In high school, I used to ditch my homework while I hid in coffee shops and read about communism.
I really do inhabit a system in which words are capable of shaking the entire structure of government, where words can prove mightier than ten military divisions.
I’d read things like this quote from Václav Havel. I read a lot of his work, he has long inspired me and he is one of my great personal heroes. Havel was the last president of Czechoslovakia and the first of the Czech Republic. Jailed for his beliefs, he went on to dissolve the Warsaw Pact and bring the Czech Republic into the EU during his presidency. Havel is a gifted poet, playwright and essayist and I continually draw insight from his writing.
Now that I work in a coffee shop, part of why I love my job is that I can ask my customers questions. By asking questions, I’ve really started to build relationships with my regulars.
For instance, every Sunday a young-at-heart octogenarian comes into my workplace and orders a small coffee in a large cup. This weekend, I asked her about her recent trip to Philadelphia. She had given a talk about her friend, whose new play premiered in North America.
To my surprise, delight and astonishment, her friend is Václav Havel.
At first, she was merrily describing the performance, her talk and Havel’s reaction to her criticism. Once she read the awe in my eyes and cautioned me to pick up my jaw from the floor, we connected over our shared passion for Havel’s work. And as her hand brushed mine as she paid for a small coffee, I realized that years ago, these fingers wrote encouragement to Havel while he was in prison.
This connection, this strange and fateful encounter, has encouraged me to return to Havel’s writing.
So, I want to take this chance to share with you a great leader, writer and thinker. Perhaps you won’t agree with his political leanings; you could even find his writing style tired or tried. But I hope that by sharing one of my personal heroes with you today, you take a few minutes from your day to consider some writing that affected you in high school.
Who continues to inspire you?