It’s more complex than that. And yet, we are so much more powerful than we give ourselves credit. With focus and practice we can change our habits, learn new skills. Our brains are constantly forming new pathways.

Dr. Price passed away in 2009. I’m grateful for the time I was privileged to spend with him. What an inspiring man. He traveled to London by himself just three years prior to his death at the age of 89. He was skilled enough at the piano that he considered becoming a concert pianist before delving into his philosophy studies. His former students whom I met at his memorial service told me he walked from the teaching hall back to his home in a nearby neighborhood, daily, without the help of a seeing-eye-dog or a cane.

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The Nuin Center
5655 Bryant St
Pittsburgh, PA 15206
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