I just returned from a whirlwind weekend East to attend a memorial service for Ferdie Wandelt, a great man who died too young, but lived the kind of life we all aspire to achieve. The eternal optimist, surrounded by family and friends, feeling blessed to do work he was called upon to do.
I knew him as my friend Allison's dad, as the Head of Admissions at the boarding school where I lived as a faculty child, as the girls' varsity lacrosse coach, and as the jovial man who always met us at his door on Christmas day, with his glass of Doers half-full, and a wide warm embrace.
I didn't play lacrosse for Mr. Wandelt, as I had watched the movie Chariots of Fire as a kid and dreamed of being a track star. I remember him calling me before spring season my sophomore year, when it was clear I was more of a hustle player than a natural runner, and my aggressive speed on the soccer field didnt translate to sprint victories in track, and trying to convince me, again, to play lacrosse. "I'll work with you every day over spring break," he said. And he meant it. One of my regrets from high school, is not saying yes.
As I stood in the September sun, green leaves turning gold, in the courtyard where I graduated from high school, listening to speeches about Ferdie's impact on others, I could still hear Mr. Wandelt's voice: "Christy, how ya doing?"
I'm alright Mr. Wandelt, but listening to your life captured in story, there are some things I'd like to do better:
Too often, I get caught up in the negative, in the worry and what ifs, I dwell on the smallness of people instead of the potential, I ask why me instead of what now, and starting today, I'd like to at least notice when the hands of fear and criticism hold me down. I'd like to just say: "This is what we got" and move on to either solving the problem or letting it go.
I loved hearing the story of the e-fax. The time a colleague emailed you from his room, a few doors down, in a Hong King hotel, not knowing you never replied to your own email, instead your wife and partner, Joanna, faxed every email to you, so you could handwrite a response. So this message traveled from Hong Kong to Watertown CT, where Mrs. Wandelt printed it out and faxed it to the hotel, bellhops brought the message to you and were soundly tipped to return your written notes to be faxed back to Watertown so Joanna could compose your response. All the while the man who wrote you sat at his computer about eight feet away. I take two lessons from this story. First, we all can find ways to adapt our idiosyncrasies into this ever-changing world, but it sure helps if we have someone to support us in our efforts. And second, communication, in all forms, matters, but it sure is nice to receive a postcard or letter from time to time, pen and paper, something we can hold. I want to remember to write thank you notes and hand-written messages in this time of constant shallow communication, and even more so, when I can, to speak to people face to face.
And finally, family and friends is all that really matters. I loved seeing people at the service, where years piled between conversations, but it felt as if mere minutes passed since our last words. It is friendship and not money or things that move us. If we put our energy into building a community of support we'll never be let down. This seems obvious, but I still forget. When my children come home from school today, I plan to put aside all other obligations and just listen to their bright little souls.
Thank you, Mr. Wandelt, for reminding me to say, "I love you" to someone every day. To live up to the values I hold dear in my actions and not just in words. To see success as a happy marriage, friends, and a communty more than salary, luxury items or accolades.
Its an honor to have known you, Ferdie, and to hear you tell me, time and again, as you did to so many, "You're the best."
Right back at you, Sir.