So 2015 slouches to the final days, days of retrospection and assessment, hope and regret. We look at the news: perpetual war, permanent jihad. A political scene filled with racial strife, antagonism, vulgarity.
A belated merry Christmas (yes, I’m allowed to write that), an early happy New Year.
I’ve always said reporters are like cops in some ways. One is that you spend enough time rubbing elbows with crooks and cranks that everyone begins to look like one or the other after a while. So I looked back through a year of columns, and was surprised to see that I’ve also been allowed to meet and write about many people who showed courage, compassion, passion and poise. In times like this, it is mentally healthy — perhaps essential — to remember that there are more of these people than those people. Here they are, with lessons learned. B8
Sengupta is the only person in the world who carries the tag “legendary pharmacist.” Sengupta ran his shop for 42 years, a community fixture on University Avenue SE. where scholars and politicians gathered regularly to debate issues of the day — politely. He is wise, caring and brave. Sengupta knows most of his customers by name, and often sent them off with their medicine and a concerned comment.
In January, when I spoke to him, Sengupta had been diagnosed with both esophageal and colon cancer, and had to sell his business. Word is that Sengupta is doing well, and spending time with family over the holidays.
“Every person is different, every person is struggling a little bit every day. If we did something to make the day better, we succeeded. I just see this as the end of one phase of my life.”
Bernstein is a lesson in surviving loss and pursuing your passion. In April of 2011, Bernstein had a good job in banking, a house in Minnetonka and a wonderful wife of 25 years. Unfortunately, he found out which of those was the most important when his wife, Stephanie, died of a stroke at age 49.
The death shook up his life, making him search for the things that made him happy. The answer: dogs.
Bernstein realized the thing that delighted him was dropping his pug off at Downtown Dogs, a doggy day care, every day. He loved the place so much that he quit his high-paying job and bought it. He doesn’t miss corporate life at all.
“You make plans, and then things just kind of happen. If you are at all inclined to self-exploration, tragedy forces you to look at life differently.”
Schieffer was eager to share his “moment of clarity” in the final few days of his life. He approached podcast host Ron Rosenbaum, who invited me to sit in on a fascinating interview about what it means to live, and die. At the time, Schieffer had already reserved a room at a nice hotel so he could host his best friends in his final hours, which he did. Schieffer died Feb. 5 of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
“What it boils down to is I’m not afraid of dying. It’s the last thing I can experience, and I want all of it. Instead of running and hiding from it, embrace it. Hug and cry with your friends. What’s happening to me is sad. It’s all right to cry. But I’m not going to be the guy that sits there and people bring him soup.”
He is the only inspirational person I wrote about that I never met. I don’t know much about the man, dubbed “Mr. Burly” by an observer who saw the city employee get out of his truck and put his jacket on the shoulders of a homeless man who stood on a cold corner one morning.
John Cook witnessed the random act of kindness and sent a note to a City Council member to see if she could find the city employee and thank him. City Council Member Lisa Goodman found the good Samaritan and called me. In character, he declined to reveal his name or be interviewed for doing something good.
“I feel fortunate to have witnessed it,” Cook said. “It was an extraordinary act of compassion. Mr. Burly clearly has a moral compass and a sense of purpose. This simple act of kindness gave me hope that a spirit of giving is alive and well in Minneapolis.”
A Wallin Education Partners scholar, the young woman spoke with intelligence, ambition and optimism. She had given a terrific speech, in which she said that she hoped to be a female Warren Buffett.
Ahmad’s father fled Somalia and moved to Minneapolis with $30 in his pocket. Her father constantly drilled the value of education into Fatima, who became a stellar student with dreams of college, dreams she began this fall.
“I’m hopeful that I’ll wake up every morning and say, ‘Yep, I’m doing something I really like and I’m changing some aspect of the world.’ ”
A self-described “crazy old hippie,” Zietlow inspired me with his zest for life and sense of adventure and humor. Zietlow made my column for one of the strangest crime stories I’ve ever written. After his truck was stolen, Zietlow spotted someone driving it down the street in a small western Wisconsin town. Acting on instinct, he jumped in the truck and was taken for a wild ride through fields and ditches, eventfully getting thrown from the truck when it crashed.
I asked him if he’d do it again: “I would,” he said.
“Whatever was going to happen was going to happen. Wasn’t nothing I could do about it. Humans need to have a strong community, and within our community we need to let these thieves and drug dealers know that we won’t take that. That was my truck, my livelihood, and I wasn’t going anywhere without it.”
Rob Fairbanks and Jon Roberts
The two comedians embarked on a road trip to California to try to make it in stand-up comedy, filming a documentary about the adventure along the way. Their hope is also to inspire people on their respective Indian reservations, and change the way outsiders view those reservations.
“We want to shed a new light on rez life,” said Fairbanks. “People mostly hear the negative about life on the reservation, that’s what sticks with them. There is so much positive, so much good coming from the reservation.”
“We want to inspire the people,” said Roberts. “We want them to wake up every day fired up about life.”
A social worker, Menner helps homeless and low-income clients budget and pay their bills or look for shelter.
“He found a way to take what he loves and use it to show love and compassion to people,” said Eileen Smith, a friend. “He knows everybody on the streets and treats them with respect and dignity.”
Bidon survived drug addiction and two prison terms to become a lawyer and yoga teacher who now helps others in addiction.
“Now I see so clearly it’s time to share my experience to serve others with integrity. And stay clean. By doing that, my higher power has brought me abundance and shown me grace that I never imagined possible.”