March 14, 2016

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Coffee and the Search for Truth

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To the Editor:

One Saturday morning, I was waiting for my coffee at Ithaca Bakery. There were many of us waiting together. At the height of the waiting, in walks a woman who looked like she just came from the gym. Recognizing who she was, I offered, “If my coffee gets here first, you can have it.” She looked at me squarely and with a large smile said, “I’m not going to steal someone else’s coffee. That’s a rookie mistake.” When the barista asked for her name, she said it was Beth. President Garrett often spoke about the “search for truth,” encouraging us to discover “what it’s all about.” It was a question that got me to think, usually over coffee, what is the search for truth? What does that mean? What did she mean? Now, more than ever, it is a vital question. In order to fully explore this question, the first place to start is to ask, what is truth? I believe the truth as she referenced was much deeper than simple right and wrong. Truth is derived from Old English and Old Norse, a nominalisation of the adjective true: having good faith, having honor to one’s words, honesty, loyalty and belief. Thomas Aquinas is known to have said, “a thing is said to be true insofar as it is … a true estimate about itself.” So at its core, truth is about being who we are, knowing what we stand for, and living each day in honor of that truth. There is no one truth. Instead, we each have a central truth that is only ours. In essence, living with truth is about living with authenticity.

If living with truth is about living with authenticity, then searching for truth is about finding what makes us, as individuals, ourselves. This concept is central to our identity as Cornellians.

Willard Straight said in his letter to his son, “Make up your mind but respect the opinions of others. Think it out yourself guided by those whom your respect … keep your mind open, you can always learn.” I venture to think that this is what Beth Garrett saw for Cornell and for all of us as Cornellians. Her vision was that all of us are driven to search for our own truths together and to help each other in that quest. That is what makes us a community.

Losing a member of our community abruptly and at such a fragile time could lead us to fear the future. What if I don’t have time to accomplish all that I strive to be? Authentically living means mindfully choosing to live each day in our own truths, whether that means we continue to search or celebrate what we have found. This is the true meaning of living each day as our last.

President Garrett articulated her own truth with such clarity, vision and purpose that it allowed those around her to step up to our own truths and commit to the journey of their discovery. But the difference was that she did it with kindness, realness, and groundedness that was completely disarming. She stood next to others, not above, in a way that seemed to say, We’re all just waiting for coffee together. I got mine coming to me the way I like it, you got yours coming to you; I’m not getting in the way of yours but we can help each other while we wait… while we search. That’s really what it’s all about.

Anne Jones, assistant director of medical services at Gannett Health Center