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All of us have known people we consider to be remarkable. Some people have done remarkable things, while others have remarkable qualities about them. My life has been filled with people who, in one way or another, were remarkable to me. For the sake of this set of writings, I narrow my definition of the phrase, "remarkable person," to be someone who went out of their way to willfully and intentionally change the course of my life for the better. Many people have influenced my life, but only a few have intentionally changed my "life path" by their words and actions. All of the remarkable people I've known have pushed me to change in significant ways. These writings are about them.
When I say that a person "went out of their way," I don't mean that it was an inconvenience for them. Perhaps a more accurate statement would be that they chose to spend time with me (and I with them), which led to my learning things that I would have learned from no one else--maybe ever.
As a metaphor for how each of these people influenced me, imagine yourself sitting alone in a rowboat, paddling diligently toward an inviting, unknown, obscure shore. Suddenly there is a gentle (or strong) wind that changes your direction and gives you reason and inspiration to go that way. You don't fight against the wind, because the direction seems right to you. You trust the wind.
That is how these remarkable people have affected my life. In fact, most of these people certainly affected the direction of many lives. What is truly remarkable is that they all affected mine.
The Distinction Between Great Friends, Mentors and Remarkable People
In my life I've had an inordinate number of great friends. These are people with whom I've shared a deep love and many, many life-changing experiences. They are people with whom I stood on an "equal" footing, even though at any moment, by the very nature of friendships, one of us might be reaping more benefit than the other.
There is an element of time with a great friendship. It not only takes time to develop, but a great friendship also takes time to flourish and even to die. I've never had a great friendship where I knew the person for less than a year, although by one year's time, I usually know such a friendship is developing. Good friendships become great friendships when you've devoted sufficient time to know each other very well. For me that has always involved a lot of conversation and a willingness from both of us to let our vulnerabilities show.
Seldom do great friendships involve mentoring, although a mentor can evolve into a great friend. I've had many wonderful mentors who did not turn into "great friends," either because we did not ever have an "equals" relationship or because we did not spend enough time together as "equals." My mentors were all very good teachers, and I benefited from their wisdom and talent in countless ways.
Curiously, a remarkable person (in the context of these writings) can be a great friend, a mentor, both or neither. It is important to make that distinction. The common thread was that each remarkable person pushed me in a new direction, for my benefit alone. Sometimes we became great friends, and sometimes there was a mentoring relationship--but in two or three cases there was neither.
My List Of Remarkable People
I first made my list of remarkable people in 1980, while I was reading G. I. Gurdjieff's Meetings With Remarkable Men. Since then, over the course of 35 years, I have refined the concept very little, although I have added two people to and removed two people from the original list. (The two people removed from the list turned into great friends but did not, alas, change the path of my life.)
For a long time I wondered why I hadn't added others to the list, since the last person was added in about 1990. Then the realization came to me that I didn't need more remarkable people in my life, because they had all, cumulatively, pushed me in the right direction and I had finished my formative changes. Not coincidentally, 1990 was when I first realized that I was a happy person. In retrospect, my happiness was the sum of the changes these people had brought into my life.
Here is a list of the twelve remarkable people I've known. They are listed in chronological order, by when they first greatly influenced my life in remarkable ways. Of the twelve people, six are already deceased as of this writing. Amazingly, seven of them achieved a notable degree of "fame" in their lifetimes and were published writers of one type or another.
- Gerard Aaron Cowan (businessman, my father, deceased)
- Paul Dale Anderson (artist, writer, actor, great friend)
- Paul A. Friedman (university professor, writer)
- Daniel Grayling Fogelberg (singer-songwriter, artist, great friend, deceased)
- W. Edward Harris (Unitarian minister, writer, poet, civil rights activist, deceased)
- Thomas Burke Bishop, Jr. (singer-songwriter, writer, actor, playwright, great friend)
- Gary Lee Usher (music producer, songwriter, deceased)
- Margaret Cardwell (ceramics artist, painter, sculptor, great friend, deceased)
- Stephen W. Porges (distinguished scientist, university professor, writer, great friend)
- Michael Edward Cowan (businessman, my brother, great friend)
- Chester M Ratliff (computer analyst, great friend)
- Gail Montgomery (psychologist, shaman, deceased)