You don't have to be a "person of influence" to be influential. In fact, the most influential people in my life are probably not even aware of the things they've taught me.
- Scott Adams, via CamMi Pham
One of the most influential people in my life was a fella named Eddie Dombrowski. He was a middle-aged Polish-Canadian when I knew him, one summer long ago as an Ontario Ranger. Eddie was sub-foreman for a camp I was in. He was a rough-and-tumble, salt-of-the-earth kinda guy. Took no slack from anyone, was focused on the work but knew how to have a good time.
This one day, we were cutting down growth around white pines when I hit a wasp's nest and started to get stung, bad. Eddie saw me rush out; first thing he said was, "Where's your Sandvik?" I'd dropped my axe when I first got stung. "You'll have to go back and get it," Eddie said without sympathy. "You'll know not to drop it next time, woncha?"
That was an important lesson, one I've tried to keep front-of-mind since; don't ever let the pain of the moment allow you to make mistakes you'll regret down the road.
But it wasn't the most important thing I learned from Eddie.
That came at the end of the summer, when all the kids took off for home and, due to a scheduling mix-up, I ended up the only ranger left until the next day. I ended up part of the end-of-year party, drinking with all the folk who'd been charged with managing the camp until then.
Before the party, a very quiet Eddie had chatted with the camp foreman, his boss. When the talk was done it was like he'd run a marathon - he seemed suddenly very tired, but relieved. When the beer started to flow I found out why.
Eddie, the man who worked non-stop, kept kids in line and helped them overcome some of the fears and weaknesses of youth had found out his contract would be continued; he'd be in EI over winter, as he always ways, but would be able to pay to support his family for another year.
Since then I have never, never made assumptions about people income assistance from government, because you just never know.
I've been blessed to run into all kinds of unintentional tutors this way; a young street merchant in Marrakesh, a homeless woman in Venice, a bus driver in Ecuador - the list goes on.
These encounters have drummed in one key message that I pray I never forget - to judge others is to shut out an opportunity to learn.
And in the land of the blind...