Sunday, October 18, 2009

Renaissance Man

The most appropriate definition I could find on this was..."a present-day man who has acquired profound knowledge or proficiency in more than one field."

I would like to think that this would also apply to women. Have you ever met somebody that has inspired you in some way? I don't mean the team coach that gives the inspirational pep-talk. It goes far beyond that. Something intangible.

I registered for a night-school class at King's College (London, Ont) back in Oct. 1996. It was called 'The End of the Millennium-Psychological Perspectives.' It was taught by Dr. Jaroslav Havelka, a psychology professor originally from Czechoslovakia via Italy, who came to Canada in 1951. The first lecture opened with "What is the report card for our civilization? The last millennium people were dying with the name of Messiah on their lips...but they were better off than us as we are rotten morally." He attributed this to something he called 'Scientific Materialism' and the fact that we are much more 'ego bound' than our ancestors. And so began the eight lecture series...

As is my custom, I tend to get places early and sit with a cup of coffee. I waited prior to class on a couch in the large entry hall of the building when Dr. Havelka wandered along. He recognized me as one of his students and sat and began chatting with me. How was I enjoying the class, what did I do for my work, etc. I was a bit surprised at first, not accustomed to professors chatting socially with me showing interest in my life. I wish that I had taken more advantage of that to pick his brain a bit.

In the fall of '97 there was a story in the paper about a popular university professor having passed away. He died of cancer only 12 days after being diagnosed. It wasn't until a few years later that I began to learn more about his incedible life journey.

His wife, Jane Vincent-Havelka, was the keynote speaker at the 50th anniversary of the college, who were establishing a permanent collection of his art work. I have the 9 page speech that I printed from the Internet a few years ago, and am now unable to find it online. The best link I could find was to the information poster of it here. I'll list in point form some of the events that occurred in his life.

  • born in Moravia, Czechoslovakia in 1922
  • area was occupied by the Nazi Reich in 1938
  • his was involved, with his father, with the partisan against the Nazis
  • he was sent to work in a tank factory in Vienna (where he attended evening classes at the university) and had access to music, museums and theatre
  • he returned to Czech after the war, attending classes at the university
  • the Soviets cracked down on intellectuals, and he secretly fled to Milan to attend university on a scholarship. He was unable to tell his parents, and he never saw them again
  • he obtained a Ph.D. in 1950
  • immigrated to Montreal in 1951 and began studying psychology and physiology at McGill. He became a research assistant and studied brain functions under famed neurologist Dr. Wilder Penfield.
  • had no formal art training, but was a prolific artist producing woodcarvings, drawings (his self-portrait is above, 1993) and painting
    he wrote plays and essays and his novel, Pelynek, won an international prize. His final books, Variations and Musings of an Inquisitive Mind, were psycho-philosophical essays.
  • established the department of Psychology at King's College in 1969
  • is fluent in six languages
  • had a special interest in thanatology, the study of death, and was an active participant in the King's College Centre for Education about Death and Bereavement. For 30 years he studied Eastern Religions, particularly Buddhism, and the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying and the Tibetan Book of the Dead were constant companions.

I could continue on with more points, but I would be beating it to death. It's difficult to put into words the aura that a person like this emanates in a crowd. Yes, he was a charismatic and engaging speaker with some truly amazing ideas. But one got a sense of well-being from him and you couldn't help leaving his lectures with a desire to learn more. To push yourself beyond your comfort zone...

Anyway, I've prattled on too long. I realize that this post is probably of little interest to anyone but myself. And I would be surprised if any of you has read on long enough to get to this point.

In October of 2001, an exhibit of 350 pieces of his art work was exhibited in a church in London. About half of these were on sale. I saw a number of pieces that depicted either Christian or Buddhist themes but I couldn't afford to put out the money at the time. I now have two things to regret about that period of time. I should have engaged Dr. Havelka more in conversation and I should have purchased a piece of his art to remember him by. If you happen upon a person who touches your instincts in such a way, act on them and learn more. I may live another 47 years...perhaps I'll get a second chance to learn more.


Akasha Savage said...

That was so interesting. I love learning about different people and what they achieve in their lives. Most of us blunder through our days without leaving a mark...that's why I would like to write something worthwhile; a novel that will still be here when I'm gone.

Laura Eno said...

I did get stuck on the 4th para, where you sat down with "a cup of copy." :)
It sounds like he led an extremely interesting and varied life.

K.C. Shaw said...

What an amazing guy! He reminds me a little of a history professor where I went to school as an undergraduate, Dr. Lambert. He'd had an amazing life and was a great lecturer. I took every class he offered while I was in school, even Modern Totalitarian Leadership. Everything I know about how history is studied and recorded, I learned from his classes. I really wish I'd been able to talk to him socially, but I was too shy to start a conversation with him outside of class. He was in his late 70s or early 80s then, so I'm sure he's gone now.

Are there renaissance men/women out there now or do we specialize too much these days? I'd hate to think that people with varied and fascinating lives are a thing of the past.

Cate Gardner said...

Fantastic post. I don't believe I've ever met anyone who inspired me like that - he sounds amazing.

katey said...

On the contrary, that was a fascinating, moving entry. People who can inspire and touch us in that way, that excite our intellect as well as our emotion, are so rare and wonderful-- I think the thing that would be most regrettable would be not to write this down and memorialize him and what he showed you properly.

Interesting people are everywhere, I notice, but some of them just go above and beyond, and make us want to be interesting too.

Alan W. Davidson said...

Akasha-A worthwhile novel sounds like an excellent idea.

Laura-Damn that spellcheck for agreeing with my for a cup of tee.

KC-I'll bet that there are still a few people like that out there. But in 50 years, who knows?


Katey-Thanks for the kind words. You're right, I'm sure they are everywhere. We just have pay more attention to the signs. I think that you would have liked his eastern art. I'm having difficulty finding any of it shown online.

abrokenlaptop said...

This was a fascinating post. I had a professor that really inspired me, and I never even told him that. I think I'll track him down and say, "Hey, you won't remember me, but I was your student ten years ago..."

Thanks for that!

Also...did you go to the doctor yet? Your writer friends are hovering around you in concern. Be well, Alan.