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A recent TIME magazine was devoted to listing the 100 most influential people in the world today. Nancy Gibbs, managing editor, quickly noted the listing was “not its most powerful, though those are not mutually exclusive terms.” Her commentary mentioned the inclusion of the powerful ones, even those whose power made them both crude and implacable. However, she called them the “outliers” and noted “the vast majority of this year’s roster reveals that while power is certain, influence is subtle. Power is a tool, influence is a skill; one is a fist the, other a fingertip. You don’t lead by hitting people over the head, Dwight Eisenhower used to say. That’s assault, not leadership.”
Gibbs also said the intent of the issue is to be an invitation for readers to join the conversation. Furthermore, the power of assessing influence is both riveting and provides a ripple effect. The parts exceed the whole. The influence is likely to grow.
So, I am joining! I am stopping my usual daily activity to ponder whom I would name as individuals who have greatly influenced my life. I doubt I will be able to identify 100, but I am sure I can name 10. Here goes …
Topping the list is Hubby Dear, aka Jean Pelletier. Not only has he been, and continues to be, a mainstay in my life, but he also is a comforter and challenger. From the beginning, he dared me to be more than I thought I could be, all the while accepting me as I was ... as I am. When I was ready to give up, to throw in the towel of trying, he told me I could do it. Then quickly, he followed with a description of the price to be paid. Shallow living was not sinful, he proffered, but it was costly. It would cost me the joy of depth, the sweetness of suffering, the power of soulful laughter. Hubby Dear led me to understand and to embrace a morality infused with spirituality. All the while, he stood with me ... he stands with me ... in the living and dying that ensues. He empowers me to stand with him, as well.
My father shares top billing with H.D., since he was the first person in my life to imbue me with a profound sense of being. From the time I was a tiny tot, he believed I could be anything and I could do anything I set my mind and heart on doing. I remember his singing to me, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray.” What more could a daughter want? What more could one need?
Daddy sang operatic arias, played a number of musical instruments without having had any lessons, all the while sharing his love of music with me. Incredibly, Daddy took me, a tiny tyke, with him to important business meetings and appointments with lawyers. I watched as he made deals with a handshake. Commitment was not something to be found on a piece of paper. It came from the heart and was not to be considered lightly. Daddy had no problem with my answering the phone for him, even when my toddler voice was probably not amusing to the business folks on the other end. Without saying a word, he communicated my worth to me. Perhaps he knew, deep in his heart, the value he evoked would be eroded by negativity as the years drew on. His influence would be a counteracting positive force to keep me balanced.
As I grew older and more argumentative, I learned the honing process available with different viewpoints. I learned to stand my ground, as my father stood his. In the end, I remained his sunshine and he became mine.
My Mom is on the list. She had a different effect on the shaping of my life. Mom was the quintessential housewife and fierce lioness protecting her cubs. Early in life, she learned the value of hard work and the need both to earn one’s keep and to share with others, even at great cost. She gave and shared herself with us, as best she could, teaching by example more than words. Perhaps her greatest gift to me was her allowing me to uphold and encourage her against her own sense of deficiency. Our weekly correspondence while I was in college became her textbook. She “studied” as I did, acquiring more knowledge than her years as an immigrant learner with an eighth grade education had given her. I, however, was deeply impressed with her ability to comprehend, her eagerness to expand understanding, and her pride in our accomplishments. “Go and grow” might well have been her mantra.
Next come the religious sisters who were my teachers from grammar school through graduate school. I can name two: Sister Miriam Clare and Sister Amanda. Sister Miriam Clare pushed me forward, raising the bar a bit at a time and stretching my abilities to the utmost. Sister Amanda was a quiet influence, teaching me the potency of being a positive presence. I still remember the short but powerful command written in my eighth grade autograph book: “Aim high.”
Margaret Mooney, one of my college professors, impelled me to become a writer when I had no idea I could put words together at all. Her simple sentence at the end of an exam paper, a sentence I thoroughly disbelieved, remained in my mind and became a powerful impetus. She penned: “You should write.” Three little words became my life ambition and joy.
Today’s influential folks include classmates who are stalwart friends, individuals who have suffered, some now gravely ill, with grace and courage, determination and hope. They are believers in life, all of life. They do not deny death but defy its finality. There are also friends, like Ellen, David, Rita, Eric and Anna — people who see the wonder of creation and say it. They meet no strangers and refuse no friendship. Theirs is a world glowing with goodness, a goodness evident in their faces, their words, their actions.
These identified individuals join unnamed family members to complete my list, beyond my goal of ten. All empower and challenge me to affect my world. I invite you to join the conversation, compile your list — and use your influence, as well.
Fran Salone-Pelletier has a master’s degree in theology and is the author of “Awakening to God: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives,” religious educator, retreat leader, lecturer and grandmother of four. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.