Friday, September 19, 2008

Inspired by Humility

What are you supposed to think of a man who has built nearly eighty schools in the Pakistan and Afghanistan, has a book that has been on the New York Times bestseller list since January, is so prestigious that the presidential candidates call him for advice, and is so humble that he still gets nervous when speaking in front of crowds and has large holes in the heels of his socks, underneath his pant suit's legs?

This man is Greg Mortenson, one of the most inspiring men you could ever meet. This summer, Mizzou chose Three Cups of Tea, co-authored by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, as the book for the Mizzou Reads program. All the incoming freshmen are encouraged to read the book, although few did. The sad thing is, this book was one of the best books I have ever read, and many people chose not to experience it just because they were lazy. But this article is not meant to scold those who choose "fun" over knowledge.

The book relays the story of Greg Mortenson, who after getting lost on his way down from attempting to climb K2, the second largest mountain in the world, came to a small village in Pakistan and fell in love with the people. Seeing many children writing in the dirt one day, Mortenson discovered that the children had no school. So after a promise to build them a school, a couple of years in the United States raising funds for the project, and many sleepless nights, Mortenson's work began; and he hasn't stopped until this day. 

So when I went to interview Mortenson for the school newspaper when he came to speak at Mizzou, I felt like I was meeting a celebrity. I had read all the articles that said how gracious and gentle he was, and I began to feel quite guilty for interviewing him when I had heard that he hardly ever had any time for his family because of everything that was demanded of him. So I interviewed him for a short time before his speech, but, although he had some excellent points, what he said was not what stood out to me. Instead, it was his demeanor. Just like I had read, he was kind and gentle. When I first spoke with him that day, it was at a reception four hours before my official interview. Being "such a big fan" of his, I asked him to sign my copy of Three Cups of Tea. He asked where I was from and mentioned that he had just been in my hometown of San Antonio the week prior. At this I was incredibly disappointed that my mom did not have the opportunity to see him speak. But afterward, I casually mentioned that I had been set up to speak with him later that day. Seeing as he does not set his own schedule, I am not sure if he completely understood what I said, but, nevertheless, what he did next amazed me. "Oh, okay," he said. "Let me give you my email and phone number." 

His phone number? This man who barely has enough time to breathe cares so much about this program that he would give me, a freshman at some university's college newspaper, his personal cell phone number?

Well he did. He gave me the Central Asian Institute's main line and their email, along with his phone number and email. I do not think I will be calling him any time soon, but this act of kindness did not go unnoticed. I will never forget this man who cares so much about the children in Pakistan that he will wear socks with gaping holes in the heel so that he put every last penny toward building more schools. This is the kind of celebrity I admire. This is the kind of person I would aspire to become.

I will never forget what he wrote in my book that day.
"Gretchen, when your heart speaks, take good notes."    -Greg

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