The Best Laid Plans

~ by Richard J. Leider ~

It has been said that “life happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”  This familiar aphorism attributed most frequently to John Lennon reminds us that despite our “best laid plans” our lives unfold in sometimes unexpected and unpredictable ways.  The current economic crisis reminds us, yet again, that the world does not always work in a predictable manner.  At times, our best-laid plans can result in entirely unexpected and sometimes unwanted outcomes.

With a new year underway, it’s a good time to recognize the wisdom of some of the lives that ended in the past year.  The New York Times Annual “Lives they Lived” issue highlights stories from a broad array of characters who died last year, including Steve Jobs, Betty Ford, Elizabeth Taylor, Geraldine Ferraro, Christopher Hitchens and many others–famous and not so famous.  The issue shares stories about individuals, captures moments in history, and enlarges moments in our own personal histories.  Each is a story of a life memorably lived.

To kick-off the calendar year, reflect on these three questions:

  1. Who has most influenced your life?
  2. Who has most influenced your work?
  3. What historic event or moment most influenced your vision or direction in life?

Here are my own reflections on the first question.  One person who had a profound effect on my life was Dr. Richard Reusch, my college advisor.  To this day, I can cite material from his lectures verbatim.  Reusch required students to pick up their exams in his office so he could talk with each one.  More than test grades were the subject of discussions in his office, however.  At the end of my first semester at Gustavus Adolphus College, in danger of flunking out, I went to talk to Dr. Reusch before final exams.  I can still smell the pipe smoke and picture his office surrounding him with African artifacts collected in his 40-years of work as “the Maasai missionary” in Tanzania.

“I’m really lost,” I told him.  “I want to stay here, but I’ve really screwed up my life.  What should I do?”

Dr. Reusch didn’t ask me about my courses but simply asked me to tell him something about myself.  “About myself?”  No other professor had ever asked me that!  A magical hour later, I left his office with a vision for what I wanted in school and in life.  Somehow Reusch made the hour almost a spiritual experience, and I knew something special was intended for my life.

Twenty years later, I traveled to Tanzania and climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro.  I was astonished to learn that the crater at the summit is named Reusch Crater.  Dr. Reusch climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro sixty-five times, helped to establish its exact altitude, and discovered the crater now officially named after him.  He knew twenty languages, wrote books on religion, history and geography in German, English and Swahili.

Less exciting, but probably of greater eternal value were his hundreds, his thousands of lectures and sermons and meetings with young students like me.  His archive files (which I have perused) are stiffed with letters of appreciation from young people, from parents of students and from Maasai leaders in Tanzania, who said, “Come, please, and help us again.”

Richard Reusch came to Minnesota and taught church history, comparative religion, and fencing at Gustavus from 1954-1963, after which he was named professor emeritus.  He concluded his service at St. John’s Church at Stacy, Minnesota, of which he still was the pastor when he died on June 28, 1975.  Two weeks previously, he had announced his resignation, effective July 1.  That date became the occasion of for his funeral.

Dr. Reusch used to say that a miracle occurred when a need and a solution converged.  That day in his office I witnessed a miracle thanks to a life memorably lived.  He is one of the most memorable people I have ever crossed paths with.

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